- ATLANTIC CITY -- The truth is out here. It is in a hospitality room of a boardwalk
hotel, with some old salts sitting around white-clothed tables laughing
at reports that their ship was involved in a top-secret World War II experiment.
- Sailors who served on the USS Eldridge,
the ship that legend says vanished briefly in 1943 at the Philadelphia
Navy Yard, met here this week for their first reunion in 53 years and spent
part of their time joking about the so-called Philadelphia Experiment.
- The Eldridge, they said yesterday, may
well have been invisible to Philadelphia because it was never in Philadelphia.
- The ship's log and several veterans who
were on the ship from its launching on July 25, 1943, at Port Newark, N.J.,
say it called on many East Coast ports, but never Philadelphia.
- Two movies, two books and several Web
sites have kept the myth about the Eldridge alive. As the story goes, the
destroyer escort was surrounded by a greenish fog, disappeared for a few
minutes, then reappeared.
- But none of the veterans believes it.
- "I think it's somebody's pipe dream,"
said Ed Wise, 74, of Salem, Ind.
- Ted Davis, 72, of Grand Island, Neb.,
was more emphatic. "It never happened," he said.
- Bill Van Allen, 84, who was executive
officer and then captain of the Eldridge in 1943 and 1944, said he never
saw any sign of experiments aboard the ship. "I have not the slightest
idea how these stories got started," said Van Allen of Charlotte,
- These former sailors said they sometimes
had fun pretending the experiment actually occurred. "When people
would ask me about it, I would play along with them and tell them I disappeared.
After a while they realized I was pulling their legs," said Ray Perrino,
72, of Cranston, R.I.
- None of the 15 at the reunion could explain
why writers picked their ship, out of the thousands that sailed in the
war, as the site of invisibility experiments.
- Frankly, some are tired of being asked
- "We can't wait to put it to rest.
We can't because it keeps coming up," Davis said. "I'm still
asked about it now, mostly by younger people."
- "I have a Pennsylvania auto license
DE-173 [the designation and number of the Eldridge] , and every once in
a while somebody will stop and ask me if it was really true," said
Mike Perlstein, 72, of Warminster.
- "I tell them I know nothing about
it. I've seen the movie, and it's a good movie, but there's no truth to
it," Perlstein said.
- The Navy said it had received so many
inquiries through the years about the Philadelphia Experiment -- the title
of a 1984 movie, a 1993 sequel and two books -- that it prepared and sends
out a fact sheet.
- The Navy said the myth dated to 1955
with the publication of The Case for UFO's by the late Morris K. Jessup.
It said Jessup later received letters from a Carlos Miguel Allende, who
gave a New Kensington, Pa., address, and claimed he witnessed the ship
becoming invisible from another vessel. Allende also said the ship was
"teleported" to and from Norfolk, Va., in a few minutes with
some terrible aftereffects for crew members.
- Questions about the experiment probably
arose from "quite routine" research at the Philadelphia Naval
Shipyard during the war, according to the Navy fact sheet.
- "It was believed the foundation
for the apocryphal stories arose from degaussing [demagnetizing] experiments
which have the effect of making a ship undetectable or 'invisible' to magnetic
mines," the Navy said.
- But the Navy said it had never conducted
invisibility experiments, either in 1943 or at any other time.
- The legend says the ship became invisible
on July 22, 1943, but ship records and the veterans say it was not launched
until July 25. The second experiment, in which the Eldridge was sent to
Norfolk and back to Philadelphia, was supposed to have occurred on Oct.
28, 1943. The ship's log says it was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on that
date, but did spend two days in the Norfolk Navy Yard in November 1943.
- The gray-haired men, some wearing baseball
caps with "USS Eldridge" printed on them, chuckled as they ribbed
one another about the mental problems the crew supposedly suffered from
- "The only part of the book I think
is true is the part about the crew being a little crazy," said Ed
Tempany, 75, of Carteret, N.J. He referred to The Philadelphia Experiment:
Project Invisibility by William L. Moore in consultation with Charles Berlitz.
- "When I get home I'm going to apply
for disability," Perrino said, with a smile.
- "Beam me up, Scotty," said
- ©1999 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.