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Mystery Man

Around twenty five years ago I stumbled across an old paperback in a secondhand bookshop that drew my attention with its outlandish content of unsolved mysteries. I always love a good story and after flicking through its pages and noticing it was first printed the year I was born out came my 15p and I bought it.

It’s still a book I occasionally get out to re-read even though it’s tape battered edges have seen better days. The stories are still worth reading, who wouldn’t want to read a book that has the opening lines to its first story SYMPHONIES OF DEATH presented like this…

“If you harbour a deadly grudge and seek revenge there is a way to obtain it which will baffle the most astute criminologist” a musician once told me. “send your intended victim a recording of Pathetique from Tschaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. If he dosen’t die soon after listening to it, someone close to him will…

The story goes on to list instances where symphonies have caused death time and time again right up until a point where several have been banned from ever being played again. Other intriguing story’s include Sultan Mkwawa’s Missing Skull, a skull that holds the key to restoring peace in Africa, The Human Cork charting the exploits of Angelo Faticoni and unsinkable person who once swam from Manhattan to Hoboken whilst tied in a chair. My favourite though is The Water-into-Gasoline Mystery a story about John Andrews who’s home brew experiments enabled him to turn water drawn from any source including sea water into working gasoline.

It still fascinates me to this day so I decided to do a bit of research online to see what I could find that would further expand on the story. Well, not much really but everything I did find didn’t tally with each other. For a start dates changed, the way Johns invention had been discovered by the authorities; some said by accident, others by Johns approach to the government and others by John visiting England with a view to selling his invention. Even more curious is the end of the story, from returning a penniless hermit to mysterious disappearances and even murder. Either way all the story’s seem to confirm that John Andrews existed as per the Navy records at the time in America and that they conducted water to gasoline tests with him which eventually abruptly stopped after a short period of time.

Now with so many discrepancies I thought I was researching some kind of hoax but instead after reading everything I could find I think I actually found out some explanation for the story.

It seems that John Andrews in 1916 stumbled on a reaction he quite genuinely thought he had created gasoline, he never made much of a fuss but prefered to test it out in customers cars at his gas station which eventually dre the attention of the military, primarily the Navy. When the Navy got involved and watched an engine start using seawater after John had added the contents of his bag to the water they investigated further they also thought he had done the impossible. A few months later the experiments were quietly abandoned, it was only after a period of time later that all the rumours sprung up that he had been abducted, murdered, made pennyless to finish off the story but I think it was rather more mundane than all that exciting stuff.

There is something you can add to water to give it the illusion of gasoline and that’s Clacium Carbide. It reacts with water to produce acetylene gas and calcium hydroxide, the resultant C2H2 is combustible. The only problem is that Ca(OH)2 is corrosive so any usefulness is restricted as it would damage any engine in a short period of time.

So John added a known ingredient to the water giving a short lived fuel, when the authorities found out they simply lost interest as damaged engines is not what they were looking for. Simple, I assume the extra bits tagged on were to enhance the story, either way it’s still and intriguing one to me and remains my favourite in the book.

Oh, that and the Secret Of The Bourbon Street Harem, oh, and Odyssey Of Hubert The Hippo and maybe The Riddle Of Marshal Michelle Ney it looks like I have a few more stories to catch up on. I wonder what I will find online forty seven years later, more mysteries perhaps?


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