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With two seasons under its belt, Stranger Things is bigger than ever. It's not just that the series delivers heavy doses of nostalgia and horror in one fell swoop. The real magic of Stranger Things is that it builds a conspiracy-filled universe that's so intricate, it almost feels real. Well, here's the thing: it's actually inspired by a real-life conspiracy theory that's so wild and detailed, you'll almost want to believe it. We're not talking about Project MK-Ultra, though the Duffer brothers (who created Stranger Things) have admitted that they incorporated aspects of that conspiracy theory into the show as well. But this story is much darker, deeper, and more sinister.
We're talking about The Montauk Project. One little-known secret about Stranger Things is that it was originally titled Montauk, and it was supposed to take place in New York. For the geographically uninformed, Montauk is at the very end of Long Island. And at the very tip of Montauk is Camp Hero State Park. This is where the unbelievable story of The Montauk Project takes place.
According to a mind-blowing conspiracy theory, Camp Hero allegedly housed an underground government facility that conducted a wide range of questionable scientific experiments. While the Duffer brothers didn't lift the entire story of The Montauk Experiment for their sci-fi series, there are a handful of aspects of the show that seem to draw direct inspiration. Let's uncover the mysteries.
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Portals to Other Dimensions
In order to understand The Montauk Project, you need to hear about The Philadelphia Experiment. According to the stories, the Navy was conducting experiments in 1943. The goal was to render a military vessel invisible so that enemies could not detect it by radar or other means. These experiments yielded an unexpected result: not only did they purportedly figure out how to make the ships invisible, but they also accidentally sent one ship, The Eldridge, through a portal to another dimension and another time.
This government legend was so well-known that it was adapted into a 1984 film called The Philadelphia Experiment. The trailer for the film itself rehashes the story we've just gone over: the government experiences, the invisibility, even the time travel. Here's where things connect: a man named Alfred Bielek saw the film and experienced the strangest sense of déjà vu. In a 1997 interview with a reporter named Kenneth Burke, Bielek said the film "re-stimulated memories, which were close to the surface anyway."
In 1990, Bielek made the connection between The Philadelphia Experiment and The Montauk Project during a speech at a conference in Dallas. Bielek says he and his brother were both on the ship during this experiment. He says they were teleported from 1943 to 1983 . . . and they landed at Montauk. According to Bielek, they were intercepted by a man named Dr. von Neumann, whom they had also worked with in 1943. Dr. von Neumann told Bielek that they had inadvertently created a hole in hyperspace. Bielek recounted the doctor's explanation: "this hyperspace bubble is expanding, and is going to create some very serious problems; we don't know how far it will go if it's not shut down. It could engulf part of the planet." Basically, Bielek and his brother had to destroy all the equipment on the ship to "fix" this hole in hyperspace.
Stranger Things carries tons of echoes of this story. In fact, the experiments with Eleven are the initial cause for the gate that connects the Upside Down to our reality. Eleven has essentially torn the fabric of reality in the same way The Eldridge did. Season two further carries along a similar story: it becomes clear that the Upside Down has more or less "infected" Hawkins, and it's continuing to spread. The only way to stop the Upside Down from leaking further into reality is to close the gate.
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The "Gifted One"
OK, bear with me. It gets weirder. After that whole crazy 1943/1983 accident, Bielek says his brother stayed in 1983. But because of the whole fiasco, his brother began to age rapidly. A year per hour, as he describes it. The scientists were desperate to somehow keep him alive, so here was their plan: back in the past, in the same timeline, Bielek convinced his parents to have another son:
"Whether you will accept the metaphysical point of view or not, it was arranged. I was allowed to help arrange it. Because I was back in '43 and there was some transit back and forth because of Montauk, which was still on line for a period of time. To go back to the father and say, 'Hey man, get busy; we need another son, something has happened to Duncan.' So a new son, the last of the line, was born in 1951, and he from '83 was a walk-in, as a soul into the body in 1963, August 12."
So, basically, the scientists somehow transferred his brother's soul from 1983 to the body of his new brother in 1963. (Don't ask me, I can't even begin to justify the science behind this.) Anyway, this new version of Duncan demonstrated incredible psychic abilities.
How did the scientists at Camp Hero exploit these powers? They built something called "the Montauk Chair." At this point, we meet Preston Nichols, who came into the picture after Bielek's stories began to circulate on a broader scale. Nichols would go on to write his own account of The Montauk Project. According to the text, the Montauk Chair was a chair that had been enhanced with unimaginable technology: it could manifest whatever its subject was imagining. Basically, the chair would purportedly read the seated person's mind and make their thoughts a reality.
In the chair, Duncan did an experiment called "The Seeing Eye." Nichols writes: "With a lock of 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." This sounds eerily like the experiments conducted with Eleven in Hawkins Lab. If you recall, season one shows Eleven attempting to hear words spoken in other rooms.
Duncan allegedly demonstrated other abilities that sound a lot like Eleven's. Some of Duncan's powers, though, were entirely different. For instance, and this is important, Duncan could imagine objects and they would materialise elsewhere on the base. Nichols also describes how Duncan went into an "altered form of consciousness" when doing these kinds of experiments, much like Eleven is more or less incapacitated once she descends into that dark water world of hers. Nichols also claims Duncan could manipulate time and space and open dimensional portals, much like Eleven.
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The Kidnapped Children
As we know, Eleven is, well, likely the 11th child to be a test subject at Hawkins Lab. We can therefore deduce that there were at least 10 other children involved in these experiments, maybe more. The introduction of Kali in season two basically confirms this theory. And, I mean, it's possible Chief Hopper's daughter is in the mix, too. But that's another theory for another time.
In seasons one and two, we find out that Eleven was basically abducted by the scientists, stolen right from under her mother's nose. This exact thing happened in Montauk, according to Nichols:
"But there was one kid at Montauk who would go out and get other kids and bring them to the project. He was like a 'tractor beam.' He lived in Montauk and would circulate around very effectively . . . Some kids returned home, some didn't. The kids chosen were between 10 and 16. Or maybe 18 at the oldest and nine at the youngest. Most were just about to reach puberty or had just finished it . . . we know a lot of people were shoved somewhere into the Future — maybe 200 or 300 years ahead. Estimates range from 3,000 to 10,000 people that were eventually abandoned. We have no idea for what purpose."
So, yeah. If you think it's bad that the Hawkins Lab scientists may have taken a dozen or so kids, imagine a situation in which thousands and thousands of children vanish, and some never return home. Bleak. Obviously, the experiments in Stranger Things have less to do with time travel and more to do with developing supernatural abilities. At this point, that's all we've got. Maybe we'll find out more in season three?
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An Interdimensional Monster
Perhaps the creepiest part of Nichols's account is that of the "Beast." Finally, in 1983 (when everything came full circle and The Eldridge arrived), the crew decided to pull the plug on everything. In that moment, Duncan conjured an otherworldly creature:
"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. It was either 9 feet tall or 30 feet tall depending on who saw it. I personally believe it was about nine or 10 feet in height. Fright does strange things to people, and no one was sure of what the exact physical constitution of this monster was. No one was in any frame of mind to calmly and collectively analyze its exact nature."
According to Nichols, there was really only one way to defeat the monster. They destroyed all of the Montauk Chair equipment, and once everything was shut down, it vanished into thin air. It's pretty wild to see the connections: Duncan basically created the monster in The Montauk Project, and Eleven is the one who unleashes the demogorgon unto our reality in the tiny town of Hawkins.
Of course, there isn't really any evidence to support anything pertaining to The Philadelphia Experiment or The Montauk Project. Then again, it's not really a matter of whether or not the accounts are true, anyway. The fact is, this entangled conspiracy mystery is a fascinating and riveting story. It's hard to ignore the parallels between that and the wonder of Stranger Things.