About The Philadelphia Experiment: The Navy’s Biggest Hoax

When the USS Eldridge did reappear, the Navy found men fused to the ship’s bulkheads. Some were sick, others had gone insane, and some had even vanished.

On October 28, 1943, the destroyer escort USS Eldridge (DE-173) lay peacefully at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Having been launched only three months before, the new Cannon-class vessel was named after the heroic actions of Lieutenant Commander John Eldridge, Jr., a naval aviator who had been killed in action in the Solomon Islands on November 2, 1942.

The ship, however, was not bound for the Pacific to avenge its namesake’s death, but rather it was slated for escort duty to the Mediterranean. Eldridge was, like many others of the U.S. Navy, preparing to go into harm’s way.

All of a sudden, a greenish haze cloaked the vessel. To those observing it, the Eldridge vanished. Radar could not even pick up the ship. When Eldridge did reappear, the Navy found men fused to the ship’s bulkheads. Some were sick, others had gone insane, and some had even vanished.

Perhaps the Navy had consulted with the physicist Albert Einstein and found the secret of the unified field theory. Maybe Eldridge had crossed dimensions as there were reports of it appearing in Norfolk, Virginia. Were aliens involved?

USS Eldridge (DE-173) c. 1944
USS Eldridge (DE-173) c. 1944

Of course, the Navy denied everything. The whole event became known as the Philadelphia Experiment, or what was sometimes called “Project Rainbow.”

The story above is untrue except that Eldridge was a destroyer escort that was commissioned in 1943 and named after John Eldridge, Jr. The vessel wasn’t even in Philadelphia in October 1943 — it was in New York.

Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard

But the Philadelphia Experiment is one of the greatest military hoaxes of the twentieth century. So, what happened?

In 1955, Morris K. Jessup, author of The Case for the UFO received rambling correspondence from one “Carlos Miguel Allende.” After commenting on Jessup’s work, Allende provided details on the Philadelphia Experiment, claiming that he had witnessed the whole thing from the merchant ship Andrew Furuseth. 

Allende claimed that the ship had been teleported to Norfolk and back using Einstein’s unified field theory, the effects of which caused the disastrous results for the crew as described above. Allende added that Einstein had tutored him personally on such topics as invisibility and faster-than-light travel.

Albert Einstein receiving from Judge Phillip Forman his certificate of American citizenship.
Albert Einstein receiving from Judge Phillip Forman his certificate of American citizenship.

Jessup wrote back to Allende, asking what proof he had. Allende wrote back, this time as “Carl Allen.” He only provided more rambling vagaries. Jessup took Allende as a crackpot – and that is saying something coming from a UFO theorist!

Then, in 1957, Jessup was visited by two officers from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). They had received a copy of The Case for the UFO which had been highly annotated with purported knowledge of one who knew UFOs.

Photograph of an alleged UFO in Passaic, New Jersey, taken on July 31, 1952.
Photograph of an alleged UFO in Passaic, New Jersey, taken on July 31, 1952.

Jessup recognized the handwriting as Allende’s. The officers had a small number of copies made. It now can be purchased on Amazon (search for the Varo edition).

Jessup died by his own hand in 1959. This just fed into the conspiracy theories. Was Jessup assassinated because he knew too much about Allende and the Philadelphia Experiment?

It was rumored that the ONR sent investigators to the return address on Allende’s letters, but they only found a deserted farmhouse.

All these little details piqued the interest of paranormal researcher Robert Goerman. He was able to locate Carl Allen since the original Allende mailing to the ONR came from his hometown of New Kensington, Pennsylvania.

He found that Carl Allen was an eccentric man, creative, a loner, and liable to fabricate stories. Furthermore, Goerman compiled the facts on the case and pretty conclusively showed that the Philadelphia Experiment did not happen. He went on to appear on TV shows such as History’s Mysteries and The Unexplained.

The ONR itself has published the following statement:

“Over the years, the Navy has received innumerable queries about the so-called “Philadelphia Experiment” or “Project” and the alleged role of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in it… The frequency of these queries predictably intensifies each time the experiment is mentioned by the popular press, often in a science fiction book.”

The statement concluded: “ONR has never conducted any investigations on invisibility, either in 1943 or at any other time (ONR was established in 1946.) In view of present scientific knowledge, ONR scientists do not believe that such an experiment could be possible except in the realm of science fiction.”

USS Timmerman (DD-828) underway off Newport RI in 1953
USS Timmerman (DD-828) underway off Newport RI in 1953

Science fiction is about the right way to put it. The entire theory falls apart when one considers that the United States developed the atomic bomb during World War II but had been working on a teleportation field that worked two years before but failed to capitalize on it.

The ONR believes that the genesis of the Philadelphia Experiment theory may be derived from degaussing experiments which were meant to protect ships from magnetic mines or from 1950s experiments on the USS Timmerman using a small high-frequency generator that produced corona discharges.

Launch of Timmerman on 19 May 1951.
Launch of Timmerman on 19 May 1951.

What does make the case interesting is that, after the Philadelphia Experiment became more well-known, two or three people have claimed to have been teleported.  These people have turned out to be hoaxers themselves, but their stories kept giving fresh life to the Philadelphia conspiracy.

Read another story from us: Creepy stories from WWII, Normandy Ghosts, Disappearing Aircraft

Perhaps the most interesting question to ask is: why did the ONR bother to visit Jessup in 1956? And why would they make all the copies of the book?

Goerman thinks they did it on their own time out of personal interest or that the ONR was charged to follow every lead. Whatever the rationale behind the ONR’s actions, there is still an untidy end to a ridiculous but fun hoax that keeps conspiracists intrigued even to this day.

Joseph Williams

Joseph Williams is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE