Saturday, 11 October 2008

I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.

You know, the only thing I know about Philadelphia is that Will Smith's character in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had to leave the city. Apparently it was because he ran into a “couple of guys who were up to no good” while he was “shooting some b-ball” (Gee Note: Which I think means “playing Basketball” for all of you who, like me, are seriously behind the times when it comes to street vernacular). Apart from that I have really have no idea of what Philly is like.

So when it comes to discussing an alleged scientific experiment that led to transportation, time travel, and the fusion of inanimate objects and human flesh, please bare in mind that as far as I know that could be a regular Sunday afternoon out in Philadelphia. (Gee Note: “Bored kicking around the house? Well then why not come down to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival where you can see The Amazing Davros solder a kettle to his wrist, and disappear from sight only to come back riding a hoverboard? Book now for an “early bird” discount on ticket prices.”)

Anyway as I've probably mentioned a couple of times on this blog already, I'm not a massive fan of conspiracy theories. I think part of the reason I don't like them is that most of the conspiracy theories I've come across tend to use the flimsiest pieces of evidence to back up ridiculously outlandish arguments. I have a book somewhere dedicated to the concept that Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It's conclusion is entirely based on, wait for it, the author over hearing a conversation between LBJ's lawyers talking about how they had sorted out that “Dallas thing”. (Gee Note: Literally that was it. Those two words. And some how he wrote a 500 page book about it. I'd be impressed if it wasn't such a gargantuan waste of time.)

But there is one conspiracy theory that's a bit different. Don't get me wrong. The premise of the theory is still very, very silly. And yes the “evidence” is wafer thin at best. But even I have to admit there's something a little more interesting about The Philadelphia Experiment.

It is, in fact, an absolutely perfect example of what's wrong with conspiracy theories.

The “Philadelphia Experiment”, or “Project Rainbow” to give the supposed military codename of the operation, was a scientific endeavour conducted in, er, Philadelphia oddly enough. On October 28th 1943 in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard the USS Eldridge was, for all intents and purposes, made invisible to the naked eye. Not only that, but at the time it was invisible in Philadelphia the Eldridge appeared off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia some 215 miles away before disappearing from there and reappearing in it's original location with a blue flash.

Now you would think that seeing as it was 1943 and a chap called Adolf Hitler had decided to take over the World by exterminating it's Jewish population and invading and occupying country after country (Gee Note: Kind of like Britain and America with Iraq now, except with less talk of “liberation” and more talk of “extermination”), a ship that could quite literally be beamed to another point on the planet instantaneously would be rather useful. However the experiment was officially cancelled shortly after this because of some unforeseen side effects.

Unfortunately the crew of the Eldridge were all on board at the time of the transportation, which as all members of the scientific community will know is customary with exceedingly dangerous experiments. Almost all of the crew members became violently ill. Some lost their minds shortly after would while others, well, others came off much worse. Some simply vanished in to thin air and never appeared again, while apparently five of the crewmen that did come back found themselves fused to the ships deck or metal bulkhead. Horrified by these results the Navy decided to discontinue Project Rainbow and then proceeded to cover the whole thing up.

It is, of course, all nonsense.

The USS Eldridge wasn't actually anywhere near Philadelphia during the month of October 1943. Alas it wasn't because she had been mystically thrown through space and time by some crazy scientist. Instead she was on her first shakedown run in the Bahamas, something that the ship's log documents in full.

But still the Philadelphia Experiment is amazingly popular amongst conspiracy theorists. So the question has to be, if the Eldridge can be shown to have been somewhere else at the time and so therefore proving the story to be fiction, where the hell did this all come from? How does something that has absolutely no basis in fact become a corner stone for conspiracy nuts?

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Morris K. Jessup and Carlos Miguel Allende.

Morris Jessup was a native of Indiana who graduated from The University of Michigan with a degree in astronomy. In 1955 his book The Case for The UFO was published and garnered quite a bit of attention. Ground breaking in many ways, it was a theoretical work analysing alternative propulsion methods that might be employed for space travel. Jessup argued that even though the current fashion for space travel, as much then as it is now, was centred around rocketry there may be more suitable ways of travelling the solar systems. Namely anti gravity created by electromagnetism. This he claimed could explain why so many reports of flying saucers described them as moving through the sky in often peculiar ways.

On January 13th 1955, Jessup received a letter from a “Carlos Miguel Allende”. In the letter Allende informed Jessup of the tale of Project Rainbow, which Allende claimed to have witnessed from the SS Andrew Furuseth, supplying enough details to make a convincing argument that it could have happened.

Jessup, intrigued by this mysterious letter, replied to Allende asking for proof of his claims. The reply came back a couple of months later this time signed by a “Carl M. Allen”. The letter stated that Allen couldn't recall any more details about the event, but may be able to do so with hypnotherapy. Jessup upon reading this, and being a rather astute man, promptly decided he was dealing with a probable nut job and discontinued their correspondence.

Jessup got on with writing a couple of more books dealing with theoretical physics and generally gadding about. Two years came and went and life carried on as normal until, in the early part of 1957, Jessup was again contacted unexpectedly. This time however it was in the form of an official correspondence from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Jessup was asked to come to Washington DC and aid the ONR with helping decipher the contents of a package they had received. Jessup duly went only to discover that the ONR had in fact received a copy of The Case for The UFO in an enveloped marked “Happy Easter”. The actual book itself appeared to have been annotated extensively by three different people. Through out the book they made veiled references to “Project Rainbow” and underlined several passages of text discussing theory of flight. One of the scribes, dubbed “Mr. A” by the ONR was identified by Jessup as having the same handwriting as Allende. Or Allen. (Gee Note: Sadly reports do not state how Jessup referred to his former pen pal. Although I think “that freaking lunatic” might have been appropriate.)

Now all this doesn't really amount to much. It's really only one of two things. Either Allen Allende your man scribbled the entire thing himself in three different coloured pens. Or someone else out there is as bonkers as him.

But then the ONR did something very strange, which in retrospect is the only justification as to why this theory is given any credence what so ever. For reasons that one can only assume were sound as pound at the time the ONR decided to print several copies of the book, annotations and all, and handed them out to high ranking officials within the Navy.

And, just like that, off to the races a bunch of conspiracy nuts went.

Because by reprinting the book, they unwittingly placed the Philadelphia Experiment in a position of importance it really doesn't deserve. Rather than be seen as a coffee table curio and nothing more, the reproduction of the Jessup's work, known as the Varo edition after the name of the printing company, was seen by some as the Navy's acceptance that such a thing may have actually happened.

Which is beyond frustrating when you think about it. Because, when all's said and done, there are a thousand and one things that could warrant serious investigation by the authorities which are left untouched because they cross the line in to the realm of, well, odd (Gee Note: I mean could you honestly see George W. Bush holding a press conference to announce extra funding for the study of Unidentified Flying Objects in America's skies? Even though over 40,000 insurance policies have been taken out to protect against alien abduction with Lloyds of London, let alone any other insurance company. I mean them folks might be wasting their money, but the least the government can do is placate them a bit right? Yeah right. Fat chance I'm afraid. You're on your own you bunch of weirdos).

But the sad thing is that when an authority does for once take an interest in something a little a bit unusual, a community of obsessives start shouting from the rooftops about cover ups and throwing around all sorts of accusations about the motives of the investigation itself, despite the fact that there is absolutely no proof what so ever that anything actually happened in the first place.

And so people complain that events and occurrences that possibly should be treated seriously get dismissed out of hand. But when said events and occurrences are treated with a modicum of respect then the public at large blow everything out of proportion. The fact that the Philadelphia Experiment theory has survived this long is testament to that, especially when it's only basis in reality is one man's scribblings in a book about flying saucers. (Gee Note: In an unrelated news it turns out I complain a lot. As an experiment I actually sat down and counted every time I complained about something the other night. I clocked up 27 separate instances of me grumbling in one single hour. In my defence, Spider-Man 3 was on television so I'm actually quite surprised it was that low. Seriously that God awful dance sequence in the Jazz club has been known to make me rant for days on end).

Therefore we find ourselves trapped in a vicious circle. Either taking things too seriously, or not seriously enough. And because of that, conspiracy theories are nothing more than circuses. Entertaining yes, but you wouldn't want to join one.


Jae said...

Ooo... very interesting. And funny. I like the idea that one crazy person started such a well known story. Might try that myself one day...

Gee said...

Yeah I know what you mean. I've been playing around with the idea that a bunch of radioactive badgers created by a secret government project were responsible for the rubbish weather we had this summer.

Of course, the government covered it all up to protect the Prince of Wales, whose badger farm was directly used to create these mutant beasts.

That could work right?

M. Simon said...

A bare mind is dangerous. Bear that in mind and put your skull back on. It is safer that way.