Written by Rich Nardo
For anyone that grew up on Long Island, Montauk is a special place. In recent years, the Hamptons crowd has crept in, but most of us still think of Montauk as a low key fishing community with great beaches and plenty of family-friendly fun spots (i.e - Puff n Putt, Fudge n Stuff), lovingly referred to as The End. What many people who enjoy Montauk don’t know, though, is that it has a separate past. A dark and mysterious history full of covert government experiments, time travel and an other-dimensional creature named “Junior” that served as the inspiration for the Netflix original series, Stranger Things.
Or at least that’s how the story goes...
Camp Hero State Park is 415 acres of pristine maritime forest, freshwater wetlands and sandy beaches situated on a peninsula just southwest of the iconic Montauk Point Lighthouse. It’s a favorite locale for Long Island hikers, thanks to its dramatic bluffs that offer breathtaking ocean vistas and diverse wildlife. It also happens to be considered one of the best surfcasting locations in the world. But before it attained status as a nationally registered historic site, the government used the land for over four decades - the extent to which is highly debated.
Camp Hero Origins…
Fort Hero was originally set up in 1942. It was upgraded to “Camp Hero” during WWII when the government recognized it as a likely point of attack by German U-boats. The expansive grounds were designed to look like a New England fishing town to avoid detection, with the government even going to the extent of painting windows on the bunkers and designing the training gym to look like an old church.
After WWII, the camp was briefly reduced to an Army training facility until the Cold War returned Camp Hero to a larger role in national defense. The western half of the base was turned over to the 773rd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Squadron and a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) was set up in 1958. Central to this SAGE system was a, now locally famous, 126-foot radar dish that could detect any airborne objects within 200 miles.
As spy technology improved, the SAGE system was rendered obsolete and subsequently shut down in 1981. Three years later, due to environmental protest from the local community aimed at preserving the region’s unique ecosystem, the government ceased trying to sell the land to real estate developers and donated it to the New York Department of State Parks. After some debate over what to do with the land, the Park was officially opened to the public in 2002.
The Montauk Project
While Camp Hero’s “official” relevance was declining, conspiracy theorists believe that the base was working on other, um, stranger things during that time. It is said that during the latter days of Camp Hero being under military operation, the base served as home to top secret experiments. What became known as the “Montauk Project” was seen as a continuation of the earlier Philadelphia Experiment where the USS Eldridge was allegedly rendered invisible at the Philadelphia Naval shipyard in 1943.
If you take a stroll through Camp Hero, you’re likely to run into a few of the numerous manholes that are, to this day, still sealed tight throughout the park. It is said that while the base was operating as advertised above ground, these manholes were the entry points to the compound’s secret underground component where the U.S. government was conducting unsanctioned experiments in areas such as time travel, psychokinetic torture, mind control and extraterrestrial communication.
One of the most referenced ‘witnesses’ to the Montauk Project was an electrical engineer named Preston Nichols who worked on the base. According to Nichols, the base served as a home to a few residents whose origins were from other planets or dimensions. In his own words, “We had the little grays and larger grays as well as a variety of reptilian beings. The large grays didn’t want anything to do with me...when I entered a room, they would leave”.
Nichols also claims that the Montauk project possessed a piece of technology known as the “Montauk Chair” that was developed using technology gathered from a wrecked alien spacecraft. He alleges that young boys were trained as psychic spies and time travelers. It is claimed that one of these boys accidentally caused a “hole ripped in space-time” in 1983, that resulted in a fourth dimensional creature referred to as “Junior” being unleashed. Junior serves as the inspiration for the Demogorgon in Stranger Things, and has become a staple of Long Island ghost stories as people claim he is still being kept under Camp Hero and occasionally finds his way off the base to terrify people who live in the area.
Stranger Things and True Believers...
There is very little dispute that the Duffer Brothers used the Montauk Project as inspiration for Stranger Things as the original title of the project was actually Montauk. While the Netflix series is the most well-known story inspired by the Montauk Project, it is not the only telling of it in popular media. In fact, a Long Island filmmaker named Charlie Kessler has sued Matt and Ross Duffer for allegedly stealing the premise of Stranger Things from his 2012 short Film “Montauk” in which a “cop with a haunted past” vows to find a young boy who disappeared around Camp Hero. His investigation uncovers a government experiment aimed at turning children into “psychic weapons” at the base, one of which has opened a portal that “disrupted the space-time continuum.”.
A Northport filmmaker named Christopher Garetano recently had a film entitled “The Dark Files: MTK Chronicles” based on his decade plus of research on the Montauk Project optioned by the History Channel. Many books on the subject, most famously The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time by Peter Moon and the aforementioned Preston Nichols have also found their way onto shelves and online stores.
Are Long Islanders Safe from Junior?
Well, that depends on if you believe the story is true. If you do, then, no, we are not. There are countless accounts of paranormal and extraterrestrial occurrences associated with Camp Hero still reported. These testimonials include tales of alien encounters, mutants and, quite often a pinheaded ghost. There is even a few claims that covens of witches gather under the full moon in the park and large quantities of blood have supposedly been found and secretly disposed of in one of the empty cottages indicating human sacrifices. Most often these creepy encounters center around the half-reptile creatures, known as “Reptoids”, and Junior himself who is said to be held in an ‘eternal prison’ below the base.
There are even some accounts from travelers that have found a way into the tunnels underneath the park. A story found online for this blog that is indicative of what these few truthseekers have found goes as such:
We traversed a series of tunnels. I took a bunch of pictures, but unfortunately I got my camera wet and wasn’t able to get them back. The thing about the whole experience that stood out most in my mind was the crazy noises and the really strange energy/noise pulse that emanated through the tunnel. It was like a “wuh wuh wuh” noise and you could actually feel the pulse in your body.
Sure, people claim to have seen a lot of things, but is there any real evidence that Camp Hero is still active? One such story could be construed from the report a few years ago that the Radar Dish actually activated and shifted in the middle of the night. The SAGE system had pointed northwest since 1966. A local resident called the authorities in 2009 when it shifted to face northeast. A few days later it moved again, this time to face southeast and then southwest - always in the middle of the night. Could this have happened due to the detection of UFOs in the area by an active operation seeking such an occurrence?
Perhaps the most famous recent ‘evidence’ that there are still weird happenings going on around Camp Hero came in 2008, when the “Montauk Monster” washed up on a nearby beach. While it was reported that it was likely the remains of a raccoon, that explanation was less than convincing (since when do raccoons have beaks?) and a lot of people believe that it was an escaped genetic experiment from Camp Hero or neighboring Plum Island.
Obviously none of this is substantiated evidence that the legend of the Montauk Project is true or that Camp Hero still plays host to strange experiments. But there are a lot of spooky reports out of the park and, I for one, would love to explore the grounds...just probably not at night.
After all, if everything is above the line at Camp Hero, why does the U.S. Government allegedly still own everything underneath the state park?
References and More Stories about the Legend of the Montauk Project
Documentary on The Philadelphia Experiment and Montauk Project (Preston Nichols, Duncan Cameron, Peter Moon, 1993): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGglyC8QEnk
LI Paranormal Investigators Article on Camp Hero: http://liparanormalinvestigators.com/haunted-places-on-li/suffolk-county/camp-hero/
Washington Post Article on the Stranger Things Lawsuit: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2018/04/04/stranger-things-creators-deny-accusation-of-stealing-the-shows-premise/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.628f4e6d6fc3
East Hampton Star Article on Stranger Things Connection: http://east.easthamptonstar.com/170630/stranger-montauk
Week in Weird Article on “America’s Weirdest State Parks”: http://weekinweird.com/2015/05/21/camp-hero-americas-weirdest-state-park-is-haunted-by-strange-creatures-and-psychic-spy-experiments/
Dan’s Papers Article on The Radar Dish Moving: https://www.danspapers.com/2011/10/spookiness-in-montauk-why-did-the-radar-dish-at-camp-hero-just-turn-to-face-south/
Long Island Press Article on the Stranger Things Connection: https://www.longislandpress.com/2016/07/27/5-real-life-stranger-things-montauk-long-island-parallels/
Atlas Obscura Information on Camp Hero: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/camp-hero
NY State Information on Camp Hero State Park: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/97/
LI Haunted Houses article on Camp Hero Legend: https://www.lihauntedhouses.com/real-haunt/camp-hero.html
Montauk: A Short Film by Charlie Kessler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=docLNYj9CIA