I don’t remember ever coming across the ubiquitous Rayburn Stoddard’s name until five years ago last April, but a lot has happened to him since. Although as far as I know I have never met the man, I would certainly like to and have read or heard about him at intervals during the last half-decade in various cities I have visited on business, and now I feel familiar enough with him to call him by his Christian name. Rayburn has witnessed the cavalcade of American history, and in fact, as you’ll see, has been an active and significant part of it. The following is a record of what I currently know about the man. I’m hoping you can add to it.
I have made every effort to assemble as much pertinent information as I am aware of about this extraordinary man and to paint as complete picture of him as I am able. Although I have tried to eliminate any information of a dubious nature, unfortunately I cannot vouch for the veracity of my sources, their being newspaper features and television broadcasts which as you know tend to have a rather cavalier attitude toward factual truth and accuracy and are prone to pilfering stories from one another and then trying to top each other by puffing them up with embellishments so they have a more sensational ring to them. On average, a Rayburn Stoddard story in itself can be counted on to boost ratings or readership by four per cent.
Early that stormy spring evening five years ago, I was in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport browsing through the Chicago Tribune when I saw the following obituary:
Why this obituary struck me as remarkable I don’t know. But I had a hunch there was more to this story than meets the eye so I tore the clipping out, put it in my wallet, and boarded a flight to St. Louis. It seemed odd to me at the time that the following day as described in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Rayburn–now a resident of Missouri–was alive again and had aged three years overnight.
OLD MAN LAUGHS IT UP
Being an experienced business traveler who reads as many newspapers as menus, I was certainly not surprised by the obvious discrepancies between the two reports, although it seemed apparent to me that the man was either alive or dead, and was probably not 104 and 107 both.
In the days to follow those news features would ring a bell, for some months later while lying in bed in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio I watched a human interest story on the ten o’clock news about this same Rayburn Stoddard–although his name was given as Stoddard Rayburn. He was still alive, but was now a long-time resident of Dayton. More youthful now at 99, he was in robust health, vividly recalled attending the inaugurations of Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, and Herbert Hoover, had helped out his Dayton buddies the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, was a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor and a literary prize, had commanded General George S. Patton in World War II, and spent countless hours running down streets, practicing his bugle, and tossing snowballs. For years he had worked with his friend Jack Benny on the radio and in vaudeville, and was the originator of the role of Lamont Cranston on The Shadow, a popular radio show some years ago, but now held a job at a 7-Eleven where he sold cigarettes.
Business was going well, and frankly, although my curiosity about Rayburn had been piqued, I was too busy to have much time for the media. I temporarily lost track of the man, but could only assume that he was alive and well in twenty-five or thirty other cities my travels would eventually take me to, and that as he approached 110 or 120 or stayed in his nineties or went back to his seventies or eighties I would have the great pleasure of coming across him again, unless, that is, he had passed from this earth again–and it turns out he had–at least temporarily.
I was on the west coast to attend a Laugh-A-Minute-Funny-Business-Sales-Seminar when I saw a feature on the morning Los Angeles news that caught my attention. It began, “Legendary movie producer, historian, musician, aviator, and former vaudevillian Rayburn Stoddard, one-time resident of Dayton, Ohio, died in Hollywood yesterday afternoon at the young age of one hundred and thirteen, and the film industry is in deep mourning. His companion, super-model Cinderella Baudelaire, was at his bedside.” It continued, “This close adviser to many presidents, and the producer of such gems as Gone with the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, and Zombies on Broadway was in perfect health at the time of his untimely passing.” The report was quite complete, referring to Rayburn’s renown as a snowball marksman, his having been present at the Little Big Horn with General George Armstrong Custer where he had died valiantly fighting off the Indians with his bugle, his other past deaths, and his famous, “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine that he had performed for President Chester A. Arthur and all the crowned heads of Europe.
I was not saddened by the report since I had the feeling Rayburn would spring to life again in the foreseeable future. I was not, however, prepared for his next death which occurred in Virginia approximately a year later and was reported in all the major news services:
WITNESS TO HISTORY LAID TO REST
I was surprised that Rayburn had aged from 113 to 427 in a matter of months, and at first had doubts that such a feat was possible. 427 years old! How could a person possibly live to 427? But then it struck me that he would have to have been approximately 400 or he could not have arrived on the Mayflower, so I concluded that here was one newspaper report that was accurate.
Months of hard work passed and I lost track of Rayburn. Then while stopping for a cup of coffee at a diner in Cambridge, Massachusetts I saw in a Boston Globe article entitled “Celebrated Patriot Returns,” that this “well-traveled former super model, famed movie producer, historian, comedian, airplane pilot, and one-time resident of Skokie, Illinois, University City, Missouri, Dayton, Ohio, Beverly Hills, California, and the Bay Colony” had sprung to life again. He was in perfect health, this existence residing in a boarding house in East Patchogue, New York, but had been in town the day before to commemorate the Boston Tea Party which he had engineered and led. He was now a robust and more reasonable 275, having decreased in age by 150 years since his untimely Jamestown death. At the Boston commemorative ceremony he reportedly talked about his experiences with drunken plumbers and sang “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.” with the Righteous Brothers. He carried a tomahawk for the event and was dressed in the authentic Indian garb which he had worn in the raid of the colonists on the British tea ship, and which had hung in his closet in mothballs for more than two centuries.
The last I heard of Rayburn was a feature on Topeka, Kansas TV where it was stated that “a young 122 and in perfect health, this founder of the 7-Eleven convenience store empire” had left this life in a suburb of Kansas City, where he had long resided after relocating there from Skokie, Illinois where he worked as a plumber. He had also passed away three months earlier in Waco, Texas at a youthful 97 while in perfect health and on location producing a documentary film about the Lewis and Clark westward expedition. But judging from his history I am confident that Rayburn has not left this life permanently and irrevocably, but will reappear between the ages of 90 and 500 in some American city in the near future. All that we can say for certain is that we have seen the last of Mr. Rayburn Stoddard–Stoddard Rayburn–until he turns up again.
If you or a family member or acquaintance have news of other lives and deaths of this elusive man I would appreciate you contacting me care of this blog. I’m hopeful that in that way, working together, with contributors from across the globe, eventually we will be able to piece together a satisfying and complete biography of the man. I am particularly interested in learning about Rayburn’s first nine years on earth, about which at present I know zilch. And frankly I have my doubts that throwing snowballs increases longevity, although that’s what the man said. And who should know better than Rayburn?
© 2014 David J. Rogers