In the mid-1990s, a young man named Mike Marcum gained notoriety for his attempts to build a time machine in his Missouri home. Dubbed “Mad Man Marcum” by radio host Art Bell, Marcum first described his rudimentary experiments on Bell’s national talk show in 1995. This launched a bizarre saga spanning 20 years, multiple phases of research, and alleged evidence of time manipulation.
It all began innocuously when the 21-year-old Marcum created a high-voltage “Jacob’s Ladder,” sending an electrical arc between two metal rods. Intrigued by visual distortions above the arc, Marcum threw a metal screw into the area, only to have it mysteriously vanish and reappear seconds later. Convinced he was onto something, Marcum stole power transformers to construct a larger test apparatus. But before completing experiments, he was arrested in 1996 for the theft.
After serving jail time, Marcum secured an empty warehouse and funding from Bell’s listeners to build what Bell described as a “Stargate”-like device. At 17 feet wide and 35 feet high, with 3 million volts of power, Marcum claimed the machine generated plasma vortexes traversable in time. He purportedly sent hundreds of objects and animals through over 18 months of testing. Their delayed reappearance miles away suggested temporal and spatial displacement, though the effect’s variability puzzled Marcum.
In 1998, at donors’ and Bell’s urging, Marcum demonstrated the most dangerous experiment to date—sending himself through the vortex. Surviving the trip, Marcum described the experience as a blinding flash. Upon arriving two years in the future and 600 miles across the country, amnesia from electromagnetic trauma left Marcum disoriented and homeless before slowly recovering memories.
Returning to his warehouse in 2000, Marcum found his equipment and research records all missing. With no evidence of his exploits, Marcum opted to keep a low profile for 15 years. But in 2015, Bell’s show tracked down Marcum, now 40, for an update. Marcum expressed a longing to replicate his work on a smaller scale. But lacking original apparatus and data, major obstacles remain before he could scientifically prove time manipulation or interest investors for rebuilding a functional model.
Marcum’s accounts pose many unanswered questions. But Bell sees value in Marcum’s drive to follow his passions, despite risks. Marcum must determine whether to write a memoir, crowdfund new experiments, or focus on philosophical lessons learned. Does humankind lose when individuals like Marcum bow to conventions and abandon their visions? Or does personal sacrifice sometimes advance collective knowledge? Marcum’s openness and humility contrast with the sensationalism surrounding his legend. Perhaps the greatest truths lie not in proving time travel, but in the journey of exploring life’s mysteries.