In early October of 1913, a Belgian sailor spotted a corpse, quite a bit worse for wear, floating in the North Sea. He and his mates fished a wallet and a pill case from the body but did not take it aboard. The personal effects were identified as belonging to Rudolf Diesel, who, as every schoolboy knows (quick, find me a schoolboy), invented the “compression ignition engine,” a miraculous device that would run efficiently on any fuel from fuel oil to vegetable oil to watered-down MaiTais, an engine that would come to bear his name — the Rudolf. More importantly, Rudolf Diesel entered the realm of “unsolved mysteries.”
On September 29, Diesel had boarded the ship Dresden in Antwerp, Belgium, headed for London. After dinner, he retired to his cabin for the night with instructions for a 6:15 a.m. wake-up call.
In the morning, his cabin was found empty, locked from the inside. His nightshirt was carefully laid out but his bed had not been slept in. Naturally, authorities assumed Diesel’s death to be an open-and-shut case of suicide. He’d left behind a package containing 200,000 German marks for his wife along with a statement that the family was otherwise bankrupt.
Yeah, but . . .
Witnesses suggest that Diesel had been upbeat about the possibility that his invention would become more widespread.; he had booked this trip to lay the groundwork for a new Diesel engine factory. Was it an accident? The sea was calm. Diesel was sober. Murder?
Now our theorists come bounding out of the woodwork with any number of possibilities. Pesky Germans — His planned meeting was with the British Navy, to whom he was trying to sell his engines for use in submarines, and World War I was just around the corner. Two German intelligence officers were aboard the Dresden. Other conspiracy theorists suggest killers hired by the petroleum industry, an industry that saw Diesel’s work as a threat to their future profits.
Competitors or enemies of the British crown, or maybe aliens — take your pick.
Arguably the greatest singing cowboy of all time, Gene Autry was born on September 29, 1907, in Tioga, Texas. He started out as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy” on a Tulsa radio program and made his first recording in 1929.
At a time when you couldn’t throw a spur without hitting a singing cowboy, Autry was one of the few who had actually seen a horse. But it was in the movies that he made his real mark. After his first film, In Old Santa Fe, he went on to warble and yodel and chase bad guys in a hundred motion pictures. Along the way he had such hit records as “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Back in the Saddle Again,”and that huge holiday hit about the reindeer who invented a compression ignition engine and saved Christmas.