Saturday, 22 November 2008

A room with a view

In my last post I questioned the validity of almost automatic attribution of apparent time/space anomalies to "ghosts".

The story that follows - it's very short (always a commendable virtue in my book), taken from the files of the American Society for Psychical Research - adds little or nothing towards the clarification* of this issue, but it does further illustrate my point (I hope).

If you are from Nebraska, you have probably heard it before.
Then again, I am not, and I have heard it myself. I read it, to be precise, in Michael Talbot's book The Holographic Universe.

On page 227-228, he speaks of "a woman identified only by the name Buterbaugh", who "looked out the window of her office at Nebraska Wesleyan University and saw the campus as it was fifty years earlier. Gone were the bustling streets and the sorority houses, and in their place was an open field and a sprinkling of trees, their leaves aflutter in the breeze of a summer long since passed".

Charming. ;)
But Talbot's account, while succinct and enticing (certainly enticing enough for me to have remembered it), sounds a little vague. Expressions like "a woman only identified as Buterbaugh" certainly don't help building an impression of credibility.

The good news is that the story is relatively recent and that it involves people whose existence seems to present little doubt (although I should tell you that I usually try to "investigate" them anyway**) .
Furthermore, in the years since the publication of Talbot's book it has spread to other sources of information and is now to be found in versions that contain some more (and quite reassuring) details.

We now know the exact date when it's supposed to have happened: October 3, 1963.
We also know that Buterbaugh's name was Coleen and that she was a secretary at the university.

However, those extended versions feature another player, also a woman: Miss Urania Clara Mills, the former head of the university's music department. She was appointed to that position in 1912, and occupied it until her death, at age sixty, in 1940. (But the accounts - and supposed date - of her death seem to vary; see below.)

Be it as it may, it was apparently Miss Mills' room at the university where the unsuspecting Miss Buterbaugh was confronted with a vista like no other.

Here is a short version posted on a genealogy site:

"The ghost of Miss Urania Clara Mills haunted the C.C. White Memorial Building on this campus. The huge brick building, erected between 1903 and 1907, housed the Music Department, where Miss Mills taught from 1912 to 1936. On October 3, 1963, Mrs. Coleen Buterbaugh, a secretary to Dean Sam Dahl, was in the music building on an errand.

When she entered the rooms of Dr. Tom McCourt she was overcome by a strong, musty odor. Then she saw the apparition of a tall, thin woman reaching for some papers on the top shelf of an old music cabinet in a corner. Looking out the window, Coleen realized it was summertime and the sun shining and flowers blooming. Suddenly the ghostly scene disappeared and the outdoor scenery returned to a gray October day.

When she told Dean Dahl about her experience, she launched an investigation and discovered that those rooms belonged to Clara Urania Mills. She had died on October 3, 1936, in the room across from where her ghost was seen. The case has become a classic in the literature of the paranormal.
The CC White Building was torn down in 1973."

Here is another one, an excerpt from an interesting article:

"Now that is a very good question," said Roger Cognard when asked if he believes in the ghost that haunts the university.

Cognard, a professor of English at Wesleyan, was reluctant to talk about his personal beliefs about Lincoln's most notorious ghost but was willing to tell the story.

On Oct. 3, 1963, the dean of the university sent his secretary, Coleen Buterbaugh, on an errand to the C.C. White Building on campus. She entered a room in the building and saw a woman dressed in early 20th century clothing. Buterbaugh looked out the room's windows and saw that the tall trees she had walked past before entering the building had transformed into small, recently planted ones.

The area surrounding the building appeared to be underdeveloped and resembled what it would have looked like 50 years in the past. Buterbaugh turned and ran.

Upon hearing his secretary's account of the story, the dean sent Buterbaugh to a faculty member who had worked at the university the longest.

He showed her a yearbook, and she proceeded to flip through it, eventually identifying the woman she saw as Urania Clara Mills, a former music teacher at the school.

Buterbaugh was unaware that 23 years prior, Mills walked into the room Buterbaugh entered, sat in a chair and died of a heart attack.

"I came here one year after the incident and got to know the dean real well," Cognard said, "He is a credible man and he accepted his secretary's story as gospel."

But there is another version, much more extensive, where the apparent time slip, amazingly, plays only a minor role:

Go ahead, read it.
I'll wait...

(The C.C White Memorial building as it was cca 1906 - 1920.

Photo taken from here.)

So, how did you like it?

What I like about this version is that it questions the date of Miss Mills' death. According to them, the most probable date of death is April 12, 1940 (not even remotely close to October 3, 1936).

What I don't like about it (through no fault of the author) is the fact that there is no mention of that ancient summer's day - in October - with breeze wafting through the leaves of long-gone trees.

And yet, it is precisely that purported fleeting view from the window, into a summer long gone, which not only justifies the inclusion of this interesting incident here, but, more importantly, proves - at least in my mind - that Miss Mills, or whoever that apparition was, was not a "ghost".

As I see it, Miss Buterbaugh somehow entered a point in space/time that included that woman's presence (very real at the time - in her own real time). She entered a moment - a summer's day - that, from her perspective, had passed "long ago", but in reality, in the fullness of time, that moment still is. All moments, past and future, still are.

Miss Mills (asuming that it was her presence) may have somehow triggered an apparent "rift" in the spacetime continuum. Or maybe she didn't - maybe something, or somebody, else did.

Was it Miss Mills' memory that Coleen Buterbaugh somehow accessed?
(That's one explanation that Charlotte Moberly offered for her trip extraordinaire.)
The vision of her reaching for a book would speak against that possibility. People do not usually "remember" themselves as they are seen from outside, by another pair of eyes.

Was it somebody else's memory, then?
Who knows.

Was Miss Mills - or somebody else? - reminiscing across time about her office, her daily work?

Or was she, with all of her life, somehow "hardwired" into the apparent separate space/time of that room - eternally present, so to speak? 
And did Miss Buterbaugh simply (simply?) got the wires of her "now" somehow crossed with the wires of Miss Mills' "now"?

Be it as it may, I have little doubt that Miss Buterbaugh really experienced what she said she had.
But were the presence(s) that she sensed "ghosts"?
Not as I understand them; not unless it is a name for images and other sensory perceptions somehow retrieved from the eternal NOW into the illusion of "present" (illusion in the sense of being separate from that "eternal now", I mean).

I will say this: music being intimately connected with the numerical repartition of time/space, it should come as no surprise that this string of incidents involves a musician.
Many of the physicists and/or mathematicians I know have great talent for music. (Dear old Albert - you know Albert - was a very accomplished violinist. Did you know that? Yes, I know you did. Only the smartest people come here. ;))

And I am almost sure Miss Urania Clara is dancing to the music of the spheres as we speak... in her own former office. In her own former life.
(Honestly: what else would you expect from someone called Urania Clara, I ask you...? ;)


* Pun on Miss Mills' middle name not intended - but welcome. ;)

** Somewhat irritatingly, Miss Mills does not appear on this group photo, taken in 1916. Much more unsettlingly, she is not even mentioned in the official catalogue issued by the Department of Music, in April 1916 - or anywhere on that site, for that matter.

For somebody who failed to appear in any photo of the staff, she certainly has a strong presence...

I am not saying that she didn't exist (in case you haven't noticed, the author of the article above gives a precise address for her - see the note at the bottom of the article); all I am saying is that I am yet to find photographic "proof" of her presence at the university.

I anticipate further edits to this post, so do come back at some later date. ;)

EDIT (23. XI. 08):

Actually I am not sure that the photo and the catalogue (see note **) were even published by the Wesleyan university - both refer to the University of Nebraska, which was in Lincoln at the time (or so it seems).
The fact remains that her name is not mentioned on that site.
Nor is Miss Buterbaugh's, for that matter.)


Val B. said...


great blog!

I have a question. Do you think that maybe ghosts are people alive in other dimensions? or that apparitions are more or less "glimpses" of other dimensions?

Myosotis said...

A very interesting question, Val, thank you.

You'll be glad to see that we've just posted a musing about it. ;)

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I think your writing is way too good for such a blog. It's a very nice blog and I am as of now started following it in case you havent noticed, but your kind of writing dserves a much wider public. A book maybe?

Good job. Love your scepticism and your open mind and your humor, I love how you make it seem you don't take yourselves seriously. But you really should. I've visited similar blogs. They all copy & paste and their added value is the occasional "hmmmmmm" they. Some reflection.

Keep up the good work.

Myosotis said...

Thank you very much for your kind words, whoever you are.

We really, really appreciate every sort of feedback; but THIS sort of feedback, expressed like this, naturally, warms our hearts more than we can express. ;)

Anonymous said...

I love this game :)

KO said...

Love this story and i agree. It's not a ghost she witnessed.

Again i go by my theory of 2 types of time slips.

This was indeed a physical timeslip.

If it were on the other hand the other type of timeslip, then i would say she 'may' have witnessed an 'entity' of some nature perhaps trying to duplicate the dead woman. If this was true, then it would have meant that the woman, when alive, 'may' have dealt in such things as spiritism or the occult and therefore left traces or things in that room where perhaps a 'spirit' type entity would have latched itself on to and thus tried to 'decieve' the witness in to thinking she had seen this dead woman alive..

However.. This creature can NOT control its surroundings. It would not have been able to manipulate the vista or the weather outside of the window..

This was a definate 'natural' time slip.

Under certain atmospheric conditions, those of which nobody can yet decipher what 'kind' of conditions are needed, a 'snapshot' or photo from the past was replicated in that room..

I wish i knew how it worked but i really believe that this is what she would have seen.

Perhaps it has something to do with electrical storms?

So many experiences i've read on timeslips seem to take place on humid, dull, stormy days. (i could be wrong there of course), but if true, then perhaps there's some kind of relation there. A relation between the electric current of a storm and the natural electro magnetic properties of the earth.

It is good to theorize that under these conditions, a door or 'picture from the past' can perhaps open up for a moment..


Myosotis said...

I see you're on a roll today. :)
Well done.

Of course, I agree this was no "ghost".
(Furthermore, many of so-called are probably no such things, either.)

Clearly SOMETHING triggered the release of a moment of time that was - as all moments are, I suspect - imprinted upon that particular space-time (the office).

Why did Miss Buterbaugh only see her? Maybe she was simply, by nature, more open to outer influxes.

As to Clara Urania (gotta love the name :)), I think it's possibly - just maybe - significant that she was a music teacher. Music is a funny thing - it opens doors of perception that one doesn't even know are there... (Perhaps it is not by chance that my most memorable event of the unknown kind - described in "If these walls could sing" - had to do with music.)
But that's s too complicated a subject for a comment.

Atmospheric conditions are of vital importance, of course. (Which is why it is SO important to note and write down every single aspect of the environment when such a "slip" happens.)

It is true, unusually many such events seem to have happened in stormy or pre-storm weather. This includes the famous "Versailles incident" (the second - and unseemly long!) post in this blog), although Miss Moberly explicitly states that the weather was somewhat fresher than before. The weather around that August 10, 1901, was by all accounts quite stormy across vast expanses of Europe.

But of course, electric and/or magnetic anomalies or increased activity - or whatever triggers such events - can be produced by a multitude of sources or parameters, of which we know very little (thanks to the narrow-minded science that keeps ignoring this, hoping it'll go away).

Again, the "Versailles incident" provides some indirect clues that something else - a local source of influence - could be the cause of, let's say, distorted or expanded perception. It seems that other people, living on or around the grounds of the park, also saw the landscape become "flattened", like theatre props, on many occasions.

(Unfortunately, they cannot be examined properly because all such reports are second- or third-hand, with no names, let alone any additional information.)

So, while it may take a specially sensitive person to observe something like that, it seems there would be something about the place itself that was a powerful agent of perceptual "distortion".

But is it physical, properly? Colin Wilson takes Miss Moberly's idea (that the two entered Marie-Antoinette's memory) and runs with it - quite interestingly, IMO. Could it be that Marie-Antoinette's memory - we must remember that she suffered unimaginable mental torture - was able to produce apparent temporary spatial distortion across time (or what we call "time")?

I was tempted to attribute the vision in Nebraska to Clara Urania's memory - across time - too. That could explain the vision through the window - but it would not explain the vision of herself from the back.

It's all just brain-storming, anyway... but why not?
We know that storms can be very productive. ;)

KO said...

Oh absolutely! :D

Now i must kinda correct myself as in a way it's not quite 2 types of timeslips.. more like 2 types of ghost..

I'd say one is a natural recording of a person, voices and background/landscape brought on by certain atmospheric conditions.. (my favourite)

The other, well, this'll be the apparition of a person and/or voice of a supposed dead loved one brought on by those awful spiritism type people. decievers really. (not a fave subject.. dont like going there)

Had to clarify myself there.. :)

So yes.. perhaps there are those who's perceptions are slightly higher and more sensitive than other's, and can pick up such things as time slips and other dimensional changes. I'd go along with that.

All to be explored of course.
If only those science types will wake up to it all!

Saying that.. There are some scientist's who are now starting to think less logically now than others.. They see mathematics and logic as a restraint and can now see beyond it all.. for example they are now exploring dark matter. They're trying to find the God Particle etc etc. So i do think they've almost loosened the shackles somewhat.


Myosotis said...

Well, it certainly is something to consider. No possible influences can be excluded a priori, because we simply don't know enough at this point, so well done for including that thought.

Certainly, in my strictly personal opinion, "spiritualism" is something not to be toyed with - if for no other reason, because you never can tell WHAT exactly is it that is coming through. Even if it is not a hoax - who can tell WHAT is it? It could be someone's subconscious; or something else altogether. (It can also be dangerous. When I was a teenager, I had a friend whose sister almost went mad after such a seance.)
The one "spiritualist" that I do find interesting - for different reasons - is Daniel Dunglas Home.

And yes! There are scientists who are more interested in finding the truth rather than protecting their pet theories. There aren't many, but there are some.

I remember there was a researcher in the "Ghost Hunters" series (the British one from the 1990s, not the recent American "ghost" show) who said it very well: if only scientists would put their prejudices aside and consider, FOR THE SAKE OF THE ARGUMENT, what could be causing such phenomena... How much easier everything could be!

Because- and this is also something that too many brush aside way too fast - if only one, ONE among the thousands and thousands of such reports, is inexplicable by "logical" means, it turns everything we think we know upside down.

Myosotis said...

PS. It occurred to me that I should have mentioned - for the benefit of anyone reading this - some of the scientists who are/were open - or at least not opposed - to a wider view of things, including acceptance of our current human ignorance.
Fred Alan Wolf and Charles Tart are two such scientists; Michio Kaku doesn't strike me as particularly close-minded, either.
(You'll find Wolf's and Kaku's works in the selection of books on the lower right side of the screen; or just go directly to an online book store).

And of course, there is Max Planck, the father of quantum mechanics, who admitted - nay, emphasised - that, in his view, consciousness is an essential part of physics.

How important is this statement will be revealed if you read the post "What Everett REALLY said... and what he didn't"

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story. Read a short version in a paperback book by Brad Steiger, I had a book, now misplaced, with a much fuller account. Wish thee were more details of what Mrs. Buterbaugh saw through the window, back in time, as it were.

Myosotis said...

Thank you very much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. We love that. :)

Yes, it is a fascinating story, one of my favourites (for some reason).
I'll see if I can find more RELIABLE detailed accounts of this story. (I have seen several, but often stories get embellished and added to with the passage of time.)

Stay tuned. :-)

Anonymous said...