Ong’s Hat

The Gate pulsed. Through the opening, the alternate dimension came into focus.

Both Frank and Althea could see a landscape, identical to their own, taking shape in the other world. Rolling hills, trees, swaying grass. But something in this new existence was different. Something didn’t feel quite right. Frank couldn’t put his finger on it until Althea spoke up.

“There are no buildings,” she exclaimed.

The former Princeton student squinted, affording himself a deeper view through the ingress. Althea was right. There were no buildings. In fact, nothing man-made at all was visible in this bordering reality. Not a house, nor a road, not a street sign, not even a fence with which to corral the occasional cow. And where there were no buildings,…

“There are no people,” Althea finished Frank’s thought, as twins often do for one another.

Both siblings had been cast out of Princeton for promoting “free thinking.” Their combined Ph.D. thesis on “cognitive chaos” had gone over like a lead zeppelin. In fact, the brother/sister team had been expelled for proving their groundbreaking theories, mathematically.

Their cutting edge study centered around interdimensional travel. It was imperative this type of research continue and, yet, suppressed by the powers that be, further progress was impossible. The two students needed a place in which to pursue their experimentation without hindrance.

As the twins gazed into the uninhabited reality before them, they realized they had found Nirvana. A dimension untouched by human existence. A place with limitless possibilities. A world in which people might someday stop the aging process, and cleanse themselves of disease simply through mind power.

The portal widened. The Gate hummed. The drone was now almost unbearable, as the orphan test subject sitting beneath the glowing rift became translucent.

“It’s working!” Frank thought. “The goddamned thing’s working! We were right all along!”

In no obvious pain, the waif gazed about. His body became transparent. Distinct images from the dimension behind him were now clear. Boulders, clouds, blue sky.

And that’s when Althea noticed it. Not only was the runaway vanishing before their eyes, so too was the Egg, the very machine they had created with which to facilitate interdimensional travel.

Wide-eyed, the orphan turned toward the twins. A moment later, he, the Egg and the Gate disappeared. With that, the hum dissipated, and the neighboring reality vanished. Only the nocturnal sounds of the forest remained at Ong’s Hat.

The New Jersey Pine Barrens is no place to be caught after sundown. Tales of ominous creatures and backwoods folk, with ill intent, inundate the rural region. In the heart of the weirdness, once resided the hamlet of Ong’s Hat.

We know. Funny name. Supposedly, the town was so titled due to one Jacob Ong, an initial settler of the area.

According to legend, Ong was quite the ladies’ man, sweeping women off their feet with sophisticated dance moves, and dress befitting someone of great affluence. As with most gigolos, Jacob’s past returned to haunt him. When a spurned lover discovered Ong’s philandering ways, she confronted him at a local dance. The furious woman stripped the man of his prized possession, a silk hat, and crushed the derby to ruins before Jacob’s eyes. Gathering his expensive chapeau, a distraught Ong ran outside and threw the hat into a nearby tree, where it remained for a number of years. Since this region of the country is so rural, the lonesome article of clothing became a demarcation by which travelers could find the isolated village.

Today, the legendary landmark no longer exists. Neither does the populace of Ong’s Hat. The once-diminutive town has long been abandoned, but the mysterious tales surrounding it live on.

Most notable is the saga of Frank and Althea Dobbs, twin siblings who reputedly discovered a portal to alternate dimensions at Ong’s Hat. According to author Joseph Matheny, in his book Ong’s Hat: The Beginning, Frank and Althea had been students of Princeton University.

Disenchanted with the strict ideology of the institution, the twins worked diligently on a theory to prove not only the factual nature of interdimensional travel, but also the belief that humans were in full control of their own mortality. Frank and Althea theorized that people could heal themselves of any affliction, and put an end to physical aging. After submitting their thesis on the subject of “cognitive chaos,” the twins were summarily expelled from the Ivy League school.

Determined to pursue their paranormal studies, the brother and sister team set up shop in a rundown trailer in remote Ong’s Hat, New Jersey. Legend has it the siblings joined a commune in the desolate countryside, where they tested fantastical machinery on local, wayward runaways. The tiny community came to be known as the Institute of Chaos Studies, or ICS. Roughly three years after its inception, the ICS completed work on a device known as the Gate, which allegedly transported one of the delinquent test subjects to and from an alternate dimension, adjacent our own.

A chemical spill at nearby Fort Dix forced the constituents of the Institute to head for the hills. Rather than escaping to higher ground, the members of the group departed into a separate dimension. Allegedly, those comprising the ICS continue to live at Ong’s Hat, but within a different reality.

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, you’ll understand this anecdotal blending with online reality. To those not familiar with lonelygirl15, it was the precursor to 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, and although fictional, was initially believed by its audience to be fact. The story, produced in realistic fashion, followed the everyday existence of a teenaged girl named Bree. As the show became popular, 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 1990s legend is true, as the author remained vague concerning the authenticity of his posts. Whether or not one believes the Ong’s Hat saga, is beside the point, contends its creator, who claims his work stemmed from an actual written narrative known as the Incunabula Papers.

We know. It’s a lot of information to digest. Might we suggest reading Ong’s Hat: The Beginning, listening to the Incunabula Papers online (see our Reference Index), or visiting southern New Jersey, in an attempt to unravel this mystery.

Accessed via the Garden State Parkway, as well as the Atlantic City Expressway, the Pine Barrens is a massive stretch of rural America, home to the Jersey Devil, as well as more than one species of carnivorous plant. Those seeking the former location of Ong’s Hat should traverse the New Jersey Turnpike, taking State Route 70 east. From this point, exit 4 and follow Route 72 south. Take a hard left onto Four Mile Circle for about a mile, and you should reach your intended destination. We wish we could provide you with a more detailed location from which to portal hunt, but it seems Ong’s Hat, much like its interdimensional travelers, has vanished.

Hugh Mungus

© 2010. Hugh Mungus

Reference Index:

Moran, Mark; Sceurman, Mark. (2006). Weird N.J. Vol. 2: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. pp. 68-69. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN: 13: 978-1-4027-3941-5


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