Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren’t: The Indian Lake Project

Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren’t is a series that explores modern urban legends, bringing you a new tale each week.

On July 9, 1997, a metal box was discovered in a wooded area around Indian Lake in upstate New York. The box had clearly been buried for some time; it was only found after a hiker tripped over an exposed edge which had worked its way free from the ground. The lid of the box was decorated with three shapes– an upside-down triangle and two circles– and had no lock. Inside, the hiker found 21 photographs with varying degrees of water damage, three reels of 8mm film, and an assortment of documents. The photographs largely depicted children, and the documents indicated that these children had been part of a government-run experiment between the years of 1952 and 1955. The experiment was known as:


The hiker passed away due to an unrelated cause in 2002, but he left the box to his nephew, John, after his death. John began systematically going through the items in the box in October of 2005 and documented his findings on his website. This is the box:

The pictures in the box ranged from images of the military base that housed ILP to the children who were apparently the subjects of the experiments. John draws particular attention to three children who are referred to as Roger, Sam, and Sally (names which he notes are probably not the children’s real ones):

The child known as Roger had the most pictures in the box. They are all identified with the number 837 and depict Roger at different ages, indicating that he and the other ILP children were in the possession of the military for a number of years. The pictures include an image of Roger sitting at a table for a meal, which is at odds with some of the information contained on the film reels. The reels had been heavily damaged after their time in the ground, so John was only able to salvage stills from them; the accompanying sound would undoubtedly help shed light on the goings-on of the reels, but John has had to make due with the images alone. The first reel seems to show four children eating a meal while confined within a cage-like structure– not at a table, as Roger is shown to be in his photograph. Other clips from the film reels provide images of children listening to what John believed to be high-frequency sounds which may have been used in some form of psychological conditioning. Troubling, indeed.

As John dug deeper, he unearthed more and more disturbing facts. He learned of the existence of a CIA project known as Project ARTICHOKE, a program geared towards researching interrogation methods that arose in 1951 from something called Project BLUEBIRD. A memo dated January 1952 states, “Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self preservation?”, implying that Project ARTICHOKE was based in the idea of mind control. Furthermore, it was not a defense program; rather, it was an offensive program in which the Army, Navy, Air Force, and FBI all took part. The ILP is believed to have been a part of it as well. The project was renamed MK-ULTRA in 1953, after which the ILP’s roll was reduced, then eliminated. When the project came under fire in a series of congressional hearings, documents were brought forth which suggested that the methods of mind control included hypnosis, radiation, and LSD; however, none of the declassified documents from the hearings recognize the use of children being used in an of the experiments. It is believed that after this point, the ILP. was buried– as John notes, literally and figuratively.

However, after a trip to Indian Lake itself, during which John found several cement structures deep in the woods which he believes to be the remains of the ILP base, John pulled back from his exploration of the box. He began to receive strange phone calls– as many as 20 a day– and his house was broken into and searched. Luckily, John had hidden the box somewhere outside of his home, so it remained safe; but in the interests of protecting himself and his family, he called it quits at the end of October, 2005.

In June of 2006, however, he began researching the mysteries of the box once again. He was surprised to receive an email from a woman who claimed that her father had been stationed at the ILP base in 1955. What initially convinced John that she was telling the truth was that she cited information that he could confirm based on the evidence contained within the box. They corresponded for several months, but in October 2006, suspicion crept in on John. The woman was more than willing to send John her father’s personal effects, which struck him as weird; she also asked that he send her the original photographs and documents from the box, which he was certainly not willing to do. Unclear on what her motives were or even if she was who she said she was– and how she got the information that she had– John cut off all contact with her. Meanwhile, he found this photograph not in the box, but on the web:

The typed notes on the photo read as follows:

“Unidentified white female between the age 8 and 10 years old. Subject underwent 6 months of treatment using heavy doses of LSD, electroshock and sensory deprivation. Experiments under codename: MKULTRA about early 60s. Subject’s memory was erased and her brain is that of a newborn baby.”

You can reach this post's author, Lucia Peters, on twitter.
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    • Sienna

      Why doesn’t he give the reels to a movie expert who can restore them? Why is he just weirdly blogging about it alone when he could surely get a team of people to help him?

      • Lucia Peters

        All good questions– these are some of the things that make it seem like a literary project or ARG. He does address them from time to time– he has trouble trusting other people and some weird stuff was going on in his own life while this was going on– but good things to be asking nonetheless.

    • luiz

      Those photos on p. 1 here are not of kids from the 1950s. Their hair and the photos themselves look much more modern than that. Unless those are just illustrations for the article…?

    • Flying Tiger

      Well since his pictures are clearly photoshop fakes, I’m going to go with fiction.

      I recommend people find a copy of Cannon’s The Controllers for the locations of some real MKULTRA bases. Hint: one of them is in Laurel Canyon, accessible through the area’s (independently documented) tunnels. Said tunnels include access to a daycare centre, Frank Zappa’s treehouse and the house where Manson and Family stayed.

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