One Way to Get Popular with Ladies: Set out to Walk Around The World in an Iron Mask
(images via Simon Bensley and Linda Culm)
Roll up, roll up, roll up! You, sir, say that you dream of fame, and all the rewards it offers, but lack any talent whatsoever? And you, over there, wish beyond anything in this world to be the recipient of innumerable offers of marriage? And you, kind sir, desire to earn a considerable fortune but without all the trauma of actual work? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I can make all these dreams and far more a reality.
The answer, you see, is in this box. But before I reveal its contents, and the answer to all your desires, I must first tell you all a story – the story of one Harry Bensley.
Harry was, to put it mildly, a bit of a rogue, a rascal, a rake, a rapscallion. Born around 1877, Harry soon proved to as wily with his businesses and investments as he’d was with the ladies, the bottle, and the cards – creating for himself a self-indulgently lavish and totally outlandish lifestyle.
But, alas – or so some stories go – Harry’s luck deserted him one day and he lost it all on a foolish wager. Facing absolute ruin, Harry had few options – until, that is, the intervention of John Pierpont Morgan and Hugh Cecil Lowther (the 5th Earl of Lonsdale).
What Morgan and Lowther did was offer poor Harry an opportunity to regain his fortune. All Harry had to do was accept another, very possibly, foolish wager.
Harry, you see, had to take a stroll. But not a few dozen, or even hundred, miles… not just across England, or even down and through Europe, or into the Middle East and then China. No, ladies and gentlemen, Harry had to walk all the way around the entire Earth.
Yes, you may gasp. Assuredly, you want shake your heads in disbelief, but those were the terms of the bet. But that’s not all. For not only did Harry have to walk all the way around this lovely world but he also had a few other, well, ‘unusual’ terms to obey if he was to regain what he’d lost.
First of all, Harry had to follow a very specific path through no less than 169 separate British cities, getting in each one a signature proving his visit. After this would follow travels to 18 other countries, again in a strict order.
Second, Harry would begin his incredible journey with no more than one British pound in his pocket. Any money made on the trip could only be made by selling novelty picture postcards explaining the bet.
Third, his only change of clothing would be a spare set of undergarments.
Fourth, he would push a baby carriage the entire way.
Fifth, Harry would have a companion who would make sure that Harry obeyed every term and requirement of the wager. No cheating, Harry!
Sixth, Harry would have to – somehow, somewhere – find himself a wife.
As said, this was outrageous, bizarre, insane, but Harry agreed to every requirement and term of the bet. He would push his stroller, he would have only a change of underwear, he would have no money except for what he made selling his postcards, and he would find himself a wife.
But there was one other term, ladies and gentlemen, one other requirement that Harry had to meet to win back his fortune. And that thing, the final condition, has to do with this box, right here at my feet.
You see Harry had to complete his round-the-world walk without a single, solitary person recognizing him. Yes, my rapt audience, Harry had to travel through Britain, across Europe, into Asia and beyond without even once being recognized – even by the woman he would somehow manage to agree to marry him.
And how was Harry supposed to accomplish this? And did Harry win his bet? Ah, but first things first – and now I shall open the box.
HOW TO WIN FAME, FORTUNE, AND MARRIAGE PROPOSALS
Amazing, isn’t it? A real antique, too. It’s hard to believe that anyone ever wore anything like this – or that Harry Bensley agreed to wear it on planned trip around the world.
The helmet is from a suit of armor and weighs almost five pounds and, yes, Harry had to wear it constantly.
On January 1, 1908, Harry began his journey: wearing his helmet, pushing his pram, followed by his monitor, he began his walk around the world.
Did Harry succeed in his outrageous, bizarre, insane voyage? Did he win back his fortune or did some cruel accident void the terms of the wager? Well, for a while things got sticky. As he traveled, the tale of the Man In The Iron mask grew and people began to flock to see him – as well as try and guess his identity. Even a newspaper of the time, in a moment of cruelty, offered a reward of one thousand pounds to anyone who could guess his identity.
Eventually Harry arrived in Italy, having walked over 30,000 miles in six years without ever voiding the terms of the wager. Alas, the fate – and the failure of diplomacy – intervened in 1914.
The details of what occurred next are hazy, at best. Some claim that Harry called off the wager to serve his country in World War 1, while others say that Morgan called it off and gave Harry a small sum, and there are even a few who argue that other, unknown, causes interfered. In any event, Harry fought for his country and, again the cruelties of fate, was seriously wounded – but Harry’s poor luck continued when he lost whatever else he had and ended up having to take a series of low-end positions until his death in 1956.
Wild enough tale to be made into a movie…
You say you desire fame but lack talent? You say you lust after fortune but do not want to soil your hands with work? You say you crave the attention of women?
Well, maybe you will have better luck than poor Harry when you put on this ancient helmet and try to stroll around the world without once being identified. But before you disparage Harry Bensley you should know that even though Harry never won back his fortune, and his story is not as famous as some people’s, Harry did manage to receive 200 or so marriage proposals from women who’d never seen his face.
But Harry, the once-rake, the once-rapscallion, never once accepted their offers. So maybe Harry did win a bit of something with his amazing bet after all: a special form of nobility befitting the knight’s helmet he wore for over six years.
Harry Bensley unmasked (seated) later in life with some unknown gentleman:
In closing, here is a weird statue, which almost seems to say: “OK, so you’ve heard the man’s amazing story. Now what about YOUR life? Is it even mildly interesting?” -