Summer of 1943. In the midst of World War II, an American battleship tested a technology designed by Einstein himself and managed to become invisible and teleport. That is, at least, what some conspiracy theorists say. This is the true story of the USS Elridge, the ship that “traveled in time”.
The legend of the Rainbow Project
What is popularly known as the Philadelphia Experiment, alludes to an alleged dark program of the US Navy called Project Rainbow. Urban legend says the military was testing a generator of electromagnetic fields with which they sought to find practical applications to the unified field theory proposed by Albert Einstein. In one sentence, they tried to achieve invisibility.
Private technicians who did not know what they were installing provided two powerful generators, dozens of meters of electrical cable around the hull and other complex electronic devices to the USS Elridge, a 93-meter-long battleship. On July 22, 1943, the first supposed experiment took place. The generators activated an electromagnetic field that made the battleship disappear from sight for a few minutes surrounded by a greenish fog. Some sailors complained of strong nausea caused by the test.
The equipment was readjusted and the second test took place on October 28. This time, the whole ship completely disappeared and appeared at the navy base in Norfolk, 600 kilometers away and 15 minutes in the past. There he was sighted during that time. After that he disappeared again in the middle of a blue lightning to return to Philadelphia.
Official statements of the navy
According to urban legend, the consequences of this second experiment were so devastating for the crew that the Navy decided to cancel the project. Most of the sailors developed schizophrenia and some completely lost their judgment. Many were seriously injured as they materialized, and others, less fortunate, fused horribly with the ship’s hull. Some vanished days after the experiment and never reappeared.
This is, roughly speaking, the truculent history perpetuated by conspiracy theorists, ufologists, and some science-fiction films. The navy has always denied the existence of the Philadelphia experiment. In a statement released in November 2000, the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) completely denied the existence of any invisibility or teleportation program, as well as Einstein’s involvement. In a summary of the note published by Naval History & Heritage, it is said:
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has already explained that the use of forcefields to make a ship and its crew invisible does not conform to the known laws of physics. The ONR also asserts that Dr. Albert Einstein’s unified field theory has never been completed.
Between 1943 and 1944, Einstein worked as a part-time consultant for the navy in theoretical investigation of explosives and explosions. There is no evidence that Einstein worked on anything related to invisibility or teleportation.
Indeed, unified field theory was a concept coined by Einstein when he attempted to explain the gravitational field and the electromagnetic field by a single unified theory. He never succeeded, but many do not care that the laws of physics overturn a good story.
The letters of Carlos Allende
How did the Philadelphia Experiment come to light? The answer is through a series of letters sent by Carl Meredith Allen under the pseudonym of Carlos Miguel Allende. Supposedly, Allen was a merchant seaman who saw the USS Elridge disappear from his own ship, SS Andrew Furuseth.
With a somewhat peculiar prose and abundant spelling mistakes, Allen described the supposed experiment of teleportation in a correspondence maintained with the writer and ufologist Morris Jessup. Although the sailor never provided any reliable proof of what he was saying, Jessup was fascinated by the tale and included it in a book titled The Case for the UFO. Jessup failed to repeat the moderate success of this book and committed suicide four years later. The circumstances surrounding his death further fueled the theory that the experiment existed and that the government has since tried to cover it up. The urban legend of the Philadelphia experiment had been officially born.
The Truth About The Philadelphia Experiment
The Philadelphia Experiment is a complicated hodgepodge of Allen’s feverish imagination, Jessup’s credulity, real facts, and gossip about sailors. The first thing that does not agree are the dates. Official records say that the USS Elridge was launched on July 25, 1943, two days after the alleged first experiment. He officially entered service at the Shipyard of New York on August 27, 1943.
What is certain is that, in the 1940s, the US Navy experimented with invisibility. Of course, it was not invisibility to the naked eye. The USS Elridge and its twin, the USS Engstrom were equipped with a new system that surrounded the whole hull with electric cables. The technique was called Degaussing, and its aim was to reduce the magnetic field of the ship to avoid that it was an easy target of the mines and magnetic torpedoes used in the Nazi submarines. The technique became very popular in the 40’s and came to be applied to military and civilian vessels alike.
As Edward Dudgeon, one of the sailors aboard the USS Elridge, explains, the degaussing system was installed by outside contractors. Not knowing exactly what they were installing together with the jokes of sailors who spoke of a system to “make the boat invisible” was enough to trigger the gossip. To this was added the fact that the ship did carry secret experimental equipment. It was, in particular, a new type of sonar and a system to sow loads of depth called Hedgehog.
The “lightning” spoken of in the urban legend about the Philadelphia experiment may be as simple as the discharge of ionized plasma known long ago as San Telmo fire.
As for the mysterious disappearance of the USS Elridge, Dudgeon explains that the origin of that part of the urban legend is due to an incident at the base of Norfolk. The Elridge landed at the base to get supplies, but soon he released moorings and returned to Philadelphia, where he arrived in less than six hours. According to the navigation charts of the area, this crossing was impossible because it was necessary to take a large detour to avoid German submarines and minefields. In fact, the ship used the channel Chesapeake & Delaware, that allows skipping the detour to the peninsula.
Dudgeon explains how until his departure and the one of a companion by the back door during a tavern fight encouraged the rumors of sailors of the USS Elridge that disappeared. Neither Edward Dudgeon nor his companion bar was old enough to drink, and when the fight broke out, the taverna took them out the back door to avoid problems with the authorities. To many, Dudgeon’s entire account is the cover of a mad experiment.
On January 15, 1951, the USS Elridge was transferred to Greece, where he served under the name of Leon. The ship left the service in 1999 and ended its days peacefully in a scrapping. It served to attenuate the legend of the Philadelphia Experiment that a group of veterans of the USS Elridge offered an interview in 1999 in which commented the history fun. The most fanciful prefer to believe that the US navy managed in a delusional pseudo-scientific combo invisibility, teleportation and time travel, but decided not to move forward because some sailors died.