The Real Philadelphia Experiment
by Brian Dunning
Filed under Conspiracies, Paranormal, Urban Legends
December 24, 2006
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Also available in Russian
Today we're going to pull a giant switch on the wall and activate powerful generators,
which will create a mysterious force field around us and cause us all to disappear.
For we're going to discuss the perennially silly "Philadelphia Experiment."
The story goes that in October of 1943, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard,
an experiment was conducted aboard a US Navy Cannon-class destroyer escort
called the USS Eldridge, number DE-173. The experiment involved the
creation of a force field which rendered the ship invisible both to the eye
and to radar. The experiment was witnessed by hundreds, possibly thousands,
of sailors both ashore and on other ships nearby. Unfortunately, there were
severe side effects to the crew on board ship. Some were found materialized
inside the metal of the ship, others were never seen again, and still others
were driven insane or plagued for years by mysterious cases of phasing in and
out of existence. In typical Navy fashion, everything has been denied.
None of the above ever actually happened. What follows, did actually
The secret of the mysterious experiment and its terrible aftermath was kept
for 12 years, until one day when Morris Jessup, the author of a book about
UFO's, was unexpectedly summoned to the US Navy's Office of Naval Research.
The ONR had received, in the mail, a copy of Jessup's UFO book, filled with
handwritten annotations. The notes were all in the same handwriting, but in
three characters, in three colors of ink. The notes revealed all the details
of the Philadelphia Experiment, and the ONR wanted to know if Jessup knew anything
about who might have written these notes and sent the book to them.
Jessup recognized the crazy handwriting immediately. He had received a series
of letters from a man calling himself Carlos Allende, who claimed to have witnessed
the experiment from aboard a merchant marine ship nearby, the SS Andrew
Furuseth. Jessup had dismissed Allende as a crackpot — among Allende's
claims was that Albert Einstein had personally spent several weeks mentoring
him on subjects such as invisibility and faster-than-light travel. Several
copies of the annotated book were produced, and the rest is history: The Philadelphia
Experiment story became part of the fabric of pop culture.
Robert Goerman, a researcher of the paranormal and a friend of mine, noticed
that the return address of Allende's original mailing to the ONR came from
his own home town, New Kensington, Pennsylvania. He had spent some time putting
together the history of the Philadelphia Experiment story and in 1979, found
to his great surprise that Carlos Allende, whose real name was Carl Allen,
was the son of a close family friend. Over time, Goerman filled in the blanks
and presented the complete case in magazine articles and on television shows
such as History's Mysteries, Unsolved Mysteries, and The Unexplained — three
show titles which by themselves lend far too much credence to Carl Allen's
stories. Carl Allen was something of the dark horse of the family, a creative
and imaginative loner, notorious for annotating anything and everything in
the house, and sending bizarre writings and claims to everyone in the family
for any occasion. Goerman also assembled all of the facts of the USS Eldridge: little
things, like the ship was nowhere near Philadelphia when the experiment happened,
the ship had detailed corroborated records for the normal duties that it was
in fact performing at the time, and that nobody who had ever been a crewman
on board the ship knew anything about any experiment. The Eldridge had
been launched only two months before the experiment, and you'd think that if
it was hosting Albert Einstein and the most amazing experiment in history,
somebody would have known about it. Without exception, every single fact that
Carl Allen presented as evidence of the Philadelphia Experiment has been easily
proven to be a complete fabrication.
And therein lies the problem. The trouble with discussing government conspiracies
is that the believers generally refuse to accept the factual evidence, because
it becomes part of the conspiracy. It's a bit like having a debate about Creationism:
believers simply say "God did it" and it's a matter of faith, not
of evidence or fact. If the government is trying to cover something up, every
falsified claim becomes evidence for the conspiracy. In summary, there
is no amount of evidence that can be compiled that will be accepted by a conspiracy
theorist. In the conspiracy theorist's mind, evidence against is actually
Among this schizophrenic evidence is the US Navy's reply to the Philadelphia
Experiment story, which is available online at http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq21-1.htm.
As you might surmise, it simply says that they have no idea what this guy could
be talking about, here's where both ships were and what they were doing at
the time, and here are the statements from their officers. It's an entertaining
report, but predictable.
Interestingly, there are some question marks left standing about the Philadelphia
Experiment. As you might expect, two or three veterans of the Eldridge and
the USS Engstrom, which was once moored alongside the Eldrige in
1943, have claimed to be a guy whom Allende saw disappear in a bar or who have
found themselves transported across dimensions. It should be noted that such
claims were made well after the Philadelphia Experiment became a pop-culture
phenomenon, and in more than one case it turned out that these guys were not
actually veterans at all. A more interesting question comes from the very genesis
of the story, when the Navy ONR first summoned Morris Jessup to their office
to talk about the strangely annotated book. If there was nothing in those annotations
of genuine interest to them, why did they call?
Who knows. Goerman suggested that these ONR officers did this on their own
time out of personal intrigue, or that some of the allusions in the annotations
were similar to actual Navy research and the ONR was simply being responsible
at following every lead. Conspiracy theorists maintain that this proves Allen's
annotations must have been true. Whatever the truth, I happen to love that
this story has this annoying little footnote that can't be easily explained
away. I love a good mystery and I remember a streak of disappointment when
Goerman's debunking of the case was laid out before me — like most people
I'd done no thorough research of my own and only knew what the average moviegoer
knows about the Philadelphia Experiment. Intellectually I know the story is
silly, but I still love that little loose end. Carl Allen may have been a prankster,
but I thank him for making the century just that little bit more interesting.
By Brian Dunning
Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "The Real Philadelphia Experiment." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
24 Dec 2006. Web.
27 Nov 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4016>
References & Further Reading
Barnes, M., Houpt, F., Schelm, G. "Al Bielek finally debunked." Al Bielek Debunked. Golf Sierra, 18 Jun. 2003. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <http://www.bielek-debunked.com/>
Broderick, James F., Miller, Darren W. Web of Conspiracy: A Guide to Conspiracy Theory Sites on the Internet. Medford, N.J.: CyberAge Books, 2008. 175-188.
Carroll, R. "Philadelphia Experiment." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Sep. 2015. <http://skepdic.com/philadel.html>
Goerman, Robert A. "Alias Carlos Allende: The Mystery Man Behind the Philadelphia Experiment." FATE Magazine. 2 Oct. 1980, Volume 33, Number 10.
Knight, Peter. Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2003. 583-585.
Vallee, Jacques F. "Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment Fifty Years Later." Journal of Scientific Exploration. 1 Oct. 1994, 8: 47-71.
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