The methods used in creating alternate realities is also quite familiar to anyone with a background in Alternate Reality Games, which arose in the early Net and zine culture of the 80s and 90s at the hands of people such as Joseph Matheny. However, and this is absolutely essential, the intent of these works was to broaden the scope of creative possibilities, and was never in any sense to further political objectives. Here is what he said in “Transmedia: Who Invited the Lobsters Anyway?”,
This episode is part two of our interview with Joe Matheny. Part one, The Digital Underground, covered Joe’s experiences running The Grey Lodge, an early, underground private torrent tracker used by millions of people per month. Part two covers Joe’s groundbreaking ARG & literary work, Ong’s Hat, and its place in early internet culture, before we veer off into a discussion about how the ‘fakelore’ methods Joe used in the development of that work connect to the meme wars of today and the increasing political importance of memes (e.g. Kek, the ‘alt-right’ appropriation of Pepe The Frog.) We also discuss the very improbable connection (it really is) between Joe and Jamie, and how Joe became a patron of the show himself; PLUS, the potential for Kodi addons as a distribution point for indie creators.
A lockfile with all the links mentioned in this episode is coming up for Patrons. Enjoy!
Presented by TorrentFreak
The Grey Lodge was an underground private torrent tracker used by millions of people per month in their quest to uncover the esoteric, strange and the downright weird. In this episode we hear from Joe Matheny, one of the founders of the site, about how it kicked off in the very early days of BitTorrent, online culture in the early days of the Internet, proto-copyright trolls, how even weirdos eventually get pursued by the MPAA, and how the demise of indie trackers from Grey Lodge to What.CD mean a net loss for our culture.
Coming soon: the second part of this interview, in which Joe discusses his work as an early creator of “this is not a game” ARG experiences and his well-known work Ong’s Hat, The Incunabula Papers. We’ll be making that available for supporters on the Patreon (and maybe more widely) in due course. In the meantime, if you’re curious to take a look at some of Joe’s work, he’s been kind enough to give us a free pack including Ong’s Hat and some samples from his ARG! Enjoy.
Executive Producers: Mark Zapalac
3. Ong’s Hat.Translation: Ong’s Hat, New Jersey, was founded somewhere in the nineteenth century by a man named Ong after he tossed a hat into the air and it got caught on the branch of a tree … very interesting about hats history, but anyway, put that aside and turn our attention to parallel universes.Already by the 1930s, the city had become a ghost town, but despite this, it was never forgotten: this abandoned city became the subject of one of the first conspiracy theories of the Age of the Internet.Theory has it that during the 70s and 80s, a new scientific paradigm called “Chaos”, which sought to find the relationship between everyday situations, such as tying shoelaces or reading a book and all the consequences that each could bring – for example, you are going to tie your shoes, you find a book under the bed, you take the book with you, you’re going to read it to a place, a person goes, read the title on the cover, it seems curious, decide to buy the book, read the book and becomes a serial murderer because of that, that is, if you had not tied the laces at that exact moment, there would not have lost a serial murderer – began to gain popularity.Two groups of researchers, led by one Dobbs developed the theory that through awareness could model the universe itself, provided the ability to control the chaos and had, consequently, making available to the observer the journey other dimensions. Dobbs even have invented a machine that developed the brains of people to confront this strange complexity: the first sensory deprivation chamber dubbed “The Egg”. However, like any good story, this alternative has even more sinister than what you just read.One version says that Dobbs did nothing more than finding an interdimensional portal. Remember to Ong earlier this sub? Urban legend has it that he was a man who was always well dressed in a suit and a silk hat, who founded the city in 1920 and had serious problems with his hat did not stay on his head. Ong was a pretty weird guy and no one knew where he came from nor where he was … to be exact, no one knows where were all the villagers after 1936. All were very demure and only had contact with the inhabitants of the same village . Still, back in 1932, according to a local urban legend, things got weird. Gradually, the city seemed to be disappearing. In early 1936, there was no trace of the city, leaving only the brick structures that once stood up there and an old shed. No inhabitant, nothing but the wind always Ong defeated the hat.In 1970, Dobbs had come to the small left with a team of specialized scientists is populated Underground Constructions. For some reason – that is not entirely clear – Dobbs was aware that there was something on this village.And his hunch was correct, Dobbs supposedly found in a bunker sort of a machine called “The Egg” that allowed any man could travel between dimensions.
Translation: Ong’s Hat, New Jersey, was founded sometime in the 19th century by a man named Ong after he threw his hat in the air and lost it on a tree branch … a very interesting story about hats, but anyway, let’s leave it and then went back to the focus of the post!By 1920, the city became a ghost town, but despite that, she has not been forgotten: the abandoned town became the subject of one of the first conspiracy theories in the Internet Age.Account the theory that during the 1970s and 80s, a new scientific paradigm called “Chaos”, which is concerned with finding the correlation between everyday situations, such as tying your shoes and read a book and all the consequences that each of them can bring – for example, you were to tie the shoes, found the book under the bed, took the book with him, was read in a square, one person went, read the title of the cover, found curious, decided to buy the book, read the book and become a serial killer because of it, ie if you had not tied the cardaço that exact moment, there was no serial killer – began to gain popularity.Two groups of scientists, led by Dobbs developed a theory that through consciousness can model its own universe, since it is able to learn to control the chaos, and therefore providing the observer travel to other dimensions. Dobbs would even made up a machinery to develop people’s brains to meet this strange complexity: the first sensory deprivation chamber called “The Egg”. However, like every good story has even more sinister alternative versions that you just read!One of the other versions say that Dobbs did absolutely beyond finding a Interdimensional Portal! Ong remembers the beginning of this item?For the urban legend is the fact that he was a man always very well dressed in a suit and silk hat who founded this city in 1920 and had serious problems with his hat that he kept in his head. Ong was a very strange guy and nobody knows where it came from or where it was … to be exact, no one knows where all the villagers were after 1936. All were very modest and only maintained ties with the residents of the home village. However, around 1932, according to local urban legend, things got weird. Gradually, the town seemed to be disappearing! In early 1936, there was nothing else in the city, but bricks representing the structures that once were there and an old shed. No inhabitant, nothing but the wind that always knocked the hat Ong.In 1970, Dobbs would come to the small abandoned village with a team of scientists specializing in Underground Structures. For a Reason- it was unclear – Dobbs would have known that there was something beneath the village. And it seems that his hunch was right! Dobbs would be found in a bunker sort of a machine called “The Egg” that allowed that any man could travel between dimensions.When this urban legend on the Internet came around 1999, received a new look at the story of Joseph Matheny. The urban legend hoax and ended up turning meme and eventually won hundreds of versions. The truth is that the towns of Burlington County always told lurid stories about this ghost town, though, where reality ends and fiction begins only Dobbs – if it exists – can say (although it is difficult to contact him now that he is in another dimension).
Also: Lynne and Legend Tripping Online:: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat are cited in this examination of the Slenderman phenomena over at Semiotic Review. – http://www.semioticreview.com/index.php/thematic-issues/issue-monsters/22-the-sort-of-story-that-has-you-covering-your-mirrors-the-case-of-slender-man.html
Review by Joseph Laycock for Religious Studies Review
Texas State University, Philosophy, Faculty Member
Article first published online: 12 SEP 2014
Above image used with permission of the artist. Courtesy of James Koehnline : http://www.koehnline.com/
A professional version of The Incunabula Papers: Ong’s Hat and Other Gateways to New Dimensions is currently available for Audible.com, Amazon.com and iTunes.com. (coming soon) It is narrated by the inimitable James Lewis.
REVIEWERS: Contact me for a free review copy. Just let me know what podcast/show/blog you intend to review it for.
Note to creatives reading this: If you have any audio v/o projects and you want to work with a consummate professional and all around nice guy, you can’t do better than James.
Here’s a sample of my conversation with Nick Herbert, read by James, so you can get a sense of the quality (Click the blue “Listen” button below to hear the sample).
Story from the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey newspaper on the legend(s) of Ong’s Hat.
“Two weeks ago there were these young kids, like 19 or 20, who came by asking about Ong’s Hat,” said bartender Jacky Colon. “I looked it up on my phone. It was this weird interdimensional thing. Hold on, I have to look it up, this is how I got all my information on Google.”
Very short synopsis of said legend: Mash-up of religious sect, jazz musicians, native Pineys and rogue physicists settle in Ong’s Hat, open a portal to other dimensions. More on this later. First, that name.
During a lull, you can ask about those legends. The modern one about Ong’s Hat — that portal to another dimension somewhere out in the pitch pines — was popularized in the 2002 book “Ong’s Hat: The Beginning” by writer Joseph Matheny, who creates transmedia works and is a prominent figure in alternative reality gaming.
“Nineteen eighty-nine, I think this started. I had a friend who had a cabin out there in the Pine Barrens, and he hosted these parties. He was very bohemian and had artists and writers of all kinds out there,“ Matheny said. ‘He gave me a pamphlet that purported to be this story about Princeton scientists and something called the Ong’s Hat Rod and Gun Club, where they used to hang out and relax.“
During World War II the Pine Barrens were a testing ground for weapons development. Princeton scientists did explosives and ballistics work in the Forked Ruiver Mountains, and a Johns Hopkins University team fired crude surface-to-air missiles from the Project Bumblebee site at Island Beach. “There are kernels of reality to this legend,“ Matheny said.
With Matheny and other contributors writing, the story line arose ithrough the 1990s, first on computer bulletin boards frequented by gaming enthusiasts, generating online versions of urban legend that’s grown to an elaborate body of work. One consequence is an uptick in younger visitors seeking Ong’s Hat. Hence Colon’s close encounter at the Magnolia Bar.
Folklorists call it legend tripping — the urge to visit supposedly haunted houses and the like. One infamous place is Leed’s Point near Smithville in Atlantic County. The supposed birthplace of the Jersey Devil — a half-human monster said to haunt the forest since the 1700s — attracts people around Halloween.
But the Ong’s Hat story is one of the first examples of “legend tripping online,” said Michael Kinsella, a scholar who studies new religions, paranormal beliefs and folk traditions at the University of California Santa Barbara. He’s author of the 2011 book “Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat,” published by the University Press of Mississippi.
“I’ve always been fascinated by supernatural beliefs,” said Kinsella, who like Ong’s Hat enthusiasts stumbled across the story online, and wrote a whole dissertation on it for his master’s degree in 2007, which led to the book. The cross-connections of various enthusiast websites — whether gaming, UFOs or conspiracy theories — lead like a trail of digital bread crumbs to Ong’s Hat.
He sees it as technology simply extending an ancient human compulsion. “People really want to seek out the eerie and paranormal,” Kinsela said.
There are other snippets from actual history in the Ong’s Hat portal legend, like radioactive waste. Around the time the legend was developing, the Department of Defense was figuring out what to do with thousands of tons of soil contaminated with plutonium when a nuclear missile burned up a few miles away at Fort Dix in 1961. That’s how modern legends grow, Kinsella said.
“It’s typical for these kinds of stories to mix up history and facts and legend,” he said. “So much weird stuff and stories seems to come out of the Pine Barrens, they reinforce each other.”
“If nothing else, it is a vortex of mysteries, legends, tradition and folklore…I’m interested in tracking it back as far as I can, but I don’t want to puncture that bubble,“ Matheny said. “There’s nothing in the structure of the story that I haven’t heard, in one form or another, from people in the area.”
Transmedia as an idea of collaborative, multi-platform creation and narration origins in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century, in the area of telematic art, where artists experimented with collaborative narration and defined the idea of transmedia.
It soon moved on to the gaming industry, creating so-called Alternate Reality Games (ARG).These are games that, based on the Internet as a main hub, use(d) multiple other technological platforms like telephones, email and real offline mail to tell and simultaneously create different parts of the game’s story in those medial habitats relevant to the players. So not just transmedia telling, but transmedia engagement that requires interaction from every gamer in order to bring the game’s plot to the next level. In other words: “Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and collaborate as a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities.” (Wikipedia) An early example being Ong’s Hat.
A few collected Ong’s Hat literary references from 2014. Other references pre-2014 can be found on the Reviews page. I only include the ones which directly relate to the legend as told in my works, not the historic references about the lost town itself.
Notice: Inclusion in this list in NO WAY IMPLIES AN ENDORSEMENT
Ong’s Hat spin off novels by other writers:
- Conspiracy! The Movie, The Novel (Ong’s Hat Ashram legend plays a significant role in this book)
- The Haunting of Ong’s Hat
- Ong’s Hat by Steven Reeves (actually uses the Egg and the travel cults as a central theme in the story)
- Ong’s Hat and a mysterious cult called The Ong’s Hat Flagellants plays a major role in Turnpike Flameout
- Ong’s Hat and mysterious non-existent books describing dimensional portals (Ong’s Hat: Adventures of Other Dimensions and Time) used in the plot of Quhaunt’em: a novel
Other references (non-fiction)
- My interview with Nick Herbert (from Ong’s Hat) referenced in The Physics of Miracles: Tapping in to the Field of Consciousness Potential
- Ong’s Hat section in The Geomantic Year: A Calendar of Earth-Focused Festivals that Align the Planet with the Galaxy
- Ongs Hat mentioned in The Big Book of New Jersey Ghost Stories
- Ong’s Hat mentioned in New Jersey Ghost Towns: Uncovering the Hidden Past
- Ong’s Hat: The Beginning cited in Prisoner of Words
- My friend D.R. Haney: Room 32 – A great story all on it’s own, but with the strange appearance of a picture from room 32 where the phrase “Jim is in Ong’s Hat” can clearly be seen. (also ran on Salon) The rest of “Room 32″ is now available as an e-book in the Kindle Store. To get it, please click here.
News and Popular Media
- A political post from Salon, , AUG 26, 2010 which has the quote: “The summer of 1963, then, was marked by graduation from the liturgical approach of loose, liberal Christianity to the crazy quilt Moorish Orthodox Church of America, my natural next home. An offshoot or perhaps incarnation of the Moorish Science Temple, the MOCA comprised a group of jazz musicians, poets, artists, improvisational comics and a few deeply weird people like the guy with the mustache and cape (that’s all I ever knew of his identity — he much resembled Brian Stack’s “The Interrupter” from the Conan O’Brien show decades later). As an acolyte of Salvador Dali (along with one of my close friends from school, who also taught martial arts and built explosive devices), the MOCA was a natural magnet for someone like me. It’s served me well off and on over the years as it has waxed and waned as a force. The nominal headquarters still operate in Ong’s Hat, N.J., in case anyone might conceivably be interested.”
Dominique Angela M. Juntado, M.A.
Doctoral Candidate in Social & Cultural Anthropology
University of the Philippines Diliman
International Journal of Social Sciences
Having been written for fellow fans of video game creepypastas and students of media anthropology and folklore, this article inspects said form of online lore as well as its complementing interactive media in terms of how experimentation with playable content
can effectively deliver not only an understanding of what transpired in a narrative, but more of a meaningful experience of a narrative. In theory, an interactive approach has much to contribute for the breadth of legend complexes.
Keywords: Creepypasta, ROM Hacks, Lost Episodes, Haunted Gaming, Democratized Production, Nontraditional Storytelling, Slender
To talk about a known, existing
contribution which encourages the inspection of
netlore and possible variants, Michael Kinsella‟s
 work on internet-based folklore is worth
attention for having included guidelines on how
legends online could be assessed, the basics of
legend-tripping, as well as the importance of knowing how to go about ecologies of legends in
general. It is likewise memorable for its
ethnographic rumination on the Incunabula
papers and Ong‟s Hat which has previously
showcased the potential pertinence of alternate
reality games (ARGs) in both the reconstruction
as well as promotion of a legend. In his case
analysis, Kinsella  spoke more of those
participating in the imersion within the legend —
their framing, emotions, and perceptions, as well
as their role in the legend‟s mortality.
On the one end, this discourse is in pursuit
of a personal inclination. But to place it in the
academic backdrop of the studies of media, it
complements the work of Russel Frank 
and Michael Kinsella  on the subject of
understanding how online lore works and
branches out through bringing the subject of
video game modification and hacking into the
academic theoretical limelight in terms of their
potential role in the deepening of netlore.
There is then a development into how
success of a video gaming creepypasta could be
assessed. The treatise then proceeds with an
analysis of how video game creepypastas with
playables could classify as a legend trip. This
segment is guided by Kinsella‟s 
guidelines on understanding the structure of
legend trips, derived from the second chapter of
his book Legend-Tripping: Online Supernatural
Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat.
As a practical counterpart to the theoretical
ruminations, there is included a concise survey
of the existing forms of playable lore which
serve as the present genres. This is
complemented by a segment discussing classic
features to incorporate in the production of a
playable pasta as well as brief notes on avoiding
Chapter dedicated to Ong’s Hat in Destinations Across Paranormal America 2 by Hugh Mungus
It’s a widely held belief the legend of Ong’s Hat is the ﬁctional brainchild of author Joseph Matheny. Matheny posted his saga on the Internet in the early 1990s, in attempts to insert the story into the collective consciousness of the then-burgeoning World Wide Web. If you’ve ever watched the lonelygirl15 webisodes on http://www.youtube.com, you’ll understand this anecdotal blending with online reality. To those not familiar with lonelygirl15, it was the precursor to Destinations Across Paranormal America 20 vlogging, videotaping oneself rambling about various subject matter, and posting it on the Internet for the world to view. Debuting in 2006, lonelygirl15 was created by a group of young ﬁlmmakers. Although ﬁctional, the show was initially believed by its audience to be fact. The story followed the everyday existence of a teenaged girl named Bree. As the production gained popularity, and its fanciful nature was revealed, two derivative series — centered around conspiracy theories — were produced.
Back to Ong’s Hat, baby! There are those who claim Matheny’s legend is true. Whether or not one believes the Ong’s Hat saga is beside the point, contends its creator, who asserts his work stemmed from an actual written narrative known as the Incunabula Papers. To be certain, it’s a lot of information to digest. Reading Ong’s Hat: The Beginning, listening to the Incunabula Papers on-line (see the Bibliography) or visiting southern New Jersey, would be great initial steps to unraveling this mystery.
Much more in the book! Read it all on-line (Ong’s Hat chapter is chapter 13)
or get it at Amazon
Excellent observations on the Ong’s Hat/Incunabula mythos from Spittle Gauze
Lists seem to have a certain power over people. It is hard to find any form of media that does not utilize them often, since it is a way to convey a larger picture with a superficial set of objects. Since the efficacy of lists is so overwhelmingly apparent in modern media, it is a bit strange that they aren’t often used to create narratives, like hugely popular epistolary form. Recently, by happenstance, I’ve read 2 works of fiction (probably fiction!) that utilize lists to create their structure, Hawkeye #3 by Matt Fraction/David Aja and Incunabula by Joseph Matheny (probably!).
Although I read the Incunabula catalog first, it is a stickier topic, so I’ll start out withHawkeye. The 3rd issue of the new series by Fraction/Aja is a story created by the joining of two lists. The first is a series of bad decisions and the second a tally of different novelty arrows in the Avenger’s arsenal. The story starts out with Hawkeye in plain clothes attempting to label and clean up his assortment of trick arrows. To label them he needs some tape, so he travels out into the world where he commits a series of bad decisions. The narrative then unfolds as, out of order, Hawkeye makes a series of 9 poorly thought out actions. Punctuated between the action, which are given out of their list order, someone in the story uses each of his trick arrows (acid arrow, net arrow, boomerang arrow, etc). After setting up these two lists, the rest of the narrative unfolds almost solely by revealing the items of the list. The pace of the lists being revealed by word and image in the comic makes the story happen effortlessly and in a way that grabs the reader’s attention. Afterwards it is easy to see how painstakingly the structure was created to provide such a great read for the audience.
The other item on the list, Incunabula, is much harder to pin down. It is a catalog of print items available from a printed word distribution. The list of items available forms a narrative at least and, possibly, also a conspiracy theory. I happened upon this story as part of .zip file that supposedly contained a book of occult theory that discusses the Lovecraft Mythos as a nonfiction magickal construct. Inside the file was not only the book I wanted, but also Ong’s Hat: The Beginning by Joseph Matheny. I am not really sure why, but I ended up reading all of Incunabula and never even perusing the item I was after. The basis for the Ong’s Hat book is the Incunabula catalog that is reproduced in its pages.
While Hawkeye used lists inside a narrative to drive it, Incunabula was a rigid list that contained a story that appears after the whole catalog has been read. As the catalog progresses, certain points brought up in earlier entries are elucidated upon or given an erratic, confusing depth. The play on information as treasure is the reward for the reader trying to figure out what the story actually is. That is if it is a story at all and not a conspiracy theory or buried history. The gaps in the narrative require action from the reader outside of the text in the form of research. The end story in the audience’s mind ends up being as big or small as the amount of time and effort each viewer gives to the subject matter.
After encountering both of these stories in the span of a month or so, it seems strange that I haven’t encountered lists as narratives more often in my readings. After reading both pieces it is obvious that the bare bones list structure can create powerful narratives in a wealth of different applications. I also find it very strange that the two list based stories I read use the list in opposing methods, Hawkeye with the lists inside the story and Incunabula with the story inside the list. The synchronicity of the way these two items overlap is enough to make me believe in the conspiracy path theIncunabula attempts to lead its readers through. Maybe there are more examples of the list as a story and I’ve just never encountered them, but the complimentary aspects of these two works makes me start to cast myself in the role of the unreliable audience ( as opposed to the unreliable narrator structure). Hopefully I’ll notice a lot more of this method now that I am aware of it.
To read these stories yourself is pretty easy. The Hawkeye story can be purchased from comixology or at most comic book/regular book stores. Incunabula is available online at http://deoxy.org/inc1.htm or as part of Ong’s Hat: The Beginning from online retailers like amazon or its publisher Sky Books. If you know of any other stories similar, please drop me a line!
—[- Spittle Gauze
Link to original article
Also see Goodreads review by same author
There is an Ong’s Hat section in this French article, from the site Tryangle about starting your own religion, titled: TUTORIAL: HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN RELIGION?
Excerpt (machine translation):
In fact we can find the origin ARGs “occult” or “sacred”, in particular through the myth of Ong’s Hat . In the 90s indeed circulated anonymous documents, Incunabula Papers, which told the story of a team of physicists, refugees in the ghost town of Ong’s Hat, which had succeeded in using tantric techniques to contact parallel universes. But this story myth, far from being presented in a linear fashion, as in a novel, was distributed over multiple independent media, browsing els networks (which at the time consisted mainly of small telephone servers because the Internet was still very accessible to the average person) or available via fax or photocopies … Especially at no time said document does not explicitly claimed as fictions. The game designer Denny Unger shows in the passage that follows the religious aspect, occult, the myth of Ong’s Hat:
Ong’s hat and Incunabula have always treated the problem of levels of understanding. When you look at every aspect of the story, you find yourself facing a challenge. You discover an exciting info that takes you on a path only to discover that it was a dead end, but … he is ultimately the way you thought wrong is the right truth, and so on .
A portion of the population simply does not grasp the incunabula and will be a “weird thing” but some will be captured by them, obsessed with their mystery. This obsession usually lasts until the person has extract of the story something that is vital for it. There is also another kind of explorer incunabula. This one goes beyond personal obsessions and begins to understand a more comprehensive picture by linking information apparently unconnected. What it perceives is also a series of carefully constructed to filter certain types of personalities and find suitable “candidate” tests. A general scheme of Incunabula appears. It reminds initiations sects, but is very different because this process selects a particular type of personality someone hedonistic, open-minded, but skeptical, with a free turn of scientific spirit, creative, thinker, educated, and critical. Certainly not typical of the standard sect initiated.
A batch of emails has alerted me to another strange synchronicity re: the Ong’s Hat material. This time it involves the infamous scene in the Ong’s Hat graphic novel (included with this post as a PDF) that plays out between Cranston and myself. The scene takes place in front of the “red door” (a very real place) which is the entrance to the “Chinese Freemason of the World” organization. I ended up there one day, during a customary dérive through Chinatown. Back then (2000’ish) I often embarked on a dérive through Chinatown when I was trying to think deeply about something.
Now it seems that SF/CA Senator Leeland Yee has recently been arrested and charged with weapons trafficking, and the scandal involves the Chinese Freemasons in Chinatown. Pictures of the “red door” are currently all over the news. A few vigilant OH fans noted it and alerted me.
According to FBI Special Agent Michael Gimbel, “the FBI is executing numerous arrests and search warrants around the Bay Area.” Included in this mornings raids are Yee’s Sacramento office, his home on 24th Avenue in San Francisco’s Sunset District, a building on the 1700 block of Hyde Street and the Ghee Kung Tong Chinese Freemason Lodge in Chinatown.
It seems that 2014 is going to be a year chock full of personal synchronicities for me, as this site can attest lately. Since I am a fan of the serendipitous experience, I look forward to living the Chinese curse/blessing (depending on your outlook): “May you live in interesting times.”
“Might we contrive one of those opportune falsehoods … so as by one noble lie to persuade if possible the rulers themselves, but failing that the rest of the city.”
– Plato in The Republic
“If you read it, you will be infected. If you are infected you will be InFicted. If you are InFicted, you will get UnFucted.”
– Joseph Matheny
Matheny was one of the first to recognize the power inherent in the interconnected culture that is developing through the rapid technological progress driving globalization. His insights and accomplishments help us to understand the intricacies of transmedia arts and provides a valuable tool in becoming a co-creator in the world wide game already in progress called the “21st Century.”
Sec. 1: MW 2-3:15 & T 6:30-9 (film screening) / Sec. 2: MW 4-5:15 & T 6:30-9 (film screening)
This course examines three major folklore genres – legend, rumor, and conspiracy theory – focusing especially on those that manifest in different forms of media (film, television, Internet, social media, newspapers). From AIDS aggression and cannibalism to aliens, ghosts, and zombies, this class explores a range of “belief complexes.” In doing so, the class seeks to answer key questions, including: How are legends related to rumor, conspiracy theory, and myth? How and why are legends transmitted and performed? How do they shape human behavior? All films, research assignments, and in-class activities are geared toward providing the content knowledge and skills necessary to identify variants of contemporary legend, rumor, and conspiracy theory in context, analyze different variants in light of the above questions, and engage in a process of critical discussion and debate about these important genres. Cross-listed as Anthro 3150 and Film Studies 3005.
Aliens, Ghosts & Cults: Legends We Live (Ellis 2001); Bodies: Sex, Violence, Disease & Death in Contemporary Legend (Bennett 2005); Film, Folklore & Urban Legends (Koven 2008); I Heard It through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture (Turner 1993); Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat ( Kinsella 2011).
Precursor: Ong’s Hat
In the 1980s transmedia artist Joseph Matheny launched the Ong’s Hat game, inspired by play-by-mail multiplayer games run by Flying Buffalo. Though Ong’s Hat may not have set out to be an ARG, the methods by which the author interacted with participants and used different platforms to build and spread its legend has been reflected in later games. Also known as The Incunabula Papers, the game incorporated the practice of “legend tripping” in which a group of people visit sites known in folklore for horrific or supernatural events. Matheny built a mythos around a supposed ghost town in New Jersey throughout the 1980s through works disguised as research shared on bulletin boards and physical zines. One of the earliest archived theories about the alleged legend appeared in the October 1993 issue of Boing Boing and was posted online as early as February 11th, 1994.
Between 1994 and 2000, posts about Ong’s Hat were planted on a number of different Usenet groups to spark discussion, including sci.math, alt.illuminati, alt.conspiracy and alt.society.paradigms, among others. In 2001, Matheny stopped the project and went on to publish two books about it, as well as archiving all the materials on the Incunabula website.
Apparently some of you have a Google Alert for the term “Ong’s Hat” and therefore have seen the recent addition to IMDB. Specifically this listing (you’ll need IMDB Pro to see complete information). I had planned on doing a full interview with the two people responsible for this new venture when they return from shooting in Europe and I still plan on doing that. So, you’ll have to wait for that post for more info, but in the meantime, I’ll fill you in on a few “who and what” details.
Few have ventured into the many heavily guarded, top-secret locations scattered across the earth. Even fewer have emerged with stories to tell. Yet every now and then the common man is given an illicit glimpse of something extraordinary…
In Beyond Area 51, Mack Maloney explores the truths behind the many myths and legends surrounding some of the world’s most mysterious locales. From the Homestead Air Force base in Miami, Florida to Russia’s Kapustin Yar, Maloney investigates incredible reports of extraterrestrial experimentation on animals, UFOs with road rage, and other unbelievable tales beyond our wildest imaginings. Filled with fascinating, true accounts, Beyond Area 51 will convince any skeptic of the infinite possibilities of what exists on, and beyond, our tiny planet.
“Might we contrive one of those opportune falsehoods … so as by one noble lie to persuade if possible the rulers themselves, but failing that the rest of the city.”
– Plato in The Republic
“If you read it, you will be infected. If you are infected you will be InFicted. If you are InFicted, you will get UnFucted. “
– Joseph Matheny
Those who entered the digital world in the late 80’s and early 90’s were introduced to a nearly unfathomable host of possibilities for media and creativity. DVD’s offered the potential for integrative experiences that tracked user preferences and allowed for multiple story formats which changed with each viewing based on previous use, virtual reality models held the possibility for turning these experiences fully immersive, cell phones and wireless technology promised an unthought of openness to it all, and the internet allowed everyone to dream of a fully connected, creative global conversation that synchronized each aspect into a beautifully coordinated whole. Looking back on those dreams in light of growing concerns over surveillance, advertising, neuromarketing and the like one might wonder what happened to turn the dream into a lousy cold war sitcom.
Game magazine: Issue 135, available now at newsstands, print or digital. The article runs about 6 pages, with citations to Incunabula/Ong’s Hat and myself throughout.
Here is a small excerpt (used with permission) from that article:
“But what exactly is an ARG? For the community, that definition is largely rooted in the ‘this is not a game’ aesthetic. ARGs are games that do not acknowledge that they are games; they pose as alternate realities hidden away in streams of dormant internet code. Their stories exist not in unified narrative, but are spread across phone lines, email addresses, websites and any other forms of media that the puppetmasters – that is, the game’s creators – deem to be useful. ARG’s exist in real-time as constantly evolving, potentially boundless storytelling experiences.
If one takes the Turnpike to exit four and follows Route 70 east, they will come to Route 72 at Four Mile Circle. Taking a hard left leads to a place known as Ong’s Hat, and a trail that some say leads to a mysterious portal to another dimension.
The New Jersey Pine Barrens have a plethora of deserted villages, most of them simply abandoned decades, even centuries ago. One of the most infamous of these is Ong’s Hat in Burlington County. The true reason as to why anyone would name a village Ong’s Hat may be shrouded in mystery forever. The facts are not clear, but the folklore surrounding the town’s name is well known.
Legend has it that at one time a resident of the area was a flashy young gentleman by the name of Ong (while his first name is unknown, Ong is an old time Pine Barrens name––one of the earliest Pines settlers was Jacob Ong). He was a fixture at local dances, where he was famous for being able to woo the ladies with his fancy dance moves and suave attire––most notably his silk hat.
Apparently, Ong was something of what modern youth call a “player,” in that he would flirt and dance with all the ladies he could. One of his love interests caught on to this practice at a dance and attacked Ong, taking his hat and stomping on it. Ong, who was very drunk and very upset that his chapeau had just been ruined, ran outdoors and tossed the hat into the air out of frustration. It caught in the high branches of a pine tree and stayed there for years. It became a landmark by which people could find the small village, and the area was dubbed Ong’s Hat.
As the Pine Barrens themselves became less and less populated with the dying out of local industry, Ong’s Hat was all but forgotten. Today Ong’s Hat is home to no residents. Instead, there are piles of rubble, overgrown building foundations, and other reminders of a bygone age. Ong’s Hat might have been nothing more than a footnote in the local history books were it not for a very weird development that some believe occurred there in the last quarter of the twentieth century––the opening of a gateway to another dimension.
The following, more recent, history of Ong’s Hat and its mysterious inter-dimensional portal can be found in a book entitled “Ong’s Hat: The Beginning.” The author of the book, Joseph Matheny, is coy as to whether he intended the work as fact or fiction. “The split between who believes the book is fiction vs. nonfiction is pretty even,” he has said. Some claim that the book is pure fantasy, and has set up a hoax that many have come to accept as real.
According to Matheny’s history, the Moorish Orthodox Church of America was founded in the 1950’s by a group of white jazz musicians and poets who were formerly members of the Newark founded Moorish Science Temple. The members of this small sect traveled the world, learning different philosophies and spiritual practices from all different masters of the eastern world. One of these travelers was known as Wali Fard.
When Fard returned from his travels abroad in 1978, he spent all of his savings on 200 acres in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Along with a group of runaway boys from Paramus and two lesbian anarchists, he moved onto the property and formed a newer, even more exclusive sect, the Moorish Science Ashram.
Fard published a series of Xeroxed newsletters proclaiming his beliefs. Those on the fringe who had read his words began flocking to his land. Among these refugees were two scientists looked down upon for their radical views, Frank and Althea Dobbs.
The Dobbs twins were raised in Texas, among a UFO worshipping cult founded by their father. Needless to say, they were used to life on the outskirts of the mainstream. When they arrived in the Pines they set up a laboratory inside a ramshackle trailer. They began making discoveries that shook the small commune to its core.
The siblings had previously been working at Princeton, where they submitted as their PhD theses a series of equations that led to what they called “cognitive chaos.” They were dismissed from the university and found their way to the Pines. In the remote locale they were free to work further on their ideas, whether the academic establishment wanted them to or not. Their theories promoted the idea that people could tap into the unused portion of their brains and do things such as stop their aging and purge diseases from their systems. The Ashram used their research to found the Institute of Chaos Studies.
Progress occurred even quicker than the scientists involved could have predicted themselves. Within three years they had stumbled upon an extraordinary, bizarre device that came to be known as “The Gate.” This was one of a series of devices the scientists referred to as “The Egg.” They hooked people up to computers and charted their brain waves. By experimenting with sex, drugs, and other mind wave manipulators, the scientists learned how to control the chaos they found within the mind.
The fourth version of the Egg was tested on one of the Paramus runaways. When it was activated, he and the device itself disappeared. Moments later it rematerialized. The boy claimed that he had traveled to the dimension next door to ours. This was the opening of The Gate.
The members of the ICS had to leave their Pine Barrens compound due to a chemical spill from Fort Dix that was leaking nuclear material into the area. Instead of fleeing outward, they fled inter-dimensionally. They used the Gate to transport themselves and all of their possessions into an alternate dimension. In this dimension they still lived in Ong’s Hat, but humankind did not exist.
According to some, the experiments at Ong’s Hat led to a violent and bloody confrontation. They claim that the government got wind of the experiments being conducted at Ong’s Hat and stormed the compound there, killing seven members of the group. Some say it was Delta Force who did the killing, while others blame operatives of the Russian or Danish militaries.
Skeptics of this far-fetched tale believe that Joseph Matheny’s book “Ong’s Hat: The Beginning” is nothing more than a work of pure fiction, bolstered by an elaborate Internet hoax. Others claim that Matheny has had to hint at the book being a hoax to preserve his efforts to tell the truth and to protect his own safety.
Matheny first became involved in the Ong’s Hat saga when he posted a book catalog he had found, known as the “Incunabula Catalog,” on BBS and FTP systems around the Internet at the turn of the 90’s. Then he produced one of the essays reviewed in this catalog. From there he claimed to have interviewed one of the physicists mentioned in these papers, as well as the original author of the book catalog he had posted. These four documents make up what are known as the “Incunabula Papers.” It is somewhat unclear as to whether there ever was any documentation of these alleged events other than the ones that Matheny “found” and posted himself.
So was Ong’s Hat ever the home of a mysterious cult of science nerds, or is this inter-dimensional Gate merely one of the earliest known Internet hoaxes? Whatever the case may be, the story of Ong’s Hat is truly a bizarre one, and believed to be more fact than fiction by more than just a few sci-fi fanatics.
This Internet story is only an excerpt of the information we have published on this subject. For the full story we suggest you refer to past issues of Weird NJ Magazine. To keep up to date on this story and all the other weird goings on in the state subscribe to Weird NJ and we’ll deliver it to your door. If your local book seller, newsstand or convenience store doesn’t carry Weird NJ, just tell them to call us toll free at 1-866-WEIRDNJ and we’ll be happy to stock your favorite store for you.
The Hat, The Egg & the Chaos
Ong’s Hat: Hidden History or Piney Mythology
“…to vanish without having to kill yourself may be the ultimate revolutionary act…” The Sacred Jihad of Our Lady of Chaos
“..That story again! Man, that’s old hat..” …some Buddtown local
I remember 1978. I was an eight year old boy, in Brooklyn, where Avenue H meets Kings Highway. After battling my older brothers for the last bowl of Cap’t Crunch’s Peanut Butter Crunch, I’d settle in front of the tube for my all-time favorite morning show, (and still today – now owning all three seasons on DVD), Sid & Marty Kroft’s Land of the Lost. Kid TV shows of the 70′s were especially wrought with invasive weirdness; New Zoo Revue, The Magic Garden, The Patchwork Family…OH! and GIGGLESNORT HOTEL!! (what the F#@K was that about?) But Land of the Lost, for me, was the Led Zeppelin IV of children shows.
It all started with a road map of New Jersey. A little north of the Red Lion Circle, in the heart of the Burlington County Pine Barrens, the map depicted a tiny hamlet marked with the unusual name of “Ongs Hat.” In the early 1930s, Henry Charlton Beck, a reporter with the Camden Courier Post, became curious. After convincing his editor that a story could be found there, he and a photographer packed up a car and set off to investigate. Little did he know that his explorations at Ongs Hat, and a succession of later voyages to mysterious places in the hinterlands of New Jersey, would inspire generations of other “lost town hunters” –pouring over ancient maps, exploring dismal cellar holes in the middle of nowhere, and sharing their discoveries with one another – first by telephone and letter and presently through online forums.