An episode from the old Twilight Zone television series concerns an airliner on an otherwise ordinary cross-country flight, until the plane inexplicably accelerates into a cloudy void. Eventually emerging from the overcast, everyone on board is dismayed to behold a Jurassic jungle populated by hungry dinosaurs instead of the New York skyline. Reluctantly taking his microphone in hand, the captain dourly proclaims the obvious by informing passengers, “we have apparently flown back in time.” He guns the throttles and climbs the lumbering Boeing 707 back through the cloud cover in an effort to find 1960 again. As a discernibly 20th century Manhattan begins to roll a few thousand feet below, he appears to have succeeded. That is, until he tries to make radio contact with the airport. Its ground-controller informs him that the jetliner is just in time for the 1930s World’s Fair, but still too early for the Kennedy Era. The Twilight Zone ends with the captain flying his bewildered charges back into the overcast, still searching for their lost place in time.
While this well-known teleplay was a piece of fiction by Rod Serling, it nonetheless dramatizes similar events reported by credible eyewitnesses who claim they have similarly visited the past or alternate realities. Sometimes, these encounters with an otherworld are confined entirely to sound. The phenomenon is then known as clairaudience. A case in point is illustrated by Thomas Janes, a classical history student at the University of Wisconsin, who traveled alone to Turkey during the early 1990s. The chief goal of his visit lay outside the Dardanelles city of Cana-kale, an archaeological park featuring the ruins of Ilios, the fabled capital of Troy. He spent two days at the site, relishing the personal fulfillment of a dream nurtured since childhood: to actually walk the battlements depicted in Homer’s Iliad.
The area today has changed much since the Bronze Age events portrayed in that epic. The bay where invading Greeks beached their ships silted up many centuries ago, and the Trojan pastoral realm has been replaced by modern farms. But as Janes sat on one of the ancient walls, he tried to envision their mid-13th century B.C. milieu, with its glistening city of heroes surrounded by rich peasant lands. In the midst of this reverie, the light tone of a shepherd’s flute came floating on breezes from the Mediterranean Sea, about three miles away, in the west. The simple tune seemed to accompany his thoughts, until he realized with a start that shepherding was a no less extinct form of employment in modern Turkey than it is in the U.S. He made a thorough search of the archaeological park. Perhaps someone was playing the replica of a Bronze Age pipe, as part of some reenactment, as occasionally takes place in archaeological precincts open to the public. But no one else was visiting that early week-day morning. He had the entire site to himself. Or did he?
The plaintive, unfamiliar strain continued to come from everywhere and nowhere. The farmer’s fields below were deserted. Scrambling to the top of the ruined acropolis, he could see clearly in every direction for miles. Not another soul was around. The persistent, haunting refrain began to make him feel uncomfortable. But just as it had come, the reedy aire drifted away on the wind. He ran to the tourist building at the far end of the park, near its entrance. No, the lone attendant on duty informed him, no one else was visiting today. And there were certainly no musicians about! Janes never forgot that memorable, disembodied performance.
“The sound was so ghostly and sad,” he remembered, “and so appropriate for such a place. I know in my heart that the music I heard was not of this world or time.”
More like the Twilight Zone episode, a father and his 6-year-old son attended a Civil War reenactment at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the summer of 2001. Frederick Catalano and Fred, Jr. were thrilled to see hundreds of men and women dressed in authentic period costume and regalia at the very location of a great event in American history. There was a re-creation of the famous battle with military bands, booming cannons, charging horse-soldiers, volleys of smoking muskets and troops in blue and gray marching under colorful banners.
After the commemorative confrontation, Frederick and Junior joined thousands of other on-lookers in visiting numerous stalls set up to display Civil War era memorabilia adjacent to a rather primitive but large grandstand draped with red, white and blue bunting. At the center of this structure the day’s reenactment continued with a tall actor obviously portraying Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address to a sizable crowd of soldiers and civilians attired in mid-19th century dress. Fred and son stopped to hear the well-known words recited in a Midwestern twang by the lanky “President,” then applauded with the other listeners.
Afterward, some gathered around “Mr. Lincoln” to congratulate him, as he sat wearily at an outdoor table. Carrying Junior in his arms, Fred made his way through the well-wishers: “See? That’s the man who led the Union during the Civil War.”
“Lincoln” looked up at the father and son with a suddenly bright smile. “What’s your name, little man?”
“Fweddie,” the boy piped up, and the tall, gaunt man laughed.
Getting into the spirit of the occasion, the elder Catalano asked, “Well, Mr. President, how’s the war going?”
The actor fell back into character. “I fear it will never end,” he sighed authentically.
Before he could explain, he was hustled off by a “general,” and the crowd melted away. Fred took his son to visit a few other booths before the grounds were closed.
As they were leaving, they were approached by an organizer of the event who was also an old friend. “How’d you like the presentation, Fred?”
“Oh, it was great! Everybody played their roles so realistically, except that guy reading the Gettysburg Address. He just didn’t look very much like any of the photos I’ve ever seen of Abe Lincoln. He was tall, but seemed too old for the part.”
The organizer stopped in his tracks. “What are you talking about? We didn’t have anybody reading the Gettysburg Address or portraying Lincoln at the reenactment.” Fred described in detail the large, apparently improvised grandstand with its patriotic bunting, and crowd of listeners in blue uniforms, top hats and gingham dresses.
“Nope,” the organizer insisted, “nothing even remotely close to that was staged this year. I know everything that goes on here. It’s my job. Look at your program. It lists all the events and facilities. No mention of Lincoln making the Gettysburg Address at a grandstand or anyplace else. What you saw must have been a ghost!”
But Fred’s experience seemed more than that. He and Junior had unknowingly stepped back in time through an event aimed at recreating the same, long-gone era.
Some trips to the Otherworld are less clearly identified or as pleasant, however. In early spring, 1983, Larry Miller and his wife, Claire, were driving from Alsip, a Chicago suburb, to visit relatives in New Mexico. While traveling through a southwestern section of Missouri, Interstate 44 was closed for repairs, so Larry exited an off-ramp and followed signs to a detour. The mid-afternoon was clear and perfectly gorgeous, as the Millers enjoyed their unhurried trip over rolling countryside and broad pasture lands.
Perhaps half an hour after leaving the expressway, they arrived at a small, charming town of little shops and a friendly-looking diner, like the one in that famous painting, “Night Hawks,” with its big glass windows and invitingly casual atmosphere. The main square was dominated by an attractive, well-preserved city hall building with a tall, brick clock tower. It was obviously constructed sometime in the late 1800s and was now surrounded by its own park.
Claire observed that the big clock-face with Roman numerals was wrong. Its Victorian hands had apparently stopped at 1:30; she had 3:00. Traffic was light, the sidewalks uncrowded. A young, red-haired woman was pushing a stroller around the park, and some kids were playing hop-scotch, but that was about all. After a few stoplights, the Millers drove out of town and were back on the road, speeding over the indistinguishably repetitive landscape of endless farmlands. Again, the speed limit dropped, as they approached another town. It seemed remarkably similar to the one they just left behind.
“All these places look alike,” Larry said with a trace of boredom in his voice.
But as they arrived at the town center, they passed on the left what seemed to be the very same diner with its big glass windows. Still more surprising, the old town square with its high clock tower appeared, as before, on their right. “How about that,” Larry exclaimed, “they made an exact duplicate of that other place we came through!”
“Yeah,” Claire agreed, “but the clock is different here. In the other town, it said 1:30. Here it’s 1:00.” Before her husband could respond, she exclaimed, “This IS the same town! We must have driven around in a circle. Look! There’s that same lady pushing the baby-buggy and those kids playing in the park we saw last time.”
Larry was confused. “But how can that be? We drove in a straight line.”
“It just SEEMED that way. Pay more attention to the road next time,” she lightly scolded, but did not mention the altered clock tower.
As before, they followed the main street out of town, this time in silence. Larry was careful, never missed a sign. He avoided all turns, and closely followed the indicated detour that must eventually bring them back to the expressway. About thirty minutes later, the speed limit dropped at the approaches to another town.
“It’s not possible!,” Larry exclaimed, as he pulled over to a curb in the same town they passed through twice before. Claire crouched in grim silence, gazing out her window at the all-too-familiar street, while her husband furiously studied a road map. “Maybe we should ask somebody,” he suggested.
“No!,” she demanded. “Let’s just get out of here!”
Larry pulled out into the light traffic on Main Street. In a few minutes, the classic diner reappeared on their left, followed shortly thereafter by the main square with its old public building. The red-haired woman was still walking around the park with her stroller, and the children’s hopscotch continued unabated. But when Claire looked up at the clock tower, she screamed. It read 12:30.
“Let’s get out of here!,” she pleaded on the verge of tears.
“I’m scared! I’m real scared! Go, go, just go!” Unnerved, Larry put the pedal to the metal. Their car raced through the last few stoplights, luckily avoiding any collisions.
Once out of town and on the open road again, Larry did not let up on the accelerator. While endeavoring to control his speeding car, he tried to console Claire. She was shuddering and tearful on the verge of panic, but he soon ran out of words. His chest seemed to tighten with fear. Breathing came hard and fast. But his anxiety eventually began to subside with the expanding distance being swiftly covered.
“Claire, we’ve been driving about eighty miles per hour for more than twenty minutes. We should have arrived back at that town by now, but we’re still on the road!”
She stopped weeping long enough to look uncertainly at the uniformly similar farmlands blurring past her window. Maybe he was right. But no. There were the same signs, the same town!
Larry slowed down only enough to maneuver through the two-lane streets and avoid an accident. He was still doing 50 in 35 mile-per-hour zones. In moments, the glassy diner was on their left. The park with its red-haired mother and stroller, together with the hop-scotching kids had not changed. Only the clock tower was different. Its immense, black hands pointed straight up at noon. As the careening car sped by the park, the brazen lungs of the old clock rang out a doomsday tolling that seemed directed at Larry and Claire. It followed after them, as they lurched at top speed out of town. Man and woman were filling the inside of their car with screams. Larry did not care what or who he might crash into. A collision would at least put an end to this endless horror.
The speedometer needle went passed 100, and the echoes of the big clock faded rapidly in the distance. Larry was determined to fly through the town at full speed this time. Terror and hatred for whatever it was that so frightened him had somewhat unhinged his mind.
But soon the environment seemed different. The countryside was not the same as before. Unfamiliar farmhouses appeared on either side of the road. Larry slowed down to the 55-mile-per-hour limit. Suddenly, there was a sign announcing the end of the detour. Another one pointed toward Interstate 44. He pulled over to the side of the road, and turned off the engine, then took Claire in his arms.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said, “but its over.”
While their powerful experience was something they would never forget, neither could later remember the name of the strange town, even after consulting a detailed road map of their travels through southwestern Missouri. Not surprisingly, they took an alternate route on their return trip to Illinois.