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11 Time Traveler Urban Legends That Pretty Much Debunk Themselves

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Despite photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts, these tales of time travel were too good to be true.

1. Billy Meier and the Plejaren

Not many time travelers have photo albums with snapshots of their journeys. Meet Billy Meier. In the 1970s, the Swiss-born Meier was taken on a few chronological joyrides by a race of extraterrestrials called the Plejaren. They showed him prehistoric earth with dinosaurs, the surface of ancient Mars and even introduced him to Jmmaneul, the real Jesus.

Meier’s holiday pics of the Plejarens’ spacecraft turned out to be an inventively decorated garbage can lid. The dinosaurs were blurry shots of illustrations from a book called Life Before Man. And the pretty Plejaren girls? Photos that Meier had taken of dancers from The Dean Martin Show on his TV screen.

2. Rudolph Fentz

In 1950, a man with mutton chop sideburns and Victorian-era duds popped up in Times Square. Witnesses said he looked startled, and then a minute later, he was hit by a car and killed.

On his person, the police found 19th-century money, a letter dated 1876 and business cards with his name – Rudolph Fentz. None of these items showed signs of aging. A Mrs. Rudolph Fentz was tracked down. She was the widow of Rudolph Fentz, Jr., and the story went that junior’s dad disappeared mysteriously in 1876. Weird, right? Eventually it was discovered that this urban legend originated from a 1950 short story written by Jack Finney. Finney would go on to write the classics Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Time and Again.

3. John Titor

How’s life in the year 2036? “Food and livestock is grown locally. People spend much more time reading and talking together face to face. Religion is taken seriously and everyone can multiply and divide in their heads.” That’s an entry from John Titor. Titor, a traveler from the future, first showed up on internet discussion boards in the 2000, making predictions about the years ahead. In 2001, he returned to the year 2036. Most of his predictions did not come true.

4. The Chronovisor

Not so much time travel as time voyeurism. The Chronovisor, a magic television/camera that could tune into times and places from the past, was invented in the 1950s by a Benedictine monk named Father Pellegrino Ernetti. He used it to film the crucifixion, and that footage, along with the Chronovisor itself, is now reportedly hidden away in the vaults of the Vatican.

5. Henry Fonda

In the 1948 movie Fort Apache, there’s a brief moment when Fonda’s character appears to be checking his stagecoach route on an iPhone.

Well, notepads can sometimes look like iPhones.

6. Andrew Carlssin

The alarm bells went off on Wall Street and with the SEC in 2002 when unknown investor Andrew Carlssin quickly parlayed $800 into $350,000,000 via some high-risk stock trades. Carlssin was arrested. He confessed that he was from the year 2256. It turns out the story originated from that ever-sensational source of fakery, The Weekly World News. Ten years on, the story is still being reprinted and circulated.

7. 1941 Hipster

In the midst of a hat-and-suit crowd shown in a photograph from 1941, there’s a young man who seems wildly out of place. He’s wearing new wave sunglasses, what appears to be a T-shirt and he’s holding a portable camera. Turns out the sunglasses were unusual but not unknown at the time, the Tee was a letter sweater, and the camera was a Kodak Folding Pocket model. Still, that was ten years before the concept of the teenager was born, so give the young dude props for being ahead of his time in self-expression.

8. John Krasinski

Could Jim from The Office be a time traveler? Or maybe a vampire? When an 1835 portrait painting by Danish artist Christen Købke was noted to bear a striking resemblance to actor John Krasinski, the story went viral. "Wow! Seems a little highbrow for NBC marketing," Krasinski said. "But I like it!”

9. 1928 Cell Phone Lady

A woman walks through a film premiere crowd in Los Angeles talking on her cell. Not so remarkable. Until you consider the year is 1928. The clip, from bonus material on a DVD of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, hit the internet in 2010. Never mind the obvious questions about non-existent satellites and cell towers back in the jazz age. The device was most likely an early hearing aid. Still, the clip is mind-teasingly fun to watch.

10. The Philadelphia Experiment

According to legend, in a secret experiment done in 1943, the US Navy was able to render the destroyer USS Eldridge invisible, then dematerialize it and transport it from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, and back again. One account insists the ship went backwards in time by a full 10 seconds (though how that was determined is still sketchy). The experiment reportedly had terrible side effects, such as causing sailors to remain invisible. Secret government projects often foster all kinds of fanciful tales, but this one has endured, and was even the basis of a 1984 movie.

11. Hakan Nordkvist

Talk about pipe dreams. While doing a little DIY plumbing, Nordkvist slipped through a wormhole in time and was suddenly confronted by an older version of himself. The two talked. They compared tattoos. They bonded. And Nordkvist filmed it on his phone. Reportedly, it was all part of an advertising campaign by an insurance company to promote the benefits of pension plans.

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

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5 Surprising Facts About the Battle of Dunkirk
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AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dunkirk, the world’s attention is once again focused on the historic events recounted in the film, when a makeshift fleet of British fishing boats, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships helped save 185,000 British soldiers and 130,000 French soldiers from death or capture by German invaders during the Fall of France in May and June 1940. Here are five surprising facts about those heroic days.

1. THE GERMAN ATTACK WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.

By Weper Hermann, 13 German Mobile Assault Unit - Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The main reason France collapsed so quickly in 1940 was the element of surprise enjoyed by its German attackers, thanks to General Erich von Manstein, who proposed an invasion route that was widely believed to be impossible. In Manstein’s plan, the main German column of tanks and motorized infantry would force their way through the forests of Ardennes in southeast Belgium and Luxembourg—a thick, hilly woodland which was supposed to be difficult terrain for tanks, requiring at least five days to cross, according to conventional wisdom based on the experience of the First World War. The French and British assumed that little had changed since the previous conflict, but thanks to field studies and updated maps, Manstein and his colleague General Heinz Guderian realized that a new network of narrow, paved roads would allow just enough room for tanks and trucks to squeeze through. As a result the Germans passed through Ardennes into northern France in just two-and-a-half days, threatening to cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops, with only one escape route: the sea.

2. ONE FRENCH WORD WAS BURNED INTO WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MEMORY: “AUCUNE.”

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The German invasion of France began on May 10, 1940, the same day Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. By May 14, when he paid his first official visit to Britain’s ally, Holland had capitulated and Paris was preparing for evacuation. But an even worse surprise was in store. In one of the most famous passages of military history, Churchill recounted the moment he learned that the French didn’t have any troops in reserve:

"I then asked ‘Where is the strategic reserve?’ and, breaking into French … ‘Ou est la mass de manoeuvre?’ General Gamelin turned to me and, with a shake of the head and a shrug, replied. ‘Aucune.’ [There is none] … I was dumbfounded. What were we to think of the Great French Army and its highest chief? It had never occurred to me than any commanders … would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of manoeuvre … This was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.”

3. HITLER MADE A FATAL MISTAKE.

On May 24, 1940, the Allied troops on the French and Belgian coast had been totally surrounded by powerful German tank columns, rendering them essentially defenseless against the impending German onslaught. And then came a brief reprieve, as the attackers suddenly stopped for 48 hours, allowing the British to dig in and create a defensive perimeter, setting the stage for the evacuation.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, Hitler—over the protests of his own generals and to the bafflement of historians—had ordered Guderian to halt for two days to rest and resupply. It’s true the German troops were worn out after two weeks of fighting, and Hitler may have worried about a repeat of 1914, when exhausted German troops were forced to withdraw at the Marne. He may also have been swayed by Hermann Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, who boasted that air power alone could destroy the helpless Allied forces at Dunkirk. Less likely is the speculation that Hitler purposefully “let the Allies go” to appear magnanimous or merciful as a prelude to peace negotiations (which was not really in keeping with his character). In the end we will probably never know why Hitler choked.

4. GERMAN DIVE-BOMBERS WERE EQUIPPED WITH SIRENS TO SPREAD TERROR.

Among many examples of Germany’s evil genius for psychological warfare, one of the most famous was the decision to equip its Ju 87 dive bombers with air-powered sirens that emitted a shrieking, unearthly wail as the plane went into attack. The siren, known as the “Jericho Trumpet,” was intended to spread terror among enemy troops and civilians on the ground—and it worked. To this day the Jericho Trumpet is one of the most recognizable, and terrifying, sounds of war. It was certainly one of the lasting impressions of the Dunkirk evacuation for ordinary troops caught beneath the German bombs. Lieutenant Elliman, a British gunner who was waiting to be evacuated on Malo-les-Bains beach, later recalled the Stukas “diving, zooming, screeching, and wheeling over our heads like a flock of huge infernal seagulls.”

5. THE FRENCH FOUGHT A HOPELESS BATTLE TO COVER THE EVACUATION.

By Saidman (Mr), War Office official photographer — Photograph H 1636 from the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Although Churchill and other Brits were quick to criticize the failure of France’s generals during the Fall of France, many ordinary French soldiers and officers fought bravely and honorably—and one hopeless “last stand” in particular probably helped enable the successful evacuation of Dunkirk.

As British and French troops withdrew to Dunkirk, 40 miles to the southeast French troops in two corps of the French First Army staged a ferocious defense against seven German divisions from May 28 to May 31, 1940, refusing to surrender and mounting several attempts to break out despite being heavily outnumbered (110,000 to 40,000). The valiant French effort, led by General Jean-Baptiste Molinié, helped tie up three German tank divisions under Erwin Rommel, enabling the British Expeditionary Force and the remaining troops of the French First Army to retreat and dig in at Dunkirk, ultimately saving another 100,000 Allied troops.

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