Imagine if you went out for a relaxing walk one night, only for a tear to form in the fabric of space and time that whisked you away over 50 years into the future. And then you got hit by an Uber (or its futuristic equivalent).
It would be a tragic tale, no doubt, not to mention unbelievable. But what if I told you that many people do believe such an event actually happened?
The legend of Rudolph Fentz is one of the original time travel stories that got me involved in the topic. Not because I believed it, but I often heard his tale repeated on Coast to Coast AM back in the day, particularly by recurring guest hypnotherapist Dr. Bruce Goldberg. I can’t say my curiosity wasn’t piqued.
But we’re really getting ahead of ourselves. Here is the tale of Rudolph Fentz, the man who accidentally traveled through time.
A Legend In Time
It happened on a warm June night in 1950, at an intersection at New York City’s Times Square. A police officer noticed a bewildered man standing out in the middle of the street.
The man was probably in his early 30s, with mutton chop sideburns and oddly out-of-fashion clothing.
The light at the intersection turned green, and likewise the man’s face turned to shock. He moved quickly toward the sidewalk, terrified of the oncoming traffic. But in his unusual state of panic, he ran out in front of a taxi and died instantly.
No one at the scene could place the man — he had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. His appearance, too, was very strange. He wore an old silk hat, a buttoned cutaway coat, and buttoned shoes. While investigating, police also uncovered a number of questionable items in his pockets.
- Old coins and banknotes dated around 1876
- A bill from a livery stable on Lexington Avenue
- A letter sent from Philadelphia, dated June, 1876
- A brass coin for a 5-cent beer at an unknown saloon
- A third-place medal for a three legged race
- A handful of business cards attributed to a Rudolph Fentz, containing an address
Eventually, Captain Hubert V. Rihm of the Missing Persons Bureau began an investigation into the man’s origins. For starters, he went about searching for a person named Rudolph Fentz.
What he found was exactly nothing. His only lead was the address on those old business cards, which him led to a storefront on Fifth Avenue. However, no one there knew anyone by the name of Fentz, either.
Rihm widened his search, and though he didn’t find much, he ultimately discovered a man named Rudolph Fentz Jr., who had died five years prior. Rihm contacted the man’s widow, who lived in Florida, and that’s when the story took its most peculiar turn.
She told him that, yes, she had known Rudolph Fentz. He was her father-in-law. He’d gone missing decades before, at the age of 29, last seen going out for a walk. He never returned.
Rihm later confirmed her story by searching through outdated missing persons records. A man Rudolph Fentz had indeed gone missing in 1876, 74 years earlier. His description — the silk hat, the sideburns, the buttoned shoes — all matched the man who had mysteriously appeared at Times Square.
For years, Captain Rihm refused to discuss what he found. The case was considered ‘unsolved.’ No one would have believed him, anyway. But eventually, the truth came out…
The Text from Whence Was Ripped
It’s a strange legend, indeed, one that has seen countless retellings and variations. Sometimes the contents of his pockets change, other times even his name changes (often spelled Rudolf Fenz).
However, believe it or not, one thing is certain: Rudolph Fentz originally appeared as a character in a 1951 science fiction short story written by Jack Finney.
The story, titled “I’m Scared,” chronicles the work of an old man who set about collecting evidence of time slips, after experiencing one of his own. The final entry is the tale of Rudolph Fentz.
You might know Jack Finney for his classic novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers (later adapted to film in 1956). His short story collection, About Time: 12 Short Stories, also includes “I’m Scared.”
Credit goes to folklorist Chris Aubeck for diving down this particular rabbit hole. His article, “Desperately Seeking Rudolph,” published many years ago (circa 2002), deep dives into his explorations on the origin of the tale. For a summary:
Finney published “I’m Scared” on September 15, 1951 in that month’s issue of Colliers magazine. Years later, in 1972, it appeared again in the paranormal publication The Journal of Borderland Research, where the story was presented as fact — proof that time travel was possible! That article (with addendums) is still available, and you can read it here.
This information, however, has not led to the end of the Rudolph Fentz story. To this day, many believe the incident truly did occur, and that Finney used real events as the basis for his short story.
As recently as 2007, a new addition to the Fentz legend surfaced, in the form of an alleged newspaper article from 1951 reporting on the Fentz incident. That said, the article has never appeared online, and so its existence has not been confirmed.
- The Disappearance of James Worson – A case in which a man allegedly vanished into thin air during a foot race. As with the Fentz tale, this too turned out to be based on a short story, this one by the author Ambrose Bierce. At some point or another, it was picked up and presented as paranormal fact.
- John Titor – An alleged time traveler who posted various “predictions” and details about the future from the perspective of 2036. Many believe it was an elaborate hoax.
- Dubious YouTube Time Travelers – A string of videos produced by the YouTube channel ApexTV have claimed to feature the accounts of real time travelers. In some cases, these alleged travelers claim to visit from thousands of years into the future. The videos gained popularity in 2018, and have continued to be released to this day.