You’re Having A Laugh – Part Forty Six

Rudolph Fentz, the accidental time traveller, 1950

Occasionally, I allow myself the luxury of fantasising about being a time traveller. I find it interesting to speculate what life would really be like at some time in the past or, indeed, in the future. This was the premise behind the successful TV drama, Dr Who, which has been going long enough to suggest that others are fascinated by this fantasy. Of course, I realise that it is the stuff of science fiction and there are little or no grounds to think that it could ever be achieved, but you never know. Take the curious case of Rudolph Fentz.

Around 11.15pm in the middle of June 1950, a strange figure appeared in the centre of New York’s Times Square. He cut quite a dash, wearing a tall silk hat, a tight coat and waistcoat. But it was his thick mutton-chop sideburns and his expression of bewilderment, as if he had never seen buildings so tall or such density of traffic or traffic lights. He seemed frightened by the experience and ran into the middle of the road, straight in front of one of the Big Apple’s famous yellow taxis and was killed outright.

When the police examined his body, they found in his pocket a stock of business cards identifying him as Rudolph Fentz with an address on Fifth Avenue. More astonishingly, Fentz was carrying in his pocket a copper token redeemable for a beer worth five cents at a bar no one had heard of, round $70 in old bank notes, an invoice for the ”feeding and stabling of one horse” at a stable on Lexington Avenue that was unknown, a letter dated June 1876 from Philadelphia, and a medal for coming third in a three-legged race. None of these artefacts showed any evidence of ageing. It was all a mystery. Just who was Fentz and where had he come from?

Captain Hubert Rihm from NYPD’s Missing Persons Department began to make enquiries. Fentz’s fingerprints were not on record and he was not known at the address on his business card. Rihm did get a breakthrough, finding the name, Rudolph Fentz Jr, in a phone book. He rang the number, only to find out that he had died around 1945, but that his wife was still alive.

What Fentz Jr’s widow had to reveal, though, was truly astonishing. Her father-in-law, Rudolph Fentz Sr, had disappeared without trace in 1876, leaving his house for an evening constitutional and never returning. Rihm checked the description of Fentz and the clothing he wore at the time of his disappearance and they tallied. The case was closed, marked as unsolved.

For paranormalists, though, the astonishing disappearance and reappearance of Fentz after seventy years, fresh as a daisy without any apparent ageing, was proof positive that man could time travel. What might have appeared to be an astonishing news story didn’t appear in any of the papers at the time and only gained currency when the Journal of Borderlands Science published an account in its May/June 1972 edition. The story then took off, cited in several articles, books and on the internet as factual, including, in 2000, in the Spanish magazine, Más Allá. This prompted Chris Auckleck, a bit of a spoilsport, to dig further.

What Auckleck discovered was that, surprise, surprise, there was no basis for believing that the Fentz had any basis in fact. He discovered a short story by the science fiction writer, Jack Finney, he of Invasion of The Body Snatchers and Time and Again fame, published in Collier’s magazine on September 15, 1951. The story, narrated by a police officer, Captain Rihm, tells of a 19th century man, named Fentz, making an unexpected appearance in Times Square.

Fentz’s time travelling was little more than a literary hoax, a clever one nonetheless, seized upon by those desperate for evidence that substantiated their theories. Time travel is just a pleasant fantasy, it would seem.

If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone

Bread Of The Week (2)

Bread is the staff of life, they say, but have you thought what is used to fertilise the wheat?

French self-styled eco-feminist, Louise Raguet, has taken to collecting women’s urine from a public toilet to use as a fertiliser for the wheat she then uses for her “Boucle d’Or”, Goldilocks bread. She dilutes it 20 times before spraying it on the crops. She claims it is packed with nutrients and doesn’t contain the chemicals and pollutants that normal fertilisers contain. And, she adds, it can be stored for up to three months before use as it is sterile.

What is wrong with men’s urine?

Covid-19 Tales (11)

Add to the list of the consequences of a bout of Covid-19 “previously unidentified priapism”.

A 62-year-old man, unnamed, was seriously ill with the virus and was placed on a ventilator in intensive care at the Centre Hospitaliser de Versailles in Le Chesnay for two weeks. He had to be put on a ventilator.

On top of all the usual consequences, he was found to have an erection which lasted for four hours. Up to 30% of coronavirus patients develop potentially dangerous blood clots, usually in the lungs. This man, though, was found with the two chambers of issue in his organ rigid, due to clotting, although the tip of his penis was flaccid.

Doctors were able to remove the blood using a needle, pricking any thoughts he made have had of a pleasurable recuperation.

I’m told this is the first recorded instance. Be warned, stay alert!

Smell Of The Week (2)

There is something intoxicating about the smell of old books, that heady mix of dust and mustiness with a dash of fragrance from the paper or parchment on which the text was reproduced. I had not really given it much thought but do certain books have such a distinctive smell that you could discern one from another? Is having a whiff of a book another way of enhancing your enjoyment of it? If blindfolded, could you identify a book simply by its odour?

Well, now, or at least when and if the Covid-19 restrictions are over, you will have the opportunity to find out, courtesy of the Institute of Digital Archaeology. They have captured the distinctive odours from books dating back as far as the 13th century that form part of the collections of the Bodleian Library in Oxford and the New York Public Library, which will form part of their Sensational Books exhibition.

Each book has been put into a sealed chamber for 72 hours and bombarded with purified air, filters capturing particles that come from the pages. These then are turned into a paste, using high-powered centrifuges, from which the essence of the book’s smell is extracted. They also establish the chemical recipe of the smell so that it can be reproduced.

According to the curator, Roger Michel, you can establish from the smells the types of paper, ink and bindings used. You can even discover something of their previous owners or their history. Books from C S Lewis’s collection are heavily redolent of his cigars, whilst the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays have retained the scent of the pipe of their editor, Edmond Malone. Those books that survived the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 smell of, you guessed it, molasses.


Evolutionary Theory Of The Week

Lockdown has been an unsettling time for pogonophobes. With hair salons out of bounds, more and more men are sporting the Bob Geldof wildman look.

I had always thought that growing a beard was a sign of men getting in touch again with their primal side. Facial hair is natural and in the absence of a safety razor, it was safe to assume that early members of the Homo sapiens species sported flourishing beards for no other reason than that.

That was until I flicked through the pages of that invaluable organ, Integrative Organismal Biology, and, specifically, an article detailing the research conducted by some biologists, Ethan Beseris, Steven Naleway and Dave Carrier.

They conducted some experiments to test whether the presence of a beard enabled a man to more easily absorb a blow to the face. Using a skull covered in different types of sheepskin to represent styles of beard, trimmed, shaggy etc, they dropped a weight on to the chin, and measured the force via load cell.

What they found was that that “the peak force was 16 per cent greater and the total energy absorbed was 37 per cent greater in the shaggy sample rather than the trimmed one”. This finding has led them to conclude that man developed the beard to give extra protection in a battle.

My theory is that men were then as they are now, inherently lazy and relishing the extra five minutes in bed that dispensing with a shave gives them.

Scientists, eh!