A Brief History
On August 10, 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly (1846–1937) and Eleanor Jourdain (1863–1924) traveled by train to Versailles to visit the Royal Palace and grounds located there about 12 miles from the city center of Paris. Little did they realize their sight seeing trip would be a trip into the supernatural, a trip they would never forget.
Moberly was born in 1846 in Winchester, England, and had become an academician, working as Principal of St. Hugh’s College, in Oxford. Previously she had served as her father’s secretary, her father serving as the Bishop of Salisbury.
Jourdain was 17 years Moberly’s junior, and worked as Moberly’s assistant at St. Hugh’s until 1915 when Moberly retired and Jourdain took over as Principal. Both women were educated and educators, coming from large, strong families, neither one the type to come up with outlandish or hysterical claims.
In 1901, the ladies took their trip to France to visit Versailles, but were underwhelmed by the Palace. Deciding to stroll the grounds and visit the gardens and the Petit Trianon (small chateau located on the grounds), passing the Grand Trianon (a larger chateau built as a retreat for the King in which to entertain his mistress), which was closed to visitors that day, on the way. The women became lost on the paths to the Petit Trianon, unknowingly passing their intended destination. Here then, is where the visit took an incredible turn.
Feeling oddly tired, oppressed and dreary, the pair encountered oddly dressed people clad in old time clothing, a sort of tableau vivant, a sight akin to a living picture as they described it. The atmosphere changed to an uneasy unpleasantness, the air still and objects seeming more like those in a painting. Shadows and other evidence of the Sun were absent. They came upon a man in a wide brimmed hat sitting in the garden, with an ugly countenance, pockmarked face, “most repulsive, its expression odious.” The strange man seemed to look right through the women. They came upon another man in a wide brimmed hat, and this man guided them to the Petit Trianon. On their way back to the palace, Moberly saw a woman she at first took to be a tourist, but soon realized the clothing worn by the woman was far too old fashioned. Moberly believed the apparition to be that of Marie Antoinette, but Jourdain did not see the woman. Moberly and Jourdain soon spotted another group of tourists, and joined that party and completed their tour.
The ladies did not speak of their spooky adventure on the way home, and did not discuss their eerie experience until a week had passed. Moberly tentatively asked Jourdain about their trip, and the two decided to write about their surreal visit to Versailles separately and then compare notes. A little research into the history of Versailles revealed that on August 10, 1792 the palace was under siege, the King’s Swiss guards slaughtered. Subsequent visits to Versailles resulted in failure to locate the strange path they had taken on that day in 1901. Certain objects they had seen on the strange part of their visit, notably a bridge and a garden kiosk, were likewise no longer present. Further research cause the pair to believe the strange seated man was a friend of Queen Marie Antoinette, the Comte de Vaudreuil.
Moberly and Jourdain published an account of their creepy experience in 1911, An Adventure, though they used noms de plume, Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont. Critics derided their tale of time travel and supernatural entities, and the pair were accused of reporting other supernatural experiences at other times. Of course, the public does not always agree with critics, and the public was fascinated by the report of Marie Antoinette being spotted in 1901. The true identity of the authors was not revealed until 1931.
Moberly retired from St. Hugh’s in 1915 and Jourdain took over as Principal. Jourdain’s tenure was marred by high handed leadership and a scandal in which much of the academic staff quit over Jourdain’s harsh leadership. Jourdain died in 1924 amid the scandal, and Moberly lived until 1937. Both women did report supernatural experiences before and after the Versailles event. The Moberly-Jourdain Incident is remembered in the 1981 made for television movie, Mrs. Morison’s Ghosts. A radio adaptation was broadcast by the BBC in 2014 and 2015.
Of course, as with most allegedly supernatural events, people have tried to attach various explanations to the incident reported by the 2 English women. The first and simplest explanation is that they somehow encountered a time slip or time warp or other portal into the dimension of time and space and ended up back in the 18th Century and actually did see ghosts of people of that era. Others believe the highly suggestible ladies were merely mistaken and misinterpreted quite normal people and events. Still other allege fraud.
What do you think really happened? Is it possible to accidentally travel through time, or take a temporary look into the past? Would the people you encounter in such an event be ghosts, or just the people as they were at that time? Please share your opinions and analysis with your fellow readers.
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For more information, please see…
Moberly and Jourdain (Tony Walker Translator). The Adventure. CreateSpace, 2014.
Russell and Cohn. Moberly Jourdain Incident. Book on Demand Ltd., 2013.