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The Philadelphia Experiment: History and myth

DE-173 Eldridge DE-173 Eldridge

The story of the Philadelphia Experiment keeps intriguing peoples minds for almost half a century from the first reports on this strange story. Result of a man's creative fantasy or a fact that reaches the realm of science fiction? Even today it is difficult to give a positive and undisputed answer. But lets examine the facts.

 

A legend is born

The story that become known under the title "The Philadelphia Experiment", surfaced through a series of strange events, with a truly mysterious figure as the lead star. On 1955 a book titled  “The expanding case for the UFO was released. This book was meant to become known not for its content but because of the events that followed.

PE_gr_jessup

Morris Jessup

 The author was Morris K Jessup, an astronomer, Michigan University graduate where he also lectured for a period. But Jessup was also a passionate UFO researcher. After publishing his book he began a series of public lectures in order to promote his publication.  On January 1956 Jessup received a letter from someone who obviously attended at least one of his lectures and also read his book. The letter commented on Jessup's writings about the UFOs and at some point there was a reference to an unusual incident.

According to the letter on October 1943 a top secret experiment was conducted by the US Navy. The result of the experience was invisibility and teleportation of a US destroyer, while at sea.

The letter was signed by a Carl Allen, who also used the alias Carlos Miguel Allende. According to Allen the Experiment was actually a practical application of Einstein's Unified Fields Theory.

 

Allende's story

Allen claimed that on October 1943, while he was aboard the Liberty ship USS Andrew Furuseth at the Norfolk Va area, a ship, destroyer type, suddenly appeared from nowhere, partially covered from a spherical shaped, green fog. The ship remained for only a few minutes and then disappeared again. He also mentions that according to a Philadelphia newspaper, observers at the Philadelphia Naval Yard witnessed exactly the opposite event, a ship disappearing and then coming back again. He actually claims that the ship was teleported from Philadelphia to Norfolk in a matter of minutes (the actual distance requires approximately 24 hours).

Allen's story goes on reporting various strange incidents regarded as the experiment's effects to the crewmen onboard the destroyer. One of them has been reported to simply vanish in the middle of a bar fight, another "entering" a wall in front of his family's eyes and never coming back again and almost all of them suffered serious psychological problems and had to be hospitalized. Allen's opinion is that the experiment got out of control and the results frightened the people in charge, resulting to shutting down the whole project 3 years later.

Jessup was not convinced by Allen's wild allegations and he requested more substantial evidence for the incident. Allen's reply came on May 25th 1956 and did not provide the evidence Jessup would expect. Besides the lack of evidence, Allen's letters were full of capitalized words, incoherent sentences and theories and a mixture of scientific-seeming theories and irrational deductions. Subsequently  Jessup dropped the matter and did not pay any further attention to the story.

Allen letter 1

Allen letter 2

 

The Office of Naval Research (ONR)

A year later, in the spring of 1957, Jessup received an invitation for a meeting from the Navy's Office of Naval Research. He was presented with a heavily annotated copy of his book. The annotations were in three different colors and seemingly three different handwritings, thus from three people.

The annotations reproduced Allen's story concerning the alleged Philadelphia Experiment and quite extended comments on interplanetary travel, UFO's propulsion systems, Einstein's and Tesla's theories, all of them using language and terminology that suggested above-the-average scientific training and knowledge.

Jessup recognized at least one of the handwritings as Allen's, while the annotations style and format strongly resembled Allen's letters.

In a quite strange and questionable motion, officially considered by the Navy as "a private initiative of certain ONR officials"  the ONR republished the annotated book, with Allen's letters in a form of prefix, in a limited number of copies (the quantity has not been firmly established and seems to range 10-130 copies). This version of Jessup's book became known as the "Varo edition" from the name of the company that handled the publishing.

Jessup committed suicide 2 years later, on April 1959, because he was facing serious psychological distress due to marital problems. What happened during those 2 years, is unknown. It is almost certain that Jessup regained interest to the case, because of ONR's interest and he probably contacted Allen again. Jessup also discusses the issue with friends and colleagues and the Philadelphia Experiment story comes into the open, attracting the interest of more people.

 

The books period

Allen's whereabouts haven't been firmly established for the following years. It is believed that he spent a lot of his time in Mexico and traveling around in the US, like a drifter or a gypsy.

Towards the end of the 60's a lot of researchers start getting interested in Allen's story, coming up with articles and books. On 1967 3 books, directly or indirectly dealing with the story, were published:

  • Brad Steiger’s “The Allende Letters”
  • Ivan Sanderson’s  “Uninvited Visitors” (Sanderson was Jessup's friend and many people tend to believe that Jessup revealed to him several unclear points concerning the ONR involvement)
  • Jacques Vallee’s “Anatomy of a Phenomenon”

Steiger and Valee corresponded with Allen, receiving information and asking questions.

On 1969 another strange incident takes place. Allen shows up at the Aerial Phenomena Research Office (APRO) bureau at Tucson Arizona, where he confesses that the hole story is hoax that he made up.

769 philadelphia experimentAllen reappears being interviewed for Moore & Berlitz in the “The Philadelphia Experiment” on 1979. He retracts his confession, without explaining too much and he sticks again with the initial story. This book is actually the one that made the Philadelphia Experiment story famous and legendary. For many people it is the most consistent research on the issue. Moore says that he exchanged several letters with  Allen and he also met him face to face.

Allen's last, reliably recorded appearance was on 1983 for an interview to Linda Strand. It is believed that Allen died on 1994 at Colorado, according to Social Security records.

 

Another source

During the 80's, another eye witness came forward. This time it was Al Bielek who claims that he was responsible for the electronics aboard the Philadelphia Experiment ship. According to Bielek the Experiment took place, in two phases, on July 23 rd and August 12th 1943, and not on October.

His personal story is even more incredible. He claims that the experiment resulted not only in teleportation of the ship, but also in time travel. Bielek says that he time traveled to 1983 and then returned back in order to shut down the experiment. He also claims that he was brainwashed to forget everything and the memories came back only after seeing the movie  «The Philadelphia Experiment». According to Bielek, similar experiments were being conducted in ultra secret installations during the 70's and 80's and he was part of those experiments as well. Heads for the initial 1943 experiment were three prominent figures: Nikola Tesla (although he was dead from early 1943, Albert Einstein and John Von Neumann.

Bielek has been supporting his story passionately, through a series of lectures, books, interviews, even videos, including several scientific details (his PhD in Physics being very helpful).

From time to time, others appear as well, most of them claiming to have been aboard the ship as scientific and technical personnel, but their stories are quite similar to Bielek's and extremely consistent with the script of the 1984 «The Philadelphia Experiment» film.

 

The ship's identity

Eldridge1944

DE-173 Eldridge in1944

The first reference to the ship's identity is in the book by Moore & Berlitz. According to Allen and the author's investigations the ship was the destroyer escort  DE-173 Εldridge.

It was a Cannon class desroyer escort of 1240 tn. According to the Navy the ship was commissioned on August 1943 and was used as a convoy escort in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean until 1945 when it was transferred to the Pacific theatre. On July 1946 the Eldridge entered the Reserve Fleet.

As for the critical time period, the US Navy official records indicate:

  • August 27, 1943, commissioning of the ship at the N. York Naval Yard
  • September 16, the ship sails to Bermuda for its shakedown trip
  • October 18, returns to N. York escorting a convoy
  • Remains in N. York until November 1st when it sails to Norfolk escorting convoy UGS-23, and on November 3rd the ship departs for Casablanca with the convoy
  • December 17, returns to N. York escorting convoy  GUS-22
  • Remains in N. York until December 31st when it sails to Norfolk
Eldridge1951 From the ceremony for the delivery to the Greek Navy (1951)

 On January 1951 the ship was delivered to the Greek Navy as part of the military aid program, along with three other Cannon destroyers. These four ships became known in the Greek Navy as the "four beasts" because of the names they were given: Aetos (Eagle), Ierax (Hawk), Panthir (Panther) and Leon (Lion). Two of these ships would become well known in the years to come. Aetos "stared" in some movies (The guns of Navarone among them) and Leon, D-54, as the ex DE-173 Eldridge, or the Philadelphia Experiment ship.

 

Many researchers quote officers and sailors that have served on board Leon for strange situations. Reports have been made concerning electrical wiring that was not supposed to be where it is, starting from nowhere, ending nowhere. Others claim that there are compartments of the ship that seem to have been sealed. And many also say that sailors usually had creepy feelings, sensing something strange in the ship. It has also been said that the pages from the ship's log that correspond to the crucial time period, are missing.

Leon D-54 Leon (late 80's)

 Other reports refer to radar and communication problems of another Cannon ship, Aetos Leon's brother ship. They report Aetos having disappeared from radar during Greek Fleet exercises and sometimes presenting serious communication problems without any apparent reason. So there is a theory that during the delivery of the ships to the Greek Navy there was a "switching" of the ships in order to obscure Eldridge's tracks.

Leon served in the Greek Navy until 1991 when it was decommissioned and transferred to Amfiali Naval Base. The ship was scrapped during the second half of the 90's. Aetos was also decommissioned on 1991 and was donated by the Greek government to the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association. The ship was towed by a Russian tug to N York, and arrived to the Interpid museum on August 23rd 1993. It remained there until 1994 and was restored to her 1944 configuration. The ship was recommissioned on April 30th 1994 under her initial name, USS Slater DE-766. On 1997 the ship sailed to Albany NY where it has permanently docked as a nautical museum. The ship is owned not by the US Navy but by the Destroyer Escort Sailors Association and  is listed on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places. For the record the ship was initially commissioned on May 1st 1944.

GR_D_01_arrivalNY Aetos arriving to NY (8/23/1993)

Theories

There are two basic theories concerning the Philadelphia Experiment.

The first one, supported by those that favor the "mysterious event", accepts that a highly classified experiment took place, aiming in applying Einstein's and Tesla's theories, in order to visually and electronically obscure a US destroyer. Most people believe that the experiment had tragic effects on the crew of the ship, produced scientific facts that were highly unexpected and maybe even created a time-space anomaly.

The second theory, the one of the skeptics and the US Navy as well, is that nothing of the above happened. Allen mistook conversations he heard and concerned degaussing ships in order to protect them against magnetic mines and torpedoes (make them "invisible" to magnetically fused devices). Maybe Allen also misinterpreted, intentionally or not, other experimental, but still not exotic,  applications that were mounted on ships at the time such as new type screws, towed sonar etc.

In fact the degaussing procedure, technically speaking, resembles a lot Allen descriptions. It is achieved through an electromagnetic field created by wire running along the ships main body.

Having recited the historical events and the two standing theories, it is time for a close examination of this story that unbelievable as it may seem, it became one of the 20th century myths.

 

Witnesses and evidence

The two men that are supposed to be the main witnesses, Allen and Bielek, do not exactly fit the profile of a reliable witness. Especially Bielek who actually recites the script of a movie, the same movie that triggered his long lost memory. The only reason that is referred to as a witness by many researchers seems to be his detailed knowledge of scientific and technical issues regarding electromagnetism, the Unified Fields Theory and its possible applications. In any case he hasn't offered a single, convincing answer/proof ,something that simply makes him a "no witness" to any serious researcher. The same applies for other "witnesses" like someone called Dune who insists that the experiment was, from the beginning, a time-travel experiment. Dune appeared from nowhere in the 90's and started selling his "experiences" in the form of books, lectures and video tapes.

Allen

Carl Allen (late 80's)

Allen's case seems to be different. He has always been surrounded with mystery, even in his personal life. But still, if someone examines his story, most of the things he says are not situations he actually witnessed or had a personal involvement in, but mostly stories he heard and read.

To begin with, it has been confirmed that he actually served onboard the USS Andrew Furuseth during the period he is referring to. The only thing he actually claims that he saw is the ship surrounded by a greenish fog, for a few minutes, in Norfolk. He never saw the preparations for the experiment, the ship disappearing from Philadelphia, the ship's return to Philadelphia, the disappearance of a sailor in a bar or anywhere else. Al these are indirect testimony, things he read in the newspapers or he heard stories about, as he himself admits. For example he refers to a Philadelphia newspaper that had published an article concerning the disappearance of a ship in the Naval Yard during a Navy experiment, yet he was not able to recall which newspaper and on what date. The article has never been found or read by anyone else.

So, it seems that there are no reliable witnesses or positive evidence regarding the Philadelphia Experiment. Maybe this article could just end right here. But for the sake of objectivity lets go on and examine some other important aspects of the story.

 

The time period

Allen and Bielek do not manage to agree on a very important thing: the date the experiment took place. Their stories give two different dates over a 2 month period. If we assume that the experiment really took place and the date presented by Allen is accurate, then the experiment took place after the ship's official commissioning. That means that more than 50 years later someone from the crew would have spoken about the experiment (this also covers the case that the crew was taken away from the ship). On the contrary, the people that served aboard the Eldridge had a really good time during their reunion (1999) seemed to have a lot of fun over the fame of their old ship.

Bielek's story does not have this flaw since his date is before the ship's commissioning, meaning that the experiment could have been done with a skeleton crew onboard the ship. According to Bielek, those of the crew that survived the experiment were admitted into army mental institutions, both because they needed it and to ensure their silence. For Bielek, this also explains the lack of other witnesses. A really skeptical approach would be that Bielek was more careful in preparing his story, in any case he had the advantage of being second, after Allen.

 

The experiment's ship

A very logical remark would be that too much attention has been paid to the identity of the ship and that is true. The main reasons for that are:

  • identifying the ship could provide a trail of evidence
  • there is no other hard data to deal with (or make a fuss about)

Since 1979, when the book by Moore & Berlitz revealed the identity of the ship, a debate has began concerning the Eldridge, "where was the ship on August 12th, or October 28th?", "was the ship delivered to the Greek Navy?", "Leon or Aetos is the Eldridge?" etc. Is it really that important? Lets consider the following points:

1. Why did the Navy, in order to conduct a quite "exotic" and potentially dangerous experiment, choose a brand new and really valuable in antisubmarine operations escort destroyer, and not an old Navy or coastguard ship, or any other less useful ship?

It is impossible to believe that the Navy considered an experiment to render a ship physically or/and electronically invisible, to be completely safe.

 

2. Even if it was decided to conduct an ultra-secret experiment in public view, using a brand new ship, how difficult would it be to confuse watchers about the real identity of the ship by faking the registry numbers?

Something like that would be reasonable enough in order to keep the identity of the "invisible" ship secret. Switching registry numbers in ships was and still is a common practice in order to confuse enemy intelligence regarding the order of battle, condition and movement of units. It has to be noted that there were around 70 Cannon class destroyer escorts, identical to Eldridge and an equal number of the Evartsclass, almost identical. 

 

3. If the experiment really took place and the USS Eldridge was used, why should it be given to another, even allied, country a few years later?

If the ship had no scientific value the most reasonable thing to do would be to use it as a target for live ammunition exercises.  Many of the Cannon class ships ended that way. Additionally, this would be a much better way to obscure the trail of evidence than the donation to another country, even one as remote as Greece. If the ship was still needed for scientific reasons (p.e. to study long term effects on alloys) it would be far more reasonable to keep the ship in the US, in the Reserve Fleet (some of the Cannon destroyers survived until the early 70's) or as a monument in an Atlantic coast port. In any case the most reasonable thing to do would be to deliver to the Greek Navy another ship, supposed to be the Eldridge, while at the same time the Eldridge remained in the US under the other ship's identity.

 

4. A lot of speculation has been based on the fact that the pages of the ship's log concerning the crucial period, are missing from Leon's diary. Even if the experiment took place aboard the USS Eldridge and the ship was then delivered to the Greek Navy becoming the Leon, how difficult would it be to fake a diary?

It is true that a ship's log is something sacred to sailors, but when it concerns one of the most important scientific endeavor of the human kind, maybe comparable only to the use of fire, then even that rule could be or at least would be violated. Even more important is the fact that the ship's logs during her service in the U.S. Navy remained in the U.S. and were not transferred to Greece. And in addition to that ship's logs during WWII never remained aboard the vessel for more than 1 year.

 

It seems that even if the experiment really took place, the ship that was involved never served in the Greek Navy. As for the stories and legends that accompany Leon or Aetos, it is a common secret that sailors ever since Ulysses are by far the best storytellers in the world. This is not always intentional and those who have served as crewmembers aboard a ship can easily understand it.

 

The scientific theories

Usually most of the articles concerning the Philadelphia Experiment include quite detailed analysis of the Unified Fields Theory, electromagnetism, practical tests of how light bending is possible, time's dimensional nature and properties. But the point is not whether it is scientifically possible to achieve invisibility or time-travel, at least not in the articles investigating the experiment. Of course, examining those theories is of the outmost importance to human race. But the experiment's legend was not built upon the argument of whether it is possible or not, it is question of whether it really happened or not. In any case both Allen and Bielek claim that it was not successful, or at least it got out of control. The lack of a scientific basis and/or of technical capability does not necessarily prove that Allan's or Bielek's stories are not true and vice versa.

Electronic cloaking is an issue of great interest to all armed forces. Today there are aircrafts and ships that do have such capabilities deriving either from the shape and materials used in order to minimize signal returns (passive cloaking,  stealth aircrafts), or a combination of passive cloaking and emissions control.

 

Research and experiments during World War II

Unfortunately, from the beginning of human history, conflicts and military applications in general are some of the main sources of scientific and technological advances. The industrial mobilization during a war intensifies research and accelerates technological advance, as the opposed parties seek ways to gain battlefield superiority.

WW II lead to a number of technological advances, although many of them are of questionable necessity. Examples of these advances or applications are the evolutions in synthetic rubber production, jet aircrafts, radar evolution, new methods of industrial production in order to increase productivity and attain high levels of standardization and, of course, the use of nuclear power.

Philadelphia_NY_47

Philadelphia Naval Base  (1947)

 Most of these evolutions or breakthroughs were the results of medium or high secrecy projects, for obvious reasons. On top of these projects stands the Manhattan project, the research and final development of the atomic bomb. It is certain that there was a significant number of projects that did not produce the expected or at least produced not applicable results and thus did not become widely known. Some of them may have dealt with scientific issues that are still quite unclear.

So an experiment concerning practical applications of electromagnetism, or the Unified Fields Theory in order to attain physical or electronic invisibility of aircrafts, ships or land vehicles should not be considered totally impossible to have taken place. But did such an experiment take place in Philadelphia involving a destroyer escort?

Why did such an important experiment take place in Philadelphia Naval Base and not in another less obvious place? Ports and bases like the ones in N. York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, were some of the favourite observation points for German agents. The Abwehr agents used to send out reports concerning departing convoys based on these observations.

 

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Conspiracy Theories

The US Navy has officially denied the existence of any relevant research project during WW II. In short, according to the Navy the experiment never took place. A key point in the story is Jessup's summoning to the ONR and the Varo edition that came after. Most researchers note this fact as quite intriguing and they are justified to do so. In 1956 the Navy showed an interest in the annotations included in Jessup's book and lets keep in mind that many of these annotations referred to the Philadelphia Experiment. Officially, both the interest and the Varo edition were a result of private interest and initiative by certain ONR officials.

It seems that the ONR interest and the Varo edition were the events that actually created the Philadelphia Experiment legend. These events created a feeling that the Navy maybe have something to hide.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The Philadelphia Experiment legend was based on a totally unbelievable and unsubstantiated story (Allen), a truly strange and perhaps suspicious interest by the ONR (Varo edition), a personal tragedy (Jessup's suicide) and a marketing trick (identifying the ship). Speaking in law terms, there is not one positive evidence or any solid proof to render credibility to Allen's story and its presentation in the book that is considered to be the best on the subject (Moore & Berlitz). There is only one circumstantial evidence, ONR's interest. And all that after 45 years of research and theories.

Based on simple logic one has to assume that the story of the Philadelphia Experiment, as it became known, is not true. It is probably the result of Allen misunderstanding things he saw or heard about, in combination with a vivid and creative imagination. Additionally the reproduction of the story in all these years by researchers sometimes of good intentions and other times motivated by the goals of money and fame, has amplified what should really be nothing more than a good movie script.

The only case to prove that the experiment really took place is for the Navy and the government of the US to admit so. But then that would also mean that everything said and supported till today are lies.

On the other hand there will always be those who, even without a single solid piece of evidence but with only circumstantial evidence, will continue to believe that in 1943, in the Philadelphia Naval Base, a mysterious experiment took place, an experiment whose results question our fundamental perceptions of our world.

 

References & Links:

 

 

 

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