(Note: I have nervous little fingers and an impetuous personality. I always revise when I catch the typos.)
Two individuals can agree on a phenomena, and be at complete variance as to its ultimate cause and interpretation.
(This rather pathetic observation troubled me all day yesterday, from the moment I awoke until I finally relented and wrote it down. As to what it was referring to, and why it was implanted in my psyche, who can say?)
The Wheel of Time
Life can be seen to have its eddies and currents, time its waves and ripples. Sometimes events leave their resonances in the greater stream of existence, echoing down through the years like some sort of macabre curse, playing out in the Here and Now lives of ordinary people.
(We recently have re-read the story of Poe called “William Wilson,” which concerns the seeming doppleganger of an unfortunate, or dissolute young man–a being that seems to haunt his steps through life from school until, finally, he succumbs to the fury of his terror and stabs out at the phantasm, only to find he HAS KILLED HIMSELF IN THE PROCESS. In other words, he was his own worst enemy all along.
Of course, stories of such dopplegangers exist in reality. Or, at the very least, are said to exist, or have so existed. Goethe is said to have met his doppleganger or even future self while traveling a country road. Even more perplexing is the story of a Victorian teacher who is said to have exhibited a doppleganger while occupied in the classroom. The mysterious figure appeared before astounded students, who testified that this double imitated every action and mannerism of their teacher before disappearing. Apparently, the weird manifestation happened more than once.)
All arguments to the contrary, there is nothing new under the sun. Life sends forth its echoes, the Law of Averages dictates that certain outcomes are a given, taking into account certain correlates that, failing any great deviation, will manifest themselves, scientifically, as thus-and-thus, so on and so forth…
But over a century and a half? Can great and painful incidents, we must ask, repeat themselves in the lives of subjects separated by great gulfs of history, as if the same occurrences, widely separated by time, are still, nonetheless, fated to play on in a sort of sick autopilot of the world of real and tangible events? What are we to make of the uncanny coincidences and odd twists of fate that bespeak a larger intelligence? (Albeit, it is an intelligence that, because of the vast distances of time involved, must remain to us wholey inscrutable.)
So it must be with an obscure subset of happenings known as the Erdingtom Murders.
The facts as they stand.
On May 27th, 1817, the day after Whit Monday, the body of popular, pretty local girl named Mary Ashford was found in a flooded sandpit in Erdington, a small town outside of Birmingham, England. The girl had apparently been raped and strangled before being unceremoniously deposited, sometime after four in the morning, which was the last time she had been seen. She had apparently been in the company of young Abraham Thornton, a local bricklayer who had accompanied her from the dance to the house of a friend, so she could change her dress at the ungodly hour of three in the morning. According to Thornton, she had not emerged no matter how long he waited; exhausted, he decided to return home chastened.
(He also later claimed the couple had had sexual intercourse, although it had not been rape.)
Several witnesses attested to having seen the girl walking country lanes in the wee hours of the morning. She was last seen, alone, in Bell Lane, about 4:15 AM, by a Mr. Broadhurst. Another witness confirmed this.
It was at 6:30 that a local laborer discovered a set of bloody clothing, and alerted the police. Following the footprints of a man and woman, the police soon found the body–the girl had been sxually violated, then strangled.
Of course, the immediate suspect was Abraham Thornton, who in no wise did not initially suspect he was the main suspect. He willingly confessed his shock and outrage at the news of the death, confessed readily to having accompanied her to her friend’s house to change the dress. Then claimed to have simply gone home.
(The confession ot sexual congress did not come about until later, we are given to understand.)
Quickly arrested, Mr. Thornton was just as quickly tried. his version of events must seem idyllic and tragic in light of the later murder. (His stirring statement, “I cannot believe she is murdered, I was with her until four am.” is rather perplexing in light of later revelations.)
The couple walked, hand in hand, to the top of Bell Lane stile, crossing an open field under the stars. Their passionate ardor apparently spent, perhaps there was regret or shame, or deeply naive love, of a sort. Whatever the case, after four that morning, the life of Mary Ashford would end in brutal, ugly tragedy, at the age of twenty.
Mr. Thornton spoke briefly that morning with a gamekeeper of his acquaintance. He was alone. Within the house of Hannah Cox, Mary Ashford was trying on a dress, telling her friend with a mounting trepidation that she felt this week, especially, held some terrible tragedy for her.
Outside, her errant beau began to feel that his new love was jilting him. Perhaps he waited for the vanished star amidst the bushes and shrubs, a tear falling from the corner of his eye as his heart sank within his breast. But could he wait out there all night? Hardly.
Finally, shivering, he headed home. Independent witnesses, such as the gamekeeper, confirmed this account later.
It took six minutes for a jury to acquit Mr. Thornton. Which should have been t he end of the matter. However, the legal wrangling of 1817 permitted Miss Ashford’s brother William to appeal the acquittal (!), thus ensuring that a new trial would be held at the Court of the King’s Bench that 17th of November. Making an unprecedented move, Mr. Thornton quite literally stood, and casting down a leather gauntlet, proclaimed, “I am not guilty. And I am ready to defend the same with my life.”
In effect, Thornton had invoked the ancient English law of “Trial by Battel.” Which Lord Ellenborough declared to still be binding.
Thus, William Ashford and Abraham Thornton would duel. If Mr. Ashford won, Mr. Thornton would face summary execution. However, if Mr. Thornton won, he would, indeed, go free with no strings attached. If this challenge was not met by April 21st of 1818, Mr. Thornton would go free, no questions asked.
Mr. William Ashford, for whatever reason, declined the challenge. Mr. Thornton, ruined by the huge publicity and the hundreds itching to see him hang, immigrated to America, and leaves history forever.
Flash forward to 1975. May 27th. A young woman, Barbara Forrest, was found dead in a ditch in Erdington–around 300 yards from where the body of Mary Ashford had been found, in 1817. One hundred and fifty-eight years before, Btw. keep that in mind.
Both women had been raped, then strangled.
Both shared the same birthday.
Both had an eerie resemblance to each other.
Both had been to a dance on the eve of Whit Monday the day they were killed. Both had been to a friend’s house to try on a new dress.
Both had expressed deep, premonition-like misgivings about the coming week. Mary Ashford old Hannah Cox she had “bad feelings about the week to come,” although she could not specify why. Barbara Forrest was quoted as saying “This is going to be my unlucky month. Don’t ask me why. I just feel it.”
Death waited for them, like a mysterious kiss from a lover in the dark, down the long winding trail of their fast-disappearing dreams.
But (and this is the real kicker) BOTH women were twenty years old, and BOTH women were, allegedly, killed by men with that last name: THORNTON.
Abraham Thornton allegedly killed Mary Ashford by strangulation before depositing her body in a flooded sand pit, in 1817. MICHAEL Thornton allegedly killed Barbara Forrest, also age 20, by strangulation before depositing her body in a ditch only three hundred years from where the body of Mary Ashford had been found, over a century earlier.
(And, of course, Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Booth shot Lincoln in a theater, ran to a barn; Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse, and ran to a theater–if, in fact, you believe Oswald shot anyone at all that fateful November of 1963. But we think you rather get the point of this little aside.)
Echoes, Ripples, and Oz the Great and Terrible
What can be said for the nature of reality, based on such coincidences When a car with a man named Ted Gershuftyegg runs into another car with a man named Ted Gershuftyegg…what are the odds? How do we explain the ripples on the still, placid surface of the seemingly otherwise logical lake of our reasonings? perhaps God could be likened to Narcisse, who becomes entranced staring at an image of himself int he rippling water, until, finally, he transforms into a flower.
The opening petals of the flower…so many variant pieces of reality, all reflecting eachother perfectly. The same, yet different. each, in its own way, a part of the greater whole, yet each individuated piece unique and solitary.
New Age philosopher David Icke reminds us that every hologram is made up of smaller holograms, each a perfect representation of the larger whole. DNA encodes the patterns of the human form, so that even a mammal can be cloned like a common toad. Patterns of life and force reflect the larger whole.
As Above, So Below…
Icke claims that, after tripping on ayhauasca in the Amazon, he received a vision of the “Time Loop”: the vast Wheel of Eternal return, in which history, like the Ouroborous snake eating its own tail, repeats and reloops in an endless cycle, merely updating itself as an illusion, but fundamentally, always reflecting the same pattern back at the laser-point of consciousness.
(We’ve traveled far afield of our original story, I suppose.)
Is Oz the Great and Terrible manipulating events behind the smoking curtain of another reality? Are we merely stick-figure suppositions, experiencing our uniqueness only inasmuch as we are simply window dressing for events fated to happen, again and again, like a sort of macabre clockwork of the spirit? How much of Free Will exists, and what is fated, determined, predestination? And why?
And what does this mean in regards to the larger framework of our lives?
Why is so much coincidence merely absurd and eerie?
When, for instance, they were making the original 1933 version of The Wizard of Oz, the costume designers, when looking for a coat for their Professor Marvell character, purchased one from a thrift store that had been previously owned. When they looked in the collar of the coat, they found a tag of the former owner. The tag read: “L. Frank Baum.”
The wardrobe person, thinking it an unsettling coincidence, took some photographs of the coat and sent them to Baum’s widow. She confirmed the coat as one that had formerly belonged to her husband. Who, of course, was the author of…The Wizard of Oz.
We suppose we can finish there.
Addendum: We finished this piece yesterday. Unbeknownst to us, yesterday, coincidentally, happened to be the birthday of L. Frank Baum. Coincidentally.