We can definitely affirm the reality of premonitions, not because all ancient writers, whether credulous or not, believed in it, but because many testimonies to it have been obtained in our own day.
~ Charles Richet, M.D., Ph.D.
1913 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine
In one of his many stories, From the Old World to the New, a novel published in 1892, William T. Stead described the sinking of a ship as a result of hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The story involved an actual ship named the Majestic, captained by Edward J. Smith, who later captained the Titanic. One of the passengers on the Majestic was a psychic who saw the collision of another ship with the iceberg, thereby helping the Majestic to avoid such a collision and to pick up some stranded survivors from the sunken ship. Although the Majestic was owned by the White Star Line, having made its maiden voyage on April 2, 1890, two years before Stead’s article, Captain Smith did not take command of the ship until 1895, some three years after the article appeared. The Majestic was retired in 1911, but then brought back to service after the sinking of the Titanic in order to fill the void in the transatlantic schedule.
In an 1886 story for The Pall Mall Gazette, titled “How a Mail Steamer went down in the mid-Atlantic,” Stead wrote about the sinking of an ocean liner and how lives were lost because there were too few lifeboats. Whether this story and that of the Majestic were some kind of precognition or “crystal vision” on Stead’s part or merely coincidence is not known, but Stead apparently did not foresee his death as a result of the Titanic disaster when he booked passage on it. In fact, Stead claimed to have had a vision in which he saw himself being kicked to death in the street by a mob.
Nevertheless, Edith Harper, his secretary, reported that before his departure, on April 2, she lunched with him and sensed “an eerie sense of something too indefinable to call ‘presentiment’” sweeping across her mind, something she had not sensed on his earlier trips. Stead went off to his cottage, Holly Bush, to spend Easter before departing for America. On April 6, he ended a brief letter to Harper, saying, “I feel as if something was going to happen, somewhere, or somehow. And that it will be for good…”
In a 1909 book, How I Know That The Dead Return, Stead, in explaining why he believes in life after death, wrote: “In order to form a definite idea of the problem which we are about to attack, let us imagine the grave as if it were the Atlantic Ocean…” He went on to draw a parallel between death’s transition and the voyage of Christopher Columbus, suggesting that if Columbus had not been able to return within a reasonable time, Europe would have concluded that he perished and had not succeeded in finding a new land. While Columbus and his crew might have been thriving on the American continent, Europe would have regarded America as “that undiscovered bourne from whence no traveler returns,” and their friends and relatives would have mourned the brave “who went out but who return not.”
In a speech delivered by Stead to members of the Cosmos Club during 1909, he talked about what he felt to be overly strict barriers imposed by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in accepting communication from spirits of the dead. He pictured himself as shipwrecked and drowning in the sea, calling frantically for help. “Suppose that instead of throwing me a rope the rescuers should shout back, ‘Who are you? What is your name? ‘I am Stead! W. T. Stead! I am drowning here in the sea! Throw me the rope. Be quick!’ But instead of throwing me the rope they continue to shout back, “How do we know that you are Stead? Where were you born? Tell us the name of your grandmother! Well, that is pretty typical of the ‘help’ given by the SPR to the friends who are trying to make us hear them from the Other Side!”
While the Titanic was being built, the Rev. Venerable Archdeacon Colley printed a pamphlet entitled The Fore-Ordained Wreck of the Titanic and sent a copy to Stead, who replied: “Dear Sir, Thank you very much for your kind letter, which reaches me just as I am starting for America. I sincerely hope that none of the misfortunes which you seem to think may happen, will happen; but I will keep your letter and will write to you when I come back. Yours truly, W. T. Stead.”
Just as mysterious as Stead’s stories is an 1898 book authored by American novelist Morgan Robertson, initially titled Futility. The story involves a British passenger liner named the Titan, which was said to be unsinkable and carried too few lifeboats. During a voyage in the month of April, the Titan collides with an iceberg in the north Atlantic and sinks. In addition to the name of the ship, its nationality, its lack of lifeboats, and the month of the voyage, there are many other similarities with the Titanic. The Titan was proceeding at 25 knots, while the Titanic was going at an estimated 22-23 knots. The Titan was 800 feet long and had a passenger capacity of 3,000. The Titanic was 882.5 feet long and also had a capacity of 3,000 passengers. Some abridged passages from Futility:
She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men. In her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession, and trade known to civilization…Unsinkable – indestructible, she carried as few boats as would satisfy the laws. These, twenty-four in number, were securely covered and lashed down to their chocks on the upper deck, and if launched would hold five-hundred people. She carried no useless, cumbersome life rafts, but – because the law required it – each of the three thousand berths in the passengers’, officers’, and crew’s quarters contained a cork jacket…In view of the absolute superiority to other craft, a rule of navigation thoroughly believed in by some captains, but not yet openly followed, was announced by the steamship company to apply to the Titan. She would steam at full speed in fog, storm, and sunshine, and on the Northern Lane Route, winter and summer…at full speed she could be more easily steered out of danger, and…in case of an end-on collision with an iceberg – the only thing afloat that she could not conquer – her bows would be crushed in but a few feet further at full than at half speed, and at the most three compartments would be flooded – which would not matter with six more to spare… “Ice,’ yelled the lookout. “Ice ahead. Iceberg. Right under the bows.” The first officer ran amid-ships and the captain, who had remained there, sprang to the engine-room telegraph…in five seconds the bow of the Titan began to lift, and ahead, and on either hand, could be seen, through the fog, a field of ice, which arose in an incline to a hundred feet high in her track. The music in the theater ceased, and among the babel of shouts and cries, and the deafening noise of steel, scraping, and crashing over ice…
Had the impact been received by a perpendicular wall the elastic resistance of bending plates and frames would have overcome the momentum with no more damage to the passengers than a severe shaking up, and to the ship than the crushing in of her bows and the killing, to a man, of the watch below. She would have backed off, and slightly down by the head, finished the voyage at reduced speed to rebuild on insurance money, and benefit, largely in the end, by the consequent advertising of her indestructibility. But a low beach, possibly formed by the recent overturning of the berg, received the Titan, and with her keel cutting the ice like the steel runner of an iceboat, and her great weight resting on the starboard bilge, she rose out of the sea, higher and higher – until the propellers in the stern were half exposed – then meeting an easy, spiral rise in the ice under her port bow, she heeled, overbalanced, and crashed down on her side to starboard.
The similarities between the Titan and Titanic pretty much end with the collision, although it is believed that the Titanic, in addition to the impact being on a side of the ship, did strike a submerged portion of the iceberg with the bottom of the ship.
Before both Stead and Robertson wrote their stories, Celia Laighton Thaxter, a popular American poet who died 18 years before the Titanic went down, penned a poem called A Tryst, which described a ship going to its doom after hitting an iceberg in the “desolation of the North” while traveling at “utmost speed.” There were no survivors in Thaxter’s poem.
Were these stories by Stead, Robertson, and Thaxter mere coincidence or did they have some kind of Nostradamus-like ability to perceive the future in what was some form of subconscious “crystal vision” which they themselves did not understand? In Stead’s case, it seems clear that he did not foresee his death on a conscious level, but that he grasped it at the subconscious, or soul, level.
It is said that not long after the Titanic sinking, nearly everyone knew someone or that “someone” knew someone else who had booked passage or had considered booking passage on the Titanic, but for some unexplainable reason decided against it. They were saved by fate, by destiny, by their guardian angels, or by just plain luck. And so it is with many disasters. What ocean liner hasn’t had someone book passage and then cancel for one reason or another. If the person cancels because of a death in the family or because of a business conflict and the ship later meets with disaster, the person is left to wonder if someone was watching over him or her. Who is to say?
John Coffey, a 23-year-old stoker on the Titanic, reportedly jumped ship at Queenstown after starting out at Southampton. When later asked why, he said that he “held a foreboding” about the voyage. However, since he lived in Queenstown, it may very well have been that he had never intended to go beyond Queenstown and the premonition was just a convenient excuse for not fulfilling his obligation to be with the ship on its full voyage.
Coffey may have been one of three observed by Elizabeth Dowdell, a third-class passenger, jumping ship in Queenstown. “I have crossed the ocean several times and traveled quite some, but in all my experience I have never met such a combination of superstitious people as were found among the passengers of the Titanic,” Dowdell is quoted in an April 20, 1912 issue of the Hudson Dispatch. “We thought it but a joke at the time when arriving at Queenstown to have heard three sailors remark, they would not continue their contemplated voyage on board the Titanic, for they had a dreadful fear of some disaster. They got off at this stop and bade us farewell. But how true it was, after all. Oh, there are so many stories to relate that to me it seems as though I were in a dream.”
According to a report in the Washington Herald on April 18, 1912, Jacques Futrelle, an American novelist, had a premonition of tragedy two weeks before he and his wife, May, sailed. “Turn down a glass for me,” Futrelle wrote from Europe to a friend in Atlanta. He also sent his brother-in-law, John Peele, a power of attorney for the administration of their estate and provided him with a list of his bank accounts as well as directions relative to the care of their children.
May Futrelle survived in one of the life boats, but her Jacques perished. She detailed her experiences in her journal on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. It is not entirely clear from her writing whether the dreams she mentions were in advance of the sinking or after it, but they seem to have been foreboding dreams in which she had nightmares about Jacques, seeing his body struck at sea by a ghostly ship. “I could see a look of terror upon his face in detail that was quite unreal as no such clarity would be possible from such a distance, his body being hurled a hundred feet or more by the force of the bow wave of the ship,” she journaled. “And how could I witness this and still be standing on dry land when the body came back down? But such unreal things happen in dreams amidst a pervasive atmopshere of dread.”
Anna Ward, the personal maid and companion to Charlotte Cardeza, reportedly told her mother that she did not want to take another voyage across the ocean. “She feared that something was going to happen, although she could not tell what made her fear another voyage,” Mrs. J. W. Craig, her step-mother told the Evening Bulletin the day after the sinking. “We laughed at her and told her that her fear was groundless and she was persuaded to accompany Mrs. Cardeza. She said that it would be her last trip and it came pretty near being so.” Both Ward and Cardeza were among the survivors.
Emma Bucknell, the wife of the founder of Bucknell University, is said to have told fellow passengers, Mrs. J. J. Brown and Dr. Arthur Brewe, on the tender at Cherbourgh, while waiting for the Titanic that she feared boarding the ship because she had evil forebodings that something might happen. While boarding the lifeboat, Bucknell reminded Brown of her premonition.
An article appearing in the April 17 edition of the Washington Herald reported that Major Archibald Butt, an aid to President William Howard Taft, had, according to friends, several premonitions that “something terrible” was going to happen, although he was at a loss to explain it. He told his friends that he had never had such a feeling before. “His friends attributed these remarks to his unstrung nerves, and laughed them off. It was learned yesterday that Maj. Butt just before he sailed called three of his friends in and repeating these statements, asked them to witness his will.”
The mother of John Hume, the ship’s violinist, is said to have had a premonition that something would happen to him on the fatal voyage and pleaded with her son not to go. Hume laughed at his mother’s warnings, and, along with the other seven orchestra members, was a victim of the disaster.
On April 17, 1912, two days after the Titanic went down, J. Cannon Middleton wrote the following to the Society for Psychical Research:
It may be of some interest to you to learn that on the 23rd of March I booked passage to New York on the White Star liner ‘Titanic.’ About ten days before she sailed I dreamt that I saw her floating on the sea, and her passengers and crew swimming around her. Although I am not given to dreaming at all, I was rather impressed with this dream, but I disclosed it to no one, as my friends, besides my wife and family, knew that I was about to sail on the Titanic and I did not want to cause them any possible uneasiness. The following night, however, I had the very same dream, and I must admit that then I was somewhat uncomfortable about it. Still I said nothing to anyone and had all my trunks packed, business affairs arranged, and in fact had completed all my plans to sail on the 10th instant. I therefore cancelled my ticket, and then – that is more than a week before the sailing of the Titanic– I told my wife and several friends of the vivid dreams I had had on two consecutive nights. I may mention that previous to canceling my passage, I felt most depressed and even despondent, but ascribed this feeling to the fact of my having to leave England – homesickness, in fact! I may add that crossing the Atlantic is nothing new to me, as I have crossed a dozen times during the past years, and I never remember having any feeling of uneasiness when about to do so, or during the passage.
Middleton further mentioned that a business conflict arose and that gave him a good reason to postpone his voyage. An investigator for the Society for Psychical Research contacted the two friends, both of whom confirmed that they were told of Middleton’s dreams prior to the sailing of the Titanic on April 10.
Second-class passenger Lawrence Beesley, a teacher who survived, wrote a book soon after the sinking and dismissed the “superstitious beliefs” concerning the Titanic. “I suppose no ship ever left port with so much miserable nonsense showered on her,” he wrote. “In the first place, there is no doubt many people refused to sail on her because it was her maiden voyage, and this apparently is a common superstition. Even the clerk of the White Star office where I purchased my ticket admitted it was a reason that prevented people from sailing. A number of people have written to the press to say they had thought of sailing on her, or had decided to sail on her, but because of ‘omens’ canceled the passage. Many referred to the sister ship, the Olympic, pointed to the ‘ill luck’ that they say dogged her – her collision with the Hawke, and a second mishap necessitating repairs and a wait in harbor, where passengers deserted her; they prophesied even great disaster for the Titanic, saying they would not dream of traveling on the boat. Even some aboard were very nervous, in an undefined way. One lady said she had never wished to take this boat, but her friends had insisted and bought her ticket and she had not had a happy moment since.”
Beesley’s opinion aside, numerous veridical dreams have been documented with ship wrecks, seemingly a favorite subject of Stead’s books and articles. He related the true story of a father of a son who had sailed on the Strathmore, an emigrant ship. In a dream, the father saw the ship foundering in the sea and saw his son and others on a deserted island near the wreck. The father told the owner of the ship of his dream, but the owner shrugged it off. However, when the ship was long overdue in port, the owner requested that other ships keep a look-out for any survivors on a deserted island along the intended route. After some time, the survivors were found.
Stead also wrote about the sailing ship Persian Empire, which left Adelaide for London in 1868. One of the crew, Cleary by name, dreamed before starting the voyage that on Christmas morning as the ship was rounding Cape Horn in a heavy gale, he would be ordered to secure a boat hanging in davits over the side. While carrying out his orders with another crew both were washed over the side and drowned. Although somewhat reluctant to join the ship, he overcame his fears and sailed. On Christmas Eve, as the ship approached Cape Horn, he had much the same dream. The following day, the scene he had seen in his dream began to unfold and when he was ordered to secure a boat hanging in the davits, he refused. He was taken below to face the captain and told of his dream. However, the captain apparently convinced him that he should carry out his duty. In so doing, he was washed overboard and drowned.
And yet another sea story related by Stead took place in 1853 and involved the Inman steamship City of Glasgow, supposedly the finest ship afloat of her class and kind. The ship’s captain, Kenneth Morrison, was asked to depart Liverpool for Philadelphia, USA several days in advance of the scheduled departure date. One of the ship’s crew, Angus MacMaster was on leave for 20 days and was unaware of the early departure date. As Morrison had taken a liking to MacMaster, who also served as Morrison’s valet and entertained the crew with his violin, he asked his brother-in-law, the Rev. Alexander Stewart, who lived near where MacMaster was visiting, to summon MacMaster and advise him of the early departure. “To my astonishment,” Stewart told Stead, “Angus replied, ‘I am not going in the City of Glasgow – at least, not on this voyage – and I wish you could persuade Captain Morrison – the best and kindest master ever man had – not to go either.’” When Stewart asked for an explanation, MacMaster replied in his Gaelic dialect, “Well, sir, you must not be angry with me if I tell you that on the last three nights my father, who has been dead nine years, as you know, has appeared to me and warned me not to go on this voyage, for that it will prove disastrous. Whether in dream or waking vision of the night, I cannot say, but I saw him, sir, as distinctly as I now see you, clothed exactly as I remember him in life; and he stood by my bedside, and with up-lifted hand and warning finger, and with a most solemn and earnest expression of countenance, he said, ‘Angus, my beloved son, don’t go on this voyage. It will not be a prosperous one.’”
Stewart informed the captain of MacMaster’s decision and the ship sailed without him. The ship was never heard of again and it was the opinion of the maritime commission that it came into contact with an iceberg and went down with all aboard. Stewart added that MacMaster was a Catholic and that Father Macdonald, his priest, told him (Stewart) that MacMaster communicated his dreams to him as well, precisely in the same terms as told to Stewart.
Warnings from the dead were also reported with Great Britain’s giant airship R-101, which crashed in France on its maiden overseas voyage, on October 5, 1930. The R-101, a dirigible, was the largest airship ever built at that time. A little more than a year before its October 4th departure, warnings about the fate of the R-101 started coming through the mediumship of Eileen Garrett, a renowned Irish medium, from Captain Raymond Hinchliffe, who died when his plane was lost at sea during March 1928. (See following chapter for more on Hinchliffe.) “I do not want them to have the same fate that I had, as Johnston (the R-101 navigator) was a good friend of mine,” Hinchliffe told his wife, Emilie, through Garrett. Emilie informed Captain John Morkham, her husband’s good friend, of the messages. Morkham had come to believe that the messages from Hinchliffe were real as he had concluded that the technical language was beyond either Mrs. Garrett or Emilie. Morkham informed Johnston, but Johnston laughed it off.
“There will be an accident,” Hinchliffe related at a later sitting. “I have seen Leslie Hamilton, and he agrees with me.” Hamilton was a friend of Hinchliffe’s who had been killed in a trans-Atlantic attempt during August 1927.
A similar warning from a “dead” pilot came to Stead to pass on to another pilot, Prince Serge de Bolotoff, who was to give a demonstration of his tri-plane at Chalons two days later. Stead was to cover the event as a journalist. While Stead and others were sitting with a clairvoyant, the clairvoyant said, ‘I hear another voice speaking.’ The voice then told Stead that “If you go to Chalons I will go with you.”
Stead asked who was communicating. “I have been dead some time,” came the response. My name is Lefevbre. Eugene Lefevbre was a stunt pilot who was killed on September 7, 1909, the first person to die while piloting a powered airplane. However, neither Stead nor the others sitting in the circle recognized his name at first. Another spirit began communicating and it was not until the next day that Lefevbre returned. By that time, Stead had figured out who this communicator might be. The dialogue recorded after that was:
Stead: “Ask Lefevbre if he was the man who was killed in the aeroplane accident.”
Lefevbre: “Yes, I thought you knew it.” (Stead had been abroad at the time and was unaware of Lefevbre’s death.)
Stead: “You can communicate directly with me. Do you understand English?”
Lefevbre: “No, not much; but I transmit my thoughts to the medium and he translates them into English.”
Stead: “What was it that caused your rapid fall?”
Lefevbre: “I did not have time to think. You scarcely have time to reflect when you fall.”
Stead: “In your rapid fall did you keep your presence of mind?”
Lefevbre: “This is what I felt. I was conscious that I was falling, but before touching the ground I had lost consciousness. I felt no pain nor any sensation in my physical body. It seemed to me that my spirit was projected out of it. I had a sensation of rapid rotation, then something gave way suddenly, and I found myself in the air, seeing beneath my mortal remains and the machine. It was not disagreeable. I observed too that a being who was very powerful and who calmed me was near me.”
Lefevbre asked Stead to warn Bolotoff that his motor would not work properly. Stead so warned Bolotoff. Bolotoff tested the motor and found nothing wrong with it and then took his seat in the aircraft. However, the motor would not then start and the starting handle broke. The demonstration flight was then abandoned.
One of the best documented stories of a precognitive dream is that of President Abraham Lincoln, who foresaw his own death by assassination about a month after the dream. But not all such stories are 100-200 years old. In her intriguing 2010 book, Messages, Bonnie McEneaney, the wife of one of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks during 2001, tells of her husband having some kind of subconscious premonitions that his days were numbered. A week before the attack on the World Trade Center, Eamon McEneaney told Bonnie that he expected to die young and in the weeks preceding the attacks he seemed to have a sense that something monumental was imminent.
Monica Iken, the wife of Michael Patrick Iken, another 9/11 victim, told McEneaney that her husband began acting a little strangely during the summer of 2001. When they received an invitation for a December wedding, Michael told Monica that he couldn’t see himself being there. Around September 1, Michael’s behavior became even more abnormal. When, on September 10, Monica told Michael that she was planning to visit a sick family member in New York City the following day, Michael became upset and told her not to go to the city that day.
Bonnie McEneaney further tells of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader who died in the attack. His friends and family noticed that he began acting very strangely during the summer of 2001. He was described by friends and family as being “depressed,” and “restless,” and, on Labor Day, his mother remembered that he seemed very “melancholy,” which was not characteristic of him.
A woman named Lorraine told McEneaney that she had a dream a week or so before 9/11 that seemed to suggest that her husband, Bill, would meet with a tragedy. She didn’t tell her husband about the dream, but she also observed that Bill’s behavior and attitude the weekend before 9/11 were very different from what they normally were.
Sir William Barrett, a professor of physics at the Royal College in Dublin, Ireland, reported the case of a Captain MacGowan, who told him that, in 1877, he had promised to take his two sons to the theater in Brooklyn on a certain evening and had purchased advance tickets, but on the morning of the appointed day he heard an inner voice which repeated insistently, “Don’t go to the theater; take your sons back to school.” MacGowan attempted to distract himself, but the voice continued, repeating the same words over and over. He knew his sons would be disappointed if he were to cancel their theater plans. He explained to Barrett that the inner voice sounded “as if some one had really been speaking from the inside of the body,” and that it persisted from breakfast-time up to the moment he took his children to New York. One hour before the play was to begin, MacGowan informed his sons that they would not attend. As it turned out, the theater was entirely destroyed by fire that night and 305 perished.
“I have never in my life had another presentiment, and I have not the habit of changing my mind without good reason, and on this occasion I did it with the greatest reluctance, quite in spite of myself,” MacGowan told Barrett.
A Lisa Williams TV show of two or three years ago featured the parents of an 11-year-old boy who was killed in a boating accident off Waikiki in Hawaii. There was much evidential information passed on through Williams, a clairvoyant medium, to the parents, including the fact verified by his father that he did not want to go on the boat but was more or less forced into it by the parents. Williams told the parents that their son knew beforehand that he was going to die soon. When Williams mentioned this, the mother told her that after they returned home following their son’s death, they found that their son left a message for them that he expected to be dying soon and looked forward to seeing his parents after they crossed over.
There are countless stories similar to those mentioned here, all suggesting that the soul, or the higher self, becomes aware of the fact that it will soon depart the earth plane.
In some cases, however, it is not person who is about to be affected who experiences it, but another person. It may come from an “inner voice,” from a dream, or from a “spirit” of the dead. It might be called a “premonition,” “presentiment,” “precognition,” “prevision” “second sight,” “clairvoyance,” “inner vision,” “crystal vision” “extra-sensory perception” or some other name. These various terms take on different meanings with some psychical researchers and psychologists and may overlap or be completely synonymous in some cases. Clearly, they are not unique to the Titanic. There are indications that the more spiritually evolved the person, the greater the awareness. We don’t hear about as many of them today as we did a hundred years ago, probably because modern writers and reporters are too skeptical, too cynical, too proud, too ignorant, or too fearful when it comes to reporting them, or people who experience them are reluctant for one of the same reasons to tell others of them.
It is unlikely that anyone collected more accounts of such premonitions and related stories than Camille Flammarion, a pioneering French astronomer, who documented many of them in a 1922 book, Death and Its Mystery. “In these accounts there is no imagination, nor illusion, nor trickery, Flammarion wrote. “They are as exact as a meterological or an astronomical observation. These studies have the rights of citizenship in science.”
There were those who were unable to reconcile free will with seeing the future. “We can admit the premonitory sight of the future without compromising, for all that, the principle of free will and of human responsibility,” Flammarion responded to them. “The present never stops: it is constantly continued by the future. Something will always happen; it is not inevitable for all that, if it is granted that the human will forms a part of the chain of events, and that this will enjoy a relative liberty; what it decides becomes real, but it might not have decided; the future is the succession of the past. This fact does not all prevent us from admitting that the human will is one of the causes of action in events. Something else might have happened than what did happen, and it is the other thing which would be seen in premonitions.”
“Premonitions of Disaster & Death” is an extract from Transcending the Titanic: Beyond Death’s Door by Michael Tymn