Government-conspiracy theories rising like a mist from Camp Hero may not be a new or even recent thing. On this day 62 years ago, the U.S. Air Force officially acknowledged that it had nearly completed one of the largest radar systems in the world.
“It’s Official: Montauk Tower No Mirage,” the East Hampton Star reported sardonically that day. “Existence of the 85-foot concrete tower at the Air Force Station, Montauk Point, [has been] no secret since last fall to watching Montaukers.”
It is true that the station was closed to the public, and that the location is remote. However, the tower alone stood at 85 feet, with the 40-ton radar dish contributing another 40 feet, which put the structure well above the tree line. It certainly was no military secret: the Air Force had an ‘Open House” a few weeks later for Armed Forces Day.
Now a state park, Camp Hero was used to protect the East Coast by the Army during World War II and by the Air Force during the cold war – when the radar tower was added to feed information about “friendly and unidentified aircraft” to a New York Air Defense computer for “evaluation and action.” For context, this was in an era when “take cover” defense drills were the norm thanks to tense relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The Camp Hero antenna was powered by six 100-horsepower motors working at a speed of one revolution every 12 seconds. Montauk residents found the rotation hard to ignore since it created an every-12-second blip on radios and TVs. (This was before the tentacles of cable TV had reached Montauk, when TV broadcasts still came from New England.)
The radar dish took its last spin in January 1981. Of a dozen of its kind, the one at Camp Hero was the only one not to be dismantled, reportedly because fishermen valued it as a landmark. The radar tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, but is in a state of disrepair and a frequent victim of vandals and conspiracy theorists – and a subject for writers of fiction.