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Philadelphia Experiment

The Philadelphia Experiment is an ongoing combination of urban legend and mythology that blends together a number of themes, including time travel, UFOs and Einstein. It is also sometimes referred to as Project Rainbow.

This story was also the subject of a 1984 movie, The Philadelphia Experiment.

The story

Essentially the story is based on an alleged World War II experiment by the US Navy to make a ship invisible to the enemy. The story is as follows:

The experiment was supposedly based on Einstein's work on his Unified Field Theory for Gravitation and Electricity published in 1927, which suggested it would be possible to bend the light around the ship by generating a large enough electromagnetic field.

A small ship, the USS Eldridge, was fitted out with the required generator equipment for testing the theory. In June 1943 testing began in the Philadelphia Naval Yards[?], and later at sea. In one such test on July 22nd, the ship was rendered almost completely invisible. However when the test ended the crew was nauseous and unable to work.

At this point the aim of the experiment was altered to make the ship invisible to radar only. After modifications testing resumed at dockside on October 28th. This time when the system was turned on, the ship completely disappeared in a flash of light. It re-appeared in Norfolk, Virginia for a few minutes, then re-appeared in Philadelphia. Those members of the crew who remained were very sick, were crazy, others were fused with the metal of the ship, and a number simply vanished. The appearance in Norfolk was also witnessed by crew on the nearby merchant ship, SS Andrew Furuseth.

Publication of the story

The story first became public as the result of the efforts of Morris Jessup, an early UFO researcher. He 1955 he completed his seminal early work, The Case for the UFO. While touring as a part of the post-publishing publicity tour, he asked audience members to write their representatives and demand research into anti-gravity[?]. He felt this was a far more promising line of research than rockets, one that was getting almost no funding.

Soon after, Jessup started receiving letters from one "Carlos Allende". He basically admonished Jessup for not being aware of the Navy's work on the topic, and claimed that he had seen just such an experiment in 1943 while working on the Furuseth. Jessup was somewhat skeptical due to the nature of the claims, and later wrote to Allende, now "Carl Allen", asking for more detail. Allen suddenly couldn't remember anything concrete, and Jessup dropped the matter.

The next year Jessup was invited to Washington to meet with the Office of Naval Research[?]. They had recently received a copy of his book, a copy that had been marked up persons who appeared to be "making fun" of humans by underlining various questions Jessup asked and then answering them with "well of course it's...". Jessup immediately recognised the handwriting for all three apparent reviewers as being Allen's.

Things changed in 1974 when Charles Berlitz[?] published The Bermuda Triangle, the first in a long line of books on topics such as the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis and Roswell (as well as his line of books on language like Spanish for Travellers). A brief mention of the topic was later expanded in his 1977 book, Without a Trace, which had a full chapter on the topic. Apparently the story became more interesting because he was able to publish an entire book on it in 1979, as The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility.

Like all good UFO stories, the Philadelphia Experiment blends together a number of elements that lend a smell of credibility. One is the eye-witness stories from a number of people who are then "hushed up" by the government, and another is the constant Einstein name-dropping. It also rambles on covering a number of otherwise completely separate chapters, including Thomas Townsend Brown's levitating disks and other such topics (see Biefeld-Brown effect). In addition to the rambling style of Berlitz's earlier works, this one seems to add a new twist - entire chapters lifted almost word for word from a sci-fi novel called Thin Air.

Since publication the book has spawned an entire industry, including a 1984 movie of the same name. Although all of the claims have been shown false, the mythology lives on.

Investigating the story

Simply looking up the information on the ship, now publicly available on microfilm, is enough to demonstrate the somewhat silly nature of the claims. To start with the ship wasn't even commissioned until August 27th, and remained in port in New York until September. It then left for its shakedown cruise in Bermuda until October.

Then there's the fact that Einstein never published anything like the story suggested. He did work on a Unified theory[?], but he started on it after the war and never got it to work. Nor did it suggest anything about bending light, which is possible but would require something on the order of the sun's power output.

The story is clearly an outright fabrication by Allen, considered by his own family to be a great prankster. It took on a life of its own in the UFO community, and continues to this day.

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