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

‘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.


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.