Home News Inside the real-life lab and ‘secret experiments’ that inspired ‘Stranger Things’

Inside the real-life lab and ‘secret experiments’ that inspired ‘Stranger Things’


Joe Loffreno has worked at the wild, craggy Eastern tip of Long Island now called Camp Hero State Park for 18 years. He knows the spooky, abandoned military base — which supposedly inspired the Netflix ­series “Stranger Things” — better than most.

“It’s a place that’s dominated my life and my nightmares,’ he told The Post.

The abandoned WWII radar tower and surrounding Camp Hero

Many locals in Montauk mock the tales about Camp Hero being the site of secret government experiments involving mind control, time travel, wormholes, teleportation and kids hooked up to wires in hidden underground labs.

The rumors took hold in 1992, 11 years after the military base at Camp Hero was shut down. A (now widely debunked) book called “The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time,” by Preston Nichols, told of sinister, Nazi-style experiments that meddled — ­genetically and psychologically — with kidnapped local boys.

Historian Henry Osmers laments how the conspiracy theories have brought in gawkers who ignore the official military history of the area, one that dates to the Revolutionary War, in favor of hunting down aliens.

Another local, Paul Fagan, spent 14 years exploring Camp Hero and painstakingly researching government documents at the National Archives in Manhattan.

He told The Post there may be a nuclear reactor secretly buried at the site, installed around 1958 as part of the Cold War-era Army ­Nuclear Power Program. Fagan suspects that the conspiracy theories about Camp Hero may have been planted to deflect from the possible reactor.

And then there’s Loffreno. The 53-year-old grew up in Montauk and now works as a parks employee at Camp Hero. He also sincerely believes he’s one of the lost and tortured “Montauk Boys” popularized in Nichols’ book.

Joe Loffreno works at what is now Camp Hero State Park. He believes that he was abducted as a boy and taken through one of the old gunnery tunnels (left) to an underground lab where experiments were conducted on him.
Joe Loffreno works at what is now Camp Hero State Park. He believes that he was abducted as a boy and taken through one of the old gunnery tunnels (left) to an underground lab where experiments were conducted on him.NY Post

“I didn’t believe it until two years ago,” Loffreno told The Post. “I was hypnotized [by a certified hypnotist] for about 40 minutes and all these memories flooded back. They did a very bad thing to us out there. We were just little kids. They had no right to experiment on us. It was a very dark, very evil thing.”

He believes he was abducted and abused during the summer of 1980 and possibly during the summer of 1981, when he was 12 or 13. He recalled under hypnosis that a local boy whom no one knew very well invited him to bike to the base.

The first time, Loffreno said, there were two men waiting. Dressed in civilian clothes, they ushered the boys into a sunken house on the base. Later, he said, he and other boys were brought underground through Battery 113, one of the sealed gunneries left from World War II.

He remembers lying on a table with wires coming out of him like electrodes: “They analyzed us like animals.” He said there were up to 50 other kids there. He believes some of them were later killed.

It would be easy to write him off as a kook, but he is gainfully employed at the park, has a steady girlfriend and appears to have a solid relationship with his kids. ­Locals call him a friend.

He said that, while under hypnosis, he went to the location he remembered with another parks employee, Charlie, who was also interviewed by The Post. There, they found remnants of the sunken house from his visions.

A Demogorgon and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown, right) from "Stranger Things".
A Demogorgon and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown, right) from “Stranger Things”.Netflix

(Park superintendent Tom Dess did not return calls for comment.)

“If we had a backhoe and my boss let me dig in that spot, which I know he won’t, I can guarantee we’d find some cement structures down there,” Loffreno said.

Filmmaker Christopher Garetano, who grew up near Montauk, made the 2014 documentary “Montauk Chronicles” that detailed the allegations of three men — Nichols, Al Bie­lek and Stewart Swerdlow — who say they were brainwashed and forced against their will to take part in experiments at Camp Hero between 1971 and 1983.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Nichols led something called the “psychotronic movement” that claimed government agents used electromagnetic waves to plant thoughts in people’s heads. Nichols, who died two years ago, claimed he was part of the so-called Montauk Project but recovered his memories only after the fact.

Garetano told The Post he felt that Nichols and the others were not believable. But he went on to explore Camp Hero so doggedly that he employed a geophysicist to analyze the ground beneath the
old base. He said they found evidence of large structures not seen on any official maps.

“Forget all the alien and MK ­Ultra [a CIA mind-control experiment from the 1950s and ’60s] crap,” he said. “I think there was some type of experimentation out there using kids or teenagers, maybe runaways from New York.”

Archival image of the radar tower when it was in use.
Archival image of the radar tower when it was in use.ZUMAPRESS.com

Once home to an Army base during World War II and an Air Force station during the Cold War, Camp Hero was decommissioned in 1981 and is now owned by the state parks system. It sits on 755 acres of thick forests and desolate wetlands with spectacular, 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound.

Thanks to Nichols’ series of books — and the success of “Stranger Things” — Camp Hero has become Long Island’s Area 51: an eerie site straight out of the “Twilight Zone.”

Looming high above it all is the last of the super-powered, Cold-War-era SAGE radar towers constructed in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack — with the intention of giving the US a 30-minute warning. The antennae emitted up to 425MHz, which is also the frequency allegedly needed to enter human consciousness.

Even locals who decry the ­“secret underground base” stories admit that when the tower was up and running, it interfered with television sets and other electronics, and that many people reported suffering from headaches.

“I don’t want to add fuel to the fire because I don’t believe all the zombie stuff,” said one resident of 40 years. “But the impact that tower had on the town was real. I don’t know if it affected our thoughts like some people say, but it was a force.”

The now-rusting 90-foot tower and 40-foot-wide dish is a draw for tourists who come to explore the WWII gunner outposts and spooky, boarded-up buildings.

The Montauk Lighthouse near Camp Hero

The Army designed the base to look like a fishing village — even though soldiers actually lived there — to fool the Nazis. A “church” that was actually a gym for officers remains, but a series of Cape Cod-style houses have been torn down. After the war, the Air Force took over the site, shutting it down in 1981. At that point, according to Nichols’ books and a host of other researchers, bizarre things started happening.

“I believe it’s entirely possible that [the human experiment stories are] true,” said Peter Bové, a former Manhattan advertising executive and author of the novel “Montauk Time.”

“Scientifically, physiologically, it’s all conceivably real. I believe there were Army experiments out there that involved interdimensional travel and the fallout from that still exists, like a tear in the space-time continuum,” said Bove, who has spent summers in the area since childhood and knows just about everyone in town. “Having said that, there’s no hard evidence that I’ve seen to prove it.”

Nichols’ co-writer Vincent Barbarick (who used the pen name Peter Moon), told The Post: “We’re dealing with phenomena that is not just 3D. If you research sacred geometry, Montauk is known for being a power vortex. Geologically, it’s an underground mountain that comes up. It’s its own separate island in a way. Something happened out there, that I’m sure of.”

Even Fagan, who avoided researching the conspiracy theories at Camp Hero, said the place draws people in and takes a toll.

“So many people, including me, who spent any time looking into Camp Hero ended up completely different people afterwards,” he said. “It’s a strange coincidence but I’ve seen it happen to multiple people. I got so squirrely, I had to leave town for a while. All I can say is the imagination is one hell of a machine that can affect you to the point where you no longer know what’s true and what isn’t.”

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