When fiction becomes fact…………………
John William Tuohy
An Unfinished Race
James Burne Worson was a shoemaker who lived in Leamington, Warwickshire, England. He had a little shop in one of the by-ways leading off the road to Warwick. In his humble sphere he was esteemed an honest man, although like many of his class in English towns he was somewhat addicted to drink. When in liquor he would make foolish wagers. On one of these too frequent occasions, he was boasting of his prowess as a pedestrian and athlete, and the outcome was a match against nature. For a stake of one sovereign, he undertook to run all the way to Coventry and back, a distance of something more than forty miles. This was on the 3d day of September in 1873. He set out at once, the man with whom he had made the bet — whose name is not remembered — accompanied by Barham Wise, a linen draper, and Hamerson Burns, a photographer, I think, following in a light cart or wagon.
For several miles, Worson went on very well, at an easy gait, without apparent fatigue, for he had really great powers of endurance and was not sufficiently intoxicated to enfeeble them. The three men in the wagon kept a short distance in the rear, giving him occasional friendly “chaff” or encouragement, as the spirit moved them. Suddenly — in the very middle of the roadway, not a dozen yards from them, and with their eyes full upon him — the man seemed to stumble, pitched headlong forward, uttered a terrible cry and vanished! He did not fall to the earth — he vanished before touching it. No trace of him was ever discovered.
After remaining at and about the spot for some time, with aimless irresolution, the three men returned to Leamington, told their astonishing story and were afterward taken into custody. But they were of good standing, had always been considered truthful, were sober at the time of the occurrence, and nothing ever transpired to discredit their sworn account of their extraordinary adventure, concerning the truth of which, nevertheless, public opinion was divided, throughout the United Kingdom. If they had something to conceal, their choice of means is certainly one of the most amazing ever made by sane human beings.
Over the years, the above short story has morphed into the realm of truth by retellings that swore the event really did happen. That it was a fact. Eventually, that tall tale merged with another story of a man, seemingly from the Victorian era, who suddenly appeared in Manhattan in 1950.
I’ll tell you what actually happened but first I need to point out that the odd thing is that in 1913, the Ambrose Bierce disappeared and was never heard from again. The generally accepted story was that Bierce had traveled to Mexico to ride across Mexico with Pancho Villa and that Villa, for whatever reason, had him executed.
The problem is that Bierce was highly critical of Villa and had no reason to ride with him. He also suffered tremendously from asthma and generally avoided the outdoors and animals. A priest named James Lienert said that he witnessed Bierce’s execution but Lienert, a dubious fellow, was a highly unreliable source. There is actually no evidence at all that Bierce went to Mexico and so what became of him remains a mystery.
Back to the man who supposedly appeared out of nowhere into the heart of times square. The story goes like this; on a warm June night in 1950, an odd looking man, about 30 years old, suddenly appeared on the street in Times Square. He wore mutton-chop whiskers and was dressed in the Victorian era style. Wide eyes and seemingly terrified, the man tries to dash out of the street when he was struck and killed by a taxi cab. A police detective named Hubert V. Rihm was said to have investigated the case. Searching the body he found old currency, business cards in the name of Rudolph Fentz, and a letter addressed to Fentz postmarked in 1876.
The detective couldn’t find a Fentz listed in the phone book no one at the address on the business card and letter knew him. Eventually, the story goes, the cop, turned up a 1939 phone book listing a Rudolph Fentz Jr. When Rihm located the junior's widow, she told him her father-in-law had vanished in 1876 after stepping out for a cigar. Officer Rihm dug into old police files and found the missing-person report from 1876. The address given was the same as that on the dead man's business cards.
The English investigative writer Chris Aubeck became fascinated with the case and spent an entire year gathering the actual facts behind the mystery. Aubeck started by checking the Social Security database and old telephone directories and in doing so, tried several name variations on the name. No Rudolph Fentz or police detective Hubert V. Rihm appeared anywhere in official print. There was no birth of burial records for either man.
So Aubeck decided to check the origins of the story. After a six month search, he found a version of the story in a 1975 French book which cited a1974 Italian magazine as its source. In turn, the Italian magazine referred to a 1973 Norwegian article which was reprinted from a Swedish periodical who took the story from a journal published by in 1972 by the California-based Borderland Sciences Research Foundation, a group investigating UFO sightings and paranormal events.
The story of the man appearing suddenly in Times Square was written by a man named Ralph M. Holland. Aubeck traced Holland down to Cuyahoga Falls but Holland died in 1962. However, Aubeck learned that Holland spent his life working as a laborer at the Vaughn Machinery Company and spent his spare hours reading and writing about paranormal phenomena science fiction. He published his own fanzine, the Science-Fiction Review. Aubeck learned that most of Holland’s writing were published under his pen name Rolf Telano and was an advocate of a "fourth dimension" an alleged hole in the fabric of reality that is often used to explain the Bermuda Triangle.
Aubeck is certain that Holland created a story of the man suddenly appearing Times Square to try to justify his long-held theory that the fourth dimension is real. "I doubt,” Aubeck said “that for Holland this was ever much more than a game"