The holidays (or perhaps more accurately, holiday films) are a time for heartwarming depictions of helpful angels: Clarence, the Angel Second Class of It’s a Wonderful Life and Cary Grant’s debonair Dudley of The Bishop’s Wife spring to mind. Generally the literature of the 19th century puts angels firmly in guardian angel roles, guiding the lost, keeping children from straying over a precipice, or, as in this first story, hovering over a sickbed with healing in its wings.
ANGEL’S IMAGE TOLD OF GIRL’S RECOVERY
Shadow on Wall Regarded as Good Omen.
Wilmington, Del., April. 14. Mr. and Mrs. William Robinson, of Eight and Buttonwood streets, have stirred their neighbors by the startling announcement that while their daughter lay at the point of death, and at the turning point of a critical illness, the shadow of an angel appeared on the wall above the head of the sick girl’s bed and remained there until daybreak, after which time the girl began recovering rapidly.
Mrs. Robinson, the stepmother of the girl, in speaking of the shadow, said it seemed to possess the form of the young girl, while it had the face of the mother. It remained there motionless with outstretched wings.
“It was just as plain as could be,” declared Mrs. Robinson today. “The shadow was in the distinct form of an angel, and there was no mistaking it, for there was nothing else in the room that could cast a shadow in that spot. We don’t know how it can be explained. The shadow seemed to have the form of Maud, but the face of her dead mother. The hair was smoothed back, and the body was covered with a robe, just as you see the pictures of the angels, it appeared to have outstretched wings. Shortly after the shadow disappeared, Maud seemed to get better.”
Mr. and Mrs. Robinson stood over the bed for some minutes watching the shadow and the form of the girl. She lay as motionless as she had lain throughout the latter part of the night. A few minutes before dawn came a flood of light over the bed, the girl stirred and her breathing became more pronounced, and before the light of day flooded the room, the shadow had disappeared and the girl had regained consciousness, and the physician arrived in time to calm the mother and father before they told of the incident.
The parents declare it was a spiritual manifestation of the approach of the recovery of their daughter. News [Fredericksburg, MD] 14 April 1910: p. 3
The Philadelphia Inquirer gives a shorter version of the story, but omits both Mrs. Robinson’s role as stepmother and the face of the dead mother. [Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 14 April 1910: p. 1]
The angel in this next story was also helpful, particularly in the context of 19th-century Christian belief, but one wonders why the prophecy occurred so much previous to the event. (One could also argue that the odds were in favor of all kinds of terrible deaths at this time.)
A Remarkable Story
Another very remarkable incident is added to the many startling things which have occurred in these “latter days.” Our readers will remember that we gave an account of the sad death of our venerable fellow-citizen, Rev. Henry Asbury, which occurred on October 1st, 1874. Mr. Asbury had retired to his room and bathed his chest with kerosene oil to reduce a pain with which he was afflicted, and which had been relieved by the same application previously. After bathing with the oil (by some accident of which he could give no account) he came in contact with the blaze of the fire, and, the oil igniting, he was soon enveloped in flame. He ran into the yard, and before assistance could be rendered his clothes were burned to ashes and his body almost to a crisp. From this painful and distressing accident he died the same evening at 6:30 o’clock. When his wife came to his relief in the yard he remarked: “I am gone. I have to die.” He then walked into the house, and when he laid down he related the following wonderful incident of his life: He said that “about fourteen years ago an angel appeared to him, he felt the breeze of its wings, and the angel told him that his end would be a terrible one.” He continued: I see it all plainly, just as the angel told me: this is no fiction; you will find it written down in a memorandum among my papers. I kept my mouth closed to exclude the flames so I could be able to tell you all about it.” After his death the following written memorandum was found, carefully preserved, among his papers:
AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT OF MY LIFE.
As I was coming from Tate’s factory, up the river, at night, to where my son John and my wagons were camped, on the old plank road, an angel passed by me. I felt the breeze of its wings, and it spoke to me, and told me what would be my end in this life. I believe every word of God, whether spoken by angels or men inspired, and my whole hope of happiness here and hereafter is in God, through Jesus Christ, His son and my saviour. Amen. H. Asbury. Washington [PA] Reporter 9 December 1874: p. 6
As in so many accounts of the paranormal, the memorandum made at the time is less explicit than the explanation given by the Rev. Asbury.
Our final story shows the angels in the role of psychopomp, coming to bear away the soul of the dying woman. Even though they were angels (and 19th-century angels were usually gentle, sentimental, gauzy creatures) they were enough to frighten the young witness and make her sceptical father uneasy.
AN APPARITION OF ANGELS.
THE following incident, which was mentioned to me in September last, occurred to Mrs. Nolan-Slaney’s sister, a healthy, bonny girl of eighteen.
“I gave her description,” Miss Slaney writes, “exactly as she wrote it a few days after the death of our neighbour, and I may add that, although she has told the story many times in my hearing, it has never varied from the original version.
“The neighbour mentioned was a charitable, honest, God-fearing woman, plain-spoken and practical, and an invaluable nurse. She was taken ill with influenza, in February, 1895, and had been ailing since, but my sister did not know that she had been taken worse, and played and sung with my brother the evening before, as usual, in a room almost beneath the one in which the sick woman lay—which, of course, they would not have done had they had the faintest idea that she was worse than usual.
“I append to my sister’s description of her ‘vision’ the questions I put to her when she first told me of it, and have asked her to sign the whole.
“’I went to bed as usual on the night of August 30th (1895), and fell asleep. I became quite suddenly wide awake, and heard a rustle in the room. Then it seemed to me that the ceiling and walls of our house and the next one were moved away, and I saw five beautiful angels floating above me. I was frightened, and cried out, “What do you want?” I said, “Oh, don’t take me!” One of them answered, “No, we shall not take you,” and then they all passed on. The angels came in a peculiar manner. First, there was one by itself, a little boy it looked like, then three altogether, then another, and, I think, another behind that. There seemed to be a lot of other angels in the background. Those I saw looked most beautiful, and had wings on the top of their shoulders, instead of on their backs, as I always thought they were. They had not any bodies, but long rays of light seemed to come from them. When they had gone I was dreadfully frightened, and called for my mother and ran into her room. My father (who usually calls everything of this kind ” nonsense “) said to her, “You had better go to the child if she is frightened, for I feel nervous myself. I feel as though someone were in the house”; then looking at his watch he remarked that it was half-past twelve. My brother then joined us, and asked what was the matter. I told him what I had seen, and he said, “Mrs. M. is dead.”
“‘ What made you count the angels?’
“‘I don’t know, but I was struck by the peculiar way they were arranged, and thought they would look better two and two.’
“‘Did the angel actually speak to you?’
“‘No, it seemed as though someone inside me spoke to my brain.’
“‘What did the angel’s wings look like?’
“‘Like bright light coming out of them.’
“‘(Signed) Francis Claire Burns.'” “The following is the daughter’s account of what took place at the death-bed. Two daughters were present. The one who related to me what passed said :—
“‘My back was towards the corner where Tom’s” box stood, but my sister faced it. She said, “If you look towards that corner you’ll see three rays(?) like half-moons, coming up from behind Tom’s box. They are shaped like half-moons, but shine like the sun.” I looked but I could not see anything. They disappeared as my mother passed away. “Lord Jesus!” she said several times, then she sat upright in bed and stretched out her arms, saying, “Clara, Tom,” and fell back and died.
“’At what time?’
“‘About a quarter-past five, but she was taken for death at half-past twelve.’ ‘”What date?’ “‘August 30th.’
“‘How many of your mother’s children have died?”
“‘Two babies—boys (they would be nearly fifty if living), then Clara, then Rose, then Mrs. T., and then Tom—six.’
“‘ (Signed) M. A. Morris.’
“These two statements, in many respects so singular, have been duly signed in my presence, and, if necessary, the evidence of others could easily be produced. I know all the parties concerned, and can testify, not only to their veracity, but to their level-headedness.
Borderland, A Quarterly Review, Vol. 3, William Thomas Stead, 1896
For me the question is, why did the angels, if angels they were, apparently blunder into the young girl’s room instead of going directly to the dying woman’s bedside? The description suggests the Old Testament cherubim and seraphim, rather than the standard lithographed Victorian Christmas angel.
Any other stories of helpful angels? Wing them to 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.