The Floating Wonder of Reynard Beck: Hoax or Miracle of Nature?
This world is full of mysteries - that much is true. The story of Reynard Beck is little known, but once heard it never stops to tickle the fancy. It is a story that trickled through time, from the late 19th century to the present day, and stood on the very border between the real and the imagined. For Reynard Beck was no ordinary young man. Reynard Beck could float in the air! His obscure and hazy story of levitation is one of the great enigmas of the late 1800’s, a time when freak shows and tall tales of the unexplained were in full swing. But is there any possibility of truth in his story?
Reynard Beck came from a sleepy town in Missouri. (muratart / Adobe Stock)
Reynard Beck and His Odd Gift
Dexter, Missouri. At the first glance, this sleepy little town was just like any other in the American Midwest. Days unraveled here at a familiar steady pace while life was all about routine. The year was 1884 and young Reynard Beck was 27 years old, hale and hearty and already a man grown by the standards of the time. He too was subject to that small town routine. With his family he lived on a farm. Dexter at the time was largely rural and there is always plenty of work on a farm in the Midwest. Together with his brother, Reynard whiled away his days with hard work and good old country spirit. However, one day in June of 1884 seemingly changed everything for this young man. And in the most unexpected way.
According to the story that survives, that one fated morning in June was to change everything. Having retired to bed the night before - tired from daily chores - Reynard Beck was called up by his mother early next morning. Breakfast was served and a new day of work awaited. But when roused from his sleep, Reynard at once noticed he was feeling different. Seemingly, what he felt was a sudden rush of delight, and an energetic mood overwhelmed him. He simply could not wait to get out of the bed and start the day.
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However, there was an odd feeling of light weight. Dismissing it, Reynard Beck cleared the blankets, swung his feet to the side as to get up - and floated! Much to his disbelief and astonishment, young Reynard all of a sudden saw that he could float upwards, towards the ceiling. At first he dismissed it for a vivid dream. Then came disbelief, then fear, then the questioning of his sanity. He was more than 166 pounds (75 kg) in weight. How on earth could he be floating? In the end - when he still floated nonetheless - Reynard Beck simply accepted this newly found talent.
Still, he was not yet ready for others to see this phenomenon. He grabbed the headboard of his bed and managed to pull himself down. But in the very next moment, as soon as he let go of the “anchor,” he would float up once more. A solution was needed - and fast. And then Reynard came up with a rudimentary solution. Out of a drawer he pulled his old fishing belt: the pouches it had were full of old lead weights that he used when fishing.
Strapping it firmly around his waist, Reynard discovered - much to his relief - that the weight of the lead was keeping him rooted to the ground. The floating was kept under control - but only while the belt was on. Soon after, Reynard’s days continued as normal. Farm life was full of work and with his belt on, Reynard soon stopped worrying about his body rejecting the principles of gravity.
The story of Reynard Beck was included in a 1978 issue of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. (Mythosphere)
The Beginning of a Great Side Show Act
But such a big secret cannot be kept hidden indefinitely. Even with a loving family, he kept it a secret. Along with most of contemporary rural Missouri, Dexter was a God-fearing believer. Reynard knew that a phenomena as odd as his would not be taken lightly, and that the mention of the Devil and his machinations would quickly enter into the conversation. Lynching occurred for less, Reynard knew. And so, the secret endured until one day his brother Samuel happened to stumble into the room while Reynard was floating. At first, he simply dismissed it for a handstand or a cheap trick. But his amusement quickly turned to shock. Reynard Beck, his very own brother, could levitate! When Reynard implored his brother to keep silent of this affair and not let the information spread, Samuel Beck quickly dispelled his fears. He had a better idea.
Samuel was quick to let his brother know that this odd physical phenomenon can turn into a lucrative bit of business. Side shows (also known as freak shows) were all the craze in the late 1800s. Samuel Beck knew that there was money to be made in that business, especially if one possessed a genuine and incredible talent as his brother did. And so it was - after much discussion - that the Beck Brothers decided to enter that world of wonder, and to display Reynard’s ability for all to see. Samuel was adamant that their act was perfect in every way since it could not be proven that Reynard was faking it. It was as genuine as could be.
According to some sources, the Beck brothers began touring the local town halls and fairgrounds, eventually showcasing their act all around the American Midwest. Soon enough, their act had its own unique name and Reynard Beck became advertised as “The Floating Wonder.” Becoming a true attraction of every sideshow freak show troupe, his act involved, well, him floating in air. The act was contained in a tent, and Reynard would simply levitate in the air and read a book. Every onlooker was free to investigate the act, looking for hidden wires or any methods of trickery. Yet there were none to be seen. In no time, it seems that the brothers amassed a true small fortune. Reynard Beck was certainly not lynched by mobs of god-fearing Christians as he had feared at first and his peculiar ability to defy gravity began tickling many a scientific mind. Oddly enough, not a lot of written sources on him survive, putting his unique story into jeopardy.
There were, and are, plenty of skeptics surrounding the story of Reynald Beck, also known as The Floating Wonder. (Mythosphere)
The Floating Wonder Defies all Logic
Plenty of skeptics began hounding Reynard’s “Floating Wonder” act. The fact that a man was defying the natural laws of physics simply could not be comprehended by many, and they sought many ways to discredit him as a fraud. When wires or mechanisms could not be found in his acts, the disbelievers went to extreme measures. Some sources claim that Reynard received hundreds of death threats, and that even acts of sabotage were conducted against his act. But time and time again, solid proofs in his favor floated to the surface. Witnesses stated that he had to strap himself down to a chair to eat or to a bed to sleep. Furthermore, he almost always wore his lead-filled belt in order to stay grounded. And so, the laws of nature and logic were continuously defied.
One reporter seemingly wanted to disprove it all as a complex hoax. Writing for the Kansas Star in April of 1887, he stated in his article the following account:
"Before the exhibition, I thoroughly searched the room, looking for wires, hydraulic ramps, hidden supports or any such device that might provide a clue to the mystery, but I found absolutely nothing. While Mr. Beck sat in a reclining position three feet from the floor, I beat the air above and below him with a cane, but met no resistance. With the utmost reluctance, I came to the conclusion that he was floating in mid air."
Nevertheless, the Beck Brothers decided to quit their sideshow act for good after just six years touring the Midwest. At the time, Reynard’s curious ability had netted them a small fortune of an estimated $1 million by today’s standards. Still, they abruptly announced the end of the “Floating Wonder” and their return to their farm life in Dexter, Missouri. Rumors soon began circulating. Most claimed that Reynard’s ability to levitate had disappeared as abruptly as it arrived. But it seems that all the publicity and the strangeness had an adverse effect on Reynard Beck. He soon became a recluse.
Noone really knows what became of Reynald Beck. One version states that he committed suicide by removing his belt and floating unrestrained into the sky. (psychoshadow / Adobe Stock)
A Suicide or the End of a Successful Hoax?
Crowds of curious people made trips to the Beck farm in Dexter, hoping to see Reynard afloat in the air. But he was never again seen. Initially, he avoided all publicity and the paper reporters. He sternly refused any appearances. His very last statement for the press was documented in 1890, when he and his brother quit the act. In that statement he gave a very strange and somewhat pensive quote: “Once a man has floated in the air, he can never be quite the same man again.”
After a prolonged period of not being seen at all, suspicions began surrounding the Beck household. According to some dubious sources, Samuel Beck and his mother both admitted that Reynard Beck was missing. They stated that only his lead-filled belt was discovered in a field near the border with Tennessee, and that he was not been seen for a very long time. It was suspected that the man committed suicide by allowing himself to float up into air unrestrained. Other sources claim simply that he remained locked indoors in pursuit of privacy, and that he accepted the life of a recluse.
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Either way, it is there that the story of Reynard Beck, The Floating Wonder, ends - somewhat mysteriously. And it is here where we began dissecting this odd tale, trying to tie down loose ends in our pursuit of the truth. Of course, the first thing we address is levitation. By all laws of physics and gravity, for a man to float in mid air is utterly impossible. So, what gives? Looking for the news reports in the Kansas Star from 1887 or 1890 proved a fruitless effort so far. In the end, the only details about this odd story are passed by word of mouth, and no conclusive proofs exist.
In 1972, a man by the name of Dr. R. N. Van Cor, a physicist working in the field of gravitational phenomena and hailing from Sacramento, California, sent a detailed letter to the staff of the Belleville Telescope, a newspaper from Belleville, Kansas. The same letter was published in the paper. Sent on August 31st, 1972, the letter is one of the first modern mentions of this odd story, and provides a general summary. Amongst other information, the letter states:
“he [Reynard Beck] became a sideshow wonder and was billed under the title of “The Floating Wonder,” where he toured the fairgrounds of the Midwest from 1884 to 1890. In the year 1890 he said the power to float in the air suddenly left him. He retired to Dexter, Kansas, where he lived out the rest of his life in a normal manner.”
A True Brain-Tickler That Reads Like a Sci-Fi Story
Soon after this letter was published, the story of Reynard Beck was portrayed in the form of a comic book story. As such, it was published in the comic called Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, in the Gold Key series No. 79, which was published in July of 1978. Truth or hoax? Fact or fiction? Is the odd ability to levitate so hard to grasp as possibly real? This time it is up to everyone to decide individually, while it does sound like an elaborate hoax.
In the end, there were many such acts in the freak show business. But some of the details of the Beck story sure make it improbable to have been a simple magic trick. Nevertheless, this mystery from the late 1800s has one downside to it: the lack of credible and reliable sources. What little information was passed by word of mouth through generations of Midwest natives is not enough to provide us with a solid insight into the tale of Reynard Beck. And, after all is said and done, it does read a lot like a good science fiction story from a 70’s young adult magazine.
Top image: The story of Reynard Beck, known as “The Floating Wonder,” sounds like science fiction. Source: lassedesignen / Adobe Stock
By Aleksa Vučković
Carey, P. 2018. The Floating Wonder: The Story of Reynard Beck. CreateSpace Publishing.
Slemen, T. “The Boy Who Could Fly” in Ghost City 19. Available at: https://www.angelfire.com/realm/ctx/real/R28.html
Unknown. 2013. “The Floating Wonder” in Mythosphere. Available at: https://mythospherejourney.wordpress.com/tag/reynard-beck/