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AMERICANA


TRUTH IS, I’M a huge fan of those brain-bending occurrences that can be neither proven nor explained. UFO sightings? Can’t get enough of them. I’ve never met a conspiracy theory that didn’t fascinate me. Same goes for ghost stories, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and all other things that go bump in the night.

And atop my list of all-time spook-out favorites is a dark and winding tale scarce few seem to have ever heard about.

We’re talking about the Philadelphia Experiment. Have you ever heard of a strange nomadic fellow who called himself Carlos Miguel Allende? (Okay, that may not have been his real name, but we’ll get to that later.) In 1955, he sat in a room of the Turner Hotel in little out-of-the-way Gainesville, Texas, and wrote an incredible letter to Morris Jessup, a well-known science writer of the time. It let a pitch-black cat out of the bag and, with Jessup’s help, brought into the public consciousness a story over which scientists and the military are still waging a war of words.

According to Allende (and a sizable number of latter-day researchers), on an October day in 1943, in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, the destroyer escort USS Eldridge was, through gravity alteration, the magic of electronics, and a theory first promoted by Albert Einstein, briefly made invisible. Yep, it just vanished into a cloud of green fog. Seconds later, it supposedly reappeared more than 200 nautical miles away, in the waters just off the shores of Norfolk, Virginia. And then, just as quickly, it was teleported back to the Philadelphia shipyard.

Pretty strange stuff, huh? The idea was to develop a sci-fi technology so that U.S. warships could sneak up on the enemy without being seen.

The story is that Eldridge crew members later became violently ill and that some were even rushed off to psychiatric facilities, where they were kept for months and then discharged on the hush-hush. A few reportedly didn’t survive the bizarre experience; some simply vanished into another dimension or netherworld forever. Adding to the peculiar fact or folklore is the story that the bodies of as many as five shipmates became fused with the bulkhead or deck of the Eldridge during the teleportation process.

Legend has it that those who lived through the ordeal were later subjected to governmental brainwashing techniques designed to erase the event from their memories.

Be aware that the Navy flatly says none of it ever happened. Sure, having a fleet of ships that could approach the enemy under the cloak of invisibility would have been a tremendous advantage during World War II. But the official word is that no such experiment was ever contemplated, much less conducted.

So, what to make of this guy Allende, whose real name, as it turns out, was probably Carl Allen, a Pennsylvania native and apparently a self-taught genius who spent most of his life traveling the Southwest, working as an oil-field roustabout? How is it that he was able to describe the experiment in such scientific detail and that he claimed to have been an eyewitness to the event? From the deck of his own ship, he insisted, he and several others had watched the Eldridge fade away into a green haze.

He said that he not only saw the disappearance but also had inside information from an unnamed scientist with firsthand knowledge of the experiment and its aftermath.

And why is it that Einstein, having come up with his unified field theory for electricity and gravitation, which apparently was the genesis of the Philadelphia Experiment, allegedly ordered his writings on the subject destroyed before his death? Researchers who buy this story have suggested that the theory’s originator became fearful that mankind was not yet ready for it and the damage it might do.

Researchers like authors William L. Moore and Charles Berlitz, who published a book titled The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility in 1979, were unable to find any hidden documents nor any official spokesperson willing to lend firsthand validity to the story. They were unsuccessful in locating the fellow eyewitnesses Allende had named and finally assumed they were deceased.

Still, a whiff of truth in packaging appears on the book’s pages. Moore and Berlitz determined that the Navy had conducted experiments with gravity and electromagnetic fields in the 1940s. The top-secret program, the authors discovered, had been called Project Rainbow, the code name they believed was assigned the Philadelphia Experiment.

Their best conclusion? A very unscientific something happened in that Philadelphia shipyard in 1943.

So, are we talking urban legend or government cover-up? Fact or fantasy? Beats me. But it’s pretty dang interesting, and you can look it all up on the Internet -- what started as a rather strange experiment with electronic gadgetry and which I’m now looking into.