Backwoods Home Magazine is a little publication out of the 2,000 person town of Gold Beach, Oregon. It’s all about rural living — canning, cheese making — and it also has a bit of a survivalist bent to it, with articles on how to protect yourself in a terrorist attack. And in 1997, simply because they had space to fill in the print edition, John Silveira contributed a now infamous classified ad.
“WANTED:” the ad read, “Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O.Box 322 Oakview CA, 93022. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
Silveira says the ad was the opening line of a long-abandoned sci-fi novel, and that he expected to get maybe three or four responses from people who were in on the joke. What he got instead was a deluge of responses. People were really, really into it. And they had all kinds of questions. From the basics:
How are we going? Why is it dangerous? Why do we need weapons? What kind of weapons should I bring?
To the smallest details:
Will there be toilet paper or should I bring my own?
There were people with elaborate backstories:
We saw your ad recently while here in jail. We are all felons and would like to go back and not get caught. Can you get us back in time from where you are or do we need to travel to California? If so, that might pose a problem since we are stuck here for a while. But maybe you could go back and change things for us.
And people who — well, who knows what some of these people were up to:
Yes I want to time travel to 1984. My time machine was stolen and I am stuck in 2010. Thank you.
Silveira expected that the letters would taper off, but they didn’t. In fact, they only increased in frequency over time. After a while, he figured out where the traffic was coming from.
“It became an Internet meme,” Silveira says.
It’s hard to pinpoint the first place it appeared on the Internet, but it seems like the flashpoint was a YTMND page that paired the classified with a picture of a mulleted man with a deadly serious look on his face and “Push It To the Limit” by Giorgio Moroder and Paul Engenmann playing in the background.
These days, it’s a classic meme. Everyone has seen it. Hell, there’s even a movie (very very very) loosely based on the ad. And it feels like everyone is in on the joke. But Silveira says that along with all the letters he received that were silly or clever or knowing, there were some that were steeped in regret. People who were writing on the off chance that they might actually be able to hitch a ride back in time to undo something that has forever changed them.
“Some of them were people that asked me to go back in time and there would be like, ‘My son committed suicide, can you go back to such and such night and stop him?’” says John. “Or, ‘My daughter was killed in an auto accident, can you go back to the day before and stop it?’”
Of all the letters he received, there was one that stood out:
I have read your advertisement to go back in time and that's in quotes. I am extremely interested in this, and would not even require payment. I will not need a weapon, and in fact would like to travel back to 1991 or previously to change the events leading to the death of my husband, for which I am in prison. I don't care about my safety, in fact if I cannot change the events of the past, I would prefer not to even survive. Please contact me by return mail with further information about this possibility.
The letter came from a woman named Robin Radcliffe at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. What was it that Robin wanted so badly to go back in time to do, or perhaps undo? And how does John deal with letters like these? Listen to this week’s episode to find out.