11 Time Traveler Urban Legends That Pretty Much Debunk Themselves

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.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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