Mysteries arise from the tragedy of the R101.
October 26, 2015
THE TINY PARANORMAL APPRECIATION CLUB always met in a dark bar called The Owl’s Nest. A corner booth was reserved for them on Friday nights in an equally tiny town in Arkansas. Zeke had arrived a little early and moved into the far end of the booth. He opened three books to the bookmarked pages and set them on the corner, out of the way of potential beer slops, then, he nodded at the waitress to bring the first pitcher of beer. The well-trained but often crusty waitress, brought the pitcher and set it down in front of Zeke. She also knew to bring a virgin Cuba Libre to Zeke’s wife, Sylvia, who did the driving home from these meetings which sometimes got rowdy with enthusiasm for eeriness. The group often moaned like ghosts, howled like wolves, made UFO noises, cackled like witches or worse.
Lem and his wife, Zorelda soon arrived along with another couple, Luke and Sairy. The waitress had brought more glasses, but before Zeke poured up any beer, he had the people at the gathering look at the pictures in the books that he had brought.
“Great gosh almighty,” Lem said as he continued gawking. He let out a whistle. As the others looked at the images their facial expressions said everything. They were both stunned and tantalized by what they saw.
When they were through looking, Zeke slid the books aside and filled up the empty glasses, taking care to not over-foam them. Zorelda then doctored up her cup of coffee with sweetener and powdered cream.
“The R 101.” Zeke said this loudly, with the drama of a carnival barker. ”Here she is.” Then he explained further. “It was made by Britain and was on its maiden flight to India when it went down on October 4, 1930, in the woods near Beauvais in France. Forty-eight people died. The only ones that lived were in the gondola at the time of the incident. The aircraft did burst into flames as it fell to earth.” The photos in the books had been of a 777 foot cigar-shaped airship. It had been filled with 5 ½ million cubic feet of hydrogen.
Lem exclaimed, “Hydrogen!” Everyone’s mind veered off to what happened to the Hindenburg. “Bo-vay? Is that what you called it, the location of the crash? When did you learn French, Zeke?”
“Yes, Lemuel, that is what I called it!” Zeke retorted.
“I don’t get it,” Zorelda said with a little consternation apparent in her voice. “This is super creepy, all right, but what is paranormal about it, Zeke?”
Zeke was quick to answer. “Airships were in their infancy. The disaster caused engineers to speculate about the future of this type of aircraft. Months and years of inquiries were made about this and other airship disasters. This is what is paranormal about it: When this airship was still being designed, Sir Sefton Brancker consulted an astrologer.”
“Who was Brancker, by the way?” Lem asked the question first.
Zeke continued. “Brancker was the director of civil aviation. The astrologer came straight to the point. He did not see Brancker alive in six years. Brancker’s life was missing entirely from the astrological record.”
“Oooooo!” Several at the table voiced this at once. The waitress standing at the bar turned to the side to hide her facial expression. They’re startin’ up already. They are startin’ up with their odd noises.
“Both Brancker and Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air, were killed on that fateful day. What’s more, not only was this unbelievable astrological report part of the story, the young son of Walter Radcliffe cried out as his father left home that day, ‘I haven’t got a Daddy.’ Radcliffe was one of the riggers who flew the airship. He did return home that morning for a short bit, but went back out to the airship to board the flight and was later one who was killed.”
The Paranormal Appreciation group looked toward Zeke for more spine-tingling information. He was ready to supply it.
“This is the really good stuff, now. Irish-born medium, Eileen Garrett…”
Sairy was first to interrupt. “You mean THE Eileen Garrett?”
“That is the one,” Zeke confirmed. “Anyway, three days after the horrible accident Eileen Garrett was at the London Spiritual Alliance conducting a séance with one Harry Price who ran the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. Their plan was to contact the spirit of the late Conan Doyle. Instead, the voice of R 101 Flight Lieutenant, H. Carmichael Irwin came through. The sitters present got to hear a play-by-play description from Irwin, up to the moment he died.”
Lem asked, “You mean a guy that died on the flight, was coming through at the séance—a séance held only three days after the accident?”
“Yes. That is what I mean. A reporter who had come to observe the Conan Doyle séance, started taking notes in shorthand. He got it all and later wrote an article that was published. A Mr. Charlton who was involved with the building of the airship, along with some other engineers asked to see the exact full notes the reporter took down at the séance. After reading them Charlton declared them amazing documents. He went on to say that there were over forty highly technical and confidential details that medium Eileen Garrett could not have known on her own. Garrett was a low-key woman. She was starting to gain respect as a medium but this séance helped her gain fame as one of the greatest mediums who ever lived.”
“What did Irwin say was the cause of the disaster, in a nutshell? Sylvia asked this while trying to get the attention of the waitress for another soda.
“Irwin said that the atmospheric conditions, turbulent winds and other factors put unbearable pressure on a gas valve that blew off. The escaping gas was ignited by backfire from the engines. A Court of Inquiry convened on October 28, three weeks after the accident. The information given by Irvin, through Garrett as a medium, was almost totally confirmed.”
“Whoa,” Lem uttered. “Ooooooooooo,” voiced the remainder of the group.
“What’s more, over the ensuing days, Eileen Garrett continued to receive messages from Irwin and others who died. One of the voices was that of Sir Sefton.
The group in the corner of The Owl’s Nest was silent for a moment. Then, Zeke spoke up again with some more tidbits.
“By the way, you can read the exact transcripts of the séance several places online. They are unbelievably fascinating. Many of the spirit transmissions have to deal with observing things that are only found it the blueprints of the ship, something Garrett would not have had access to. One interesting thing that was reported was that at the exact time of the airship crash, a switchboard operator reported hearing a click on the phone in Irwin’s office at Cardington base—where his land office was. It was checked out by a duty officer and of course no one was in the office. Then there is this. When a friend went to the home of “Bird” Irvin to tell his wife of the disaster, Mrs. Irwin said, ‘It’s all right. You needn’t worry. I know. You see, Bird is Irish, and I’m Scottish. We both knew he wasn’t coming back again.”
The sometimes crusty waitress at The Owl’s Nest waited for the strange noises from the back booth to quiet down a bit before she took up another picture of beer. They always gave good tips, anyway.
* * *
Some unusual events have coincided with the October 31st date that has been set aside to observe All Hallows’ Eve. Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds is the first one that comes to mind for me. Then there was the bizarre death of Harry Houdini and the annual séances held to try to contact his spirit on Halloweens hence.
There are many memorial celebrations honoring the life and death of Edgar Allan Poe. October 31, 1517, was the day that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Catholic Church at Wittenberg, thus beginning the Protestant Reformation. Halloween of 1941 was the day that the heads were finished on Mt. Rushmore and Halloween, 1967, is the birth date of musician, Vanilla Ice, also known as Robert Matthew Van Winkle. Yes, it is.
The event that happened on October 4, 1930 could not be called an actual Halloween event, but the spooky vibes of Halloween were already in the air then, no doubt, and the mysterious events around the tragedy reached a fever pitch around the actual Halloween date and continued on into November and the rest of the year. For some, they continue still.
Sara Marie Hogg’s latest release is Quite Curious, a collection of stories about the unknown and unexplained.