1884, October: The Death of Richard Parker

In 1884, four sailors -- Thomas Dudley, Edward Brooks, Edwin Stephens, and Richard Parker -- were commissioned to deliver a yacht to Australia, but they ran into foul weather and only barely escaped from the yacht as it sank. Trapped in a lifeboat, the men survived for eighteen days on meager rations... but it wasn't enough.

        On the nineteenth day it was decided that Richard Parker, who was the youngest of the crew at just 19 years of age, and who was also in the poorest health because he had been drinking sea water for several days, should be killed to provide meat for the remaining men on the lifeboat. This proposal was carried out; and with this gruesome sustenance, the remaining three men barely lived to be rescued five days later. They were helped aboard the rescue ship because they didn't have the energy to move on their own, and were described in the press as "living skeletons."

        It was only after this dread occurrence reached newspapers that a startling coincidence was realized.

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, ca. 1849. [Larger version here]

        In 1838, forty-six years earlier, American author Edgar Allan Poe [1809-1849] had published his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gorden Pym, a fictional tale following the adventures of Pym as he traveled through Antarctic waters.

        At one point in the novel, Pym is one of four men stranded in a lifeboat and starving. Sixteen days into this trial, one of the men proposes that one of them must die to preserve the others. Lots are made, and it is agreed that the man who draws the short straw will be the one to die. Ironically, it is the very man who argued first for cannibalism who draws the short straw and becomes the victim... his name was Richard Parker.

        As if Edgar Allan Poe wasn't creepy enough.

This One Happened

        I run into a lot -- A LOT -- of coincidence/prophecy stories that evaporate when the actual details are checked; not so in this case!

        Though the individual details of the tragedies don't entirely match up -- which is why this account is often reduced to almost one sentence in re-tellings -- the central coincidence of the situation and names is remarkable... and if a skeptic is likely to say it was inevitable that a similar accident would turn up, then let them explain why something so inevitable hasn't yet happened again.

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