Montauk Project, Dark Files, Camp Hero Revisited: What Really Happened

The Dark Files, Montauk Project, Camp Hero Dan Rattiner cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Last Thursday night I watched The Dark Files; a two-hour special on History channel that it was hoped would uncover the secrets of Camp Hero in Montauk.

This former military base was rumored to have been the site of government time-travel experiments, brain-altering lasers, Nazi scientist medical experiments, LSD experiments, worldwide mind control and a group of young local boys who were rounded up, reprogramed into zombies and stood in rows at attention in a field by the Montauk Lighthouse. There’s a photo of about 40 of them standing there like that with the Lighthouse in the background in the show.

These activities are supposed to have taken place between 1950 and 1981, the year when, according to the documentary, the military base shut down. (It shut down in 1963.) Note: Then, a book came out, published by Preston Nichols in 1992, causing a sensation. It was called The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time. Another book, Montauk Revisited, came out three years later and caused another sensation. I am quoted in that one. More about that later.

The documentary begins with a helicopter flying over the Montauk Point Lighthouse and the radar tower out there, accompanied by ominous music. Are these rumors true? Is there a government cover-up?

Camp Hero in History channel's "The Dark Files,"
Camp Hero in History channel’s “The Dark Files,” Photo: Texas Crew Productions

The documentary switches to actual footage of awful things done elsewhere that were later learned to be true. There are the skeletal survivors of Auschwitz, the experiments at Tuskegee on African-Americans, soldiers in World War II being stabbed with needles, other soldiers being forced to take LSD. And then there is footage of naked and terrified young teenagers running through a spotlight in tunnels underground covered in blood, supposedly at Montauk. How did they get that?

At this point, four articles from Dan’s Papers are flashed onto the screen. I wrote them. WHAT IS HAPPENING AT MONTAUK? is the headline for one of them. NAZIS, GUNS, MONTAUK is another. The Dan’s Papers logo is shown with the headlines and the articles, which are so small as to be illegible.

Having recorded this two-hour program to watch it later, I was able to stop action to see what I wrote. You could see the dates of publication. In one article, I was writing about a dead animal that had washed up on the beach. In another, I wrote about all the military guns used between colonial times and the present day at Montauk Point. That one, in Dan’s Papers, was headlined DEFENDING AMERICA. The producers preferred WHAT IS HAPPENING AT MONTAUK? At another place in the documentary they repeat the exact same body copy but the headline differs. They have no shame.

The show is two hours long, but really it’s much shorter than that. The reason is every time they come to some tense moment—the investigators are about to climb up over a chain-link fence marked KEEP OUT—for example, they cut to commercials before their feet get over. In one advertising interval, they showed nine ads in a row. Cadillac, DiGiorno Pizza, Vistaprint, UPS, Kelley Blue Book,, Tostitos, Cottonelle and Burger King.

Returning to the show, there is a long sequence where they start from the beginning all over again, the lighthouse, the Nazis, the naked boys, the articles in Dan’s Papers, until finally, maybe it’s 10 minutes, they get to the point where the guys are putting their feet over the fence.

They do this over and over, either because they think channel hoppers have just tuned in and need to know what is going on, or because maybe the viewership can’t remember what the show was about after nine commercials.

It’s fair to say that the documentarians tried real hard to make their case. The investigators are the young filmmaker, a former CIA agent, and a Philadelphia magazine reporter. Talking to one another, they are not above inane logic. For example, they show how World War II American soldiers were deliberately infected with syphilis and nobody knew about this until years later.

“Well, that doesn’t mean this happened in Montauk,” one would say.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t, either.”

They show plans that secretly took Nazi scientists who performed horrible experiments on victims in concentration camps and were nevertheless brought to the United States to work on the hydrogen bomb. They show the Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia where inmates were tortured and had dioxin thrown into their faces and onto their backs.

“All worth investigating at Montauk,” one of them says.

Garetano, Volk and Eisler interview a Brian Minnick on "The Dark Files"
Interview scene from “The Dark Files,” Photo: Texas Crew Productions

They interview three men who say they were “Montauk Boys,” one of whom—when asked if, while he was being tortured in Montauk, his parents did anything about him being missing from home—tells them no, they didn’t do anything. Their minds were being controlled from afar, too.

They interview Preston Nichols, who lives in a junkyard of a compound in Cairo, NY attended by followers. As they get out of their car, the investigators meet a follower who cheerfully tells him that the kitchen pot upside down on his head is there to deflect incoming laser mind-control rays. Nichols himself has a sort of throne room where he sits in a recliner, surrounded by metal shelves covered with old 1960s vacuum tube transmitters and radios.

“I never said my book was real,” he tells the investigators. “I said it might be real but it might just be fiction.”

Eventually they hit the jackpot, or what they think is the jackpot. They meet a young Montauker who has videos of himself climbing around on the base when he was a lad, after the base was abandoned. There are steps leading underground. He films into the darkness. There’s filthy water in them.

In some of these tunnels there is graffiti on the walls that makes the investigators think there were LSD experiments. They interview psychiatrists. They interview the son of Timothy Leary, the LSD guru of the 1960s and 1970s.

If they had talked to me, I could have told them what that graffiti was.

As a result of their conversation with the lad with the videos, they hire a company that has equipment that can sniff along the surface of the earth and locate hard structures buried in the ground. They meet them at a field high up on a cliff near the lighthouse, where, one of the three boys says he was tortured and turned into a zombie in underground tunnels here.

“The plans the government has given us don’t show any tunnels,” one of the investigators says. “If there’s something under here, this would be proof.”

The experts take out their electronic gear and begin to sniff for tunnels. If they had talked to me, I could have told them what that was, too.

I probably know more about Camp Hero than anybody alive. My dad bought the drug store in Montauk in 1956 when I was 16 and moved us there from Millburn, New Jersey. Up in the woods out by the lighthouse was an abandoned army base called Camp Hero. It had been built during WWII. But now, the soldiers were gone and the base was closed. Next door, though, there was a new military base, called the 773rd Air Squadron. In the center of it, the men had begun constructing a radar tower. This would be the centerpiece of an early warning missile tracking system should the Soviet Union attack.

As a curious teenager, I was there on that property quite a bit, delivering prescriptions to the officers, going to parties in the rec hall, buying things on the cheap at the canteen. The base was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, but armed soldiers at a gatehouse would raise the gate and let you in if you had the papers—which, I found, were pretty easy to get.

During these visits, I’d also climb around in the dilapidated former Camp Hero area. Nearly all the buildings were overgrown with vines. But there was nothing unusual about it. There were barracks, latrines, and several artificial hills created by bulldozers from which battleship-sized guns, now removed, could fire two-foot-long shells out to sea from underneath a concrete hood. I’d climb through tunnels hidden in those hills. Ammunition had apparently been stored in there, and narrow gauge railroad tracks allowed handcars to bring the shells to the guns. In those tunnels, my friends and I brought portable radios, candles, lanterns and beer and partied hard on several occasions. Others who had done the same earlier, perhaps with stronger stuff, had spray-painted graffiti on many of the walls.

One day, above ground, atop the cliff near the lighthouse itself, I came upon what looked like a circular helicopter pad. Friends based at the 773rd told me it was no helicopter pad. It was a concrete platform for a swiveling anti-aircraft gun, now removed. Artillery shells for it were in storage room tunnels under it. I found a steel door on the ground nearby, and, with friends, opened it to climb down a steel ladder a few rungs. It was filled with smelly, dark water. We climbed back out.

The radar tower rose to a height of 120 feet and its big dish up top began turning in search of the enemy in 1958. This radar tower was visible from practically everywhere in town. With every turn, the tower would cause radios to issue a brief buzz. At our house, Dad said he felt comforted by the tower, the buzzing wouldn’t hurt us, and if it was necessary to guard our shores, it was okay with him.

The Air Force base closed in 1962. I recall the commander and a lieutenant coming to our store to say goodbye to my dad. Dad was a fishing buddy of theirs, and there was never a time, even when called at night, when he wouldn’t get out of bed and deliver prescriptions. Dad was in tears when they told him they were leaving. So were the officers.

If it was extraordinary that the Army left a mess when they departed, it was doubly so when the Air Force did. Everything was left to crumble and rot. And so, even in my 20s and 30s, we’d go out there from time to time to explore.

Apparently, and we didn’t know this at this time, in going out, we were lucky we didn’t get ourselves killed. When both the Army and Air Force pulled up stakes, they left huge amounts of unexploded ammunition in, around and under the ground.

One year, me and John Keeshan, the Montauk realtor, climbed around in this mess when we were both in our 50s. It became a chapter in my memoir In the Hamptons 4Ever.

Then came Preston Nichols and his book The Montauk Project in 1992. He wrote about the time travel, the Montauk Boys and the experiments at Camp Hero. One day, all the animals in the woods raced into town mooing and crying out in terror, he wrote.

After reading this, I wrote a letter to Nichols. I told him I was publishing the town newspaper during this time and what he wrote was fantasy. I wrote it was true one sunny day the white swans that nested in Fort Pond came out onto Main Street and nested in the street and waddled around stopping traffic for an hour. Imagine that. A Montauk Highway traffic jam. I took pictures of the swans.

Nichols soon published a second book called Montauk Revisited and I’m in it. My denial of the Montauk Project, he wrote, proved I was part of the government conspiracy’s secret time-travel unit and the subsequent cover-up team.

Eventually, the mess at Camp Hero was taken over by the New York State Parks Department. They posted guards. They put up signs. DANGER. DO NOT ENTER. They were afraid people would step on grenades and blow themselves up. It took the Parks Department five years to clean out the unexploded ordinance. But when done, the property became the public park and memorial to World War II it is today.

In the documentary, watching the men standing around in the grass where the concrete disk and its anti-aircraft gun had once been made me think—I wonder if they will find the underground ammunition depots.


The filmmakers had their confirmation. The experts tell them there is something underground not only there, but over by the radar tower.

Now we know it’s down there, one says. I predict, another says, that in the next five years, we’re going to find out this really happened.

Cut to commercials.

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