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  • Urban Legend: the Clock Trick February 24, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    clock trick

    One newspaper report includes this precious Victorian story, which Beach has been unable to track down elsewhere. It is satisfying so there must be other versions out there.

    There is an old story of a thief who, engaging the landlord of a country tavern a bet that he could not sit in front of clock for half hour, beating time with his hand in harmony with the movements of the pendulum, improved the half hour so secured to him in robbing the house, and making off with all the portable valuables.

    In fact, the only parallel comes from the same article and describes a crime in Paris. Here there is the assumption that the story is genuine given the names and the details: or perhaps that is hopefully naïve.

    A robbery of a very similar and equally ingenious character has just been brought under the attention the Paris police. Count M. Marchadier, a gentleman of independent means living at Courbevoi, had as a neighbour a Pole known by the name of Koratt. M. Marchadier had one day the idea of asking Koratt to photograph him in the garden, and the apparatus was accordingly arranged for the purpose. The Pole, having directed M. Marchadier to fix his eyes immovably on a given point, and not to stir until gave him the word, slipped into the house and commenced to make up hasty packet of any articles of value could find about. Ed Ev Ne, 1875, 4

    The story ends badly for Koratt in as much as Madame Marchadier was in a cherry tree and happened to see Koratt stealing things. She then tried to intervene but Koratt having seen her ran out and pulled down her ladder ‘and left her a prisoner amongst the branches’! Cherry trees are not very high, perhaps this really was just an updating of the clock legend with more modern technology, something that is characteristic of so many urban legends: the ghost is promoted from borrowing a ride on a horse to becoming the vanishing hitchhiker.

    Can anyone find any other examples of the clock legend: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com or variants on the same. It is worth stating again that Urban Legends and crime (like sex and death) are two naturally interlocking themes.

    Other possible urban legends from Victorian England have included the generous pickpocket and the snuff trick: other possible Victorian urban legends would be gratefully received.

    25 Feb 2016: An old friend of the blog and an urban legend expert Filip

    I found a story about a Mr Raczek, a bet-loving inn-keeper from Racibórz, published in the “Katolik” weekly in 1877.

    Mr Raczek was once visited by two gentlemen (both unknown to him) who got him into the half-an-hour-sitting-in-front-of-clock bet. First, the two men tried to distract Mr Raczek by talking about incredible things allegedly happening outside the window — to no avail, he kept on wagging his finger and repeating “sam — tam! sam — tam!” [onomatopoeic I guess, though it sounds weird for a modern Polish native speaker]. “Put the money on the table or the bet is invalid!”, said one of the men. With his left hand, Mr Raczek pulled out his wallet from a pocket and put it on the table, without looking away from the clock. “Well, we trust your honesty then, please watch the clock, we are going downstairs to talk to the landlady in the meantime”, said one of the visitors. Mr Raczek did not care about what the two gentlemen said, he just kept on observing the clock. And he did not stop for half an hour. “Where are they?”, asked Mr Raczek his wife as soon as he uttered the final “sam — tam!”. “Who do you mean?”. “The two gentlemen who were dining here”. “Ah, it’s been fifteen minutes since they left”, said Mrs Raczek. Needless to say, the two men took Mr Raczek’s wallet with them…

    The story was published as “dykteryjka” (anecdote) said to take place 40 years earlier. I bet it’s pure fiction…

    The text was copied & pasted in other Polish newspapers in 1896 and 1902.

    And see also item 6.70 in “Analytical Index to Publications of the Texas Folklore Society“:

    PS. “Koratt” is definitely not a Polish surname.

    25 Mar 2016: Ruththeustoppablycurious ‘Well, I don’t know about cherry trees where you live, but the ones here in WA state get well into 30 feet. That’s even in urban settings, wild ones somewhat taller. If she had to use a ladder to climb the tree she was up a ways as bottom limbs are higher than 5 foot probably. Though the story is probably a fake.’ I [Beach] went to look at my local cherry trees. they do, indeed, get very high, but at least in Italy they have low hanging branches.