If it happened, the Philadelphia Experiment would represent the greatest government cover-up of World War II, with scientific importance rivaling that of the Manhattan Project but surrounded by even greater secrecy.
Had the story appeared during the war, it might have seemed too fantastic to believe. But a decade later, the hydrogen bomb was a reality, UFOs had become a staple of U.S. popular culture, and people were more willing than ever to accept the fantastic.
Beginning in late 1955, a drifter named Carl Allen (alias Carlos Allende) wrote three letters to astronomer Morris Jessup, whose book The Case for the UFO had recently been published. In these letters, Allen claimed that during World War II he was a merchant seaman on the USS Andrew Furuseth and an eyewitness to U.S. Navy invisibility experiments involving a destroyer escort, the USS Eldridge.
According to Allen, Albert Einstein’s unified field theory was tested on the Eldridge in October 1943, causing the ship to vanish from its berth at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, appear briefly hundreds of miles away in Norfolk, Virginia, and then reappear in Philadelphia.
Caught in a high-energy force field, the ship’s crew was said by Allen to have suffered a variety of ill effects, with some burned, others driven insane, and a number who disappeared forever. Jessup later learned that in 1955, a curiously annotated copy of his book had been sent anonymously to the navy’s Office of Naval Research.
Although the annotations were written as if by three nonhuman entities, Jessup suspected that they were the work of Allen. After Jessup died (an apparent suicide) in 1959, other writers on UFOs began to incorporate references to the Philadelphia Experiment into their books, and its notoriety grew over time.
William Moore and Charles Berlitz took Allen’s story seriously after establishing that he had been a seaman on the Andrew Furuseth in 1943 and 1944. Despite the fact that they could not locate logs for either ship, they deduced that the Andrew Furuseth and the Eldridge could have been in the same vicinity in August 1943 and that the Eldridge might have been involved in magnetic invisibility research that was carried out during the war to make warships less vulnerable to enemy mines.
One of their sources, given the pseudonym “Dr. Rinehart,” claimed to have been one of the scientists who conducted the research in its earlier stages, and they also found that Albert Einstein was working as a navy scientific consultant in 1943.
As further corroboration, Moore and Berlitz cited the experiences of two airmen who claimed to have been told about the experiment by an unidentified survivor of the episode during a chance encounter in 1970, and the story of a UFO witness who said he was told by U.S. and Canadian officials in 1975 that both governments had known about the existence of aliens since a 1943 navy invisibility experiment. In the end, however, Moore and Berlitz confessed their inability to provide proof without access to secret government files.
The Problem of Fact Versus Fiction
A popular film, The Philadelphia Experiment (1984), added the element of time travel to the original story, with two sailors from the Eldridge being transported across forty-one years to the Nevada site of a top secret missile-defense project.
Although the element of time travel was fictional, it was not long afterwards that an individual came forward claiming to be an Eldridge crewman with a newly restored memory of time travel even more elaborate than that shown in the film.
The story of the Philadelphia Experiment grew over the years to include alien contact, mind control, and mysticism, and a series of books (beginning with Nichols and Moon in 1992) linked the original experiment to covert government research allegedly conducted at an abandoned air force base in Montauk, New York.
This forging of links is reminiscent of the “mystery merging” that UFO researcher Jacques Vallée imputed to UFO research in 1991, in which mysteries are linked together and thus made more compelling despite their actual lack of connection.
Moore and Berlitz identified three possible explanations for Allen’s story of the Philadelphia Experiment: a fraud, a true account of a real event, or an exaggerated and distorted account of a real event.
The problem with the last two alternatives is that no independent evidence has surfaced to show that any radar or magnetic invisibility experiment was performed on the Eldridge during the war, or even that the ship was ever in Philadelphia.
Sources whose testimony allegedly corroborate Allen’s story have almost invariably been anonymous or unidentified, or hidden behind a pseudonym as in the case of “Dr. Rinehart.” Allen reportedly confessed that his story was a hoax, but later repudiated the confession. In 1967 and 1968, he wrote to Jacques Vallée, whose book Anatomy of a Phenomenon had just appeared in paperback.
Along with an offer to sell certain documents, Allen repeated his tale of the Philadelphia Experiment and added a new story of a ship that survived the explosion of a UFO in 1947, leading Vallée to conclude that he was dealing with a con man. A few years later, Allen is reported to have written to his parents and boasted of having written the annotations to Jessup’s book.
Considering the lack of corroborative evidence, and the dubious nature of the evidence in favor of it, the Philadelphia Experiment appears to deserve the treatment given it in a navy form letter, which states that the Office of Naval Research never conducted invisibility experiments nor would they be possible outside the realm of science fiction.