If you faintly remember Netflix announcing a series called Montauk – which then somehow transmogrified into the Stranger Things we’ve come to know and love – then don’t worry, your memory isn’t failing you.
Stranger Things was indeed originally sold to Netflix by Matt and Ross Duffer, under the title Montauk.
The show also has an intriguing relationship with Project MKUltra (or simply MK-Ultra), which was the code name of an illegal (and real) CIA human experimentation program.
So, what do we know about the so-called Montauk Project and how its mythos first seeped into the Duffer Brothers’ brains, and what is Stranger Things’ connection to MK-Ultra?
What is the Montauk Project? Stranger Things’ original namesake explored
The Montauk Project is a conspiracy theory, or group of theories, alleging there are US government projects near the village of Montauk, on the far eastern tip of Long Island.
Montauk itself attracts surfers for its Atlantic waves, and has some pleasant beaches. But Camp Hero State Park, home to Montauk Air Force Station, plays a very different role in the public imagination.
Stories about the Montauk Project started to circulate in the 1980s, but became public in 1991. They originated – so says UFO researcher Jacques Vallee – in the testimonies of Preston Nichols and Alfred Bielek.
Nichols and Bieliek claimed to have recovered repressed memories of their involvement in the Montauk Project’s psychological experiments. Specifically, Bielek claimed to be one of two sailors who “fell through time” from the 1940s to 1983.
What did Preston Nichols and Al Bielek say happened to them?
The Biblioteca Pleyades website, which claims to host “the most in-depth compilation of interviews with survivors of the Philadelphia experiment and Montauk project to date”, claims Preston Nichols worked on “interfacing a person’s mind to the computer”.
He also believes he is “periodically pulled into working with these secret programs”.
“The people who abduct him don’t seem to care too much that he is talking about his experience.”
Al Bielek, meanwhile, claims to have participated in several time travel experiments, including travelling via a “time tunnel” to work on the Montauk Project – amusingly, his profile on the Biblioteca Pleyades website notes “strange things started to happen to Al” from the mid 1950s.
How similar is Stranger Things’ story to the so-called Montauk Project?
The primary talking points of Montauk Project advocates are alleged governmental activities at Montauk Air Force Station in areas such as teleportation, mind control, contacting extraterrestrials, and time travel.
Incidentally, Al Bielek says the suppressed memories of his participation in the Montauk Project started to come back after he watched The Philadelphia Experiment, a Hollywood film based on another popular paranormal story about an alleged (and indeed strange) US government-led experiment.
He apparently described being de-aged, having his memory wiped, and being forced to live under the false name Al Bielek. His real name, he said, was Edward Cameron.
In his book The Montauk Project: Experiments In Time, Preston Nichols writes about child abductions (which the Duffers lifted for Stranger Things – Nichols calls them the “Montauk Boys”), and the creation of a “big, hairy, hungry and nasty” monster that would “eat anything it could find”.
Three main similarities: portals, a Demogorgon, and children with psychic powers
As Thrillist notes, the Duffer brothers borrowed three key elements from the Montauk Project stories for Stranger Things: portals connecting reality to an eerie subreality, some sort of terrifying monster, and children being abducted and somehow given superhuman powers.
The time period is also similar. Montauk Project stories started to circulate in the 1980s, and Stranger Things occupies the same decade.
Of course, Stranger Things used to be Montauk. When the Duffer Brothers originally sold it to Netflix, it would take place in Montauk.
So the fact one influenced the other is undeniable. However, they also exercised their artistic license, and added elements of their own.
Where does MK-Ultra come in?
Project MK-Ultra is the kind of real life thing that gives credence to conspiracy theories such as the Montauk Project.
It was a top secret CIA project involving clandestine experimentation on unwitting US citizens. Its aims included assessing the potential use of LSD and other drugs for “mind control, information gathering and psychological torture” – per History.
Project MK-Ultra ran from 1953 until 1973, but didn’t become public knowledge until 1975.
People have written about Stranger Things’ relationship to Project MK-Ultra before, including in The Sun – and such accounts make it easier to believe the Duffer Brothers borrowed from both fact and fiction when assembling Stranger Things.