Strange Disappearances and Multidimensional Journeys
By Brad Steiger
One of the most popular of my early books was Strange Disappearances (Lancer Books, (1972), which reflected a personal interest that was first ignited in 1949 when at age thirteen I bought Tales of Haunted Houses, a collection of Ambrose Bierce’s newspaper articles that had been published originally by the Neale Publishing Company and was reissued by E. Haldeman- Julius as a title in the famous Little Blue Book line. In the San Francisco of 1876, Bierce had reigned as unchallenged literary king, the best known writer west of the Rockies. Although the title, Tales of Haunted Houses, declared that the book would be about ghosts and hauntings, the majority of the accounts were about mysterious disappearances.
In his eerie account of the "Spook House," Bierce writes that it was located on the road leading from Manchester in eastern Kentucky, to Booneville, twenty miles away. For five years prior to its destruction, the mansion was known as the "Spook House," because the plantation owner, his wife, and their five children had all disappeared one night without a trace.
Whatever strange disintegrating force may have existed on the old plantation, it was able to exercise its power once again on a stormy night in June, 1859, when Col. J. C. McArdle, a lawyer, and Judge Myron Veigh, both of Frankfort, Kentucky, sought shelter within the foreboding walls of the mansion. Judge Veigh never exited from the strange sanctuary.
Col. McArdle's account of his friend's complete and mysterious disappearance appeared in the Frankfort Advocate of August 6, 1876.
According to McArdle, the two men found a room that was "suffused with a faint greenish light." Within the blank stone walls of that room were human corpses. Col. McArdle wrote: "In number they were perhaps eight or ten ... They were of different ages, or rather sizes, from infancy up, and of both sexes… The bodies were in various stages of decay, all greatly shrunken in face and figure. Some were but little more than skeletons."
Judge Veigh ignored Col. McArdle's warning to leave the mansion and walked quickly to the center of the room so that he might closer examine the bodies.
"A strong disagreeable odor" overwhelmed Col. McArdle, and he reeled, felt himself falling. He knew no more until he awakened six weeks later in a hotel at Manchester. He had lain ill with a constant delirium ever since he had been found by strangers several miles away from the house and brought to the hotel.
"No one believed a word of my story," he wrote in the Advocate, "and who can wonder? And who can imagine my grief when, arriving at my home in Frankfort two months later, I learned that Judge Veigh had never been heard of since that night?”
Col. McArdle was never to convince the suspicious family of Judge Veigh that he had not murdered his friend. And search as he might, McArdle never found that eerie room wherein his friend had disappeared forever. According to Bierce's article, Col. McArdle died in Frankfort, Kentucky, on December 13, 1879.
In “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” Bierce reported the fate of a planter named Williamson, who lived six miles from Selma, Alabama, who vanished before the eyes of his wife and child, and a neighbor and his son on a morning in July, 1854.
Mr. Armour Wren gave the following account of the matter while under oath in the course of legal proceedings relative to the settlement of the Williamson estate:
"My son's exclamation caused me to look toward the spot where I had seen the deceased (sic) an instant before, but he was not there, nor was he anywhere visible. I cannot say that at the moment I was greatly startled, or realized the gravity of the occurrence, though I thought it singular. My son, however, was greatly astonished and kept repeating his question in different forms until we arrived at the gate.
"As we got out of the carriage at the gate of the field, and while Sam was hanging (sic) the team to the fence, Mrs. Williamson, with her child in her arms and followed by several servants, came running down the walk in great excitement, crying: 'He is gone, he is gone! Oh God! What an awful thing!' and many other such exclamations, which I do not distinctly recollect. I got from them the impression that they related to something more than the mere disappearance of her husband, even if that had occurred before her eyes. Her manner was wild, but not more so, I think, than was natural under the circumstances. I have no reason to think she had at that time lost her mind. I have never since seen nor heard of Mr. Williamson."
James Wren insisted that he had seen Mr. Williamson disappear, but he did not give testimony in court. Mrs. Williamson's manner had become increasingly "wild," and she did come to lose her reason. The courts decided that Williamson was dead, and his estate was distributed according to law.
In “An Unfinished Race, ” Bierce writes of another instance where a man vanished in front of witnesses. On September 3, 1873, an amateur athlete named James Burne Worson made a tavern wager that he could run to Coventry and back to Leamington, Warwickshire (England), a distance of a bit more than forty miles. Worson set out with the gentleman who had bet against him, a line draper, Barham Wise, and Hamerson Burns, a photographer, following in a light cart. Worson jogged along for several miles, boastful of his endurance, scornful of the occasional cheer or jeer from the wagon ahead of him.
Then, as the record has it:
"Suddenly--in the very middle of the roadway, not a dozen yards from them, and with their eyes full upon him--the man seemed to stumble, pitched headlong forward, uttered a terrible cry and vanished! He did not fall to the earth--he vanished before touching it No trace of him was ever discovered." “As might be expected, the authorities were more than a little skeptical of the fantastic account related by the three eye-witnesses, and the men were taken into custody.
"But they were of good standing, had always been considered truthful, were sober at the time of the occurrence, and nothing ever transpired to discredit their sworn account of their extraordinary adventure, concerning the truth of which, nevertheless, public opinion was divided, throughout the United Kingdom," Bierce writes. "If they had something to conceal, their choice of means is certainly one of the most amazing ever made by sane human beings."
In the case of “Charles Ashmore’s Trail,” Bierce writes that on the evening of November 9, 1878, sixteen-year-old Charles Ashmore left the family circle in the farmhouse near Quincy, Illinois, in order to fill the drinking bucket with fresh water from the spring. When he did not return, the family grew uneasy, and Christian Ashmore and his eldest daughter, Martha, took lantern in hand and went in search of the tardy teenager .
A light snow had fallen, obliterating the path, but making the young man's trail conspicuous; each footprint was plainly defined.
Bierce writes in his account of this classic case of a strange disappearance: "After going a little more than half-way--perhaps seventy-five yards--the father, who was in advance, halted, and elevating his lantern stood peering intently into the darkness ahead. The trail of the young man had abruptly ended, and all beyond was smooth, unbroken snow. The last footprints were as conspicuous as any in the line; the very nail-marks were distinctly visible."
Ashmore and his daughter took a wide circle around the tracks so that they might remain undisturbed, then they proceeded to the spring. The spring was covered with ice, hours old. The teenaged Charles had not progressed any further toward the spring than his final tracks indicated. And there were no tracks leading away from that ultimate trail.
Young Charles Ashmore had disappeared without a clue. But Bierce writes that four days later Charles' grief-stricken mother went to the spring for water and returned insisting that she had heard the voice of her son calling to her as she passed the spot where his footsteps had ended. She had wandered about the area, thinking the voice to be coming first from one direction, then from another. She pursued the source of the voice until she had become exhausted with fatigue and emotion.
For months afterward, at irregular intervals of a few days, the voice was heard by the several members of the family, and by others. Bierce concluded his account by stating that "all declared it unmistakably the voice of Charles Ashmore; all agreed that it seemed to come from a great distance, faintly, yet with entire distinctness or articulation; yet none could determine its direction, nor repeat its words. The intervals of silence grew longer and longer, the voice fainter and farther, and by midsummer it was heard no more."
Some researchers have speculated, as I have suggested, that in at least some of the tales summarized above Bierce was writing horror fiction, Edgar Allan Poe-style. However, none of the accounts were presented as short stories, but as journalistic reports.
Bierce followed these accounts with a postscript entitled, "Science to the Front," which purports to share the theory of Dr. Hern of Leipzig, which was expounded in Verschwindend und Seine Theorie, and suggests that it might offer an explanation for the subject of mysterious disappearances. According to Bierce, the theories of Dr. Hern had attracted some attention " particularly among the followers of Hegel, and mathematicians who hold to the actual existence of a so-called non-Euclidean space--that is to say, of space which has more dimensions than length, breadth, and thickness ..... space in which it would be possible to tie a knot in an endless cord and to turn a rubber ball inside out without a solution of its continuity, or, in other words, without breaking or cracking it."
It was Dr. Hern's contention that in the visible world that we call our reality there exist void places, vacua, and something more--''holes, as it were, through which animate and inanimate objects may fall into the invisible world and be seen and heard no more."
Dr. Hern viewed Space as being pervaded by " . , . luminiferous ether, which is a material thing--as much a substance as air or water, though almost infinitely more attenuated." The scientist believed that "all force, all forms of energy must be propagated in this; every process must take place in it which takes place at all."
In an attempt to restate Dr. Hern's theory, Bierce writes: "But let us suppose that cavities exist in this otherwise universal medium, as caverns exist in the earth, or cells in Swiss cheese. In such a cavity there would be absolutely nothing. It would be such a vacuum as cannot be artificially produced; for if we pump the air from a receiver there remains the luminiferous ether. Through one of these cavities light could not pass, for there would be nothing to bear it. Sound could not come from it; nothing could be felt in it. It would not have a single one of the conditions necessary to the action of any of our senses. In such a void, in short, nothing whatever could occur." Bierce would have a great time in an era such as ours that freely discusses quantum mechanic physics, other dimensions, and multiple universes.
While cataloguing the new cases that Sherry and I have received after the publication of Real Encounters, Different Dimensions, and Otherworldly Beings, I went back through my files of previous cases of time-slipping through dimensions of time and space.
In February of 1971, shortly after an article of mine on Time Travel had appeared in Saga magazine, I received a letter from a gentleman named Al Kiessig, who claimed the ability to walk through “doorways” between dimensions. In subsequent correspond¬ence, Kiessig, whom I found to be an open and sincere man, shared numerous extraordinary experiences.
It was in Missouri that Kiessig fonnd the "West Door," the door of evil, and the "East Door," the entrance into the Spirit World. According to Kiessig: "At the West Door, the wanderers of the spirit world can leave and enter our world clothed so as to be seen as one of us--and no human eye can detect the difference.
''There are two places, one in Missouri and one in Ar¬kansas, where I walked into this next door neighbor of ours. It is very silent. It looks like our world, but there is no sound, no wind, no sun, even though it looks like the sun is shining.
"In the state of Missouri I found two fields that had doors, or what I call 'vortexes’: No matter where you walked you would come back to your starting place, and if you hit the center of the vortex, then you would come out from a mile to two miles beyond the place you en¬tered in a section that would be unrecognizable to you until you stopped and regained your inner balance. Then the surroundings would gradually become familiar.
"Each door is different, but it is my belief that if one conId recognize these door openings, one could pick the door in Arkansas that would permit me to step into your front yard in Iowa. "In the region of the Ozarks, it was nothing for me to see into this other dimension. I could not enter, but I could see into it, as if through a large window; and I could see the people, live people, who entered our world or dimension, using the same mode of transportation so as not to give themselves away as aliens. The question is who are they?
"I have entered these 'doorways' while driving and saved myself hundreds of miles of driving. Unfortu¬nately, the reverse has also happened to me.
"Some of these doors to other dimensions open like an elevator door with no elevator there to step into. Others open into a land of no life. Some take you back into the past, and some take you into the future on this world. Then there are doors that open into chambers that send the body to a distant star.
"This world we know as Earth is not the only world inhabited by people like us. We must keep our minds open wide.
"There is no way that I can prove any of the events stated in this letter,” Kiessig closed in one of his long let¬ters to me. "My word, which is well known hereabouts to be good as gold, must do." Is it possible that some men and women may have a peculiar psychic make-up which permits them to trans¬gress the boundaries between this plane of reality and other dimensions?
Can these men and women be possessed of abilities which enable them to travel to realms of being normally unobtainable to those in the physical body?
As Al Kiessig admitted, he had only his word to sub¬stantiate his claims, and even though his friends and neighbors in Arkansas might swear by his promises and his oaths, such testimonials do not stand up well under the critical scrutiny of the scientific testing laboratory.
In the September, 1956, issue of Fate magazine, Mir¬iam Golding related an experience which occurred to her in the fall of 1934 when she stepped out of an elevator into another plane of existence. Miriam and her fiance were riding a crowded elevator in a Chicago music store when she inadvertently got off at the wrong floor and found it impossible to push her way back into the crowded car. Miriam sighed, prepared to await the elevator car's return. Then looking around her, she was astonished to see that she was not in a downtown music store at all, but a large railroad sta¬tion.
She watched crowds of travelers hurrying about. Railroad announcers gave times of departures and arrivals. People bought tickets, grabbed sandwiches and snacks from lunch counters, idled impatiently in waiting rooms. Miriam approached the Information booth, but stalked away indignantly when the girl seemed to completely ig¬nore her repeated inquiries.
At last Miriam noticed a to-the-street sign and fol¬lowed its direction into the open air. It seemed to be a beautiful, mid-summer afternoon. A new red brick building was being constructed across the street from the station. Crowds of people jostled by on the streets. But everyone ignored Miriam and she had no idea where she was.
She wandered aimlessly for several minutes until she noticed a teenaged boy standing near the center of the sidewalk, staring in all directions. She approached the blond boy, hardly daring to hope that they might estab¬lish contact with one another. Then he noticed her and smiled: "I guess they let you off at the wrong stop, too.”
Miriam immediately understood that however fantastic, the same thing had happened to both of them. Their mutual plight created a bond between them, and they continued together down the broad avenue. The boy explained that he had been playing tennis in Lincoln, Nebraska. He had gone into the locker room to change his shoes, and when he came back out to the courts, he found himself in that same railroad depot. The two of them marveled at whatever strange force could transport a tennis player from Lincoln and a shopper from Chicago to the same unknown train station.
Eventually they found themselves in the open country where, amazingly, Miriam saw her fiance's sister on a sandbar with a number of other girls. They noticed her, too, and they began to call her name and wave at her. Her new friend became very excited. Perhaps the girls formed some kind of connection or link between dimensions. He hurried out of his clothes until he stood only in his tennis shorts.
"It's not far to swim," he told Miriam. "They see us! I know I can make it to them in a few minutes."
The figures of the girls remained on the sandbar, but the teenager, even though he was a strong swimmer, could get no nearer to the girls and the hoped for link between worlds. Exhausted, he returned at last to shore and fell to the sand in complete discouragement. When they looked again at the sandbar, it had disappeared.
Miriam felt despondent. Would she be forever trapped in this other plane of existence? Then she became suddenly enveloped in darkness. She felt as if she were float¬ing through space. With a jolt she found herself on a stool in the music store, a magazine spread out before her. A clock was sig¬naling closing time, and the clerks were directing impatient glances her way. Miriam looked about for her fiance, but she could not see him. She decided to go directly to his home, but this time she would take the stairs and avoid the elevator.
"'When I got to my destination," Miriam Golding wrote, "my fiance opened the door. He certainly looked relieved. He said he'd lost me on the elevator. After step¬ping out on the main floor, he had been unable to locate me. Thinking I had gotten off on some other floor, he had waited for a while, then decided to go home."
Miriam entered the home and was surprised to see her fiance's sister with the same friends she had seen on the sandbar. The sister smiled and teased her that she had seen her in town, "but you were so engrossed in each other you didn't even hear us!"
Where had Miriam Golding been during those strange hours away from conventional reality? What distortion of Time and Space made downtown Chicago appear to be a river and a sandbar? How had the girls been able to serve as a kind of link between dimensions, so that at least some kind of com¬munication, even though false (they saw her with her fiance rather than a blond teenaged boy; she saw them on a sandbar rather than a crowded Chicago street), had been established?
Mr. R. W. Balcom of Live Oak, California, wrote to me concerning a personal experience shared with his wife. According to Balcom, the two of them were traveling to Lake Tahoe during the early morning hours. A few miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, they stopped to eat at a quaint and rustic-styled restaurant, which neither of them had ever noticed on any of their previous trips to the region.
The food was excellent, and the waitress and cook were so friendly that the Balcoms truly meant their promise to stop back again.
They tried to do so on their return drive from Lake Tahoe, but the restaurant was nowhere to be seen.
The Balcoms traveled that route three successive weekends in 1962, searching for the friendly little restau¬rant with the good food that had simply vanished into nothingness. "Since then we have journeyed over Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe many times," Balcom concludes, "never again finding the little restaurant.”
Frances E. Peterson of Keokuk, Iowa, remembered the Sunday afternoon in 1935, when she, her husband, and their four children were returning from a weekend visit in Missouri. They decided to take a shortcut on a dirt road. They drove down a hill into a valley, then as they reached the rim of the valley, they were astonished to see a well where women in sun bonnets and long, full skirts covered by large aprons were drawing in a wooden pail by a windlass. Other women were carrying the water in pails balanced on wooden yokes across their shoulders. Bearded men, who were tending sheep and gathering wood, wore loose-fitting trousers, smocks, and large black hats. The Petersons had never heard of such a settlement in the area of St. Patrick, Missouri, and as it turned out, no one else had either.
"Many times since then we have looked for this lovely Old World settlement," Mrs. Peterson commented. "We have inquired of old settlers and relatives in the area, but no one knows of such a valley. Did we ride backward in time?" (Fate, April, 1959)
The men and women who have had the experiences cited above may always wonder whether or not they had some kind of collective psychic experience or whether their physical bodies somehow managed to pass into an¬other dimension.
For other individuals the answer be¬comes a bit more clearly stated, although no more clearly defined or explained, for they were left with undeniable physical evidence that they had been confronted with some force as yet beyond the grasp of orthodox science.
Thirteen-year-old Michael Helferty of Picton, Ontario, Canada, was last seen walking along Lake Street toward Ontlet Beach to go swimming on July 30, 1960. Then he disappeared.
By the time he was found sleeping in a nest of grass alongside the Canadian National Railway tracks west of Picton five days later, his frantic parents had posted a five hundred dollar reward for information on his where¬abouts and police, friends, and volunteer searchers had painstakingly combed the area.
Michael was unaware that any more than a few hours had passed since he set out to go swimming, and he had no memory of where he had been. He showed no signs of exposure, sunburn, hunger, or thirst. He was fresh and alert and not the least bit tired. The Helferty family phy-sician declared him well-nourished, well-cared for, and clean. Strangely enough, his clothes were perfectly dry, even though there had been a heavy dew during the night.
The only thing at all unusual was that Michael was wearing his swim trunks, rather than his underwear, under his trousers. Since he had set out to go swimming with his trunks in his hand, it appears that he at least may have entered the water.
Michael himself found it difficult to believe that he had "lost" five days, and he insisted that he had no knowledge or memory of where he had been.
His father could only shake his head and utter: "It's a mystery, but somebody’s taken care of him, that's for sure."
Michael Helferty swore that he had no conscious memory of where he had spent his strange five-day vaca¬tion.
Little Kathy Cramer may have remembered where she disappeared, but she was not telling anyone. The six-year-old girl disappeared from her home on Park Street in Wood's Hole, Massachusetts, about 7:00 P.M. on August 15, 1960. Local police officers, state po¬lice, firemen, a crew of volunteers, and two police blood¬hounds meticulously scoured a two-mile area, while a Coast Guard vessel patrolled the adjacent water front. At 9:00 P.M. two hundred airmen from nearby Otis Air Force Base initiated a search-march for the missing Kathy Cramer.
It goes without saying that the Cramer household was carefully searched before the original alarm concerning Kathy’s absence had been issued. In addition, Falmouth Deputy Police Chief Antone Morgardo and Rev. Wilkin J. Kingwell, rector of St. John's Church in Newtonville, testified that they had carefully explored the house three times. Yet, incredible as it may seem, the six-year-old ob¬ject of the massive search was found at 3:00 A.M., peace¬fully sleeping on her bed. When gratefully weeping yet stunned and incredulous parents asked Kathy where she had been, the six-year-¬old stubbornly announced that she was not telling.
Stern police officers, solicitous neighbors, coaxing rela¬tives all got the same answer: "I'm not telling'"
Had some kidnapper decided better of his dangerous gambit and returned the child, desperately making a game of it all with her, making her promise not to tell where they had been?
Or had some cosmic, interdimensional being removed the child for a time for some purpose of its own, then brought her back to our plane of reality with a promise not to betray the "Good Fairy's" secret?
There may be a number of other possible explanations, but one that we should consider is that the child herself may have discovered the marvelous, albeit awesome, se¬cret of psychically "crawling" through the cracks and crevices between spheres of existence.
Whether there truly are "holes" and "doorways" between dimensions of reality, whether there may exist kidnappers or interlopers from other planes of being, whether swirling vortexes may snatch up unsuspecting men and women and send them spinning into another Space-Time continuum, remain among the many challenges to be explored in these encounters with the unknown. If any readers have had such encounters or experiences, we would very much like to hear from you: www.bradandsherry.com.