In 1955, UFO researcher Morris K. Jessup claimed to have received a letter from a man calling himself Carlos Allende, pointing him to an experiment conducted by the US Office of Naval Research during World War II involving the Cannon-class Destroyer Escort, the USS Eldridge. According to Allende, the Navy had used Einstein’s theory of a unified field to conduct an experiment to render the Eldridge invisible, through the use of large magnetic generators meant to bend light around the ship. Conducted in Philadelphia, the experiment supposedly worked to some small degree: witnesses reported that the Eldridge did indeed disappear for a short time, with a greenish fog appearing in its place. When the ship reappeared, several crew members complained of severe nausea, and some of them had been embedded within the metal structure of the ship itself. In a subsequent test of the equipment, the Eldridge disappeared entirely, having been transported to Norfolk, Virginia, where it was observed briefly before returning to Philadelphia. When it returned, the Eldridge had apparently also gone back in time approximately ten minutes.

Allende claimed to have witnessed the Eldridge in Norfolk while stationed on an adjacent ship, but when Jessup pressed him for more information, Allende, who now called himself Carl M. Allen, stated he would only be able to retrieve more information via hypnosis. Later Allende would state that Einstein had himself been present during these tests, and during one Allende had put his own arm into the green force field that materialized as the Eldridge vanished.

“That’s why Einstein came to me,” Allende later recalled. “He saw me put my arm in. He wanted to know what I saw, what I had felt, if I smelled anything, and why I had done it. He sort of gave me an intelligence test — you might say. Once he realized that I did it out of a deep scientific curiosity, he spent time with me. He gave me a rapid course in the physics of invisibility during the next two and a half weeks.”

Jessup, on the other hand, would later claim that he had been contacted by the Office of Naval Research, who presented him with a copy of his own book, The Case for the UFO, that had been heavily annotated by three different, unnamed sources — annotations which contained more information on the Philadelphia Experiment and the strange journey of the Eldridge.

All this is a mixture of conspiracy, delusion, and fiction, of course. But I myself have never been able to look at photographs of ships without a persistent sense of longing and melancholy, as though the ships themselves have not only traveled through time but have appeared to us slightly out of joint.

¤

(Part of a talk given in collaboration with Lauren Walsh for Apex Art’s Doubletake Series, April 13, 2016. Image: Lewis Hine, “Oyster Barge Going After Oysters in Mobile Bay”

Colin Dickey is the author of Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius and Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith.