With a show titled Stranger Things it’s clear the Duffer brothers wanted to push the boundaries of normality and how better to tap into people’s fears than conspiracy theories from a former military base.
Obviously, there are some parts of the hit Netflix show which have come from the showrunners’ imaginations. I can’t imagine anyone would really want to go digging for a real-life demogorgon, with all its teeth and saliva.
Okay, Dart was quite cute, if sticky-looking, when Dustin first found him but he quickly turned into a cat-killing beast. We have enough problems in the world without introducing a real life demogorgon to it.
Monsters aside, however, conspiracy theory enthusiasts will no doubt be intrigued to learn about the potentially less fictional parts of the show, which has just returned to Netflix for its third season.
While Hawkins, Indiana doesn’t actually exist, in an interview with Wired Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) revealed the story is inspired by a real place.
It’s based on a place in Montauk, New York called Camp Hero. There was, like, rumors of secret government spies doing human experiments to fight in the Cold War. It’s based on that one government lab.
In fact, when Netflix first picked up the Duffer brothers’ creation it was titled Montauk.
Camp Hero is a former military base which now forms part of the heavily-wooded Camp Hero State Park and although these days it’s a place for cycling, walking and horseback riding, in the past it’s rumoured to have been home to some much less wholesome activities, including kidnapping, mind control and time travel, under the not at all creepy moniker the ‘Montauk Project’.
Filmmaker Christopher Garetano made a film about Camp Hero titled Montauk Chronicles after hearing a number of bizarre stories about the site. Montauk Chronicles tells the story of several men who were allegedly forced to be part of secret experiments that occurred in Montauk in the 1970s.
The website explains:
Alfred Bielek, Stewart Swerdlow, and Preston Nichols all tell tales of experiments that were conducted on nearly one hundred thousand people over the course of about ten years.
Kidnappings, murder, torture, time travel, mind control, and extra terrestrial contact are all said to have occurred at Camp Hero.
Sweadlow claimed that, in 1970, when he was 13, he was abducted for the ‘Montauk Project’.
They used derelicts, foster children and drug addicts and then ultimately they decided that people with certain genetics, people with certain backgrounds were conducive to the more advanced experiments and that’s when I was taken in.
The Army reportedly deactivated the base in 1947 and in 1951 it was transferred to the Air Force, who remained active at the site until 1982.
The land was donated to the National Park Service in 1984 but the buildings used by the military still stand in Camp Hero State Park. One of the most famous structures is the Cold War-era SAGE radar tower, which in its heyday acted as a mother station to a series of smaller radar towers working to warn officials in the event of an incoming Soviet nuclear attack.
However, one theory linked to Camp Hero is that officials at the site used the radar tower in an attempt to alter people’s thoughts and control their moods by changing the frequency and pulse duration of the radar system.
Garentano, who grew up in the area, spoke about the history of the tower in an episode of the History Channel’s Dark Files, explaining:
Every 12 seconds the radar tower would rotate and there would be animals freaking out and people getting headaches and bad dreams. And you know people’s electronic equipment would go haywire.
The idea the government believed they could control people’s thoughts and emotions in the 1980s is creepy enough but it becomes even more disturbing with the knowledge the tower mysteriously changed positions over a series of days in 2011, according to Dan’s Papers, nearly 30 years since the Air Force is supposed to have left the site.
Though there are many former military buildings standing above ground at Camp Hero, the more sordid activities are believed to have taken place in a series of underground tunnels and bunkers – not entirely unlike the maze found beneath the rotting pumpkin patch in Stranger Things.
In Whalebone Mag aquatic photographer and writer James Katsipis speaks of a trip he and a friend took to Camp Hero one Christmas, where he describes ‘manhole covers all over the camp’.
Why so many? And why so spaced out all over Camp Hero and the lighthouse bluffs. The blueprints show nothing underground was ever built. But yet you can clearly see underground tunnels.
Filmmaker Garentano mentions the network of tunnels in Dark Files, explaining:
The official word is that there is nothing underground. But I really think there’s something to hide there.
The Stranger Things creators got inspiration from tales surrounding Camp Hero in Montauk. Conspiracy theorists believe the US military had conducted psychological and mind control experiments on children for four decades. The camp was also said to be the home of time travelers, a pic.twitter.com/VoG1yiH87N
— No Ghosts 🚫👻 (@NoGhostsOrg) April 30, 2018
In Montauk Chronicles, local man Brian Minnick shared footage of underground chambers and revealed he had found evidence people were based there way past the date of the official closure.
There are a lot of strange things and the sum total is compelling. We found records of food being ordered to the camp in the late eighties. $80,000 a month. Huge amounts of food to the base.
The filmmakers called in experts with electronic measuring devices and found an ‘anomaly’ in their readings which suggested a ‘reinforced concrete bunker’ buried 20 feet underground.
Some pics from visiting Montauk and Camp Hero today. pic.twitter.com/4sq8jKRRvy
— Snowball goes to AC2019 (@RussellTehFox) October 7, 2018
When describing his Christmas trip to Camp Hero, photographer James went on to say he went inside one of the bunkers at the site, which, despite being marked with a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign, was easily accessible through a hole in a wall.
The inside is massive. The ceilings are three stories. On each side of the corridor are giant cages with doors in them. Little caged cells.
In one particular cell is a metal chair. Not a nice metal chair. I’m talking the kind of chair from the dentist office with straps. Creepiest thing I ever saw there.
There was another house which was the ‘Acid House’. That’s supposedly where they tested LSD on humans. Each room had different pattern walling.
As well as appearing in Montauk Chronicles, Preston Nichols, along with author Peter Moon, wrote a book about Camp Hero titled The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time.
Nichols claims he was an electrical engineer who worked at Montauk and according to him a mind-reading device was constructed at the site, which supposedly allowed a computer produce a digital representation of what a person was thinking about.
The technology has been titled the ‘Montauk Chair’ and while it’s unlikely the government would leave a mind reading device lying around it’s entirely possible the seat was made of metal and had straps like the one James stumbled upon.
While we may never know the truth about what really went on at Camp Hero, it’s safe to say the Duffer brothers have done a great job of spinning a story out of the conspiracy theories.
Whatever operations took place in Montauk appear to have now come to a close but unfortunately the same can’t be said for Hawkins, where Eleven and the gang learn in season three, as per the Stranger Things synopsis, ‘evil never ends; it evolves.’
Stranger Things 3 is available to stream on Netflix now.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.