Archaeotrek—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, February 2015
The Philadelphia Experiment: A UFO Legend That Will Never Die
by: Brad Steiger
The Steiger family some years back sitting down to dinner at their home in Arizona with guest Al Bielek, sitting next to Brad at the end of the table, with Sherry closest to the camera.
The Philadelphia Experiment went unnoticed by the general public for thirteen years either because the military was so effective in keeping it secret or, more likely, because it had never happened. The myth and mystery of the experiment did not begin until 1956 when M.K. Jessup, author of The Case for the UFO, received the first of a series of letters from Carlos Allende, who claimed to have witnessed the effects of an experiment in invisibility and teleportation in which a ship disappeared from a Philadelphia dock and reappeared a few minutes later at its dock in the Norfolk-Newport News-Portsmouth area.
Not long after Jessup began receiving correspondence from Allende, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Washington D.C. received an annotated copy of Jessup’s The Case for the UFO. It appeared that three different people, each writing in a different color of ink, had written notes suggesting awful things that had happened to the crew of the vessel involved in the experiment, such as dematerialization, bursting into flame, and becoming embedded in the steel of the ship. The ONR was unimpressed with the claims of the anonymous annotators.
Jessup died in 1959, whether by his own hand or as some UFO researchers insist, by murder made to look like suicide.
By the mid-1960s, the mystery of the Jessup-Allende letters and the annotated book was little more than a brain-teaser over beers for the inner-circle of UFO buffs. Vincent Gaddis briefly discussed the affair in his Invisible Horizons (1965), but most readers found the wide variety of maritime mysteries discussed in the book more interesting than the Philadelphia Experiment.
In August, 1966, I received a letter from Steve Yankee, a bright young college student from Michigan with whom I had been corresponding for several months, who was one up on most individuals who were still intrigued by the Philadelphia Experiment in that he actually had in his possession a microfilmed copy of the annotated edition of Jessup’s Case for the UFO. He had received the copy from a scientist-engineer named Alfred Bielek, who was intrigued by the alleged experiment. Yankee described a number of strange occurrences which he had undergone as a result of his possessing the copy. In one instance, three men had come to his place of work and demanded that he turn over the annotated edition to them. When Steve left for military service in 1967, he sent a print out of the microfilm to me.
As I read through the weird annotations and scribblings in the margins about an ancient race, UFOs, and crewmen undergoing dreadful transformations as a result of the experiment, I thought it all made for a good article for Saga magazine, a kind of review of a forgotten UFO mystery. Marty Singer, the editor, was keen on all things UFO-related, so he green lighted the article early in 1967.
After the article had appeared, I was astonished by the number of letters that I received from readers who claimed personal involvement in the Philadelphia Experiment. One letter writer said that he had participated in the experiment and scolded me by saying that I would not be able to write so objectively if I “were forced to live with this horror.”
Numerous correspondents claimed to continue to be harassed by ominous “agents” who still kept them under surveillance these many years after the experiment. Others said that they were “controlled” by “forces” that would not allow them to tell the real truth of the Philadelphia Experiment. Some of these letters were many pages in length, and they all told of participating in the experiment or of witnessing phenomena which they believed to have been closely associated with the secret Navy experiment.
Baffled, but very intrigued, by such a response to the article, I decided to include a chapter on the Philadelphia Experiment in a book that I was writing with the late Ufologist Joan Whritenour entitled Strange Flying Saucer Mysteries. The book originally dealt with reports of UFO Silencers, alleged sightings of robots near UFO landing sites, the possibility of our genes and our gods having come from another world, the mystery of UFOs under the seas, and a chapter on the Jessup-Allende enigma. Then, in a most surprising turn of events, the publisher of Award Books became so excited by the chapter on the Allende mystery that he instructed the editor to change the title of the book to The Allende Letters: New UFO Breakthrough, and he commissioned me to assemble a one-shot magazine special for the newsstands on the Allende-Jessup-Philadelphia Experiment.
Both the book and the magazine were published in 1968. Immediately I came under fire from UFO researchers who understood from the title of the book and one-shot special that I was claiming that the Allende Letters comprised the key to the entire UFO mystery. Such, of course, was not the case. The Jessup Affair and the Philadelphia Experiment were, in my estimation, just another “strange flying saucer mystery,” as the original title of the book had implied.
For a time, our book created a bit of a furor. I received six letters from men who claimed to be Carlos Miguel Allende, and a letter from a woman claiming to be his widow.
In addition, one of the largest private UFO groups, the Aerial Phenomena Research Group (APRO) published an account in their newsletter that Allende had appeared in their office one day with a woe begotten tale of how he had learned that Brad Steiger was writing a book on his correspondence to Jessup and how he had begged me not to publish it. According to the newsletter, I had brushed him aside, and he had walked away a broken man, incapable of securing legal assistance to combat a New York publishing empire.
Without a single letter or telephone call to myself or to Award Books to determine the truth of such an allegation (which was totally without substance or credence), the UFO research group headlined the story across the front page of their members’ newsletter. It should have been obvious to anyone even remotely familiar with my work (as I know APRO was) that if an individual who could prove his identity as the Carlos Miguel Allende would have materialized in my office in Decorah, Iowa, that I would have been most accommodating and politely have sought any details of the mystery that he would have cared to divulge.
Once again, the Philadelphia Experiment had risen from the dead. The ONR was bombarded with letters insisting that the cover-up be lifted and the truth be told. Some UFO researchers reconsidered their earlier dismissal of the event and began once again to look for clues in the tri-colored scribblings in the margins of Jessup’s book.
Shortly after The Allende Letters: New UFO Breakthrough was published, I met Alfred Bielek, a scientist-engineer, the source of the annotated Case for the UFO that Steve Yankee had sent me. It was obvious after brief conversation that Bielek took the Philadelphia Experiment quite seriously and considered as true the claims made by some researchers that the event had actually taken place and that a number of crewmen aboard the Eldridge had suffered greatly for their participation in the experiment in teleportation and invisibility.
From that time on, Bielek would often be in attendance at various conferences at which I spoke, so we continued to become better acquainted over the years. Al was usually in the company of other scientists interested in the paranormal, and I began to call them my favorite “Mad Scientists.” Usually, we would go out to dinner and discuss their latest theories on a vast array of research, all of which may have been a bit far-out, but never dull.
From about 1970 to the end of the decade, all was basically quiet on the Philadelphia Experiment front until Charles Berlitz and William Moore published their book on the subject The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility in 1979. Once again the twice-told tales were revived, and accusations of government cover-up during World War II were raging anew, but only the diehard buffs were stirred by the old theories remixed by Berlitz and Moore.
In 1984, Stewart Rafill released the motion picture The Philadelphia Experiment, starring Michael Pare and Bobby Di Cicco, as two seamen who find themselves projected 41 years into the future during the 1943 experiment in invisibility. The film is quite well done for its genre, but there were no resultant waves of excitement over the possibility that the experiment may have actually occurred. Some reviews, unfamiliar with the Philadelphia Experiment, considered Rafill’s film a rip-off of the Kirk Douglas’ starrer The Final Countdown (1980), in which the USS Nimitz is thrown back in time to 1941, just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s, Al Bielek moved to the Phoenix, Arizona, area where my wife Sherry Hansen and I were also residing. We often had Al over to the house during Holidays and for dinner. He began to hang out at our home so frequently that Sherry jokingly referred to him as our eldest son. We also welcomed him for occasional movie nights, and since none of us had ever seen The Philadelphia Experiment, we rented the film one night in 1988.
And now we have a dramatic instance in which life imitates art. Sherry and I noticed that Al seemed particularly moved by the film. Sometimes he seemed very troubled; sometimes, close to tears. Since Al would generally fall asleep during our movie nights, we knew that there was something about this film that truly spoke to him. Al had stayed with us the night his mother died, and we wondered if something in the film had possibly reminded him of his recent loss. Since he seemed so emotionally unsettled by his viewing of the motion picture, we suggested he spend the night with us on his customary place on the sofa.
It wasn’t until much later that we would learn that the next day after viewing the film, he had called two friends in New York and told them that the motion picture had jogged his memory. He told them that he had been a part of the Philadelphia Experiment--and so were they. One of them, Al said, was his brother. The two friends replied that they had been aware of their role in the experiment. They had just been waiting for Al to remember his participation.
Early in 1989, our friend Timothy Green Beckley came to Phoenix to visit us. After a few days of relaxation, he said that he wanted to sponsor a UFO-New Age conference in Phoenix. Sherry and I thought that the city certainly had enough interest in such subjects to sustain such an event, and I suggested to Tim that he include Al Bielek on the Philadelphia Experiment as one of the speakers.
Tim was not excited about my suggestion, arguing that the Philly Experiment was old hat and that no one had anything new to say about the subject. I countered that there were always people in attendance at such events who were not familiar with the range of topics in the paranormal and UFO field and who may have heard only brief comments about the alleged event. Al, I argued, had followed the story since the early 1960s. Tim, Al, and I met in a Denny’s restaurant to discuss the program, and after speaking with him at considerable length, Tim decided that Al could give an excellent overview of the many mysteries surrounding the Philadelphia Experiment.
In September of 1989, Alfred Bielek provided a thorough presentation of the secret experiment--and then startled everyone by announcing that he himself had been a participant in the astonishing experiment, that he had survived time-warping, invisibility, and electromagnetic zapping to emerge from many years of brainwashing to tell his story. Although he began investigating the mystery back in the 1960s strictly as a research project, he had now awakened to the reality that he had experienced one life as Alfred Bielek and another as Edward A. Cameron. To say that Sherry, Tim, and I were stunned is to express an extreme understatement.
Al Bielek continued from that September afternoon in 1989 until his death on August 29, 2007, explaining details of what it was like to be aboard the Eldridge when it dematerialized in 1943 and ripped an enormous hole in Hyperspace, a rent 40 years wide. The entire experiment, he maintained, was set up in 1934 by a group of extraterrestrials who met with Franklin D. Roosevelt somewhere in the Pacific aboard the Pennsylvannia. The U.S. President signed an agreement that would exchange alien technology for certain planetary privileges.
In 1990, Sherry and I interviewed Al for the book The Philadelphia Experiment & Other UFO Conspiracies—on which he would be credited as an author. We had to admit that Bielek was so convincing in his details that even experienced researchers such as we found ourselves entertaining thoughts of an alternate reality, of other dimensions of time and space overlapping. Maybe, on one level of reality, Bielek did participate in some kind of Philadelphia Experiment.
With the Philadelphia Experiment having been revived to at least a portion of the mass consciousness, Bielek became a very popular speaker at UFO and New Age conferences from coast to coast, often appearing with his alleged brother, Duncan Cameron, and a long-time friend, Preston Nichols, who was also an expert on the Philadelphia Experiment. Bielek also appeared in a number of television documentaries.
In 1993, The Philadelphia 2 with Brad Johnson appeared in theaters. This version had little of the success of the 1984 film starring Michael Pare, and attempted a shuffle of the established events of the myth by having Johnson be projected into a future in which Nazi Germany had won World War II.
To make matters even more complex and weird for the Steigers, for years individuals approached us after our lectures and swore that they or a close friend or relative either participated in or observed the Philadelphia Experiment. Some provided extensive details of the time that their father, uncle, or whomever spent in the hospital recovering from the effects of the experiments. Others insisted that their friend or relative had been kept in a mental hospital since the event and asked our help in getting them released.
In 2010, Reality Entertainment released a documentary featuring Bielek, Nichols, and Cameron telling their own version of the legendary events of the Philadelphia Experiment.
The controversial Allende letters, the mysterious annotated volume of Dr. M.K. Jessup’s The Case for the UFO, and the military’s famed Philadelphia Experiment was proven to have been a hoax due to the research of Robert A. Goerman, who finally tracked down the elusive Carlos Allende (real name, Carl Meredith Allen). The persistent Goerman made the astonishing discovery that the mysterious “Carlos” had been born and had grown up in Goerman’s own home town in Pennsylvania and that members of the Allen family still lived there. Carl was a former sailor who loved to read about strange mysteries and UFOs. Perhaps he wanted to create a myth that would survive his own physical death. In this regard, he most certainly succeeded.
The colorful Allen spent the last thirty years of his life living as Carlos Allende in Greeley, Colorado. On August 22, 1986, The News of Greeley, published his “death bed statement” in which Carlos insisted that everything that he had claimed in his annotations in The Case for the UFO were true. He also suggested that he had been Dr. Jessup’s uncredited coauthor.
Among Carlos’ claims were such statements as “You must continue this research...Einstein came to me, and trained me in the theory of invisibility.
He said they were using the Navy for his own research into Star-ship propulsion. All the Navy wanted was degaussing and radar invisibility.
You can imagine their surprise.” Regardless of Goerman’s attempt to squelch the mystery, the Philadelphia Experiment is a legend that refuses to die.