By Benson Hewitt
Around this time of the year one’s thoughts turn to goblins, and witches, and spirits. I am, myself, partial to spirits, and will be terribly disappointed if one of these days it is proven that they don’t, and never did exist.
True, I have never seen one, at least not to be sure, but who knows. Perhaps the doctor I saw this morning, who looked down my throat and declared that I had kidney trouble, was a spirit.
Anyway, this piece is not so much on spirits themselves, but on tokens, if that word has the meaning it had when I was a youngster. Tokens often took the shape of a bird, or the sound of knocking (three), a brief glimpse of a casket, and the like.
I can remember a case in Barr’d Islands, where a woman whose only son was dying, went to the line take in her clothes and a bird landed on it. She thought it was a partridge which, I think, would have been most unusual. Her son died that very night.
The question that is sometimes asked is whether some people are more psychic or receptive to the hoverings of death.
We can be sure that most people do not know when their fateful hour will come, and what exactly will take us from the earthly world, to the one whose form we do not know, if, in fact, you even believe that.
Nevertheless, there are some people, and we have all heard of them, who can see this moment coming, or intimations of it, either for themselves or for others. One psychologist put it this way, “Mystical and unfathomable intuition is what allows some people to find the key to this impenetrable secret.” That explains it, don’t you think? Perhaps they are only coincidences.
I taught school in St. Anthony many years ago, when this story was making the rounds. Coming in from shopping one morning, a young wife said to her husband that she was so tired that she thought she’d be leaving the world soon. The next day she drowned. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Some of you may have heard the story of Abraham Lincoln and his premonition of death, although in a dream. This story is well documented and this is how he told it himself:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. 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 of distress met me as I passed along. I saw a light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts could break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of the state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque (bier), on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; there was throng of people, 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.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.’