Stranger than fiction: Mark Twain’s premonition

mark twianMark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri in 1835. As a young man, he went to work on a riverboat on the Mississippi River. When he began to pursue his writing career, he remembered a term that was often used on the riverboats. This term became his pen name. Whenever a riverboat begins navigating unfamiliar waters, it is necessary to measure the depth of the water frequently. This is to make sure the water is deep enough for the boat to safely navigate. A crewmember would drop a weight on a measuring string into the water. Once he got his measurement he would turn and shout to the captain the depth of the water measured against his marker. For example, he might say “By the mark…20 feet!”  There was one term that always made a riverboat captain feel comfort. It was a term that was used when the water was very deep and there was no sign of danger. The term was “By the mark…twain!”

In 1858, Samuel Clemens and his younger brother, Henry, went to work on the riverboat Pennsylvania. The boat pulled into port one day in St Louis. The two brothers went ashore to visit their sister, Pamela, who lived nearby. After dinner that night Henry returned to the boat.  Sam stayed at his sister’s house.

Later that night Sam went to bed. Soon, he drifted off into a peaceful slumber and had a nightmare that would haunt him for the remainder of his life. He dreamed that he was standing in a strange room. There were a number of people in the room with him. Most were crying. Against the wall he saw a metal coffin balanced across two chairs. He walked closer and peered inside. There he saw the body of his younger brother, Henry. On Henry’s chest lay a small bouquet of white roses. In the center of the bouquet was a single red rose.

Sam awakened cold and shaken. The dream was so vivid that he was convinced his brother was indeed dead. He got up, got dressed and went for a walk. He returned later and went back to bed. Still trembling, he was unable to sleep. The next morning, he told Pamela every vivid detail of the horrific dream. When he finished she sat quietly for a moment somewhat bewildered.

“Well, that dream couldn’t possibly come true” she responded. “Only wealthy people can afford metal coffins.”

This brought comfort to Sam who was looking for any detail, no matter how small, which might make the dream appear more improbable.

Only days later, Sam was transferred to another boat. Henry remained on the Pennsylvania. Three days later, Sam was informed that the boiler on the Pennsylvania had exploded a short distance from Memphis. One-hundred-fifty people had been killed or injured.

Sam rushed to Memphis in hopes that his brother had survived. He reached the hospital where Henry had been taken. Sam was told his brother’s injuries were grave and the doctor predicted Henry wouldn’t last through the night. Sam stayed at his brother’s side during the final fleeting hours of his brief life. Henry died the next morning.

Later that morning, Sam went down to the room where the bodies of the dead were awaiting burial. There were a number of people standing around grieving the loss of their loved ones. Sam slowly made his way into the room. There he saw a metal coffin balanced across two chairs. He approached and peered inside. Lying in the coffin was his brother, Henry, just as he had dreamed. The only thing missing was the roses. At that moment a woman dressed in black approached and placed a bouquet of white roses on Henry’s chest. In the center of the bouquet was a single red rose. The woman in black was one of the nurses who had attended to the young man. She told Sam that a number of the nurses felt sorry for Henry and took up a collection. They used this money to buy him a metal coffin.

Was it a coincidence or premonition? It would not be the last experience that begged that question.

Halley’s Comet is a celestial phenomenon that occurs every 75 years. Like clockwork, this famous comet, named for astronomer Edmond Halley, makes a journey around the Sun traveling billions of miles. The course the comet travels is so long it actually takes 75 years to complete one orbit. What does Halley’s Comet have to do with Mark Twain?

Twain was born in 1835. This was one of the years the comet orbited Earth. After his rise to fame, Clemens began lecturing. On many occasions he told his audience, “I came into this world on the tail of Halley’s Comet and I shall leave it on the tail of Halley’s Comet.” Most were amused by the remark. After all, certainly Twain could not predict his own death. Incredibly, Twain died in 1910, as the comet orbited the Earth on its return trip. He had made this prediction many years before he died.

Was it a coincidence or premonition? In the words of Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

(Michael Williams is the author of “Stranger than Fiction: The Lincoln Curse.” It is a collection of 50 strange and unusual but true stories. They will leave the reader convinced that Mark Twain was right when he said “truth is stranger than fiction.”

The book is 187 pages in a softbound edition with numerous photos. It can be purchased from amazon.com for $19.95 (plus shipping and handling) or one can save shipping costs and $2 off the purchase price by ordering a signed copy directly from the author. Send $17.95 to 269 Palmer Road, Gatlinburg TN. 37738.

The book is available in a Kindle edition at Amazon.com. For more information visit www.strangerthanfictionnews.com.)

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