Time travel in Times Square? The strange case of Rudolph Fentz

An alleged photo of the mysterious Rudolph Fentz

An alleged photo of the mysterious Rudolph Fentz

When people go missing, does anyone ever think that they might’ve fallen through time? Of course not, because time travel’s impossible… isn’t it?

In 1950, a man in Victorian-era clothes was spotted in Times Square, New York City. Witnesses who saw him said he looked startled and disoriented, like he didn’t know where he was. Then he ran out in front of a taxi and was killed.

When his body was searched, a number of 19th century items were discovered in his pockets: old, obsolete banknotes, a copper token bearing the name of a saloon, a bill from a stable for washing a carriage and feeding a horse. None of these items showed any sign of aging.

Also found were some business cards with the name “Rudolph Fentz” on them, plus a letter to Fentz that was postmarked June 1876.

Captain Hubert V. Rihm of the NYPD Missing Persons Department investigated and eventually tracked down Rudolph Fentz’s daughter-in-law. She said that one evening in 1876, her husband’s father went out for a stroll and disappeared. Rihm checked missing persons records for 1876. To his astonishment, there was an entry for a ‘Rudolph Fentz’ matching the description of the man who’d been run over in Times Square.

What on Earth?!

For decades this story circulated through Europe’s paranormal research community. It was generally accepted as a true story and a genuine mystery, which many people used to argue that inadvertent time travel actually happens.

In 2005, the story caught the attention of folklore researcher Chris Aubeck, who decided to investigate its history. He traced the story back to the 1972 May/June issue of the Journal of Borderland Research, which investigated paranormal phenomena and UFO sightings and had published the Rudolph Fentz story as a factual report.

And where had the The Journal of Borderland Research got the story from? Well, Aubeck’s research eventually led him to a fictional short story called I’m Scared, written by Jack Finney, the science fiction author who would later become famous for his 1954 novel The Body Snatchers (and the two movie adaptations, both entitled Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

I’m Scared was originally published by Collier’s magazine in September 1951. It was a story about an unnamed narrator detailing his encounters with people who’d had time travel experiences in the New York vicinity. One of the narrator’s interviewees was Captain Hubert V. Rihm, who told him all about Rudolph Fentz.

So, in essence, The Journal of Borderland Research extracted something from a fictional short story and printed it as fact, triggering a popular mystery that was used to support the existence of time travel for more than thirty years.

And that would appear to be that.

Except…

The plot thickens. Not everyone accepts that Jack Finney’s I’m Scared is the true origin of the Rudolph Fentz urban legend. Numerous websites mention that in 2007, a researcher working for the Berlin News Archive discovered something that throws doubt on the official story. I can’t seem to trace who this person is/was, but apparently they found a newspaper article in the archives from April 1951. An article about Rudolph Fentz, his death in Times Square and his mysterious link to the person who went missing in 1876.

Okay, so this newspaper article probably sourced the story from I’m Scared, too. Right? Wrong. I’m Scared was published in Collier’s in September 1951, five months after this article.

It’s an interesting twist that opens up a ton of possibilities. Perhaps Rudolph Fentz really was a real person, but his inadvertent trip from 1876 to 1950 is an event that someone doesn’t want us to know about. Perhaps the I’m Scared short story is part of an elaborate cover-up, a work of fiction disguising a real occurrence. Why? To keep the truth about the existence of time travel a secret.

It’s now said that a number of researchers have found evidence of the real Rudolph Fentz, along with proof of his 1876 disappearance. Indeed I found one website, Mystic Investigations, which cites unnamed sources inside the US government who’ve claimed that Rudolph Fentz’s body was taken for study and is perfectly preserved in a top secret lab….

Scribble Winter 2015 CoverMy own take on the Rudolph Fentz legend is contained in my short story, Who is Rudolph Fentz? It was the first of the Million Eyes Short Stories to be published and can be found in the winter 2015 edition of Scribble magazine. You can also read a short excerpt here.

Next week: story updates and how to write characters’ thoughts

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