In the summer month of June of 1884, in the town of Dexter, Missouri, there lived a young, twenty-seven year old man by the name of Reynard Beck who earned his living tending to his mother’s, and his deceased father’s, farm. Following their father’s death in 1879, Reynard and his older brother struggled to turn a meager profit from the family farm.
The Beck boys had earned an admirable reputation among the townsfolk. They were viewed as hard workers and decent men who were determined to work the farm in order to take care of their ageing mother. They were known to eschew the pleasures and thrills of life that most young men their age sought — instead choosing a life of self-sacrifice to make sure the family could make ends meet. They never courted the young girls of the town — they hadn’t the time nor money for it. They didn’t partake in much social activity with their friends. They didn’t spend what money they had foolishly. Though their life seemed difficult — being filled with toil and struggle — the Becks seemed content with what little they did have.
On one particular morning, quite like any other, Mrs. Beck called her sons to breakfast. Reynard awoke, but, unlike other mornings, he immediately experienced a strange and intense sense of elation. He felt an inexplicable giddiness, and even a lightness of his physical being.
Reynard threw off his covers and rose to his feet with the intention of following the smell of frying eggs and bacon that was now pouring into his room from the kitchen below. However, when Reynard tried to stand, something very bizarre happened. Reynard began to slowly rise off the floor. He wasn’t frightened by this — the sense of elation and giddiness had not left him. He was, simply, quite amazed. He reached for the headboard of his bed and pulled himself back down onto the mattress.
Mrs. Beck called for Reynard again — warning him that his breakfast was getting cold and would soon be ruined. So, the young man released the headboard and once again attempted to exit his bed. And, once again, Reynard began to slowly rise toward the ceiling. Reynard attempted to grab at his headboard again, but this time he had waited too long — the headboard was out of reach. So, he continued drifting upward until he found himself pressed against the ceiling of his room.
Reynard was quite baffled. He positioned his feet against the ceiling’s surface and gave himself a push down toward the bed. When it came into reach once more Reynard again grabbed his headboard to once again steady himself. From this position, a small chair which was near his bed was within his reach. He took hold of the chair and released the headboard. The chair seemed to be of enough weight to keep him from rising again.
Grasping the chair, Reynard then shuffled across his bedroom floor toward his dresser. He wedged his feet underneath the large chest of drawers and released the chair. In one of the drawers was a leather belt that Reynard used when he went fishing. The belt had attached to it a number of lead weights and some tools that he used when fishing, and Reynard found that the weight of the belt with all of its attachments was sufficient to keep his feet, more or less, on the ground.
Now, the year was 1884 and Reynard lived in a very rural farming community, and like post people of such cast in that era, the Reynard family were very religious folk and quite superstitious. Reynard feared that if anyone were to find out about this bizarre phenomenon, he might be accused of being possessed by the Devil. So, Reynard Beck decided to keep his strange affliction a secret — even from his family. He donned a loose fitting and long shirt to cover the belt and he finally went downstairs to meet his mother and brother at breakfast. He even worked the rest of the day tending to the fields without mentioning to anyone anything about his puzzling experience.
When Reynard went to bed that night, he removed his weighted belt. Immediately, he began to once again rise into the air. He grabbed the headboard again as he had done before, but at that moment Reynard’s brother entered the room to see Reynard clutching his headboard with his feet high in the air.
Reyanard’s brother, Samuel, laughed hysterically at the ridiculous sight and asked Reynard what it was he was doing. Startled by his brother’s sudden intrusion, Reynard lost his grip on the headboard and floated up to the ceiling. Samuel went silent with shock.
“Give me the belt!” Reynard cried, pointing to his weighted fishing belt that was lying on the floor. Samuel complied, picked up the belt and handed it to Reynard. With the belt in hand, Reynard began to descend as Samuel stood with his mouth agape. Reynard recounted that morning’s experience to his brother and after talking it over for a short while, they both decided that they should inform their mother about the peculiar situation.
Upon hearing it from the boys, however, Mrs. Beck appeared more concerned than Reynard had been regarding how people might react. Samuel, on the other hand, didn’t share in such concerns and he convinced Reynard that there was money to be made in his new found ability. And so, in spite of their mother’s protests, Sam and Reynard decided to visit all of the nearby towns, billing Reynard as “The Floating Wonder.” They built a somewhat crude but portable booth and began charging people a small fee to enter. When a person entered the booth, Reynard would take off his belt and float up to the top of the booth.
The demonstrations proved to be quite popular and news of the phenomenon quickly spread. Soon people were coming in droves to witness Reynard the Floating Wonder, and the two brothers were taking in quite a respectable income. They decided to expand their touring circuit.
One day, when the two brothers had taken their show to a town in Oklahoma, some local skeptics, determined to expose the brothers as frauds, hired a group of teens to demolish the booth and bring back evidence of wires, mechanics or some other form of trickery that the brothers were using to perform the “illusion.” They were shocked, however, when the teens reported back that they had thoroughly dismantled the booth and found nothing but its basic structure — its wooden frame, its canvas covering, and a single bar that stretched across its top which Reynard used to grab onto when had floated to the top. News of the failed attempt at exposing the brothers eventually got out, and, to the skeptics great dismay, this seemed to greatly bolster the brother’s notoriety. Their show became more popular than ever.
Again and again, at each of their shows, scientists, doctors and other academics were regular attendants — each of them eager to scrutinize Reynard’s abilities and expose the hoax. But, again and again, each of the learned men left the demonstration baffled — entirely unable to explain the bizarre phenomenon and many of them coming to the conclusion that Reynard really was capable of actual levitation.
In the spring of 1887, a reporter working for The Kansas City Star was sent out by the paper to investigate the two brothers. The reporter was diligent in his attempts to discredit Reynard and Samuel, but he would later write for the paper:
Before the exhibition, I thoroughly searched the room, looking for wires, hydraulic ramps, hidden supports — any 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.
Reynard Beck and his brother Samuel were quite often invited to be interviewed by curious members of various media, and the brothers would often accept. Again and again people would ask how Reynard Beck was able to accomplish the startling feet, but Reynard never provided a satisfactory answer. Reynard himself appeared to be just as puzzled as anyone else regarding the origin, and the how and why, of his incredible ability.
The brothers would continue touring their Floating Wonder show around the American mid-west for another six years, until, in 1890, Samuel and Reynard announced quite suddenly that they were ceasing operations and returning home to Dexter. Rumors went about that Reynard had lost his ability to levitate, and people flocked to the Beck farm in Dexter in the hopes of seeing Reynard Beck and learning of why he was no longer performing his feat. But, Reynard would not make an appearance. He became a shut-in and staunchly refused to show his face out of doors.
Reynard did make a small attempt to appease some of the curious by publishing a brief account of his experiences. However, the account didn’t answer any real questions, and it concluded with a plea for privacy.
“Once a man has flown in the air,” Reynard told a reporter in one of his last statements to any media, “that man can never be quite the same man again.”
Just a few months later, a rumor began to circulate around the town of Dexter that Reynard had gone missing and it was presumed that he had taken his own life. Some of the townsfolk went to the Beck farmstead to check on the news. When they arrived, they found an overly distraught Samuel Beck and his inconsolable mother. Samuel informed the visitors that Reynard had indeed been missing for a full three days, and his weighted belt had been discovered, alone, in a field.
Did Reynard Beck suddenly take on some bizarre property not yet understood by science? It has been hypothesized that since water is indeed diamagnetic, and humans are made up of mostly water, and the Earth possesses powerful magnetic forces, levitation might not be that far fetched at all. Indeed, modern science has already levitated frogs using diamagnetism techniques. You see, water is diamagnetic, so it is possible to make water float using a large and powerful magnet. A frog, like a human, is made up of mostly water. The Earth is a large and powerful magnet. The secret to levitation, therefore, may be just one, simple, missing ingredient.
Did, perhaps, Reynard Beck encounter that ingredient by accident? Or, were the Beck brothers ingenious hoaxers?