Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren’t is a series that explores modern urban legends, bringing you a new tale each week.
Morris K. Jessupwas perhaps an unremarkable man. Born near Rockville, Indiana on March 2, 1900, he seemed set on a scientific path from an early age: An interest in astronomy eventually led to a Bachelor of Science degree in the subject from the University of Michigan, which in turn led to a Master of Science degree earned during a time working at the U Mich-run Lamont-Hussey Observatory. But though Jessup began working on his doctorate in astrophysics, he ceased working on his dissertation in 1931 and never earned the degree. He spent the rest of his life working in decidedly unscientific jobs, including a substantial time as an automobile-parts salesman. But selling car parts wasn’t the only thing Jessup did with his time: He was also largely acknowledged as the most original extraterrestrial hypothesizer of the 1950s, and his 1955 book The Case for the UFO made waves in the extraterrestrial hypothesis community. So when mysterious letters started appearing in his mailbox insisting of the existence of a government experiment geared towards exploring the effects of new and unusual technology on Navy vessels, Jessup was understandably intrigued. That experiment would become infamous. It was referred to as THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT.
In The Case for the UFO, Jessup had written about a possible means of propulsion used by flying saucer-style UFOs, with anti-gravity and electromagnetism being important players in his theory. This was what Albert Einstein called the Unified Field Theory, which attempted to describe, both mathematically and physically, how the forces that comprise electromagnetic radiation and gravity interrelate. But that was all it was—a theory—because the theory has never been demonstrated in practice. However, some researchers believed that if the theory WAS demonstrated, generators adhering to it could be created that would be able to bend light around an object, rendering it invisible. That’s right: Invisible. Obviously, the ability to cloak objects would be of substantial military use—consider what could be achieved if large-scale objects of war such as tanks, planes, and even ships could be made invisible.
This, then, was what the letters Jessup received claimed to have proven: That the US Navy had succeeded in creating such a cloaking device, and that furthermore, the letters’ writer claimed to have witnessed it in action. During the summer of 1943 at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, the letter said, a Dr. Franklin Reno equipped the destroyer escort USS Eldridge with light-bending generators and testing began on what was known as electromagnetic space-time warping. Initially, there was a certain amount of success; on July 22, the Eldridge allegedly became completely invisible, replaced by a greenish fog. However, there were complications when the ship reappeared: Some crew members were somehow fused to the metal of the ship itself—that is, they were essentially splinched. After this unfortunate turn of events, the Navy allegedly requested that the objective of the experiment be altered, such that the goal became to render the Eldridge invisible to radar, rather than to the naked eye.
But, the writer of the letters continued, the ship’s equipment was not re-calibrated, and the experiment was repeated on October 28. This time, the letters said, the ship not only vanished from sight, but even more impressively, physically vanished in a flash of blue light and reappeared in Norfolk, Virginia. Yes: The ship teleported from one location to another over 200 miles away. It is lucky that the ship reappeared in the water; it could have reappeared anywhere, including on dry land and in a heavily populated area. After sitting in full view of the crew aboard the ship SS Andrew Furuseth in Norfolk for some moments, the Eldridge again vanished and reappeared in its initially location at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. The letters also detailed side effects suffered by the crew: In addition to becoming embedded within the structure of the ship, many experienced crippling nausea, developed severe mental disorders, or simply vanished all together. The writer of the letters signed himself “Carlos Allende.”