"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Exeter Gazette, March 20, 1908

This is the story of a rather novel wager. From the "Essex Newsman," June 13, 1908:

The man who is walking round the world, pushing a perambulator and wearing an iron mask, reached Chelmsford on the 6th inst.

Interviewed by a representative of the Essex County Chronicle, his story was this: —In a London club not a hundred miles from Pall Mall, an American millionaire wagered that I would not walk round the world, pushing a perambulator and wearing an iron mask, for 100,000 dollars, equalling, in English money, about £20,000. I accepted the challenge, and started according to the conditions (one of which, by the way, was that I could take as long I liked over the walk), from Trafalgar-square, at 10.30 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1908. I went via Woolwich, Chatham, Dover, Folkestone, etc., all along the south of the country, through the west country, and down the Midlands to the Eastern Counties. I am now going up the East Coast Scotland, thence to Ireland, and across to Canada. My only means of subsistence is the proceeds of selling post-card photographs of myself and perambulator. I am not allowed to accept anything save curios without paying for it, either in money or post cards. If a person offers me a glass of water I must pay for it. I usually give post cards in payment. If I don't fulfill the conditions I shall lose £5,000. I am accompanied by a friend, who sells the cards. The helmet weighs 41b. 5oz. and the perambulator 1cwt. 3lb.

In the pamphlet which the "Iron Mask" sells, describing what he has undertaken to do, it is mentioned that he was on the look out for a wife, and would open correspondence with any who would marry him. He received 31 answers from ladies, including three from titled ladies. He made his choice, and is now married happily. He has a caravan, with very fine appointments, in which he sleeps at nights, and where his wife lives.

The mysterious traveller testified to the kindness he had received from the police on his journey. He said it was his practice to get at each town the signature of the mayor or other responsible person, to certify that he had passed through that town. He showed our representative an exceedingly interesting book of autographs. He goes the stages at music-halls along the route, but receives no reward except that of selling his postcards in the auditorium. It was due to the fact that he had to lift his perambulator off from and on to stages so often that one of the springs broke, so he decided to have a new perambulator built for him. This was done at Portsmouth. To make it run more easily he had pneumatic cycle tyres put the wheels. Of course he is not limited to the number of prams that he may use. So long he is always wheeling one of not less than one cwt. in weight, he may have as many as he likes. He started wheeling the new perambulator at Romsey, Hants, February 27. When at Teignmouth he attracted such crowds that four policemen had to escort him to the Post-office to post his letters. The first time he had tea with a stranger was at Hastings. He had to have his meal behind a screen, it being fatal to him to be recognised.

The "Iron Mask" bewailed the fact that could not go to church, having always, course, to wear his helmet in public. But, he said, on his journey he had been to two meetings of the Salvation Army, and one at a Baptist Chapel at Launceston, the authorities in each case allowing him to enter their places of worship with his "hat" on.

He anticipates trouble in China, but hopes to get through the other countries without accident. He further informed our representative that he is not doing the walk for financial benefit, since he has an income of .£1,600 (which he is not allowed to touch during his walk), and that he intends to give the 100,000 dollars to charity.

He says he is in excellent health, and has put on several pounds in weight since he started from London.

He will have to pass a night at his home, and his great anxiety is that he may recognised there.

In taking leave of our representative he said: I am a great traveller, and have only been home for three months during the last eight years. I have no doubt that I am well-known you by repute, if you only knew who I was. People would be very surprised if they did know.

When I came across this story, I thought I detected a definite aroma of fish, so I set out to find more information about the neo-Man in the Iron Mask. After a few moments with Mr. Google, I came across these posts from the blog "The Big Retort":



Yup, it was all a hoax, and a rather seedy one, at that.

Still, one has to give Mr. Bensley high points for originality in his deviltry, right?

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like the sort of bet London clubmen got up to in the eighteenth century. It would have been fun to have had one like that in the early twentieth. But a hoax sounds likelier anyway. If Bensley had put as much effort into honest work as he did into dishonest, he may have retired an affluent man. And he wouldn't have gotten severe headaches from wearing an iron helmet.


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