Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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1925 – Mystery Man Speaks an Unknown Language

During the latter part of 1924, a man was found wandering around Cape Charles, Virginia. He was clearly lost.  So, someone picked him up and took him to Norfolk, where he was turned over to immigration authorities.

The problem was that he spoke a language that no one understood, so immigration officials were unable to determine where he came from or how he had entered the United States.  Their solution was to place him in jail for two months on a charge of vagrancy.  Upon his release, they placed his care in the hands of the Union Mission, which operated a nearby homeless shelter.

Over the next few days, hundreds of foreign-born people attempted to converse with this mystery man, but none were successful.

Then, someone came up with a great suggestion: On January 7, 1925, they had the man speak on radio station WTAR. Keep in mind that radio was still relatively new – WTAR had just been founded on September 21, 1923 – and not everyone had a radio.  Those that didn’t own one went to the radio station to listen to the man speak.

One of those curious people was Frederick Falden.  But when he arrived, he was too late.  The man had already finished speaking.

Falden proceeded to follow the man back to the mission.  When Falden began to speak, the old man smiled and began to talk back. Falden knew exactly what he was saying. The two were conversing in Finnish.

Here’s what Falden learned about the wanderer:

His name was Oxekula and he had lived in a town of that same name on the northern coast of Finland.  He had no first name.  Oxekula was a naturalist and mineralogist and had penned books on those subjects in Finnish.

Several months prior to his arrest, the sale of his books took him on a business trip to Leningrad, which is now Saint Petersburg. But once he got there, he found that the city was in turmoil and there was no demand for his books.

Disheartened, he turned his focus to the ships that he saw anchored in the harbor. Oxekula was fascinated by the amazing tales that the sailors told of their adventures in far-off lands. So, he impulsively decided to hop aboard the Russian steamer Riga, which was scheduled to sail to Yokohama, Japan by way of Canada and the United States. 

Oxekula didn’t realize what he was getting himself into.  He had no knowledge of the sea or sailing and was of no use to the seaman on board.  They began to ridicule him and provided him with only the leftovers from their meals.

Upon reaching the United States, he went ashore with some of the other sailors but soon got lost. He never found his way back to the ship and they left without him.  Oxekula wandered for quite a few days until that kind stranger took him to Norfolk.

He said that he was 55 years old, had a wife in the northern Russian city of Boston, two sons in Rome, and a third in Rheinland, Germany.  When he made the decision to hop aboard the steamer, he didn’t realize how long of a time he would be gone.  As a result, no one in his family had any idea where he was.

Upon being identified, immigration officials decided to allow Oxekula to remain at the Union Mission until arrangements could be made to deport him.

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