The Extraordinary Voyage of Rudolph Fentz

Posted by on September 19, 2011

On a warm June night in 1950, the delicate boundaries of our universe collapsed, for just a moment, sending one man on a tragic journey through time.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

The following account supposedly ranks as one of the New York Police Department’s most unusual cases, and continues to trouble even the most skeptical disbelievers in the paranormal. Or does it?

New York, New York

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on a June night in 1950, at an intersection near Times Square in New York City, an on-duty police officer spotted a lone man standing in the middle of the road.

The individual appeared to be in his early thirties. He stood motionless.

The police officer approached him to offer assistance, but at this point the light at the intersection had changed. In apparent shock, the man headed for the sidewalk, in the direction of approaching traffic, and in the chaos he was struck by a taxi. He died instantly.

No one at the scene could explain where the man had come from, or what had led him to the middle of the busy intersection.

When police and paramedics arrived, they were astounded by the man’s appearance.

He was dressed in old-fashioned, 19th-century-era clothing. A tall, silk hat, a thick, buttoned cutaway coat, checkered pants, and buttoned shoes.

During the subsequent investigation, police also found that his pockets contained several curious items:

Old coins and banknotes, none dated later than 1876, and all in nearly mint condition; a letter sent from Philadelphia, dated June, 1876; a brass coin for a 5-cent beer at an unknown saloon; and a handful of business cards attributed to a Rudolph Fentz, presumably belonging to the deceased.

While all of this seemed quite odd, it wasn’t until Captain Hubert V. Rihm of the Missing Persons Bureau began his investigation that the story took an even stranger turn.

The Search For Rudolph Fentz

John Hillyard Cameron: How Rudolph Fentz May Have Appeared
An example of 1876 attire (John Hillyard Cameron). Image: Library And Archives Canada via CC by 2.0

No traces of a Rudolph Fentz, including fingerprints, could be found in any modern records, and no missing person reports had been issued for anyone meeting his description.

The address on the business cards led to a location on Fifth Avenue. However, it was that of a storefront with no connection to anyone named Rudolph Fentz.

Following every lead he could find, Captain Rihm eventually learned of a man named Rudolph Fentz Jr., who had died five years earlier, and traced his widow to a residence in Florida.

What he discovered was the beginning of a profound mystery.

Through written correspondence, Rihm was told that a man named Rudolph Fentz, the woman’s father-in-law, had gone missing under mysterious circumstances several decades before, at the age of 29. He was last seen going out for a walk, and never returned.

With this new information, Rihm searched through outdated missing person records, and found that a Rudolph Fentz had indeed gone missing in 1876, some 74 years earlier. What’s more, the description from the 1876 missing person report matched, exactly, that of the present Rudolph Fentz.

Afraid that others would think him crazy for suggesting that this was the same individual, Captain Rihm avoided speaking of the matter, and none of his findings were officially recorded. The case is, to this day, considered unsolved.

Only through later interviews with Captain Hubert V. Rihm, long since retired, were the details of this case made public.

The Text From Whence Was Ripped

This strange tale is an example of a classic urban legend containing no elements of truth.

And, like many urban legends, the story of Rudolph Fentz has seen several variations.

From telling to telling, the contents of Fentz’s pockets change, as do the circumstances of his appearance in 1950s New York. Even the spelling of his name changes (often, his name is reported as Rudolf Fenz).

However, let’s forget all of that, because this urban legend has something very special about it, indeed: it was ripped from a science fiction author.

Rudolph Fentz Appears In Jack Finney's "About Time"
Rudolph Fentz Appears In Jack Finney’s “About Time”

If you’re interested in reading the origin of the Rudolph Fentz story, you need only look to Jack Finney’s 1951 short story, I’m Scared. You should recognize Jack Finney as the creator of horror classic The Body Snatchers (which naturally led to the 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

I’m Scared is the tale of a 66-year-old man who, after experiencing a temporal disturbance, begins collecting evidence of accidental time travel. The story of Rudolph Fentz, the man who fell though time, appears as the last entry. It’s definitely worth a read.

The story also appears in Jack Finney’s “About Time: 12 Short Stories,” available at Amazon.

It wasn’t until Chris Aubeck decided to trace the origin of this myth that it finally came to rest (well, for the most part):

The original short story featuring Rudolph Fentz, I’m Scared, was published by Jack Finney in an issue of Colliers, and the story was later picked up and retold as fact in the Journal of Borderland Research by Ralph M. Holland.

From that point, an urban legend was born, appearing in several other magazines and throughout paranormal-focused media as a true account presented in support of time travel and teleportation.

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About the Author Post by Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.

  • marie

    i know this has been debunked as an urban myth but it makes you think ……lots of people go missing every year and are never found despite endless newspaper and TVcampaigns surely someone would recognise them especially if some wasn’t very forthcoming on who they are when they arrive in your town ……….so if they’re not found ,recognised by a member of the public………. maybe just maybe they’ve travelled either forward or backward in time

    • Rob Schwarz

      Anything’s possible, Marie! There are actually other stories of “time slips” that may or may not be more credible than the Rudolph Fentz story.

      Maybe I’ll write about those later…

    • elderlyfox

      Debunked? Jack Finney wrote about it one year after the incident. How come all the stories from the police etc were later claimed to be ‘made-up’ Strangely- pirate-dressed people have come ashore in Florida, and gone crazy. Methinks the author doesn’t want to be termed a loon, by admitting possible time travel. Most people only believe what the Guffer-mint tells them, so anytjing else is faked, fraud, loons etc.

  • Pingback: Two-bit Guru | Proof of Time Travel()

  • mdr

    Theres a site which says about research in 2007 that found this story was in the newspaper dated before sci fi book was released and they also found some evidence as that site says. Anybody know source for more info bout this research?

  • Henry Lions

    I would suggest that one considers why it was Jack Finney, who like his contemporaries Phillip K Dicks and Harland Ellison was notoriously litigious when it came to plagiarism, never debunked this story himself?
    Finney only died in 1995 and the Fentz/Fenz story had been circulating for 40 odd years by then.

    3 possibilities occur to me
    1) Finney was writing a report after the fact and so had no intellectual claim to the story
    2) Finney did not write the story but lent his name to it to give it credence

    3) Finney never wrote the story but it was planted in to historical documents after his death, for the like of Chris Aubeck to find and to excuse the myth as fiction. (this last being the most unlikely)

    All aside apart from a similarity in the name, the reports of the incident and the story differ significantly Fentz is said to be in his sixties, Fenz in his late twenties for a start.

  • Cristian

    Some peopel says that it was a 1951’s movie called “I’m scared” of Jack Finney. But i could’t find nothing about this movie

    • Walter R. Johnson

      It wasn’t a movie, it was a short story written by Jack Finney in 1951.