1907, January 19 (pre.): A Chicago Visit

The Progressive Thinker was a weekly newspaper devoted to following the latest regarding the sorts of strange things that interested English Victorian spiritualists... tales of ghosts, premonitions, and all things that would generally be considered 'psychic' phenomena. In the January 19, 1907, edition of the paper, they presented a strange tale borrowed from the American Reveille, newspaper of Bellingham, Washington (and a source that I can't get unless I go to Washington!).

        The account states that a young woman who was "prominant in educational work in the state" of Washington had told a group of associates about an inexplicable set of events she had experienced. By implication, it would seem that a reporter then asked her about the events after being informed of them by one of the previous associates. This young woman shared her story with the reporter but wished to remain anonymous, and so was only identified by her maiden name of Miss Gray.

        Miss Gray, described as "a most matter-of-fact and practical character" with no belief in visions or prophecies, explained that a few years previously she had been on a visit to Chicago, Illinois, USA. She planned on visiting a new department store while there, but had the most odd experience the night before; and it was clear that Miss Gray herself wanted to believe it was just a dream.

        She recalled waking suddenly in the night with a strange sense of foreboding. In looking around the room, she discovered a man she didn't know -- but also felt she somehow recognized -- was sitting on the sill of her window. Unsure why she did it, Miss Gray reacted by jumping out of bed and running towards the window. The man, keeping his gaze on her, slid back off the sill and dropped outside... her room was on the second story, and it was a straight drop from there to the ground. Yet when she reached the window, it was not a man sprawled on the pavement she saw; it was a hearse.

        The hearse was under the lamp in front of the house, fully illuminated. The man who had dropped out of the window now sat in the driver's box of the hearse, staring starit back at Miss Gray. His face was brightly lit up, and his features etched themselves into her memory as he beckoned to her to come to the hearse. Apparently, this vision vanished shortly after, as Miss Gray then explained that she'd been terribly frightened and took hours to get back to sleep.

        She could still not forget the 'dream' the next morning and, a bit angry with herself for not being able to forget about it, she decided to just follow her preplanned day and go shopping at the new department store. This did help, as her interest in exploring the store won out over the creepy memory, and soon she was enjoying the experience. Having made some purchases at the fourth floor, she remembered some items she wanted to look at again on the first floor, so headed for the elevators. The available elevator was so crowded that she feared she'd have to wait for the next one; but then the elevator operator said sharply to her "One more."

        She looked at the elevator man as he beckoned her to join the elevator, his face brightly lit by the light in the car... it was the same man who she had seen beckoning her to come to the hearse.

        Miss Gray instantly shrank away from the now horrifically real man; seeing her hesitation to board, he slammed shut the door of the car. It started down... then stuck.

        Then fell the four stories to the bottom.

        Two people were killed,and everyone else was injured.

        Miss Gray never really tried to understand what had happened that day; she was just grateful that it had apparently saved her. When pressed to see if it changed her mind on strange matters, she replied that she felt it was just a case of  "mince pie for supper and a remarkable coincidence..." or, as she also phrased it "indigestible food and a wonderful resemblance in faces."

A Curious Pattern

        The article is strangely conversational in presentation, as if Miss Gray was essentially talking to the reader. This might indicate that the reporter simply transcribed her story as they had heard it; or it might indicate the reporter created the story to begin with. There's no real proof one way or the other, but it makes me wary.

        The story appeared a month later in the magazine Light, another spiritualist magazine... but in this presentation, the story was trimmed down to just the essential elements, so the detail that "Miss Gray" was not actually the young woman's name wasn't mentioned.

        The general story of "face remembered, deadly elevator avoided" has turned up at least two more times: another version in an 1892 issue of Light magazine (yep, the same magazine that copied this story), and a more famous version as an event that occurred to the English diplomat, Lord Dufferin, around 1878. So is this an event that was just repeatedly happening in the late 1800's and early 1900's? Or was it just a good story making the rounds? Judge for yourself by following the 'See Also' links below.