A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies | View All

Philadelphia experiment

If we are to believe [Carl] Allen, our naval hierarchy abandoned sanity and historical precedent by conducting an experiment of enormous importance in broad daylight using a badly needed destroyer escort vessel . . . If someone were to write a book telling the real story, its title might be The Philadelphia Hoax: Project Gullibility --Robert A. Goerman

The Philadelphia experiment is an alleged United States Navy experiment (Project Rainbow) done on October 28, 1943. According to legend, the destroyer USS Eldridge was made invisible, dematerialized, and teleported from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Norfolk, Virginia, and back again to the Philadelphia Naval Yard. The experiment allegedly had such terrible side effects, such as making sailors invisible and causing them to go mad, that the Navy quit exploring this exciting new technology.

The experiment was allegedly done by Dr. Franklin Reno as an application of Einstein's unified field theory. The experiment supposedly demonstrated a successful connection between gravity and electromagnetism: electromagnetic space-time warping.

The Navy denies that it ever did such a test. The denial is taken as proof by the conspiratorially minded that the experiment must have really occurred. The less gullible ask, Where did this story come from?

The story is a mixture of fact, fiction, speculation, and madness.

The facts are that the Navy does all kinds of experiments, many of them secret. Many of these experiments attempt to find military applications for the latest discoveries or theories in physics, such as Einstein's unified field theory. It seems to be a fact that the Navy was experimenting with "invisibility" in 1943, but not with making ships disappear. Edward Dudgeon, who says he was there on the U.S.S. Engstrom, claims that they hoped to make our ships "invisible to magnetic torpedoes by de-Gaussing them." Dudgeon described the procedure: to UFO investigator Jaques Vallee:

They sent the crew ashore and they wrapped the vessel in big cables, then they sent high voltages through these cables to scramble the ship's magnetic signature. This operation involved contract workers, and of course there were also merchant ships around, so civilian sailors could well have heard Navy personnel saying something like, "they're going to make us invisible," meaning undetectable by magnetic torpedoes....(Vallee)

The Engstrom and the Eldridge were harbored together and, according to Dudgeon, crew members from both ships had parties together on shore  and "there was never any mention of anything unusual." Though they did witness some spectacular electric storms, he says. (St. Elmo's fire is common in the area.)

Marshall Barnes, who identifies himself as a "Special Civilian Investigator," claims Dudgeon's story is disinformation and that Vallee is a hoaxer out to cover up the government's real activities. Maybe so, but in March of 1999, sailors who’d served on the Eldridge reunited and told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that they "find the story amusing — especially because the ship never docked in Philadelphia."* Barnes also claims that he can prove that "optical invisibility" is possible through "the use of an intense electromagnetic field that would create a mirage effect of invisibility by refracting light."* He claims he proved this to the cable network A&E for an Unexplained episode, but that they reneged on the deal. One would think they would have jumped at the chance to demonstrate something so wondrous.

Morris Jessup's book

Another fact is that in 1955 an auto parts salesman and amateur astronomer named Morris K. Jessup published a book called The Case for the UFO. In his book, Jessup speculated--among other things--that anti-gravity and electromagnetism would be better than rocket fuel for propelling space vehicles. The following year, Carl Allen (a.k.a. Carlos Miguel Allende), a somewhat brilliant but very disturbed human being, started the hoax by writing letters to Jessup telling him of The Philadelphia experiment. Allende claims that he witnessed the disappearance of a ship while on board the SS Andrew Furuseth, a merchant ship. He also claims he saw some Eldridge crew members disappear into thin air during a fight. Allen sent an annotated copy of Jessup's book to the Office of Naval Research in Washington, D.C. Jessup was summoned to Washington and turned over the Allen letters. Later, the Varo Corporation, a firm which did research for the military, published the annotated version along with Allen's letters to Jessup. Jessup committed suicide in 1959. Allen continued sending strange annotations to relatives for many more years, as he drifted from place to place.

The speculations regarding the origin of Allen's story have run rampant. Some say that he was there and saw it all. Some say that Allen is an alien and channels information. Some claim that the Navy is covering up the experiment and their complicity with aliens. The simple truth is that Allen made it all up.

Allen's hoax has grown into a legend which has been spurred on by a number of books, some of them fictional, some non-fictional, and others fictional but claiming to be non-fictional. In 1965, Vincent H. Gaddis's Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea was published. In addition to stories about various disappearing islands, aircraft, and ships, Gaddis presents the basics of the legend as created by Allen in his letters and published in the Varo edition of Jessup's work. In 1977, Charles Berlitz published Without a Trace: New Information from the Triangle, which included a chapter on the Philadelphia experiment. Berlitz is a frequent source for stories on strange phenomena, such as Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and Noah's Ark.  

In the fictional category, Thin Air (1978) by George E. Burger and Neil R. Simpson stands out. It is about a Navy investigation of a cover-up of an experiment involving the USS Eldridge in 1943.

In 1979, The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility by William L. Moore and Charles Berlitz was published. This book is fiction but claims to be fact, and plagiarizes parts of Thin Air. In the Moore and Berlitz book, not only the ship but several crew members disappear into a new dimension, never to be seen again (unless, of course, you sail to Atlantis on Noah's Ark through the Bermuda Triangle where you will no doubt find these sailors holding a séance).

In 1984,  a movie called "The Philadelphia Experiment" was produced. It was directed by Stewart Raffill and was based on a screenplay by William Gray and Michael Janover.

There have been other attempts to exploit the gullible with stories about this so-called experiment, but two stand out as more insane than the rest: The Philadelphia Experiment, and Other UFO Conspiracies, by Brad Steiger, with Alfred Bielek and Sherry-Hanson Steiger (1990); and The Philadelphia Experiment Part 1- Crossroads of History, presented by Alfred Bielek. The former is a book which rehashes the usual stories of CIA plots, government conspiracies, secret meetings with aliens, trips to Mars, visits from the Men in Black, etc. The latter is a video featuring a man who claims he was a physicist on the USS Eldridge in 1943 and was part of the team that conducted the experiment. Bielek claims he time-traveled in 1943 to 1983 during the experiment and lived to tell the story, only to be harassed by the U.S. government for his troubles.

The central claim of the Philadelphia experiment may have a basis in fact, however. Edward Dudgeon describes the event.

I was in [a] bar that evening, we had two or three beers, and I was one of the two sailors who are said to have disappeared mysteriously...The fight started when some of the sailors bragged about the secret equipment [radar, sonar, special screws, a new compass, etc.] and were told to keep their mouths shut. Two of us were minors....The waitresses scooted us out the back door as soon as trouble began and later denied knowing anything about us. We were leaving at two in the morning. The Eldridge had already left at 11 p.m. Someone looking at the harbor that night might have noticed that the Eldridge wasn't there any more and it did appear in Norfolk. It was back in Philadelphia harbor the next morning, which seems like an impossible feat: if you look at the map you'll see that merchant ships would have taken two days to make the trip. They would have required pilots to go around the submarine nets, the mines and so on at the harbor entrances to the Atlantic. But the Navy used a special inland channel, the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal, that bypassed all that. We made the trip in about six hours" (Vallee).

Such is the mundane stuff that urban legends are made of.

reader comments

further reading

books and articles

Goerman, Robert A. “Alias Carlos Allende: The Mystery Man Behind the Philadelphia Experiment,” Fate, Oct 1980.

Vallee, Jacques F. "Anatomy of a Hoax: The Philadelphia Experiment 50 Years Later," Journal of Scientific Exploration." Volume 8, Number 1, Spring, 1994. Rebuttal (based on the writings of someone who identifies himself as "Special Civilian Investigator Marshall Barnes").


Alias Carlos Allende:The Mystery Man Behind the Philadelphia Experiment by Robert A. Goerman (originally published in Fate, October 1980).

The Philadelphia Experiment from A-Z

THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT: What They Didn't Want You To Know by Joe Turner

Robert A. Goerman's collection of scans of various documents and mementos from his investigation and research into Carl M. Allen (aka Carlos Miguel Allende) Goerman notes that of special interest is a three-page letter he received from John A. Keel dated August 10, 1983, in which Keel claims that he (Keel), Jessup, Sanderson, Santesson, Berlitz, and "anyone else who knew Allende" knew that Allende had written the annotations. Varo Corporation, says Keel, was behind the "hoax."

For deeper insight into the workings of the troubled mind of Carl Allen, check out his "death bed statements."

Last updated 21-Nov-2015

© Copyright 1994-2016 Robert T. Carroll * This page was designed by Cristian Popa.