Ong’s Hat – The Beginning
Written by Joseph Matheny, Ong’s Hat- The beginning is said to be one of the first historical conspiracy theories established within the internet.
The fictional story follows of a small group of scientists who use Ong’s Hat; a small wooded town in New Jersey, as a base to conduct a series of experiments relating to Chaos theory and Quantum physics. In doing so they created a system (an egg) that allows them to travel to a different dimension. The dimension that they travelled to is a version of earth that has not yet been spoiled by a human presence. This scientific finding results in the scientist going missing. When actually they just left this reality to go and forge a life in this alternate dimension.
Tangible evidence of the origins of this hoax can be traced back to the 1980’s on old bulletin board systems, zines, brochures and mail art.
These tools were used to create a fictional narrative, purposely installed into the media cultures of the time, giving the story a convincing rich historical backstory.
In 1989 Matheny and friends left photocopied pamphlets in coffee shops, magazines and newspaper racks in convenience stores, around the popular Pine Barons hiking trails and anywhere else that wondering minds might find them. Soon they were distributing the pamphlet through mail order and paranormal newsletters. In 1990 it was published in a book call Incunabula, a collective of books and papers describing alternative worlds and sciences.
Matheny’s objective was to get the story publish in as many publications as possible to give the story a solid foundation. He did this to give anyone who wanted to research the stories authenticity a very hard time. Ong’s Hat a soon had an abundance of source material and references to throw any debunkers off the scent.
The first publishing of Ong’s Hat can be found in a magazine name edge detector, originally credited to a Peter Wilson, a friend of Joseph Matheny.
As the story gained traction, its followers increased. The stories strong foundations, were based on actual scientific theories and real scientific interviews. Matheny’s use of the internet helped to promote the story. This along with brochures zines and mail art, bought the fictional history of the tale to new heights. This made the story seem a reality to some and a fanatic fan base started to develop.
Matheny quoted in an interview saying, “a teeth grinding obsession for a pathetic few and a fun run for an intelligent and vast majority.”
Matheny was the stories primary creator, fascinated with alternate reality games (ARG), Ong’s Hat was his Sistine chapel. The story of Ong’s Hat is thought to be the world’s first ARG.
In the 1990’s Matheny used the internet t promote the growing tale. He realised he could take his ever-growing story and change it from local chit chat to a global conspiracy.
Matheny posted the stories on internet forums and billboards, which spread the story fast. In no time at all followers of the story of Ong’s Hat started calling themselves Egg heads. They filled forums and blogs with their own researched opinions without realising there was no truth behind the tale, this research made the tale all the more convincing to new readers.
By the end of the 1990’s, when reading and researching the story of Ong’s Hat, people started to claim to have strange dreams and vivid visual perceptions. It started to get a bit out of hand. Matheny himself stated in interviews for magazines that it was a game and not real from the start. He even hinted at it in one of his many pamphlets and brochures by inserting a picture of the cast of the TV show The Brady Bunch, labeling it as “Ong’s Hat Survivors”. It became very obvious that the Ong’s Hat fandom were not finding the hints Matheny left them in regarding the stories jovial beginnings. Being so invested in what was seen now as ‘Ong’s Hat mythology’, they refused to succumb to the reality of it all.
Matheny publish Ong’s Hat – The beginning, in 1999, promoting and explaining the book on popular paranormal radio show Coast to Coast AM. At this point Egg heads around the globe started to take the story too seriously, despite Matheny admitting it was a game. Conspiracy theorist, paranormal obsessives and others where demanding answers from him despite the fact he openly talked about the reality of the story. Matheny would then receive angry letters, phone calls and crazed fans camping outside his house. In fact, it escalated so much Matheny had to march one of those fans off of his property at gun point.
In 2001 he posted an open letter on line, formally confessing to it all being a big hoax, hoping it would bring all of the drama to an end. It did bring Matheny some silence, however, the conspiracy theorist then recognized his letter of confession as being no more than a conspiracy. They stated that Matheny had been paid off by the government among other things. Soon conspiracy theories bred conspiracy theories and so it kept evolving further.
Matheny even openly went on to help with another internet hoax, consulting for author Larry Haber in his creation of the character John Titor, a time traveler from the year 2036. Despite this the conspiracy of Ong’s hat continued.
Although Ong’s Hat was a made-up story, created by cunning pamphlets, brochures and gossiping people. It went on to become a powerful conspiracy theory with a following that actually booted its creator out of the universe he had created. The story was not real, however the legacy it left exceeded the stories jovial beginning.