Amazing Historical Premonitions
Luck goes by varied names viz. premonition, synchronicity, intuition, hunches, sixth sense – whatever we call it, it is a creative channel through which warnings or information in some inexplicable manner flow into our lives. A premonition is an impressionable forewarning of a future event. Premonition is sometimes referred to as a “gut-level” feeling. The sensation tends to occur prior to unpleasant events such as disasters, accidents, deaths and other traumatic or emotionally charged events. Premonitions may also foretell pleasant events such as a job promotion, the birth of a child or the winning of a lottery ticket. Premonitions can be realistic or symbolic. They may occur during dreams or during full, waking awareness. The venerable mathematician, physicist, scientist and Nobel laureate Dr. Albert Einstein aptly observed, “There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will – the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.”
In the course of human history, many well-known personalities have experienced premonitions, including the Italian general and politician Giuseppe Garibaldi, the French composer, organist, conductor and pianist Charles-Camille Saint-Saens, the German composer and music critic Robert Alexander Schumann and the American inventor and businessman Thomas Alva Edison. The legendary American author and humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens, popularly known by his pseudonym Mark Twain, once dreamt about the death of his own younger brother Henry, when he was a steamboat pilot on the river Mississippi. In his dream, he saw Henry lying still encased in a metal coffin with fresh flowers placed on his chest. He mentioned the ominous dream to his sister Pamela but did not breathe a word about it to his brother. Instead he urged his brother, who also worked aboard steamboats, to be careful and advised him, “Don’t lose your head.” Assigned to different steamboats, the two brothers parted company. Later Twain learned to his horror that the boilers in Henry’s steamboat “The Pennsylvania” had blown up and Henry was one of the fatal casualties. Twain was guilt-stricken and held himself responsible for the death of his brother for the rest of his life. This incident inspired his interest in parapsychology and he became an early member of the internationally reputed Society for Psychical Research (“SPR”),the London based non-profit organisation whose avowed objective was to understand “events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area” and to “examine allegedly paranormal phenomena in a scientific and unbiased way.”
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States and undoubtedly the greatest political figure that the democratic world has thrown up, had an uncanny sixth sense and got numerous premonitions. This finds corroboration in a letter he wrote in 1863 to his wife Mary, who at that time was in Philadelphia with their 10 year old fourth son Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, whom Lincoln had found “as wiggly as a tadpole” when he was a baby. Lincoln told Mary that she had better “put Tad’s pistol away” as he “had an ugly dream about him.” Tad died at the tender age of 18 on 15th July,1871 at the Clifton House Hotel in Chicago. Upon looking into a bureau mirror, Lincoln once saw a double image (“Doppelgänger”) of himself. Immediately he knew his career which could be coming to an end, would actually endure. He also sensed that despite the continuation, it would be cut short. He related the strange event to Harper’s Magazine (popularly called “Harper’s) – “Looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected, nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time — plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler, say five shades, than the other. I got up and the thing melted away, and I went off and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it – nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened.” Another night in a horrifying dream, Lincoln found himself following the sounds of mourners. He recalled the clarity of the weeping and sobbing and the inability to see their faces. The sounds transported him to the White House where he found guards stationed near a casket. He gazed into the casket to find the face of the corpse covered. He questioned, “Who is dead in the White House?” The answer, “The President. He was killed by an assassin.” Lincoln’s premonition was bang on! His close friend and biographer, Ward Hill Lamon, reported these experiences long before Lincoln’s death on 15th April,1865.When questioned, Lincoln confirmed Lamon’s reports and expressed his belief in the paranormal. This is what Lincoln told Lamon – “About ten days ago, I retired very late. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room. No living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds met me as I passed alone. I was puzzled and alarmed. Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room. Before me was a catafalque on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng or people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The president,’ was his answer. ‘He was killed by an assassin.’” Moreover, members of Lincoln’s cabinet recalled that, on the morning of his assassination on 14th April,1865, Lincoln had told them that he’d dreamed of sailing across an unknown body of water at great speed. He also revealed that he’d had the same dream repeatedly on previous occasions, before “nearly every great and important event of the War.”
A few days after General Ulysses Simpson (his mother’s maiden name) Grant, the 18th American President, accepted the surrender of the Confederate General Robert Edward Lee at the house of the wholesale grocer Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on 9th April, 1865 after four years of bloody combat in the American Civil War, Washington was celebrating. Attending the delirious festivities were Grant and his wife Julia. The morning after a reception to honor Grant, Julia woke up with an uneasy feeling and a strong desire to return to their home. Grant, who was committed to attend various functions, gave in to his wife’s urgings and abruptly left Washington that very evening. The Grants were to sit next to the Lincolns at the historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington that night. When they reached Philadelphia, they got word of the President’s assassination. They also learned that Grant was on the hit list of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth, who was a well-known actor and a Confederate spy from Maryland.
Just as Lincoln foresaw his own death, another great American President John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy, the 35th American President, had a premonition of his death as well. A few hours before he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on 22nd November,1963 by the Communist sympathiser Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy told both his wife Jacqueline Lee “Jackie” Kennedy and his personal advisor Kenneth Patrick “Kenny” O’Donnell, “If somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it.” Kennedy also received other psychic warnings about his death. The internationally acclaimed psychic Lydia Jeane Dixon advised Kennedy that she foresaw his assassination as he travelled through the South. He also received a warning from his Secretary Evelyn Lincoln that his trip to Dallas could have tragic consequences and she urged him not to go.
The truly titanic British Prime Minister Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill had many premonitions that came true. Many of his contemporaries recall that Churchill, even as a young man, had a clear premonition of the coming storm of the cataclysmic First World War or the “Great War” that resulted in the tragic death of more than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the most widespread and deadliest war in human history involving more than 30 countries and resulting in 50 million to 85 million military and civilian fatalities, Churchill had a premonition about Adolf Hitler whom he used to loathingly refer to as “that Bad Man”. Out of office and politically in the wilderness during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in warning Britain and the world about the evil designs of Nazi Germany and in campaigning for re-armament. This was the time when the British Prime Minister Arthur Neville Chamberlain was assiduously playing to the gallery in Britain by following a totally futile policy of “appeasement” with the Fascist powers, whether in Munich or elsewhere, to the irreparable prejudice and detriment of the entire world. Keeping Chamberlain in mind, Churchill subsequently described an appeaser in the House of Commons in his own inimitable style – “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Churchill would not bow out of the argument over what action to take to repel the looming Satanic threat of Hitler. He later wrote – “My mind was obsessed by the impression of the terrific Germany I had seen and felt in action during the years of 1914 to 1918 suddenly becoming again possessed of all her martial power, while the Allies, who had so narrowly survived, gaped idle and bewildered. Therefore I continued by every means and on every occasion to use what influence I had with the House of Commons and also with individual Ministers to urge forward our military preparations and to procure Allies and associates for what would before long become again the Common Cause.” Fortunately, Churchill won his personal battle. With amazing gumption, Chamberlain resigned on 10th May,1940 and advised King George VI to ask Churchill to form a government as the Prime Minister and give him full rein to take swift action from the commander’s seat. On that fateful day, Churchill did not go to bed until 3 a.m. and he later wrote, “although impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had not need for cheering dream. Facts are better than dreams.” Churchill’s belief that he was chosen by Fate was so deeply genuine that when he became Prime Minister, he reflected, “I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”
During the Second World War, Churchill had numerous premonitions that not only saved his own life but the lives of many around him. Churchill was the living embodiment of Britain’s unyielding resistance to the enemy and he accepted the role seriously. But when his inner voice told him that danger was real and imminent, he listened to his inner voice with remarkable alacrity and agility. On the night of 14th October,1940, at the height of the London Blitz, Churchill and his ravishingly beautiful wife Lady Clementine (who was lovingly called “Clemmie” or “Clemmie Cat” by Churchill and who in turn so very aptly called Churchill “Pug” or “Little Puggy Wow”!), were entertaining three senior government ministers over dinner in the famed Garden Rooms at 10 Downing Street (colloquially known as “Number 10”), the Prime Minister’s official residence in London and the locale of 53 British Prime Ministers since 1735, including the first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole (described as “an honorable man and a sound Whig” by Edmund Burke, the charismatic Anglo-Irish parliamentarian, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who spearheaded the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of British India, in the House of Commons, which was subsequently set aside by the House of Lords that acquitted him of all charges) and the present young and youthful Prime Minister David William Donald Cameron (a direct descendant of King William IV, the last king and penultimate monarch of the House of Hanover, and fifth cousin of Queen Elizabeth II!). A fierce air raid was in progress, but Churchill did not permit any interruption of the dinner. Suddenly like a man possessed, Churchill left the dinner table and went into the kitchen, where the cook and a maid were busy at work. On one side of the kitchen was a large plate glass window. He told the butler to put the food on a hot plate in the dining room and ordered the kitchen staff to go immediately into the bomb shelter. He then returned hastily to his dinner guests. Three minutes later, a huge bomb fell near Downing Street, completely destroying the Number 10 kitchen and killing three Civil Servants doing Home Guard duty. But Churchill and his guests were miraculously saved by the skin of their teeth. Lady Churchill gave a graphic description of this event in her biography entitled “My Darling Clementine: The Story of Lady Churchill” – “Three government ministers were dining with the prime minister. The blitz began as usual, but the party went on and the cook and maid continued working in the kitchen next to a twenty-five-foot-high plate glass window. Suddenly, acting on a premonition, Churchill got up and went into the kitchen. ‘Put dinner on a hotplate in the dining room,’ he instructed the butler, and ordered everyone in the kitchen into the bomb shelter. Then he went back to his guests and his dinner. Three minutes later, a bomb hit the house, totally destroying the kitchen.” Churchill himself recounted in the second volume of his personal memoirs of the Second World War entitled “Their Finest Hour” which was published in 1949 – “We were dining in the garden-room of Number 10 when the usual night raid began. The steel shutters had been closed. Several loud explosions occurred around us at no great distance, and presently a bomb fell, perhaps a hundred yards away, on the Horse Guards Parade, making a great deal of noise…Suddenly I had a providential impulse. The kitchen in Number 10 Downing Street is lofty and spacious, and looks out through a large plate-glass window about 25 feet high. The butler and parlour maid continued to serve the dinner with complete detachment, but I became acutely aware of this big window. I got up abruptly, went into the kitchen, told the butler to put the dinner on the hot plate in the dining-room, and ordered the cook and the other servants into the shelter, such as it was…I had been seated again at the table only about 3 minutes when a really loud crash, close at hand, and a violent shock showed that the house had been struck. My detective came into the room and said much damage had been done. The kitchen, the pantry and the offices on the Treasury were shattered.”
One of the ways in which Churchill fulfilled his inspiring role as the national hero of war-time Britain was by personally visiting anti-aircraft batteries during night attacks by raiding German aircraft. On one occasion, having watched the brave anti-aircraft gunners in action for a while, he walked back to his staff car a black Humber Pullman limousine perhaps intending to visit two or three more gun crews before the break of dawn. The door on the side of the car where he normally sat was wide open for him. But for once he ignored it, walked around to the other side of the car, opened the door and sat down inside the car. A few minutes later, as the car was snarling it’s way through the blacked-out streets of London, a bomb landed near the car and instantly exploded. The enormous power of the bomb blast lifted the car precariously and caused it to careen perilously on two wheels, within an ace of overturning. No one was hurt and fortunately for Churchill, the car regained it’s balance and continued safely on it’s way. It was believed that it was the fortuitous placement of Churchill’s girth which prevented the car from flipping over. And Churchill later glibly remarked, “It must have been my beef on that side that pulled it down.” When his wife Clementine asked him about his brush with death, he at first pleaded total ignorance and asserted that on that occasion he had deliberately chosen the other side of the car. When Churchill was questioned further as to why he had deliberately sat on the other side of the car, Churchill finally confessed, “Of course I know. Something said ‘Stop!’ before I reached the car door held open for me. It then appeared to me that I was told I was meant to open the door on the other side and sit there-and that’s what I did.”
In July,1945, the Conservative Party led by Churchill lost the United Kingdom general election. Indeed, when the British electorate cast Churchill out of office weeks after the final triumph over Germany in the Second World War, people all around the globe were aghast. In Britain, where newspapers were closely monitoring the course of the electoral campaign in the early summer of that year, political reporters and polling “pundits” were stunned beyond words at the unexpected landslide victory of the Labour party under Clement Richard Attlee, under whose benign Prime Ministership India gained it’s historic independence “at the stroke of midnight hour” on 15th August,1947. Yet one person in Britain was not surprised at all. And that was Churchill himself. Unknown to anyone but his personal physician Dr. Charles McMoran Wilson, he had a premonition of his ignominious defeat in a dream that disturbed his usually sound sleep! In a reminiscent mood, he recalled later, “I dreamed that life was over. I saw – it was very vivid- my dead body under a white sheet on a table in an empty room. I recognized my bare feet projecting from under the sheet. It was very life-like. Perhaps this is the end.”
The “end” Churchill dreamt about ultimately came at 8 a.m. on a grey and bitterly cold Sunday morning on 24th January,1965 in London, when Churchill was 90 years old and the astonishing uncanniness about his death was that it came 70 years to the day after the death of his illustrious father Lord Randolf Henry-Spencer Churchill. Churchill’s funeral on 30th January,1965 (a day marked by the seventeenth death anniversary of his old political adversary Mahatma Gandhi!) was the largest state funeral the world had witnessed up to that point in time, with emissaries from a staggering number of 112 nations. As Churchill’s lead-lined coffin passed up the River Thames from the Tower Pier to the Festival Pier aboard the hydrographic survey launch MV Havengore owned by the Port of London Authority, dockers lowered their crane jibs in a final salute to the towering figure who in a nationwide BBC poll in 2002 in the United Kingdom, attracting more than a million voters, was voted the greatest Briton of all time, ahead of Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell! In keeping with Churchill’s own wish, he was buried in the family plot in a quiet, unobtrusive corner of St Martin’s Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, not far from the monumental Blenheim Palace in Woodstock where Churchill was born on 30th November,1874.
– Anoop Bose
Supreme Court of India
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