Life Out East

'Stranger Things' in the Hamptons: The Story of the Montauk Project

When you think of the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things,” you probably think “small town Indiana,” which is natural, since the show is set there. But what you may not know is that the show’s original working title was “Montauk.” Why? Because the shown was based, in part, on rumors surrounding the Camp Hero air base — and events there that remain shrouded in mystery — located in, you guessed it, Montauk.

Since virtually all knowledge of this incident has come from word-of-mouth interviews, it’s hard to dig into what happened, and to know where the truth lies. But in honor of the spookiest day of the year, we wanted to give you some quick notes on the story, along with some Halloween reading to help you dig further. You might just get a new campfire tale out of it.

Where Did It Go Down?

Anyone who’s spent a fair amount of time in Montauk has probably stumbled on the urban legend of Camp Hero State Park. Located at the far eastern tip of Long Island, this network of paths and campgrounds is actually pretty pleasant. It’s the large, severe-looking remnants of an air force base and its giant antenna towers, complete with a huge concrete slab that says “do not enter this building,” which serve as the chief fodder for local mischief and spooky retellings. Feel free to stop by if you want — the base is located just about in the dead middle of the park — but be warned that if you go into any of the gated areas or sealed-off edifices, you will be trespassing.

So, What Actually Happened?

The story goes like this: Back during World War II, the US Navy allegedly conducted experiments (to which it’s never admitted) attempting to use supernatural or psychic means to make ships invisible to radar. This spawned a group of 1950s conspiracy theorists who speculated that these experiments opened up a wormhole and caused an entire battleship to disappear. This bit of lore is known as the “Philadelphia Experiment.” And where did that ship go? Well, a wormhole in time to the ’80s apparently. And that’s exactly when another, linked psychic experiment took place. It was called the Montauk Project.

Apparently these Montauk Project experiments, which took place right at the base, were participated in by the same man who made the wormhole claims: one 57-year-old Al Bielek. He claims that his name isn’t actually Al Bielek, but instead Edward Cameron, one of two brothers who participated in the Philadelphia Experiment while in their 20s, and later in life (via the wormhole) participated in more psychic experiments in Montauk. He was able to recover his repressed memories after reading a book about the Montauk Project written by a man named Preston Nichols, who in turn had recovered his own repressed memories to tell the story.

Among other things, the various members of the project allegedly worked on a chair that used electromagnets to amplify psychic energy and a psychic association trick called the “seeing eye” (similar to the experiment Eleven goes through in Season 1 of “Stranger Things”). They all claim that these repressed memories were intentionally hidden using coercion by the government, as a means of protecting the project’s secrecy. Follow this story to the end and you’ll discover more about child abductions, monster-summoning, and many more unpleasant claims.

It’s all murky and, as we said, pretty questionable … considering it’s so word-of-mouth. But if you want to know more, check out Preston Nichols’s “The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time.”  If you’d like a quicker read, there are synopses and speculations out there. Here’s a good feature.

How Does It All Fit Into the Hamptons?

Most people probably don’t think about this as part of the Hamptons’ “history.” The sealed-off buildings are admittedly spooky, though, and they mean folks can’t go in and see for themselves. But the lore was strong enough for Netflix and the Duffer brothers to use it as a backdrop for their celebrated “Stranger Things” series. While they later changed the setting to Indiana for aesthetic reasons, the inspiration for the story remains firmly in the East End. And, true or not, it makes for interesting conversation around a campfire or at your next horror movie night. ‘Tis the season, after all.

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