Ghosts of Living People: The Strange Experiences of W.T Stead
The Penny Pictorial (November 18, 1913)
In Miss Estelle Stead’s book, entitled “My Father,” there is a chapter telling of some very remarkable cases of “doubles,” or ghosts, of living people. Miss Stead quotes her father, from an account of his experiences written some time ago, as follows:
“A friend of mine, then living down near Hindhead, claimed to possess the faculty of projecting her phantasmal double, sometimes voluntarily, and sometimes without any conscious exercise of volition. It is by the aid of the double, and by automatic handwriting with living persons, that there seems to me the best chance of solving the abysmal mystery of personality.
“Ghosts of the dead are important, no doubt, but they are from the Other Side, and often seem to experience great difficulty in translating their thoughts into the language of earth, and not less difficulty in adjusting their fitful apparitions to the necessities of the psychical researcher.
“But with the double it is different, for there is no chasm to be bridged in its case between the living and the dead, and with automatic communications from the living, when all allowance has been made for disturbing influences, cross currents, and the intruding influence of the medium’s consciousness, it affords by far the best clue to the mysterious, subconscious region in which most of the phenomena of the Borderland either arise or come into our knowledge.”
Mr. Stead himself only saw two “doubles” which he proved satisfactorily to himself as having been authentic cases. One was the case of Mrs. F., whom he saw as he was walking down Norfolk Street to his office at Mowbray House. She was walking briskly in front of him, apparently going to the office.
“Mrs. F.,” he says, “had a marked individuality carried to extreme originality. She could not be easily mistaken for anyone else. There is only one Mrs. F. in London.
“I was considerably behind with my correspondence. ‘Bother the woman!’ was my unspoken thought. ‘I’ll just run up to her and tell her I cannot see her to-day. I am too busy, and my correspondence is waiting.’ I half -quickened my step, when I checked myself. She had been ill, it would seem unkind, now she had travelled all the way down to the office, to refuse to see her. So I thought, ‘I will catch up to her at the foot of the stairs, and explain that I can only see her for a minute’. All this time she was walking a few paces ahead of me. I saw her as distinctly as I ever I saw anyone in my life. There was absolutely no possibility of my having mistaken her for another woman.
“‘My word, my lady,’ I thought to myself, as I saw her quick springing step up the steps, and noted the smart business-like toss of her chin in the air, ‘you have recovered and no mistake. You are more like a girl of eighteen than an invalid of over thirty.’”
When he entered the office he found only the lift boy and no trace of Mrs. F., who, the boy told him, had been there, but left half an hour before, and he was certain she had not been in since. Having searched in vain all over the office for Mrs. F., he wrote her the following letter:
“November 21th. 1892. ” Dear Mrs. F.,— I am sorry to have missed you this afternoon, and I am the more so because your double seems to have come back when you had left. I returned about twenty-five minute past three, and as I got half-way down Norfolk Street I saw you in front of me. I quickened my steps to catch up to you, but you got into the door before I could get within more than about thirty or forty yards. You went into the place with your usual quick step, and I thought to myself, ‘Now, when I see Mrs. F, I will chaff her about being so extremely well that she can walk as briskly as ever she did when she was a young girl.’ When I got in I expected to find you just going upstairs, or standing by the lift door; but you were not in either of these places, so I took the lift, expecting to see you when I reached the top, or that I would catch you on the stairhead and, behold, I found that you had gone. Now, are you conscious of having come back, double or otherwise, or am I beginning to be clairvoyant or not?”
“To this I received,” says Mr. Stead, “by return of post, a reply that at the time mentioned she was opposite Holborn Town Hall, about a mile from the office, for she looked up at the clock and noted that it was just half-past three. She was then thinking of a parcel she had left in my office, and was wishing she could go back to get it.
“Collateral evidence as to my making inquiries of the office-boys, of my stenographer, and other persons in the office, can be adduced, but I don’t think my readers will deem it necessary. The case rests upon the evidence of one percipient—viz., myself—and the testimony of the person seen as to her whereabouts at the moment of the vision of the double. If either of us is lying, or under a hallucination, then this story must be dismissed. But otherwise?”
The second case occurred on September 20th, when he saw the double of a friend, a Mrs. A., at the evening service at the Congregational Church at Wimbledon—not only he himself, but (says Miss Stead) I saw her, as well as the clergyman and the deacons. She was at the time ill in bed in her own house at a distant part of London. She entered after the service had commenced, and took her seat near the front, at about five minutes past seven, and remained till half-past eight. She was offered a book and refused it. She left before the congregation. Father, seeing her leave, hurried down from the gallery, where he was sitting, to speak to her and ask her why it was she had come so far when she was so ill, and to take her to the train.
When he got out he could find her nowhere—went to the station and looked everywhere, but could find no trace of her. Wednesday morning he received a letter from her about some MSS., and telling how ill she had been on Sunday, but no mention of coming to chapel. So he cycled over after lunch to make inquiries, and found her very ill and weak, and heard, to his surprise, she had not been out all day on Sunday. In the afternoon, she had been ill with spasms. The doctor came to see her between five and six, and ordered her to go to bed. Her servants and a relative saw her in bed between six and seven, and again saw her asleep about nine, when she awoke and finished writing a letter to father, telling of her illness.
He collected all the evidence carefully, and proved that it was impossible for Mrs. A. to have gone from her house in any normal way to such a distant part of London, and returned to her house and bed between the times she was seen there. He proved absolutely that if it were not a case of a double, it could not possibly be accounted for by any of the usual explanations.
“Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace,” he says, “suggested that there is another explanation which, although not usual, may nevertheless be the key to the mystery. He advanced the theory that Mrs. A. may have been instantaneously levitated across London in proper person as was Mrs. Guppy.”
However it was done, it had been proved to father that it was possible for it person lying ill in one place to appear several miles distant in another place, apparently as material and physical as these who saw her.
My father was always ready and anxious to give people a hearing who claimed to have any manifestations of the sixth sense—and a fair chance of proving their powers. He looked on mediumship as a precious gift.
“Mediums,” he once wrote,” are among the most valuable members of the community. They are like a seeing man in the world of the blind. They need to be sought for as hidden treasure, and preserved and cared for as the only instruments by which it is possible successfully to undertake the exploration of the other world. Instead of which, they are, as a rule, sneered at, derided, and treated as if they were knaves and liars. Sometimes they are thrown into gaol, and everything, in short, that collective society can do to discourage the development of mediumship is being done, and has been done for many years. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that good mediums are few and far between. I hope, however, that with increasing intelligence, the growth of the scientific spirit, and the decay of superstition in spiritualism; these individuals who are so much more highly evolved than the rest of their fellows as to be able to see what is invisible and inaudible to the majority of men, may be discovered in increasing numbers.”