The Philadelphia Experiment – Making a Ship Vanish

The Philadelphia Experiment is an urban legend claiming that the U.S. Navy conducted a secret experiment in 1943 to render the destroyer escort USS Eldridge invisible and teleport it from Philadelphia to Norfolk.

The story suggests that the experiment had catastrophic consequences for the crew, with some allegedly becoming embedded in the ship’s structure or suffering severe psychological trauma.

Despite its popularity, the legend lacks credible evidence and is widely considered a fabrication, debunked by naval records, scientific principles, and investigative reports.


Origins of the Story

The Philadelphia Experiment

Disproving the Hoax

Origins of the Story

The legend of the Philadelphia Experiment finds its roots in the mid-1950s and is largely credited to the writings and claims of an enigmatic figure named Carl M. Allen, who also went by the alias Carlos Miguel Allende. Allen’s connection to the story began when he started corresponding with Dr. Morris K. Jessup, an astronomer and author who had published The Case for the UFO in 1955. Jessup’s book, which discussed unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and speculated on the possibilities of advanced propulsion systems, captured Allen’s attention, prompting him to share his extraordinary tale.

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Allen’s first letter to Jessup arrived in 1956, detailing a shocking and improbable event that allegedly occurred in October 1943. According to Allen, he had witnessed a top-secret naval experiment that resulted in the destroyer escort USS Eldridge becoming invisible and even teleporting from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to Norfolk, Virginia, and back. Allen claimed the Navy had achieved this feat by applying principles from Einstein’s unified field theory—a theoretical framework that attempts to merge electromagnetism and gravity into a single coherent theory.

Launch of the USS Eldridge in July, 1943.

The letters from Allen were filled with technical jargon and references to complex scientific theories, giving them an air of credibility despite their outlandish claims. Allen asserted that the Navy’s experiment had temporarily made the USS Eldridge invisible to radar and sight, surrounding the ship with a strange greenish-blue glow before it disappeared entirely. This vivid description, combined with Allen’s references to legitimate scientific concepts, intrigued Jessup, though he remained skeptical of the story’s veracity.

The story took a bizarre turn when Jessup received a package from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in 1957. The package contained a copy of Jessup’s own book, The Case for the UFO, heavily annotated in the margins with comments purportedly from three different individuals. These annotations discussed the Philadelphia Experiment in detail, mentioning advanced propulsion systems, alien technology, and government cover-ups. The handwriting in the annotations bore a strong resemblance to that of Carl Allen, suggesting he was responsible for all the notes.

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The ONR found the annotated book curious enough to invite Jessup to discuss it, but ultimately concluded there was no substantial evidence supporting the claims within. However, the Navy’s interest in the annotated book added a layer of mystique to the story, inadvertently lending it a veneer of credibility. This official attention, combined with Jessup’s subsequent interest and public discussions, helped propel the Philadelphia Experiment legend into the public consciousness.

An undated shot of USS Eldridge underway.

Carl Allen’s background further complicated the story. Born in Pennsylvania in 1925, Allen was known for his eccentricity and had a reputation for spinning elaborate tales. His accounts of the Philadelphia Experiment varied over time, with inconsistencies and embellishments that made it difficult to ascertain any truth. Despite—or perhaps because of—these inconsistencies, the legend grew, fueled by a mix of Cold War paranoia, fascination with scientific advancements, and the allure of government secrecy.

The Philadelphia Experiment

The narrative of the Philadelphia Experiment hinges on a series of extraordinary and often horrifying events that allegedly took place on October 28, 1943. According to the legend, the U.S. Navy sought to achieve invisibility for its ships to protect them from enemy radar during World War II. The chosen vessel for this experiment was the USS Eldridge, a Cannon-class destroyer escort.

To achieve this unprecedented feat, the USS Eldridge was supposedly outfitted with an array of specialized equipment. This included massive generators, Tesla coils, and other devices designed to generate powerful electromagnetic fields. These fields, based on speculative applications of Einstein’s unified field theory, were intended to bend light around the ship, effectively rendering it invisible to both radar and the naked eye.

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As the story goes, when the equipment was activated on the morning of October 28, a bizarre and terrifying sequence of events unfolded. Witnesses on the docks and nearby ships reportedly saw a strange, greenish-blue glow surrounding the Eldridge. This glow intensified until the entire ship became enveloped in an eerie fog. Moments later, the Eldridge vanished from sight, leaving behind only the disturbed waters where it had been moored.

USS Eldridge would go on to serve in the Greek Navy.

The legend takes an even more fantastical turn with claims that the USS Eldridge not only became invisible but also teleported. According to some versions of the story, the ship reappeared hundreds of miles away at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia. It was said to have materialized there for several minutes before vanishing again and reappearing back in Philadelphia.

The alleged consequences of the experiment were dire and nightmarish. When the Eldridge reappeared in Philadelphia, it was reportedly in a state of chaos. Crew members were said to be in various states of disorientation and distress. Some were found embedded in the metal structures of the ship, their bodies fused with the hull as if the molecular structure of both man and metal had been merged. Others were purportedly driven insane, wandering aimlessly, or having vanished altogether, never to be seen again.

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Eyewitness accounts within the legend described horrifying scenes: sailors screaming in pain, others frozen in place or partially materialized in bulkheads, and a pervasive sense of dread among the surviving crew. The horrific nature of these alleged outcomes is often cited as the reason the Navy purportedly decided to abandon the experiment and cover up its existence. Supposedly, the government then embarked on a campaign of secrecy and disinformation to bury the details of the failed experiment and the suffering it caused.

Despite the vividness and drama of these accounts, no credible evidence supports their occurrence. The tale of sailors fused with their ship and the extreme psychological trauma they suffered serves more as a macabre embellishment than a factual report.

Disproving the Hoax

The examination of evidence surrounding the Philadelphia Experiment reveals significant gaps, inconsistencies, and outright fabrications that undermine its credibility. Despite the legend’s enduring popularity, critical analysis and investigation have repeatedly debunked the claims associated with it. Here are key points that collectively dismantle the myth:

Naval Records and Testimonies

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against the Philadelphia Experiment is the detailed and meticulous naval records from World War II. The logs of the USS Eldridge show that the ship was never in Philadelphia during the period in question. Instead, records indicate that the Eldridge was undergoing shakedown training in the Bahamas from September 1943 until December 1943. These logs are precise and consistent, offering a clear timeline that directly contradicts the legend’s timeline.

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Further undermining the legend are the testimonies of the Eldridge’s crew members. Over the years, numerous sailors who served on the USS Eldridge have categorically denied that any such experiment took place. They have described their service in routine terms, with no mention of extraordinary events or secret experiments. These firsthand accounts align with the official records and provide a strong counter-narrative to the claims made by Carl Allen and others who propagate the legend.

Scientific Implausibility

The technological claims associated with the Philadelphia Experiment are another major point of contention. The story suggests that the Navy successfully applied Einstein’s unified field theory to achieve invisibility and teleportation. However, this theory, which attempts to unify the forces of electromagnetism and gravity, remains speculative and largely theoretical even today. In the 1940s, the scientific understanding and technological capabilities necessary to conduct such an experiment simply did not exist.

The ship pictured around 20 years after the Philadelphia Experiment.

Furthermore, the idea of rendering a large object like a ship invisible or teleporting it through space defies known principles of physics. Creating an electromagnetic field powerful enough to bend light around an object or transport it instantaneously would require energy and control far beyond what is feasible with even today’s advanced technology. The scientific implausibility of these claims adds another layer of skepticism to the legend.

Carl Allen’s Credibility

Carl M. Allen, the primary source of the Philadelphia Experiment story, has been widely discredited. His letters to Dr. Morris K. Jessup were filled with technical jargon and references to scientific theories, but they lacked coherence and consistency. Allen’s background check revealed a history of mental health issues and a tendency towards elaborate storytelling. His accounts varied significantly over time, with different versions of the events emerging in different letters and interviews.

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Investigations into Allen’s claims have also revealed that he had no direct connection to the USS Eldridge or any inside knowledge of naval operations. His letters appeared to be the product of a vivid imagination rather than eyewitness testimony or insider information. This casts serious doubt on the reliability of his statements and the authenticity of the story he propagated.

The Annotated Book and the ONR

The annotated copy of Jessup’s book, The Case for the UFO, which was sent to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), plays a crucial role in the legend. The annotations discussed the Philadelphia Experiment and other speculative technologies in detail, allegedly written by three different individuals. However, handwriting analysis suggested that all the notes were penned by Carl Allen himself, casting further doubt on the authenticity of the claims.

Apart from the claimed Philadelphia Experiment, USS Eldridge wold have a relatively normal service history, operating in the Mediterranean and Pacific.

The ONR’s interest in the annotated book has often been misconstrued as validation of the experiment’s occurrence. In reality, the ONR found the book curious but did not consider it credible evidence. The attention from the ONR was a procedural response to a peculiar document rather than an endorsement of its contents. This nuance is often lost in popular retellings of the story, leading to exaggerated perceptions of the Navy’s involvement and interest.

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Investigative Reports and Debunking Efforts

Numerous investigations and research efforts have been conducted to examine the Philadelphia Experiment claims. Journalists, historians, and skeptics have all delved into the available evidence, consistently finding no support for the story. Books such as The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility by William L. Moore and Charles Berlitz, while popularizing the legend, have also been critiqued for their speculative and non-factual content.

In addition, notable debunking efforts by researchers like Robert Goerman and Jacques Vallée have highlighted the inconsistencies and lack of evidence in the Philadelphia Experiment narrative. These investigations have systematically dismantled the claims, reinforcing the conclusion that the story is a fabrication.