Allegedly conducted on the east end of Long Island during the Cold War, Project Montauk was a secret military experiment to develop psychological warfare with abducted children.
The Montauk Project just might be the motherlode of lesser-known conspiracy theories. Time travel, teleportation, and mind control are all integral to the story, while contact with aliens and the staging of Apollo moon landings add color to an already wild yarn. Yet even after all that and the fact that it inspired the Netflix series Stranger Things, relatively few have even heard of the Montauk Project story.
So how is it that the Montauk Project — which purports that shadowy elements of the U.S. military turned a pair of military installations on the far reaches of Long Island into a hub of illicit, chilling research into the paranormal — has gone overlooked?
Perhaps it’s because the story originated in sources that are dubious even by conspiracy theory standards. Though even if the Montauk Project itself is fiction — which it surely is — the Central Intelligence Agency’s documented history of disturbing experiments like the ones supposedly carried out at Montauk means that this theory will stay intriguing for the few who know it.
And with the popularity of Stranger Things firmly established, perhaps the Montauk Project’s time in the spotlight might finally be just around the corner.
The Bizarre Origins Of The Montauk Project Story
The Montauk Project narrative got its start in earnest in 1992 with a self-published book by Preston B. Nichols called The Montauk Project: Experiments In Time [available as a PDF].
There were already rumors that the American military had been conducting experiments in psychological warfare on the eastern end of Long Island as far back as the mid-1980s, so Nichols’ book added fuel to an already existing fire.
Both Camp Hero and the Montauk Air Force Station — the Army transferred a portion of Camp Hero to the Air Force after World War II — were said to be the hubs of this paranormal research. Nichols begins by saying that he wrote the book after “recovering” memories of his time as a researcher for the project and then goes on to give an account detailing the interior of the facilities, its procedures, advanced technologies, and numerous paranormal incidents he claims to have witnessed.
After the book’s publication, others started coming forward to say that they, too, had been privy to the illicit research conducted by the Montauk Project, beginning the process of circular reinforcement that is the essential mechanism of a conspiracy theory.
In terms of his actual claims, Nichols’ book goes all-in: experiments in mind control and telepathy, opening space-time portals to other dimensions, contact with alien life and the abduction of runaway children — all under the authority of a U.S. military program financed by Nazi gold recovered during World War II.
With so many claims in play, untangling it all is an epic undertaking. Fortunately, we at least know where to start.
The Philadelphia Experiment
The story of the Montauk Project intersects with a longstanding and somewhat well-known conspiracy theory regarding the so-called Philadelphia experiment of 1943. According to lore, the U.S. military was trying to find ways to bypass Nazi radar during World War II by using electromagnetic fields.
The various versions of the story say that the military successfully developed a technique that rendered the USS Eldridge, stationed at a naval shipyard in Philadelphia, not just invisible to radar but completely invisible to the naked eye. What’s more, the ship was supposedly then transported through a hole in space-time to Norfolk, Virginia, more than 200 miles away.
When the Eldridge reappeared at the Philadelphia shipyard several minutes later, some crew members had been fused into the bulkheads of the ship or had rematerialized inside-out. Those who weren’t were driven insane by the disorientation they experienced while the ship was in a so-called “hyperspace bubble” that existed outside of space-time.
Nearly all of the key details are either disprovable through obvious chronological inconsistencies or violations of the established laws of physics. Moreover, no two retellings of the Philadelphia experiment story are ever the same and people who actually served on the Eldridge in 1943 dispute the story entirely. Nonetheless, this conspiracy theory had been bouncing around for a few decades before it helped give birth to the Montauk Project story.
A Tale Of Two Portals: From The Philadelphia Experiment To The Montauk Project
In 1984, a schlocky, otherwise forgettable B-movie was made about the Philadelphia experiment, aptly titled The Philadelphia Experiment. When a 57-year-old man named Al Bielek saw the movie in 1988, he claimed that he experienced an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
Using new age therapies and practices, Bielek said that he was able to unlock a massive store of repressed memories about his extensive involvement not just in the Philadelphia experiment but in something called the Montauk Project as well and that the two were intertwined.
Suggesting that his memory had been wiped using the CIA’s MK-Ultra techniques to maintain the secrecy of the program, Bielek claimed that his real name was Edward Cameron and that he and his brother Duncan Cameron were crewmembers on the Eldridge in 1943 when they were in their 20s.
Bielek told his story to an audience at the Mutual UFO Network conference in 1990, saying not only that the Philadelphia experiment was real, but that he and his brother were aboard the ship when it happened. He said that none other than Nikola Tesla himself had engineered the “equipment” that caused the Eldridge to break out of space-time and that it had even opened up a wormhole to the future, which dropped the two brothers in the middle of Montauk’s Camp Hero on August 12, 1983.
At this point, Bielek’s story becomes convoluted, but the thrust of it is that he and his brother joined up with the Montauk Project, which had grown out of the electromagnetic research of the Philadelphia experiment. Bielek claims he befriended Nichols in the 1970s and that together they developed the “Montauk Chair,” a mind-reading device that was a central component of the entire project and helps provide a window into the specifics of its supposed research.
The Montauk Chair, Psychic Espionage, And Portals Through Time And Space
Preston Nichols details his alleged work on the Montauk Chair in his book, claiming it used electromagnetism to further the psychic powers of whoever sat in it. Duncan Cameron — in a stroke of uncanny coincidence — happened to have substantial psychic abilities, including the ability to manifest objects with his mind using the device.
This may sound familiar to fans of Stranger Things, where a similar device is used by the character Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, to open a portal to the parallel, alternate dimension called the Upside Down. In the Montauk Project lore, Cameron and other project researchers would use the Montauk Chair to similarly open portals through space-time.
Nichols described another experiment in his book that is curiously similar to remote viewing, a paranormal concept that was actually researched by the CIA (and also included in Stranger Things). Nichols writes:
“The first experiment was called ‘The Seeing Eye.’ With a lock of a person’s hair or other appropriate object in his hand, Duncan could concentrate on the person and be able to see as if he was seeing through their eyes, hearing through their ears, and feeling through their body. He could actually see through other people anywhere on the planet.”
But more so than remote viewing or any of the other claims Nichols makes, the one about the abduction of young children — some no older than four — to use as subjects in the Montauk Project’s various experiments is surely the most shocking. Nichols referred to these underage abductees as the “Montauk Boys” and said that they were snatched off the street or even taken from their homes.
According to Nichols, these children were so psychologically broken down by the Montauk Project that most would forget all about their time at Camp Hero for the rest of their lives.
And the stories of the Montauk Boys only became more intriguing when someone started coming forward to confirm them.
At least one man has claimed to similarly “recover” his traumatic memories of the Montauk Project just as Bielek and Nichols had. Stewart Swerdlow, a 52-year-old man living in Michigan, told The Sun in 2017 that he was one of the Montauk Boys Nichols describes and that he and others like him were subjected to horrific abuse:
“When the experiments started they’d target ‘expendable’ boys like orphans, runaways or the children of drug addicts. The kind of kids no one would really come looking for.
The aim was to fracture your mind so they could program you…they would change the temperature from very hot to very cold, starve you then over-feed you. I remember being beaten with a wooden pole.
And they loved to hold your head underwater until you nearly drowned. That was effective — it makes a person likely to listen to and obey their ‘rescuer.’ They also used LSD to put our brains into an altered state.”
Swerdlow added that he also observed project staffers sexually abusing the children in order to break them down. Swerdlow even alleged that he and other Montauk Boys were sent to Mars and back to Biblical times via the project’s portals.
“In the early days, as they were perfecting the co-ordinates, a lot of boys were simply lost,” he said. “I still have nightmares about it today. I wasn’t there when the Montauk Chair was shut off but I felt it, like I had suddenly been unplugged from electricity.”
The End Of The Montauk Project And The “True” Story Behind Stranger Things
All of the project’s experiments finally came to an end in the early 1980s, Nichols claimed, when things finally went too far even for the researchers responsible.
Nichols claimed that whatever someone sitting in the Montauk Chair envisioned would first appear on a transmitter screen, before being manifested in the real world in either solid or transparent form. The Montauk Project was shut down after Nichols and Duncan Cameron, along with other participants, rebelled against the project when something especially sinister was manifested:
“We finally decided we’d had enough of the whole experiment. The contingency program was activated by someone approaching Duncan while he was in the chair and simply whispering ‘The time is now.’ At this moment, he let loose a monster from his subconscious.
“And the transmitter actually portrayed a hairy monster. It was big, hairy, hungry and nasty. But it didn’t appear underground in the null point. It showed up somewhere on the base. It would eat anything it could find. And it smashed everything in sight.
“Several different people saw it, but almost everyone described a different beast.”
Nichols said they had to destroy all of the equipment in order to remove this creature from existence and send it back to its original dimension, or something to that effect. This is clearly the inspiration for a similar narrative in Stranger Things where Eleven summons a monster which similarly goes on to wreak havoc.
According to Variety, show creators Matt and Russ Duffer were so inspired by the Montauk Project that the original title for their Netflix hit was simply Montauk.
After filmmaker Charlie Kessler filed a lawsuit against the brothers for allegedly plagiarizing his short film, The Montauk Project, the setting was changed from Long Island to the suburbs of Indiana. Regardless of the creative squabble with Kessler, the Netflix show clearly relied heavily on Nichols’ work.
Was There Any Truth To The Montauk Project Story?
According to Nichols, the basement levels of Camp Hero were flooded with cement once all the equipment was destroyed and the project was shut down, with anyone involved in the project having their memories of the project suppressed using MK-Ultra techniques.
The decommissioned facilities at Camp Hero are still standing, however, attracting curious passersby and local townsfolk to this day regardless of what actually happened inside. The SAGE Radar facility has become a notable landmark for boats sailing around the fork of Long Island, so it was left standing when the Air Force shut down the last of its air traffic control operations at the facility in 1984, giving the site an eerie, disquieting presence.
The military, for its part, has disputed that anything like the Montauk Project took place on Long Island. But these sorts of denials often do little to dissuade believers because the U.S. government likewise denied their research into mind control and remote viewing with just as much assuredness as they deny Nichols’ claims — right up until the moment the research documents on MK-Ultra and other similar projects were declassified.
While most locals likewise consider the Montauk Project story to be a fabrication, they aren’t entirely convinced by the U.S. military’s insistence that the Camp Hero and Air Force station facilities were entirely above-board either.
“No doubt stories have been embellished,” said Paul Monte, the president of the local Chamber of Commerce, “but I don’t doubt that things went on there in the Cold War years. Even today, the base is patrolled and watched… They obviously don’t want people in there even now.”
Filmmaker Christopher Garetano, whose documentary, The Montauk Chronicles, explores the history of the subject, believes that it’s important to consider a few precedents before writing off the story entirely.
“The more I researched the more I’ve begun to believe it is not so ludicrous,” he said. “We know there was military interest in paranormal phenomena. Project Stargate, which began in 1978 and was later declassified, looked at whether psychics could perform ‘remote viewing’ and ‘see’ events from great distances.”
“MK-Ultra used vulnerable people, like prisoners. So why is it so far-fetched that orphans or runaway boys would be targeted? They seem exactly the sort of subjects who would be easy to take. And Montauk would be the ideal facility. In the winter it is like a ghost town.”
As chilling as these notions are, the Montauk Project and the outlandish stories associated with it sit squarely within the realm of fiction. But will some proof eventually spring forth from the depths of the government’s archives in the coming years or decades? Perhaps only time will tell.
After learning about the alleged time travel, teleportation, and mind control of the Montauk Project, discover the supposed Philadelphia experiment. Then, read about the infamous Project MK-Ultra experiments.