Synchronicity is defined as an acausal bond linking two or more apparently unconnected events, combining them into a meaningful coincidence. They are components of something greater than themselves, pieces belonging to a puzzle that may only become comprehensible when fitted together as separate parts of a broader whole. It is in the nature of this definition that synchronicity appears to transgress time or, at any rate, the inviolable boundaries dividing past, present, and future, as delineated by conventional understanding.
Hardly any other single occurrence during modern times generated a more significant conglomeration of meaningful coincidences than R.M.S. Titanic. Indeed, her loss was foretold by more than fifty recorded premonitions, making it among the most uniquely documented incidents of its kind. The significance of particular numerals also played its part during the Titanic sinking—namely, the classic bad-luck number, thirteen. That this traditionally unfortunate numeral was factually associated with the most infamous of unlucky ocean liners should come as no surprise. Two separate examples serve to illustrate. Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, George Wick had been traveling with his family through Europe for several months and booked a return voyage on the Titanic. While in transit to Cherbourg, where the ship would make final docking before attempting her transatlantic crossing, he stopped in Paris. There he purchased a Grand Prix sweepstakes ticket, deliberately choosing number 13 just to prove to his friends that he was not superstitious. “Watch and see what it does for me!” he exclaimed. Several days later, Wick went down with the vessel.
A fellow passenger who lightheartedly challenged the deadly number was British journalist, William Thomas Stead. He demonstrated his contempt for superstition by deliberately concluding a story with which he had been amusing friends on April 13, 1912. His narration described the discovery of an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and the curse of violent death alleged to overtake anyone who verbally translated its inscription. The next day, R.M.S. Titanic met the disaster in which Stead perished.
He appears to have had a fateful, synchronistic relationship with the doomed liner long before her death at sea. As far back as January 1897, a palmist, Robert Machray, who examined Mr. Stead, was so impressed with what he saw he published a photograph of the journalist’s hand in the January issue of Pearson’s Magazine. Machray commented that the so-called “life line” clearly indicated death at 63, Stead’s precise age when he, in fact, died aboard the Titanic.
Around the turn of the century, and long before the superliner was even envisioned, he published a prophetic story in his own periodical, Review of Reviews. Although From the Old World to the New was written as fiction, it told of a huge passenger ship of the White Star Line, commanded by a Captain Smith. More than a decade after the story appeared, R.M.S. Titanic. sailed under the White Star Line, commanded by Captain Edward J. Smith. Stead described the hazard of icebergs, writing with unconscious foreboding, “The ocean bed beneath the run of the liner is strewn with the whitening bones of thousands who have taken their passages as we have done, but who never saw their destination.” He might have been writing of himself in the distant future.
But Stead did not take his own precognitive fiction seriously. In the year prior to boarding the doomed vessel, he was cautioned that “travel would be dangerous in the month of April 1912,” and that he would find himself “in the midst of a catastrophe on water” where several thousand persons would perish. A clergyman was so overcome with premonitions for tragedy when Titanic. was being built that he informed Stead that the ship would never complete her crossing to New York. None of this fazed Stead, who expressed his excited sense of anticipation for the voyage to Shaw Desmond, another writer. For no apparent reason, Desmond was suddenly overcome with a dark certainty that his friend would soon be dead.
As some measure of the magnitude of synchronous phenomena associated with the disaster, no less than 899 people who initially booked passage for Titanic’s maiden voyage eventually refused to board her because of warnings they experienced in the form of various omens, premonitions, dreams, and precognitive events. An additional 4066 would-be passengers either missed the sailing or canceled their reservations, usually under apparently normal circumstances but sometimes through unusual coincidences that prevented them from sailing.
Blanche Marshall suffered a hysterical outbreak on April 10, 1912, as she and her family watched from the roof of their home overlooking the River Solent, as the Titanic steamed past the Isle of Wight. In a virtual panic, she claimed the ocean liner would sink before it reached New York and railed against her husband, daughters, and servants for being blind to her vision of masses of people drowning in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.
The premonitions related by Wilde and Hart were typical of apparently hundreds of such paranormal forebodings experienced by the Titanic’s crew and passengers. In the rational world, such forewarnings were exceptionally remarkable, because they were obviously more groundless where the Titanic was concerned, than any other ship afloat. She was, after all, the most seaworthy vessel of her time, a state-of-the-art luxury liner manned by superbly trained, dedicated, and skilled professionals. Indeed, Captain Smith was one of the highest paid and widely respected mariners in Britain. Nothing in physical reality implied the slightest hint that the Titanic would or could encounter trouble of any kind—everything about her suggested confidence, pleasure, and safety. In spite of all indications to the contrary, many of her victims and survivors saw through the veil of appearances to what lay on the other side of the allegedly impossible and unthinkable.
As the Titanic was being readied for her maiden voyage, the May issue of Popular Magazine was coming off the presses with a “fictional” story about the ‘Admiral,’ an envisioned 800-foot-long ocean liner crossing the North Atlantic through calm seas at twenty-two, one-half knots. She strikes an iceberg and sinks, leaving the survivors among her thousand passengers to be rescued by a steamer. Similarities to the real-life tragedy convinced readers that the story had to have been based on the Titanic’s real-life details. But author Mayn Clew Garnett claimed he received most of the specifics for his novelette in a dream he had while sailing on the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic. Although he may have been influenced by physical parallels noticed during his passage aboard the virtually look-alike vessel, Garnett’s selection of forty-three north latitude for the imaginary Admiral’s collision with the iceberg was virtually the same position at which Titanic met her identical fate.
One day after the Titanic sank, May de Witt Hopkins strangely experienced the fragrance of roses in her London home. Although word of the disaster had spread to England by that time, names of those on board were not yet published, but with the flowery scent filling her room from no apparent source, Hopkins suddenly felt that someone she knew was trying to make her aware of his or her death. She later learned that a friend who was, unbeknownst to her, a passenger aboard the ship, had indeed perished when it went down. Interestingly, her own mother, during the late nineteenth century, had been similarly alerted to the death of a loved one by a mysterious flowery odor.
Two weeks after the Titanic was lost, a large wooden crate, left unclaimed at Pier 61 in New York Harbor, was opened by port authorities. They were surprised to see that it contained a meticulously detailed model of the sunken vessel. It had been originally sent to the United States for promotional purposes on behalf of the White Star Line and was supposed to be returned to the London offices on the ill-fated ship’s return voyage. But the 30-foot-long representation was accurate in more particulars than anyone could explain. Although it presented a full complement of 20 davits, there were only a dozen miniature lifeboats, just as on board the actual vessel at the moment of tragedy. Moreover, the model’s bow was partially ruined, and a long crack appeared from the keel toward the upper deck, mimicking the actual damage sustained by the Titanic in its collision with the iceberg.
Dreams figure importantly into meaningful coincidence. For example, while traveling in Europe during the spring of 1912, a New York lawyer, Isaac C. Frauenthal, dreamed of being aboard a large ship that collided with some floating object and began to sink. His was a long, vivid nightmare, in which he clearly recalled the sights and sounds of calamity. Several nights later, the identical psychodrama repeated itself, and he told his brother and sister-in-law that it must be a warning against their upcoming voyage on R.M.S. Titanic. But they laughed at his dream, and convinced him to go through with their return trip to America aboard the magnificent White Star Liner. Happily, all three survived the sinking foretold in Isaac’s recurring nightmare.
A story that originally appeared in the Toronto Sun reported that the Rev. Charles Morgan, minister of Rosedale Methodist Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, arrived early at his church one Sunday morning to prepare for the evening service. Before going into his study, he posted the choirmaster’s choice of hymns, as he had always done. When his other preparations were completed, there was still considerable time until the service; so Morgan took a short nap during which he experienced a vivid dream. In it he saw only surging darkness but distinctly heard an old hymn, one he only very rarely used. He had not thought of it in years, but now his dream was filled with the music accompanied by a sound of rushing waters. The minister awakened with the old hymn still ringing in his ears. He glanced at his watch but found he still had a long time before services would begin, so he dozed off once more.
As before, he dreamed of the same hymn, now sung by a disembodied chorus, and again there was the sound of rushing waters. This time he awoke with a start. The dream had alarmed him, although for no reason he could understand. Groggy, but with the melody still fresh in his memory, he looked up the old tune and half-consciously posted it on the hymn board. Later, during the service, it was the first number sung by the congregation, even though “Hear, Father, while we pray to Thee, for those in peril on the sea” seemed out of place thousands of miles inland. During the singing, Rev. Morgan was surprised and embarrassed to find his eyes filling with tears. Only later did he learn that the Titanic was sinking at the same moment his congregation was singing the hymn from his dream.
Perhaps the most inexplicable aspects of synchronicity are those more infrequent instances of parallel lives, as in the case of Lucien P. Smith, who narrowly escaped death during a terrible fire aboard the Viking Princess in 1966. It was his second major disaster at sea. A survivor of the Titanic, he was in his mother’s womb when that ship sank, just as Mrs. Astor, aboard the same stricken vessel, was pregnant with her son, John Jacob. Both children were born eight months after the sinking in which their fathers perished and their mothers died in the same year, 1940.
The destinies of individual lives and major conflicts are events sometimes so powerful they echo beyond their own time and appear to replay themselves in the future. Such an extraordinary case of parallel history began to unfold when William C. Reeves went aboard the tramp steamer, Titanian, as an ordinary seaman, departing Scotland for New York in April 1935 on traditionally its most unfortunate day, the thirteenth. Ten days later, at 23:00 hours, he was ordered into the fo’c’sle head to stand watch.
Although the sea was calm, the night was moonless and impenetrable. Reeves began to feel increasingly uneasy, not only because of the very poor visibility conditions he now faced as ship’s look-out, but he thought, too, of the premonitory novel he had been reading in his cabin, Morgan Robertson’s The Wreck of the Titan, or Futility. Like Stead’s From the Old World to the New, this remarkably prescient novel foretold the Titanic disaster in uncanny detail. Published in 1898, fourteen years before the disaster took place, Robertson’s “fictional” account described a super-liner sunk during her maiden voyage from England to New York after striking an iceberg. Of Robertson’s novel, Tony Allen states in Prophecies: Four Thousand Years of Prophets, Visionaries and Predictions, “it remains one of history’s most extraordinary examples of accurate prevision.”
According to Allen, an American businessman was one of numerous booked passengers saved by this phenomenon. The would-be passenger was about to board the liner, when a cable arrived from his wife in Nebraska. She implored him to cancel his reservations, because a dream had vividly revealed an iceberg that would sink the vessel in the dead of night with terrible loss of life. Precognitive dreams envisioning disaster are likewise commonly associated with tragedies at sea. The Greek Poseidon was as much a god of the subconscious as of the ocean. The surface of the sea, which reflects light and images, hides a world of dynamic, living energies in its dark depths. So, too, the mind in its waking state needs light to function, while the subconscious realm of night is alive with powerful forces underpinning the basis of our identity. As such, the Titanic was infamous for the many visionary nightmares surrounding the fate of the vessel.
But 23 years later, aboard the ominously named Titanian, able-bodied seaman William Reeves was unable to keep his mind from drifting back to that dramatic moment in the book, when Titan’s look-out missed seeing the iceberg in time to avoid disaster. Also, he could not help but notice the ironic similarity of his ship’s name, Titanian, and Robertson’s Titan with Titanic. As his sense of irony deepened into anxiety, he realized that the time was now 23:35, just five minutes before the hour the Titanic struck the iceberg. Reeves knew that penalties were severe for raising a false alarm, the darkness ahead showed no sign of danger, and for some moments he hesitated to act. But at last his feelings of imminent collision overwhelmed him, and he ordered the bridge to stop engines, “Iceberg ahead!”
No sooner had the ship’s speed dropped off and the vessel rapidly slowed than she smashed into several large fragments of ice, which twisted her bow and disabled her propeller. Coming to a full stop, Titanian’s crewmembers were astonished to behold an enormous iceberg looming directly ahead out of the darkness. The floating mountain appeared at 23:40, the same hour of Titanic’s collision. Doubtless, had the Titanian not stopped in time, she would have followed her predecessor to the bottom. An SOS sent to Cape Race, Newfoundland, brought rescue to the stranded crew.
The multiple synchronicities of this parallel event—the similar ships’ names, Reeves’ powerful premonition, his reading of Robertson’s book, precisely the same hour for meeting with a deadly iceberg—far outstrip all considerations on behalf of mere chance. Instead, they clearly define the operative principle of meaningful coincidence as a legitimate phenomenon.