Did Navy Ship Turn Invisible
PHILADELPHIA--Nevada may have its "Area 51," and Loch Ness its monster, but Philly will always have the Philadelphia Experiment.
While newer versions of the story bring in UFO aliens and a vast government conspiracy, the standard version of this paranormal tale and/or urban legend tells of a top-secret science experiment that made a warship, the USS Eldridge, mysteriously disappear from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard late one night in August 1943.
Some say it became temporarily invisible while sailing to Norfolk, Va., and back; others say it temporarily broke through the space-time continuum and sailed to the 1980s.
The Navy denies it and calls the various versions of the legend "apocryphal stories."
None of this has discouraged the true believers. Last weekend, one of a handful of self-styled spokesmen for the experiment, Alfred Bielek, told a two-hour version of the story to the second UFO Phenomena Conference, held in the Convention Center.
About 200 people showed up for the talk--a receptive audience who had just sat unflinchingly through a speaker telling them that the pyramids on Mars point to the secret of the universe, which is known and being kept under wraps by NASA, which is not doing science at all but performing obscure Masonic rituals.
So this particular audience had no trouble believing in invisible ships and time travel. Asked if they had already heard of the Philadelphia Experiment, most raised their hands enthusiastically.
As the legend has spread, it has spawned a handful of books and 1984 B-movie, The Philadelphia Experiment, that was based on a book by Charles Berlitz and William Moore. The legend also figures in a popular new book by James Redfield, The Tenth Insight, a sequel to The Celestine Prophecy.
The Philadelphia Experiment has also generated the inevitable Internet chat, with people offering different explanations and versions of the "real truth."
Mr. Bielek, an electronics technician somewhere between 70 and 80, tells a rather elaborate version that involves his participation in some back-to-the-future-type time trips. He also claims a past identity as a dashing and brilliant physicist named Edward Cameron.
Mr. Bielek/Cameron said he was born in 1917 as the illegitimate son of a swashbuckling sailor. He got a degree in physics from Princeton, he says, and a doctorate from Harvard by the age 22. Neither university has heard of him--by either name. He says he was taken under the wing of physicist John Von Neumann, the father of the computer.
During the war he, Von Neumann, Albert Einstein and other luminaries were pulled into a top-secret Navy experiment in Philadelphia that was to employ a new technology to make ships invisible, said Mr. Bielek/Cameron. They called it "project invisibility."
The science is too complicated to explain, he says, but it worked--although there were a couple of unfortunate side effects.
When the Eldridge allegedly disappeared from the shipyard and then reappeared minutes later, Mr Bielek said, "two sailors were buried in the deck . . . the molecular structure of their bodies was intermingled with the molecules of steel in the deck . . . They were dying."
In investigating the damage, Mr. Bielek says he was transported to 1983 in Montauk, N.Y.
Because of his time travel, Mr. Bielek says he got into trouble with the government for knowing too many secrets. His punishment? He claims his identity was transformed from a physicist to a mere technician.
Mr. Bielek says he began to regain the lost memory of his past when he watched the film The Philadelphia Experiment on late-night television during the 1980s.
The Navy wishes Mr. Bielek and other believers would just go away.
Navy public affairs officers in Washington say they've had so many calls since the 1950s requesting information on the experiment that they prefer to send out a fact sheet. The fact sheet says in short, that the Navy has never conducted any investigation on invisibility, not in 1943 or at any other time, and that scientists do not believe such an experiment could be possible "except in the realm of science fiction."
According to the fact sheet, Navy personnel believe that the questions surrounding the Philadelphia Experiment arise from "quite routine research" that occurred during World War II. Skeptics have done their own research into the legend's origin. In a collection of essays titled The Fringes of Reason, journalist John Keel writes: "As in most folklore, there must be just enough basis in fact to make the stories believable despite persistent embellishments."
Actually, the research going on during World War II was far from routine. Radar was new, and the installation and testing of this invention were done under classified conditions. That is one possible origin of the legend, offered by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rob Raine. In a fact sheet from him, he writes that the Navy did conduct some early tests of methods to make ships harder to detect by enemy radar--that is radar invisibility.
Cmdr. Raine also suggests that people were confused by the "deperming" experiments that were done to reduce the magnetic field generated by the steel in ships-- a measure intended to protect them from mines triggered by detection of a magnetic field.
Mr. Keel, in his article, says a section of the Philadelphia Navy Yard was sealed off during World War II, and that "strange scholarly civilians carrying briefcases were seen entering and leaving the restricted area (one of whom was recognized as Albert Einstein)."
Mr. Keel suggests that the rumor grew from a branch of the bomb-building Manhattan Project in Philadelphia.
Naval historian Dan Van Keuren says that in fact the naval shipyard was participating in the highly classified bomb-building project--working on a way to "enrich" ordinary uranium with the explosive isotope Uranium 238.
And in 1944 there was a small explosion in this bomb project, killing two men and injuring nine others. "It was very hushed-up," Mr. Van Keuren says, because of the secrecy surrounding the atom bomb. Even the families were not told the cause of the deaths.
That would seem good fuel for the disappearing-ship rumors in which two sailors were killed.
The Society for the Investigation of the Paranormal, however, sends an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, which says the tale didn't originate until the 1950s, when a former merchant seaman named Carlos Allende sent letters explaining this disappearing-ship story to an auto-parts salesman named Morris Jessup of Washington, D.C., who incorporated the story in a book he was writing about UFOs called The Case for the UFO. Mr. Jessup has since died.
If you can believe that tale, then you might believe alien intelligence aided the government scientists in developing the disappearing-ship technology. Either that or the boat was swallowed by an errant Loch Ness monster.
But a few verifiable facts--for the believer or nonbeliever. The USS Eldridge was given as foreign aid to Greece in 1951. It is now called Leon. And it is still visible.
One last note--the USS Eldridge was a Destroyer Escort(DE 173) launched in 1943. She was 306' in length, displacing 1520 tons full load, and carried 3 3"/50 mounts along with 3 21" tubes.
Her compliment was 220.(source: The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet; Victory Edition of 1945)
Philadelphia Experiment (See Also) (Research Topics - ~Philadelphia Experiment)
Rainbow (See Also) (Projects - Rainbow)
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