The Conspiracy Theory That Inspired ‘Stranger Things’


According to the Montauk Project story, a WWII experiment to elude Nazi radar led to breakthrough accomplishments in mind control, time travel, and interdimensional portals.

The Montauk Project might be the motherlode of sidelined conspiracy theories. Time travel, teleportation, and mind control are all integral to the story, while alien contact and the purported staging of Apollo moon landings add color to an already wild yarn. Yet even after inspiring the wildly successful Netflix series Stranger Things, few have even heard of it.

Subjects like Area 51 or the JFK assassination have dominated large swaths of the paranormal and deep state discussions for the last 50 years, and even Flat-Earthers are making a strong comeback after spending a few centuries on hiatus.

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, avant-garde research into the paranormal — is left sitting on the shelf in this new renaissance of conspiratorial thinking?

One might argue that its origins have limited the story’s reach. The broad strokes of the theory originate from dubious sources that strain credulity, even by conspiracy theory standards. Still, there’s more than enough meat on the bones of the Montauk Project for people to dig into and it goes without saying that actual evidence isn’t exactly the primary currency of the conspiracy theorist.

And with the Central Intelligence Agency’s documented history of remote viewing and mind control experimentation, there’s just enough truth here for any dead-ender to cling to for as long as they want, and with the popularity of Stranger Things, the Montauk Project’s time in the spotlight might be just around the corner.

So, with that in mind, it’s probably time to refresh our memories of the “real” story before that one red-pilled cousin of ours starts sending us dozens of YouTube videos about it.

Origins Of The Montauk Project Story

Montauk Air Force Station

Wikimedia CommonsThe Montauk Project allegedly involved the abduction of orphans and runaways who were subjected to physical and psychological torture.

The Montauk Project narrative got its start in earnest around 1992 with a self-published book by Preston B. Nichols called The Montauk Project: Experiments In Time [PDF].

There were already rumors that the Cold War-obsessed American military had been conducting experiments in psychological warfare on the eastern end of Long Island as far back as the mid-1980s, so you can say that Nichols’ book added fuel to an already existing fire.

Camp Hero State Park Military Map

NYS ParksThe U.S. government has staunchly denied any research described in Nichols’ book occurred at either Camp Hero or the Montauk Air Force Station.

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 and Nichols’ book paints a picture so outlandish as to classify it as science fiction.

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.

Preston B Nichols

YouTubeNichols claimed he eventually recovered repressed memories of his true identity, and that he’d worked on the Montauk Project.

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 an unsanctioned U.S. military program financed by Nazi gold recovered during the Second World War.

The only thing Nichols leaves out is the Knights Templar, so untangling it all is an epic undertaking. Fortunately, we at least know where to start.

The Philadelphia Experiment

Uss Eldridge

Wikimedia CommonsSome continue to believe that the U.S. Navy’s alleged research into radar invisibility in 1943 not only made the USS Eldridge vanish completely, but actually transported it to Norfolk, Virginia.

The story of the Montauk Project intersects with a longstanding and somewhat well-known conspiracy theory regarding the so-called Philadelphia Experiment in 1943. According to the lore, the U.S. military was trying to find ways to bypass Nazi radar during World War II by using electromagnetic fields.

In a naval shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the summer or fall of that year, the various versions of the story say that the USS Eldridge was not just rendered invisible to radar, but completely invisible to the naked eye. What’s more, it was then transported through a hole in space-time to Norfolk, Virginia, over 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.

Obviously, there are many, many things wrong with this story, and 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 are ever the same and people who actually served on the Eldridge in 1943 dispute the story entirely. Nonetheless, this conspiracy theory has been bouncing around since at least 1955.

A Tale Of Two Portals: From The Philadelphia Experiment To The Montauk Project

This is where the Montauk Project starts taking a turn into the meta. In 1984, a schlocky, otherwise forgettable B-movie was made about the Philadelphia Experiment, aptly titled The Philadelphia Experiment, that features the key points of this purported event in its plot. The only reason why anyone would have to bring this up at all is that this film was something of a catalyst for the Montauk Project story.

When a 57-year-old man named Al Bielek saw The Philadelphia Experiment in 1988, he claimed that he experienced an overwhelming sense of something akin to Déjà vu.

Using new age therapies and practices, Bielek said that he was able to unlock a massive store of suppressed 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. 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 Aug. 12, 1983.

Mkultra File

Wikimedia CommonsA declassified document detailing Project MK-Ultra’s mind control experiments. Some information has been redacted.

At this point, Bielek’s story becomes so convoluted and self-aggrandizing that it’s really not worth getting into, 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.

The Montauk Chair, Psychic Espionage, And Portals Through Time And Space

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 psychics would use the Montauk Chair to similarly open portals through space-time in pursuit of the Montauk Project’s various objectives.

A New York Post segment on Stranger Things’ and its connection to the alleged events of the Montauk Project.

Nicholas described another experiment in his book that is curiously similar to remote viewing, a paranormal concept that was actually researched by the CIA. 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.”

Of the claims Nichols makes, the one about the abduction of young children — some no older than four — to use as subjects of the Montauk Project’s various experiments is probably the most exploitative. Nichols referred to these underage abductees as the “Montauk Boys” and that they were snatched off the street or even from their homes.

According to Nichols, they 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.

Closed Mountain Entrace To Camp Hero

TwitterA sealed entrance to Camp Hero’s alleged underground facilities. Nichols claimed the subterranean floors were flooded with cement once the program shut down in the early 1980s.

At least one man, however, has claimed to similarly “recover” these traumatic memories 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.”

Project MKUltra mind control experiments LSD

Getty Images A doctor administers a dose of LSD to a volunteer during the government’s MK-Ultra project. Stewart Swerdlow claims he and others were similarly dosed as children throughout the Montauk Project.

Swerdlow added that he also observed sexual abuse being employed as a means of breaking these children down.

As out-there as this sounds, Swerdlow isn’t done, deciding instead to swing for the fences. Swerdlow alleged that he and other Montauk Boys were sent to Mars and back to biblical times through Camp Hero’s space-time technologies.

“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 “True Story” Of Stranger Things

Millie Bobby Brown In Stranger Things

NetflixStranger Things was originally titled Montauk and was heavily inspired by the purported experiments at Camp Hero.

Nicholas 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:

“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, send it back to its original dimension, or something to that effect. This is perhaps the most self-serving claim he makes in his book, but it was clearly the inspiration for a similar narrative in Stranger Things where Eleven summons a monster which similarly goes on to wreak havoc.

Stranger Things Experiment With Eleven

NetflixThe “Montauk Chair” Preston B. Nichols described in his book, which allegedly amplified a person’s psychic abilities, was changed to a suit in Stranger Things.

According to Variety, creators of the show, 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.

With the character of Dr. Brenner, played by Matthew Modine, abusively torturing young children like Eleven — whose name, itself, implies there have been at least 10 previous test subjects — and monsters from other dimensions being unleashed on our plane of existence, the show captures the essence of its source material pretty well.

Was There Any Truth To The Montauk Project?

According to Nichols, the basement levels of Camp Hero were flooded with cement once all the equipment was destroyed and the project 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. 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. It goes without saying that if any bit of the story were true, the chances that the U.S. military would acknowledge kidnapping children and subjecting them to abuse to research the paranormal are essentially nonexistent.

It’s these sorts of denials, however, that make stories like the Montauk Project in any way plausible. The U.S. government 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. Why wouldn’t you believe that something similar may be in store for the Montauk Project as well, at least in some form?

While most locals 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.”

A Stranger Things clip showing the inhumane experimentation forced upon children, which allegedly occurred at Camp Hero.

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.”

After learning about time travel, teleportation, and mind control allegedly harnessed by the secretive Montauk Project, read about four of the evilest science experiments ever performed. Then, go inside Unit 731 — where Japan conducted sickening human experiments during the Second World War.