Historical hauntings

Ghostly goings on in the gardens of the French court, recounted in  'An Adventure', by C.A.E. Moberly & E.F. Jourdain

I first heard of this when I was a teenager, alerted to it by an article in Astounding Stories magazine, under the title “Time-Travel Happens!” by A.M. Phillips (issue of December 1939). The book was first published in 1911, and has been reissued more than once since.

It tells a story of how two English academics, Anne Moberly (1846-1937), and her companion Eleanor Jourdain (1863-1924), respectively the first and second principals of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, paid a visit to Versailles in 1901. 

According to their account, mysterious things happened to them as they went to the Petit Trianon: they experienced an oppressive atmosphere, encountered people in 18th-century costume, and on subsequent visits were unable to trace their route. They later discovered that they had seen features of the garden that had long been lost, and concluded that they had somehow witnessed a scene from Marie Antoinette’s time. Much of the book becomes a history of the Trianon, as they describe their researches into its 18th-century condition.

"How many others have made similar trips through time?" asked Mr Phillips in his Astounding Stories article.  Various explanations have been offered for the mysterious events, ranging from telepathy to credulity on the part of the writers, or from haunting to a cinema production on the part of the Trianon. “Prank” is not a frequently encountered explanation, but we have only the authors’ word for their experience; they could easily have conducted their researches into the Trianon’s history and then concocted their story. 

Christopher Thacker mischievously printed an extract from An Adventure in the closing pages of an issue of Garden History, of which he was then Editor (vol. 7 no. I, Spring 1979). In the RHS Library, we of course maintain a studied neutrality on the subject, and file the book under Gardens: France – Versailles.



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