Working on my taxes always makes me think of death, if not long for it. And somehow my posts always seem to wander back to that subject with a certain death-like inevitability…
Today is the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death and instead of sharing her afterlife blather from the séance room (It was a shock not to be a queen any more; son Edward is such a clever inventor; she’s gotten on with her painting…), I thought some fortean tales of queenly visions would be amusing. Those seeing and hearing of such sights invariably tried to puzzle out their mystic or political meaning. I make no such attempt–assuming that these visions have no more meaning than a cloud that looks like a kitten or Jesus–but merely present what was reported at the time.
IN THE SKY
A Ghostly Silhouette
Three Men Working in a Marion Cemetery
See a Picture Resembling President Cleveland and Queen Victorian in the Clouds
Marion, Ind., May 3. Late this afternoon, when the evening shadows were beginning to lengthen athwart the Western sky, three men, William Kuntz, George Waldo and Fred Link, who were working on the Norman vault in the eastern part of the Odd Fellows’ Cemetery [now known as Estates of Serenity], chancing to look up from their work, saw a vision in the clear azure sky to the southwest of them. A single white cloud was seen at an angle of about 25 degrees above the horizon, and reflected against the cloud as stereopticon views are thrown on a sheet there appeared a picture in black and white of two persons, a man and a woman. Overcome with awe at the weirdness and sublimity of the sight, as were the three wise men of old at their vision, the men forgot to call the attention of workmen near them, forgot everything but the phenomena, and with mouths agape
AND WILDLY DISTENDED EYES
Gazed heavenward upon the wonderful picture till it slowly faded away into the cloud some 10 or 15 minutes later. When it was gone they involuntarily waited for what should follow, expecting some dire calamity, but it did not come.
They describe it as being as nearly perfect a picture of man and woman as they ever saw. The picture was about 15 feet in height in the perspective, and gave but a bust of the man, while the woman was portrayed at full length. The men agree on their description of the woman, but not that of the man. The woman seemed rather below the medium height, and slightly inclined toward stoutness. The man, according to one, was of portly and majestic appearance, with long, wavy hair, a mustache and short, curly beard, resembling pictures of Christ he had seen.
According to one of the others the man was a good likeness of President Cleveland. The woman resembled Queen Victoria. Think of that, a silhouette of the President of the United States and the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain thrown across the skies of the West! What does it mean? What might it not mean? Coming events cast their shadows before them. What coming event would cast such a shadow in bold outlines on the sky? What must be the relations of the heads of two great countries that would bring about such a phenomenon? This matter assumes international importance and may mean anything, everything. Let scientists and those who delve deeply into the mysteries and wonders of nature explain the enigma.
Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 4 May 1895: p. 4
Casting about wildly for an explanation, could this have been some version of the Brocken spectre? The Queen, who had been on the throne 58 years, was probably one of the most recognizable figures in the world. Grover Cleveland, well, perhaps not so much and although he was portly and had a mustache, he did not have a beard, nor was his hair long. If we want to stretch a point and call the vision President Cleveland and not the Messiah, perhaps this was a signal of the increased alligment of American/British interests known as The Great Rapprochement.
The Queen was featured in another series of appearances with an American President, this time with President McKinley, in the Shadowgraphs of the White House, which I covered several years ago. It is a good bet that readers of these next two articles would have known the expression quoted above: “coming events cast their shadows before them” and looked upon the mystery shadows, inadequate as the illustration above seems, as portents. In fact, a shadow gun was one of the White House portico images; entirely too apropos in connection with President McKinley.
Of Queen Victoria Cast Upon the White House Porch
[Washington Spec. New York World.]
The profile of Queen Victoria is cast upon one of the pillars of the White House porch every sunshiny day. The most eastern column of the front four is the one selected by Old Sol upon which to draw his startling picture.
Victoria’s shadow can be seen only from the north windows of the Executive Mansion or from the porch itself, for it is thrown upon the south side of the post.
The silhouette appears promptly at a quarter before the noon hour and faces east, toward the Capitol. As the members and Senators upon the hill gather for their daily deliberations the face of England’s grand old woman grows in distinctness and watches them, outlined as though by a master artist against the snowy column bathed in the sunlight, the Queen’s brow, nose, lips and chin appear with unerring fidelity.
At about the time the Senate and House are called to order by their respective officers, Victoria fades away, or, rather, is lost in the shadow, and the whole pillar becomes dark.
“I did not believe in the likeness until I saw it with my own eyes,” said a Democratic Congressman, who lingered on purpose to observe the phenomenon, “but now I shall see it in my mind’s eye every time I look at the White House.
“It is emblematical, I take it, of the nearing relations of the two countries. I wonder if President McKinley’s face isn’t silhouetted upon some pillar of Windsor Castle or Buckingham? It would only be polite for William to return the compliment in kind. You gentlemen of the press should look into the matter, and if our President has neglected to do so, suggest the idea to him as a neat little piece of reciprocity.”
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 31 January 1900: p. 6
The latest manifestation of freakishness on the White House portico appeared today. The sun was shining brightly, and at ten minutes before 1 o’clock a shadow of nondescript form appeared on the great pillar at the extreme northwest corner of the portico. It soon took on definite shape, and at 1 o’clock represented the face and shoulders of President McKinley in profile. The silhouette was so striking in its accuracy that many persons who saw it remarked that a more correct profile drawing of Mr. McKinley could not be made by an artist. The likeness was not a correct one for more than two minutes. It gradually changed with the altering position of the sun, and at ten minutes past 1 o’clock had assumed a remarkably perfect likeness to the face of the late Queen Victoria, even to an object on the head resembling a crown. This likeness lasted for two or three minutes and then gradually disappeared. Two hours later the same succession of shadow portraits appeared on the northeast pillar, at the opposite side of the portico forty feet away. New York Sun.
Evening Post [Charleston, SC] 12 February 1901: p. 6
I’ve previously written about the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots, wailing like a banshee on Christmas Eve of 1900 and predicting the Queen’s death. Queen Victoria and President McKinley both died in 1901. Apparently the shadows knew….
Other visions of Vicky? Bonus points if you can communicate them through hand shadow puppetry. Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.