Penelope and Alto Friedrich

This Valentine's Day I have a new painting and story to share with you, written by the very talented Justin Gerard about a time traveler and his daughter.


His name was Alto Friedrich. He was a German-born mathematician who moved with his only daughter Penelope to England in the year 1864. In his calculations, Alto learned that the world was to end on March 16, 1897. And there was nothing anyone could do in his era to prevent it.  

Some say the machine was invented by Tesla, others that it was Friedrich's own creation. Either way, it was never finished, and the science that powered it never fully understood.  In a letter to Friedrich, Tesla told him his machine was unsafe, and would become more and more unstable with each use.  

This did not stop Friedrich. When and where he traveled exactly, no one knew.  But to the amazement of family and guests, he would disappear in a cloud of smoke from his drawing room at 315 Bell Street. At first, it was only for a few moments at a time, and then he would re-appear holding some strange device or plant, totally foreign and unfamiliar to all present. 

But what started out as a little smoke, and a few moments gone; became clouds of smoke, and days gone.  

Friedrich's daughter Penelope was his only remaining love in the world, and he hated to leave her for such long times. On one trip, he returned home with a curious baby bird from some prehistoric era, which she kept as a tame pet. It loved minnows and singing when it was gray outside. 


In August of 1868, her father was gone for an entire month. When he finally returned he was frostbitten and near death, with a ghastly scar across his forehead. He would not tell anyone where he had been and stayed in bed for the rest of the year, with only her to care for him.  

In her father's ongoing correspondence with Tesla, the inventor discouraged him from using the machine again. It would eventually break, and he would find himself forever stranded in some foreign time and upon some alien shore. But Alto insisted that there was some fundamental flaw in the planet, and that he had no choice but to continue seeking a way to fix it.  

In February of 1869, Alto Friedrich had a small portrait commissioned of his daughter just before he resumed his travels again.  

The painter reported that Friedrich had insisted on a size that would fit in a large locket that could be carried in a coat pocket. He told the painter that he was likely to be gone for some time, and that he wanted something to remember his daughter by if he somehow got lost.  


No one knows whatever became of Alto Friedrich. In April of 1869 he, along with his notes, left the drawing room at 315 Bell Street in a cloud of white smoke, and was never heard from again.    


This small painting, dated September 1869, was found clutched in the hands of a man whose body was discovered washed up on the coast of California in 2012.  Authorities were never able to identify this person, and are still looking into the case.

The world didn't end in March of 1897 as Friedrich had predicted.  Whether or not the world was ever actually going to end on that date, or whether or not he was able to perform some final act of restitution for the world, we will never know. This painting is all that remains of Friedrich's quest to return to his home, and save the world for the daughter he loved.