Ong’s Hat: Eggheads, Gov’t Shills, & The Internet’s First Hoax | 323
Ever start telling a story as a joke and it gets out of hand? People believe it no matter how much you swear you made it up and try to destroy your life? No, just Joseph Matheny? This week we tackle Ong’s Hat, the internets first honest to goodness hoax that took on a life of its own and to this day has people believing it is all true. They also believe the man claiming responsibility is just a government shill planted to throw us off the truth. And the story has everything: Weird religious cults, quantum physics, dimensional travel, hidden laboratories, luxurious silk top hats, carpet salesmen… We are banging on all cylinders! All that and more this week on the podcast that knows a thing or two about other dimensions… at least the Lower 4th Dimension… Hysteria 51! LINK TO SHOW

Behind the Scenes of the Incident at Ong’s Hat Episode 4

The last of the raw interviews

From the Substack

Today’s raw recordings are the final two for the Behind the Scenes series.

This is a single file containing Denny Unger, admin of one of the Ong’s Hat forums in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Also included is James Curcio.


Here is an RSS feed for your convenience, or you may wait for this Substack to remind you each Friday for the duration of the series.


Ep. 1 Announcing the Incident at Ong’s Hat

Ep. 2 Launch Day For “The Incident at Ongs Hat” and Episode Two of “Behind the Scenes”

Ep. 3 The Incident at Ong’s Hat: Behind the Scenes- Episode 3

Ep. 4 Behind the Scenes of the Incident at Ong’s Hat Episode 4


ZOOM OPTION Holly Elsdon- Portals, Otherworlds, and the Legend of Ong’s Hat

Time & Location

18 Feb, 16:00

Todmorden, Todmorden, UK

About the event

With special guest Joseph Matheny joining us via Zoom from the US! He has also kindly agreed to answer questions during the post-talk discussion.

Drawing parallels from folklore and early accounts of Otherworld experiences, Holly will be expanding on the case of ‘Ong’s Hat’: did a bizarre confluence of esoteric spirituality and cutting-edge quantum science find a portal to another dimension in the New Jersey Pine Barrens? Or was this merely ‘the first internet conspiracy’ and a model for future Alternate Reality Games? How did the story start, and how did the process of trans-media storytelling end up having serious ‘real-world’ repercussions? A must for anyone curious after listening to the recent Radio 4 drama based on this legend!

The Zoom link will be emailed 1 hour prior to the talk.




‘Vanishing’ Towns That May (Or May Not) Have Really Existed

Did Scientists In Ong’s Hat, NJ, Burrow Into Another Dimension?

Near where New Jersey Route 72 intersects with Route 70, there’s little left to mark what was once a small town called Ong’s Hat – but it was, in fact, really there. You can find evidence of its history in things like a local street called Ong’s Hat Road.

Depending on who you ask, it may have once been a bustling town, or nothing more than a stopover point for a farmer with the surname Ong who was transporting goods from Little Egg Harbor to Burlington. Midway between, the farmer built a hut where he could spend the night, and over time, Ong’s Hut became Ong’s Hat.

Whatever the case may be, the town (if ever was one) is no longer there, but it left its mark. In fact, there’s an online conspiracy theory suggesting the town is gone because it’s in another dimension. But if that’s not the case, where did the story come from?

The answer lies in a sort of alternate reality game (ARG) or a work of meta-fiction created by Joseph Matheny, among others, on early BBS sites and other places during the internet’s early years. The story suggested that some Princeton scientists working in Ong’s Hat had found a way to reach another dimension and, ultimately, took themselves and their studies to this alternate Earth. Alternatively, the government wiped them out to keep their discoveries quiet.

If it is, in fact, widely known that this story of inter-dimensional scientists is fiction, why would people still believe it? Because, according to conspiracy theorists, its creators supposedly had to pretend it was fiction in order to protect themselves from the government.


The Incident at Ong’s Hat: Behind the Scenes- Episode 3

Warning, large download

From the Substack

Here is a 5.5-hour collection of recordings I did in preparation for the BBC podcast series The Incident at Ong’s Hat.

I‘ll let you decide, after listening to it, if the desired outcome was achieved.

I have one more audio dump after this, and then I will be done with this companion podcast. Time to move on to other things.

Ong’s Hat isn’t a place, it’s a world. by waxbanks

Ong’s Hat isn’t a place, it’s a world.
by waxbanks


Stating what should be obvious:

Ong’s Hat — not the ghost town in New Jersey but the fictional town-story overlaid on it by Joseph Matheny and later collaborators/followers — isn’t a place, though it’s certainly tied to one. Rather, it’s a way of experiencing a place: once again we’re recasting supposed discrete form and substance as modes of relation. Understanding story-system, meaning-system, ideological system, etc. as perceptual filters, you might be better able to imagine how they stack and interact, and how they seem to alter experiences deeply but not so predictably and not at all consistently.

Ong’s Hat doesn’t need to make sense, only to perturb sense — it’s ‘true’ in the way any filtering functioning is ‘true’: it does what it does to how you see. It un-senses you.

Seeing the transmedia project in this way we can avoid the twin traps of (1) reducing it to ‘just’ a game/story and (2) treating it like a set of fact-claims. ‘You determine your own level of involvement.’ As with so many conspiracy theories (not only explicitly, intentionally fictional ones), the fiction offers entry to a feedback loop between new/fictional thought, new/provisional belief, and new/exploratory action. All three arcs of the circle might be termed ‘generative’ — creative. Fiction, provision, exploration.

And of course bullshit.

The Ghost Of Ong’s Hat by Nigel Roth

The Ghost Of Ong’s Hat by Nigel Roth
In the 1980s, a writer and transmedia artist called Joseph Wayne Matheny, who was born on Christmas Eve in the early sixties, wrote The Incunabula Papers, a tale that follows a series of narratives about time travel, and tells the story of a gateway to a parallel dimension at Ong’s Hat. When Matheny stated that the books were mere fiction, many saw these denials as evidence of government intervention and suppression, and they continue to this day to accept the gateway as fact, despite the improbability of a door to another world.

The truth of Ong’s Hat will probably never be known, and its rise and fall – if it ever rose and fell – is lost to the decades that have wiped the town from today’s maps.