By way of introduction, Northport native Christopher Garetano begins his new 8-part series "Strange World" (Travel Channel, Sunday, 10 p.m.) saying that "I've spent my whole life exploring the darkest mysteries on Earth."
This may be the slightest of exaggerations, but this probably is not: Garetano does seem to have spent a good part of his life exploring that hidden corner on the far reaches of Long Island, where sea meets sand, and all roads end, and the fences begin. On the other side of those is Camp Hero, ground zero for conspiracists and the inspiration for "Stranger Things" (which was, after all, originally named "Montauk").
What lies beneath Camp Hero's hulking Sage radar tower — that rusty sentinel, and Cold War monument? Garetano — who begins his series at Camp Hero — doesn't exactly know but pursuit of answers has been good for business: His.
In 2015, he produced the film "Montauk Chronicles," based on a series of books by Preston Nichols who wrote of Camp Hero space aliens, mind control, time travel, quantum wormholes, child abduction and the disappearance of an entire warship. That lead to a History Channel special in 2017, and now this. (Future episodes will look at mysterious disappearances on California's Mount Shasta, "Polybius," an '80s-era urban legend about an arcade game that controlled impressionable minds, and James Dean's "cursed" car.)
I spoke recently with Garetano. An edited version of our chat:
So what is so different about these hours versus all the other paranormal, government-conspiracy, the-truth-is-out-there kind of stuff that has predominated on TV in recent years?
Everything. I grew up watching 'In Search Of' and 'Unsolved Mysteries' and I was spooked by those shows [but] today most of the paranormal programming is lacking in style and in atmosphere. It seems we've lost the enjoyment of mystery … I want to give the audience a new adventure every episode.
We do indeed live in a strange world. Is there an abundance of material for you to work off of?
Let's just say from the standpoint of longevity, this is attractive for many reasons.
Let's talk about the use of that word "inspire" in your Montauk episode — to wit, that in your narration you say that your work "inspired" Ross and Matt Duffer and "Stranger Things." But someone named Charlie Kessler — an East Northport native, no less — said he inspired them too, and subsequently sued. (Kessler dropped the lawsuit last May.) So who inspired whom here?
He came out after me. He made a six-minute rip-off and not a very good one … I was always defending the [Duffers] because we all inspire each other. Why would I waste my time suing the guys who made 'Stranger Things?' No, I'll make my own show.
Have you ever talked to the Duffers or they to you?
No, never talked to them.
You say in the opening episode that "I learn something new every time I explore this place" — Camp Hero. What did you learn this last time?
For reasons I can't understand, they [state park and government officials] want to keep people away from the perimeter of the base. But when you have an official permit, why can't you go past that fence, and use professional geophysical equipment? They cite falling debris, but there is no falling debris. We're three hundred yards from the tower. There's not a chance anything will fall on you from that distance! … What I'm saying is that there are a lot of questions to be answered, and once we prove there is an enormous [underground] structure under that tower, some of those will be answered.
Wasn't Preston Nichols — who along with Peter Moon, wrote "The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time," published in 1992 — the one person most responsible for all the conspiracy theories? Is he still alive?
No, he passed away last summer and so did Duncan Cameron [another Camp Hero conspiracy promoter who said to have time-traveled]. There's no one legitimate left anymore.
Do you believe Nichols' stories?
I've had many years to think about this and I think there's a strong possibility that Preston was hired to work on something at that base and that he experienced something he shouldn't have seen.
Yes, but the film makes the declarative statement that boys were indeed once abducted for experiments there. Is that responsible given how little anyone really knows?
I haven't ruled it out after all these years. I don't want to believe it's true.