The Girl in the Fire

On the night of November 19, 1995, a fire broke out at the Town Hall in the village of Wem, not far from Shrewsbury, Shropshire. The building was engulfed in flame when a local man named Tony O’Rahilly stood across the road and snapped a photo of the front entrance, capturing what is inarguably one of the eeriest ghost images of all time.

In the developed black and white photo, a young girl is standing behind a railing, inside the burning building. A loose, slightly old-fashioned white dress falls to her knees. She gazes out into the night with an unreadable expression, seeming to stare directly at the camera.
O’Rahilly and villagers who were standing near him when the photo was taken claimed they didn’t see the girl at all, and by all accounts there was no one inside the Town Hall as it burned. O’Rahilly denied any trickery. Dr. Vernon Harrison, a former president of the Royal Photographic Society, concluded the image had not been doctored after examining the photo and its negative. Like many skeptics, however, he surmised that the “girl” could be an optical illusion created by smoke and shadow.
Experts at the National Museum of Photography declared the photo a fake.

Others considered O’Rahilly’s photo evidence of the afterlife, and set to work figuring out who the girl in the fire could be. Some came to believe she was 15-year-old Jane Churm, the girl responsible for accidentally started another famous fire in Wem in the year 1677. On the night of November 3, Jane set the thatched roof of her home on fire by carelessly placing a candle too close to it. As it was dry and windy, the flames spread rapidly and devoured numerous other cottages in Wem. One man tried to hide beneath his house, and it collapsed on top of him.
Now, more than three centuries later, Jane had returned to Wem to haunt another fire.

For the past 15 years, the girl in the fire has appeared on virtually every list of the most chilling, and the most convincing, ghost photos. Wem even added “Ghost Town” to its sign.

In May of this year, the Shropshire Star newspaper included a 1922 Wem postcard in its “Pictures of the Past” feature. The black and white photo showed a street lined with shops, and outside one of those shops stands a solemn young girl in a loose-fitting white dress and a frilled white bonnet. She looked much like the girl in the fire. Reader Brian Lear of Shrewsbury alerted the paper to this eerie resemblance, which turned out to be more than coincidental: Both the girl in the fire and the girl in the postcard wear black neckties of exactly the same width and length, the blouses of their dresses are wrinkled near their waists in precisely the same spot, the frills of their bonnets cover their hair in the same places, and their faces are identical.

As an overlay demonstration by computer programmer Richard Deeson shows, the two pictures are the same.

But why the photo was faked may forever remain a mystery. Tony O’Rahilly died in 2005.

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup: Time Travel Photos, and Other Worthless Things

  • Irish filmmaker George Clarke has found a “time traveler” in 1928 film footage of the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. A woman in a fur coat approaches Grauman’s Chinese Theater with a cell phone clutched to her ear! Well, sort of. You can’t actually see what’s in her hand. At all. But in Clarke’s video, you can see a poster for one of Clarke’s films, as well as his production company logo. Hmm. (I have to wonder why any time traveler would carefully don era-appropriate clothing, yet yak on a future phone in a very public place right in front of a film crew. Also, how was she getting service?) (via Disclose TV)
  • Clarke’s cell phone lady is similar to the mohawk time traveler photo that circulated last month, and the “time-traveling hipster” from last spring. They’re more interesting than the photo of Jesus’ crucifixion, but not much more convincing when it comes to time travel. Unflattering haircuts and beards have existed for a long time, folks.
  • Octo-coverup: The untimely demise of Paul the psychic octopus may be more than it seems… Stew, anyone?
  • Over the years, there have been many weird hoaxes involving the collection of worthless objects for some worthy cause. Back in the ’30s, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania boy named Earl Baker saved up thousands of matchbox covers in the belief they would be used to procure an artificial leg, because a stranger had told him so. In this decade, hoaxes about raising money for wheelchairs, chemotherapy, and surgery by saving things like bottlecaps and potato-chip bags continue to circulate. ( has collected an astonishing number of these hoaxes, and Snopes has unearthed a few more.)
  • And the already-sad Randy Quaid arrest story gets even sadder, with Quaid and wife Evi claiming that a Hollywood assassination squad is gunning for them.

Hoaxes From Space: Time Travel Hoaxes?

The following stories may or may not be hoaxes (with the exception of the last one, which is almost definitely a hoax), but they’re worth mention in this series because they involve claims of time travel or time superimposition that are really freaking bizarre.

Doing the Time Warp at Versailles

In August 1901, two English schoolmarms traveled to Paris. Like countless tourists before and after them, they ended up at Versailles. They gawked and chattered their way to the Petit Trianon, enjoying the mild weather and wondering what they would have for tea.

Yawn. None of this would be worth mentioning if, several months later, these two spinsters hadn’t agreed that there had been something not quite right about the Petit Trianon on that summer day.

Charlotte Moberly, 55, was the first principal of St. Hugh’s College, a women’s university at Oxford. Eleanor Jourdain, 37, taught at the college. Though they weren’t close friends, both were spinsters with a fondness for travel, so they agreed to share their summer holiday. Neither had ever been to Versailles.
Their visit to the palace grounds was perfectly ordinary until they began walking down a narrow, tree-shaded path between Marie Antoinette’s theatre and the little teahouse known as the Belvedere. Though they didn’t know it at the time, this shadowed pathway had been destroyed immediately after Marie Antoinette’s execution in 1794.
En route to the Petit Trianon, the ladies took a wrong turn. They found themselves on a little lane bordered by trees, meadows, and quaint farm buildings. A woman was shaking a cloth out the window of a little cottage. As they continued, the atmosphere become strangely oppressive. Miss Moberly noted a peculiar stillness in the air, as though the trees around them had transformed into “a wood worked in tapestry”. They saw several men they assumed to be gardeners, though they were all wearing long coats and tri-cornered hats for no apparent reason. Soon they came to a gazebo surrounded by untended grass. A man sat on the ground nearby, wearing a cloak and a large hat that shaded his rough, “repulsive” complexion. Neither woman dared ask him for directions to the Petit Trianon.
Miss Moberly intuitively sensed that they shouldn’t take the path on their left, and this was confirmed seconds later when a young man in a sombrero burst out of the trees and told them to take the path on their right.
Turning right, the ladies passed over a small, rustic bridge over a little ravine. On the other side, beside a meadow, they finally reached the little square country house that was the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s beloved refuge from court life. A woman was sketching in the English-style garden. She wore a shady hat over her fluffy, fair hair and an unusual summer dress with a low-cut bodice and very full skirt – not at all the style in the summer of 1901.
To their disappointment, a wedding party was already touring the house and they would not be able to enter it. They took a little carriage back to the Hotel des Reservoirs and had their tea.

Months later, as they discussed their visit to the Petit Trianon, Miss Jourdain mentioned that she hadn’t seen the sketching lady. They also shared their impressions of the “dreamy oppressiveness” they experienced on the lane that led to the house. This spurred them to compare notes and do some research. They reached this conclusion: “The result of this showed us that everything we had described by word and in writing before the research began was in agreement with the conditions of the place in 1789, many of which had not persisted later than that date.” The odd-looking clothes worn by the eight people they had seen were typical morning dress in 1789. The woods, the bridge, and the grotto with its little waterfall no longer existed.
They concluded that the sinister-looking man near the gazebo had been the spectre of the Comte de Vaudreuil, a smallpox-scarred Creole friend of the queen. Later, Miss Moberly recognized the fair-haired sketching woman from a picture drawn by Wertmuller – it was Marie Antoinette herself.
They were able to account for all of the phantom scenery they had seen; it existed in 1789. But the little rustic bridge was not featured in any of the maps or descriptions they studied.
Then, years later, they learned that in 1903 the hand-drawn map of the architect who had designed the gardens around the Petit Trianon, Richard Mique, was discovered stashed away in the chimney of a house in Montmorency, once the residence of Rousseau. How it ended up there no one knew, but the map showed the little bridge just where Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain recalled crossing it in 1901 – over a century after it was destroyed.

Despite the ladies’ sterling academic reputations, the world of paranormal research was not impressed. In 1950, W.H. Salter of the Society for Psychical Research re-examined their notes and compared them to their published account of the adventure, and he concluded they had gleaned the details not from their 1901 visit, but from historical research. Everything they documented was already known to history and available to any diligent researcher.
Since then, numerous academics have tackled the adventure at Versailles, offering a rainbow of intriguing theories without really getting to the bottom of what happened.

Ivan Sanderson Visits France

We’ll be running into Ivan T. Sanderson again in the story of the Philadelphia Experiment; he claimed that his friend Morris K. Jessup feared for his safety towards the end of his life. But for now, let’s look at Sanderson’s own enigmatic brush with time travel.
The first thing you should know about him is that even though Sanderson was a pre-eminent, well-respected naturalist and author in his day, he was also into a lot of seriously weird stuff. He coined the word “cryptozoology“, and perhaps the name “Bermuda Triangle”. He identified the diet of the Yeti, photographed “rods” many years before Jose Escamilla discovered them, investigated the Flatwoods UFO case, witnessed poltergeist activity in Sumatra, and gave his stamp of approval to the Patterson-Gimlin film. Most notoriously, as recounted in Mike Dash’s Borderlands, he concluded that huge three-toed tracks found on a beach in Clearwater, Florida, in 1948 had probably been made by a giant penguin driven from its natural habitat by some unknown catastrophe. In 1988, 15 years after Sanderson’s death, a local man admitted that he and a friend had made the tracks with a pair of cast-iron boots they constructed.

Yet in his book More “Things” (Pyramid Books, 1969), Sanderson had the chutzpah to claim he had never taken any interest in the occult, because he was far too busy trying to keep up with the more pragmatic facts of life. So you might want to go ahead and take the following story with a grain of salt roughly the size of Utah.

The setting is Haiti in the 1930s. Sanderson was conducting a biological survey there, living in the village of Pont Beudet. One night he, his wife Alma, and his assistant Fred decided to drive to Lake Azuei in the Sandersons‘ car. When it became hopelessly mired in the mud of an unpaved road, they had to continue on foot in the moonlight. Fred trudged ahead of the couple.
Suddenly, the Sandersons found themselves on what appeared to be the main street of a very peculiar village. It was a cobblestoned street, lined with Elizabethan buildings lit by lanterns and candles. Strangely, even though the place was strongly reminiscent of sixteenth-century England, both Sandersons were certain that the village was actually French. They noted an odd stillness in the air, and began to feel dizzy.
As soon as Fred (oblivious to the time slip) noticed the Sandersons were in a daze far behind him, he backtracked and offered them cigarettes. That’s when the village vanished, never to be seen again.

Whitley Strieber‘s Drive Through Nowhere

As if it’s not strange enough to be be abducted by aliens umpteen times and to meditate nightly with alien houseguests, author Whitley Strieber has experienced several “time slips” and even met up with time travelers. Most of his time slips involved visions of the past, but he has also spontaneously traveled into the future on at least one occasion. So has his psychic friend Starfire Tor.
The most notable time slip Strieber has discussed publicly occurred sometime before he wrote his third book on his alien abduction experiences, sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s. He was driving one of his young son’s friends from his cabin in upstate New York to a diner on Route 17 in New Jersey. They had made this trip many times before, as the boy often stayed with the Steribers and was usually driven back to New York City by his father. The diner was their usual meeting place. To reach it, Strieber took a certain exit ramp and backtracked several hundred yards. In this part of New Jersey Route 17 is lined with strip malls and fast food joints, so the scenery was mundane and very familiar to Strieber and his son’s friend.

On this occasion, a cloudy day, Strieber and the boy spotted the father’s vehicle in the parking lot of the diner as they drove past towards the exit ramp. But when Strieber took what he thought was his usual exit, he found himself on an entirely unfamiliar highway. Unlike 17, it was deserted and eerily quiet – not a vehicle or business in sight. Tall concrete walls flanked either side of this highway for a short distance. They ended up on a silent residential street shadowed by a canopy of trees. Just like the strange highway, the place was devoid of life. Not one resident was walking the dog or tending to the large, immaculate lawns. Weirdly, the day had become sunny in a matter of seconds.
The houses were the spookiest part. Single-story and boxlike, made of tan stone, two of the dwellings had enormous snake designs carved into their facades.
Strieber and the boy became deeply uneasy. They reached another exit leading to an ordinary, busy highway – but instead of Route 17, it was Route 80, an estimated twenty-minute drive from the diner. They had been in the serpent house neighborhood for far less than twenty minutes.

Later, after searching the area thoroughly, Strieber realized the bizarre neighborhood didn’t exist. Neither did the exit that led him to Route 80. The boy and his father also searched for the street in vain. Strieber feels that he and his son’s friend were spontaneously dropped into the future.

Dr. Bruce Goldberg: On a Clear Day You Can See Whatever

We’ve all heard about past life regression. A housewife goes to a hypnotherapist to help her quit smoking or something, and the next thing you know she’s recalling her previous incarnation as an Irish chick who just happens to be a lot like her old neighbor, or as Garth Brooks’ wife, or as Superman. But you may not have heard about future life progression. That’s the specialty of Dr. Bruce Goldberg.
Piecing together the stories of numerous patients who have undergone future life progression, Goldberg has come up with a road map of the near future, and it looks something like this:

Beginning in this century, humanity will experience a Jesus jump of unprecedented peace, health, and technological advancement. War will be nonexistent for at least 300 years. By the 25th century, all diseases will be nearly eradicated and you’ll be able to learn anything you need to know simply by swallowing a “knowledge pill”. Apparently, most people will live and work in communal, self-sustaining biospheres within huge glass pyramids. At death, they can transfer their consciousnesses to computers.
Of course, this technically isn’t time travel, because Goldberg’s patients don’t go anywhere. They just sit in a comfortable chair and pay him money.

The Famous Manuscript of John Palifox Key

In 2001, a woman posted a time-slip story at She described driving through a state in the northern U.S. and inexplicably being transported to a jungle land populated by intelligent, bi-pedal lizards and gnome-like humanoids that were harvesting triangular fruit. “I swear this is a true story…”

Soon, a user by the names of Jon Grantly and Ferabo began posting intriguing responses to the story. He referred the woman to the “famous manuscript” of John Palifox Key, titled Proofs of My Return. He wrote, “Everything in your story matches what Key and others (Jacques Bergier, Serge Hutin, etc.) indicate for a doorway into another realm… Those of us interested in this phenomena, and we are many, know of a quite famous–or at least often reported–portal in a remote area of the state of Michigan, so if by chance you were in Montmorency County, Michigan, you’re experience [sic] is doubly validated. If you can, read John Palifox Key, and let me know where you were.”
In other comments, he offered information about two more portals located in Colorado.

Another user (or more likely, “Jon Grantly” using another identity) chimed in with this: “I can’t believe someone is still passing around the manuscript of John Palifox Key (or reading Serge Hutin, for that matter). Let me know where you found it. You know that about 8 years ago there was a movement to destroy every last copy. Some think it’s dangerous. ”

Maybe it would be dangerous, if it existed. To this day, unwitting anomalists are scouring antiquarian booksellers for this “famous” manuscript, and searching in vain for any evidence that someone by the name of John Palifox Key ever existed in this space-time continuum. Maybe Mr. Grantly can fill us in when he returns from Uqbar.

Hoaxes From Space: Time Travel Hoaxes, Part I

A Photo of Jesus

On May 2, 1972, the magazine La Domenica del Corriere (basically the Italian equivalent of Parade) published a picture of Jesus Christ (above, left). This wouldn’t be a big deal, except the picture was supposedly a photo.
And it had been taken by a living monk, Benedictine scholar Pellegrino Ernetti of Venice. Various sources have referred to him as a musicologist, an exorcist, a quantum physicist, or a total nutbar. While he did perform exorcisms and did study archaic music, his degree in theoretical physics is very much in doubt. No one seems to know where he earned it.
According to friend and paranormal enthusiast Francois Brune, Ernetti explained that in the 1950s, Werner Von Braun, Enrico Fermi, and ten other internationally renowned scientists agreed to help him develop a time machine. In the course of his studies into Gregorian chants, Ernetti had stumbled upon a kind of time travel involving communication with the dead (EVP). While using a recorder to study the harmonics in these chants, he and Father Agostino Gemelli heard the voice of Gemelli’s late father speaking to them. This convinced Ernetti that electromagnetic energy from the past could be accessed, with the proper equipment, enabling us to view or even hear things that happened on earth years ago. A similar “recording” theory has often been put forward as an explanation for ghosts, phantom ships, spectral cities, and other ephemera.
The time machine Father Ernetti came up with couldn’t physically convey anyone to another time, though. Instead, it captured images from a given time and place. Ernetti called it the Chronovisor.
Ernetti and the scientists witnessed numerous historical events through his time camera, but of course the one that interested Ernetti most was the Crucifixion. The only photo he provided to the public actually showed Christ dying on the cross, his eyes rolled toward heaven.
As a favour to Professor Giuseppe Marasca, he also produced his own transcription of a lost tragedy by Quintus Ennius, Thyestes, after watching a performance of it in 169 B.C. Strangely, the full play consisted of just 120 lines. Dr. Katherine Owen Eldred of Princeton, an expert on Ennius who translated Father Ernetti’s manuscript, observed that whoever wrote it was not overly fluent in Latin. Rather odd for “the father of Latin poetry.”
After their forays, the team agreed to dismantle the Chronovisor and secrete its components in various parts of the world, for fear it would fall into the wrong hands.

Ernetti couldn’t, or wouldn’t, provide Brune with any evidence to back up his story. While it’s true that Father Gemelli reported hearing his late father’s voice on a recording in the ’50s, it isn’t known if Ernetti actually worked alongside him.

There were allegations that Ernetti confessed to hoaxing the photo and the play on his deathbed (without retracting his claims about the time machine), but in 2003 (9 years after his death), Francois Brune insisted Ernetti had been coerced into confessing, that the Chronovisor was real, and that the Vatican probably tried to gain control of the device. An only slightly less credulous stance is taken by Peter Krassa in his book Father Ernetti’s Chronovisor, which is the primary source for this post.

Brune and Krassa were a little too late to convince the world that Ernetti pioneered time travel. Almost as soon as the Jesus photo was published in 1972, people noticed its uncanny resemblance to a carving by Cullot Valera (above, right), which hangs in the Sanctuary of Merciful Love in Collevalenza. Brone dismissed the resemblance, suggesting that a nun may have directed Valera whilst in the throes of an ecstatic vision of the Crucifixion. Sure thing.

Pious hoaxes, even ones this absurd, are not unheard-of. In 1987, a Kenyan nun called Sister Anna Ali declared that Jesus paid visits to her room. Zambian archbishop Emmanuel Milingo requested evidence, so she supplied a “photo” that was plainly a drawing. This was enough to convince Milingo (later defrocked for performing unauthorized exorcisms).

Father Ernetti refused to tell Brune how his machine was assembled, mentioning only that a plain old cathode ray tube from a ’50s TV set was used in the viewing screen. This renders his and Brune’s claims essentially un-debunkable. So If you really want to believe that some of the finest and most ambitious scientists in the world discovered the secrets to time travel, commissioned a monk with no specialized expertise to develop a time machine, used it to witness a few major historical events without taking more than one photo (that one photo being a grainy head shot), then decided, “Nah, the world’s not ready for this. Let’s go back to making Disney movies“, go right ahead.

Jurassic Dork

Billy Meier, the one-armed Swiss contactee we’ll see again in this series, claimed that his buds from the Pleiades helped him move through time and space to tour a “prehistoric planet”. He presented a few extremely blurry photos, including a dramatic one of a pterodactyl dropping a mouthful of food in mid-flight.
Compared to his famous UFO photos, they sucked, but his bevy of devotees didn’t seem to care – not even when critics produced an illustration from a 1972 book entitled Life Before Man that perfectly matched the pterodactyl. You can see some of the other dino photos in this video, along with a photo of a dust storm on Mars and one of Billy’s alien girlfriend, Asket (actually a still from The Dean Martin Variety Show).

“The Rainman of Time Travel”

In 1981 Nebraska farmer Steven Gibbs received a letter from himself. His future self. Written (and postmarked) in 1994, it informed him that he would soon be embarking on a struggle to build a time machine, and “predicted” some other events that would soon occur. Gibbs dismissed the letter as a prank until these things actually started to happen. Then he got to work. A mere four years later, he had a fully functional Hyper Dimensional Resonator that can astrally transport you just about anywhere. Like most such inventions it is mysteriously powered by an electromagnet, a Tesla coil, and a quartz crystal, and can be purchased for a few hundred dollars from the same websites that sell stuff like stirwands. I’m pretty sure it’s what Napoleon Dynamite’s brother used.
Now for the mindf*** part: After he completed work on the HDR, Gibbs decided not to write a letter to himself in 1994. That’s a wise choice, but how did he invent the thing if (as he claims) it was advice from his future self and another time traveler that made its creation possible in the first place? And which postal service are these people using, anyway?

A nearly identical device was created under a railroad bridge in Chalk Farm, London, by Tony Bassett. He originally designed it to boost the immune systems of cancer patients, using a powerful magnet and electrical field to generate a broad range of high-frequency energy. Naturally, people have reported feeling disembodied when they get too close to the “bio-energizer”; its effects are probably similar to those induced by Michael Persinger’s “God helmet“. Bassett believes it helps users direct their consciousness toward any time or place.

Time Travel Whistleblowers

Then there are those unlucky few who have been forced to travel through time, usually as part of a secret government experiment: the doomed sailors of the USS Eldridge, the Montauk boys, etc.
Duncan O’Finioan is one such time traveler. In 1966, when he was six years old, Duncan was inducted into a top secret program called Project Talent, which trained children to become psychic super-soldiers. His first session was conducted in the back room of a Kentucky hardware store.
Duncan believes he was selected for his ethnic background (half Irish, half Native American), because this particular genetic mix often results in enhanced psychic abilities.
At one point in his training, Duncan was strapped into a chair and sent through a wormhole to another time and place. The children of Talent and its various sub-projects were also trained to kill with the power of their minds, making them an invaluable tool in Vietnam and in political assassinations. Duncan mentally slaughtered many people before deciding to come clean and reveal Project Talent to the world in 2006. He had two compelling items of evidence: a cranial implant and a bionic arm. For some reason, even though he has been interviewed on video by Project Camelot, he hasn’t gotten around to showing us this evidence.

As distasteful as O’Finioan’s tasks were, at least they were exciting. The same can’t be said for the job given to John Titor. He was sent back in time to fetch some archaic computer technology for the bigwigs of the future, who are apparently too busy watching Rocky XXII to run their own damn time-travel errands.
Titor surfaced online in 2000, claiming to be a visitor from the year 2036 with nothing better to do than lurk on 36-year-old message boards devoted to Art Bell and ancient astronauts. He offered up a dazzling array of “predictions”, including:

  • 2004: Civil war would erupt in the U.S., pitting militias and other armed citizen against something he called the American Federal Empire.
  • 2014: Civil War II ends when Russia attacks the U.S. WWIII begins. The U.S. loses, and is reduced to ruins along with China and the EU.
  • 2036: America is rebuilt and back on its feet, though considerably diminished. Then Mad Cow becomes pandemic, affecting virtually every beef-eater on the planet. Despite all these setbacks, the U.S. is in possession of time travel technology. In fact, time travel would become a reality in 2001, right after CERN’s larger facility began operating.

Titor was a U.S. soldier working on a time-travel project based in Florida. His mission: Go to 1975 and retrieve an IBM1500 computer, which could be used to debug legacy computer programs (the UNIX 2038 timeout error). Titor’s granddad had been involved in its development. Like another time travel insider we’ll look at later, Dan Burisch, Titor believed in some kind of parallel timeline or universe. Hence, the past he was in wasn’t actually his own past – just a very similar one.
Titor decided to make an unscheduled stop in the year 2000 to save some family photos that he knew would be destroyed in Civil War II. While there, he decided to blow the minds of a few basement dwellers by posting photos of his time machine on the Coast to Coast AM (C2C) online forum and at It was housed in a ’67 Chevy Corvette, but Titor later moved it to a truck so he could have four-wheel drive.
Titor returned to 2036 in the spring of 2001. A website devoted to his wisdom is still up, though, and for a time his attorney and spokesman, Larry Haber, remained a frequent guest on C2C, sharing Titor’s information about all the terrible things that were supposed to happen to us but actually didn’t. Thanks a bunch.