[Do the following three accounts make the many sided reality they suggest intriguing or repellant?]
The Ghosts of Flight 401
In December 1972 an Eastern Airlines TriStar jetliner, flight 401, crashed into a Florida swamp. One hundred and one people died in the crash, including the pilot, Bob Loft, and the flight engineer, Don Repo. On more than 20 occasions thereafter, crew members of other Eastern TriStars—especially those that had been fitted with parts salvaged from the wreck of flight 401—saw entirely lifelike apparitions of Loft and Repo. In some cases the apparitions were identified by people who had known the two men and in some cases by reference to photographs.
The Ghost Bus of Ladbroke Grove
“I was turning the corner and saw a bus tearing towards me,” the motorist testified before the police:
The lights of the top and bottom deck, and the headlights were full on but I could see no sign of crew or passengers. I yanked my steering wheel hard over, and mounted the pavement, scraping the roadside wall. The bus just vanished.
The motorist who made this report to the local authorities in North Kensington, London, in the mid-1930’s may have been drunk, hallucinating, or dreaming at the wheel when he had the accident. But if he was, so were hundreds of other motorists who complained of being forced off the road by a phantom bus careening round the corner from St. Mark’s Road into Cambridge Gardens, near the Ladbroke Grove underground station. After one fatal accident, the local coroner took evidence of the apparition and discovered that dozens of local residents claimed to have seen the spectral double-decker.
In fact, there had been many ordinary accidents, several of them fatal, at the notorious junction. Eventually the local council straightened the road there, and the accident rate was greatly reduced. Thereafter there were no more reports of the ghostly red bus.
The Frozen Fowl of Pond Square
The ghost maker in this tale is no less a philosopher than the great Francis Bacon, once lord chancellor of England. In 1626, though, when he was 65 years old, he had been convicted of bribery, sentenced to the Tower of London, and fined 40,000 pounds. Although later pardoned, Bacon was forbidden to hold public office again. Thus freed from the struggle for worldly powers, he turned his mind to the mysteries of the universe and to the methods by which a man might solve them.
He was riding through the streets of Highgate one snowy March day in 1626 when a universal mystery occurred to him. Why was grass that had lain under snow all winter still green and fresh when his carriage wheels exposed it to the air? Did the snow somehow act as a preservative?
Bacon instantly stopped his carriage at Pond Square and ordered his coachman to buy a chicken from a farm nearby. Next he had the coachman kill the bird, pluck off most of its feathers, and clean out the abdominal cavity. Then, to the amazement of the small crowd pressing around him, Bacon stooped down and began stuffing the bird with snow. This done, he put it in a sack and filled the sack with more snow.
While he was treating the chicken in this unnatural way, a fit of shivering seized him, and he collapsed on the snow. He was taken to the home of his friend Lord Arundel and died there within a few days.
What happened to Lord Bacon after he died, nobody knows. But the chicken, bound, it seems, to the environs of Pond Square by the sudden outrage that befell it, has been frequently seen there since its death. Stripped of its feathers and shivering, it invariably half runs, and half flaps, always in circles. “It was a big whitish bird,” according to Mrs. John Greenhill who resided at Pond Square during World War II and often saw the chicken on moonlit nights. Aircraftman Terence Long was another witness, also during the war. He was crossing the square one night when he heard the sound of hooves and carriage wheels. He looked around but saw nothing—except a shivering, half-naked chicken flapping pathetically in circles. An Air Raid Precautions fire-watcher came along and told Aircraftman Long that the bird was a habitué of the square. A man had tried to snare it a month or two earlier, he said, but it had disappeared into a brick wall.
One January night in 1969 a motorist who was delayed in Pond Square with car trouble noticed a large white bird near a wall. Seeing that most of its feathers had been plucked, and thinking that a gang of youths might have abused the bird, he looked about him before going to rescue the poor creature. When he turned back, the bird was gone. A year later, in February, a young man and woman were saying good night to each other when a big white bird alighted noiselessly on the ground beside them. It ran twice in a circle and then vanished into the darkness.
[Does this excerpt from C. S. Lewis’ 1947 book, Miracles, make the above three stories—and millions more like them—more plausible, or at least easier to accept?]
The mere idea of a New Nature, a Nature beyond Nature, a systematic and diversified reality which is “supernatural” in relation to the world of our five present senses but “natural” from its own point of view, is profoundly shocking to a certain philosophical preconception from which we all suffer. I think Kant is at the root of it. It may be expressed by saying that we are prepared to believe either in a reality with one floor or in a reality with two floors, but not in a reality like a skyscraper with many floors. We are prepared, on the one hand, for the sort of reality that Naturalists believe in. That is a one-floor reality: this present Nature is all that there is. We are also prepared for reality as “religion” conceives it: a reality with a ground floor (Nature) and then above that one other floor and one only—an eternal, spaceless, timeless, spiritual Something of which we can have no images and which, if it presents itself to human consciousness at all, does so in a mystical experience which shatters all our categories of thought. What we are not prepared for is anything in between. We feel quite sure that the first step beyond the world of our present experience must lead either nowhere at all or else into the blinding abyss of undifferentiated spirituality, the unconditioned, the absolute. That is why many believe in God who cannot believe in angels and an angelic world. That is why many believe in immortality who cannot believe in the resurrection of the body. That is why Pantheism is more popular than Christianity, and why many desire a Christianity stripped of its miracles. I cannot now understand, but I well remember, the passionate conviction with which I myself once defended this prejudice. Any rumour of floors or levels intermediate between the Unconditioned and the world revealed by our present senses I rejected without trial as “mythology.”
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