Rudolph Fentz: An Extraordinary Voyage Through Time

Rudolph Fentz was an alleged victim of a time slip incident that sent him from his home in the late 1800s to an intersection in 1950 New York City.

His story is often presented as evidence that time travel is not only possible, but that it’s happened before. In this unusual case, the alleged time slip occurred spontaneously to a single individual, with the traveler oblivious to the strange event that had transpired.

While Fentz did not live to tell his own tale, the mystery of this man’s alleged disappearance, and later reappearance, has perplexed many over the years, despite evidence that it has never been anything more than pure fiction.

The following is a retelling of the account as it usually appears, along with an analysis of its origin.

The Story of Rudolph Fentz

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 approximately 11:00 p.m. 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, and stood confused and motionless.

The police officer approached him to offer assistance. However, at that moment, the traffic light at the intersection changed. In apparent shock, the man darted toward the sidewalk, in the direction of approaching traffic. He was struck by a taxi and died instantly.

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

A Man Out of TIme

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 totaling $70, none dated later than 1876 and all in nearly mint condition
  • 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, presumably belonging to the deceased, containing an address

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 a Time Traveler

New York's Fifth Avenue, where the time slip was said to occur
Image: Zac Ong/Unsplash

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 there 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-day mystery man.

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 account supposedly ranks as one of the New York Police Department’s most unusual cases, and is said to trouble even the most skeptical disbelievers in the paranormal.

Or so the story goes.


Was This Case Based Off A Short Story?

The tale of Rudolph Fentz has seen many variations, in the same way urban legends undergo changes through countless retellings.

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).

Most notably, however, is that Rudolph Fentz originally appeared as a character in a science fiction short story.

The cover of Jack Finney's time travel story collection, About Time, which featured the story of Rudolph Fentz
Rudolph Fentz Appears In Jack Finney’s “About Time”

If you’re interested in reading the origin of the Fentz time slip, you need only look to Jack Finney’s 1951 short story, “I’m Scared.” You may recognize Jack Finney as the creator of horror classic The Body Snatchers (which 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 in this story.

The story also appears in Jack Finney’s short story collection About Time: 12 Short Stories.

Aubeck’s Research

A collection of books on a book shelf
Image: Janko Ferlic/Unsplash

Chris Aubeck may be credited for bringing much of this to light, outside of Jack Finney and science fiction enthusiasts. An article he published in October 2002 explained the peculiar paper trail of the Rudolph Fentz story in extreme detail.

The original short story, “I’m Scared,” was first published by Jack Finney in the September 15, 1951 issue of Colliers. It was later picked up and retold as fact in the May-June 1972 issue of The Journal of Borderland Research. This journal focused on esoteric and paranormal topics, including UFOs, time travel, ghosts, and other anomalous matters. This seemed to be the first known case of the time slip incident being retold as fact.

Today, you can read the original article as it appeared in the Journal of Borderland Research back in 1972. To their credit, an afterward is now included detailing the research done by Aubeck to trace its origins.

Over the years, the story of Rudolph Fentz has continued to spread wildly throughout paranormal-focused media, particularly online. It changes ever so slightly every time, often presented as a true account in support of time travel and teleportation.

(I personally first heard about it during an episode of Coast to Coast AM many, many years ago. The guest was hypnotherapist Dr. Bruce Goldberg, who provided the story as proof of time travel.)


Real Fiction

Despite all of the above, many still believe the 1950 time slip event happened, and that Rudolph Fentz did exist.

Some claim that, since the short story was published in 1951 and the event in question allegedly happened in 1950, this may indicate that Finney was simply retelling a true story he had heard previously. There are also claims that the incident was reported in a newspaper prior to the publication of “I’m Scared,” though though these claims have never been supported with evidence.

Accounts Similar to Rudolph Fentz

  • 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.