Messages from the Other Side: Proof of an Afterlife?
Since at least the 1980s, various surveys conducted on the subject have revealed the astonishing fact that roughly half of all Westerners, from the United States to Great Britain, believe they have been contacted at some point in their lives by the spirit of someone who has died. Whether in the form of an especially vivid dream, a disembodied voice, a full-blown apparition, or an unmistakable presence, these visitations from the Great Beyond often seem to be made for the purpose of rendering a service to those whom the spirit in question knew and loved in life. In this piece, we will examine three such stories unique to the Great White North, all of which appeared in the archives of the late great Fortean researcher Gary Mangiacopra, and in different issues of the magazine Fate. Enjoy!
Our first and oldest story appeared in the June 1960 issue of Fate, written and submitted by Ona Lacy Hunter of Springfield, Missouri. Ona’s story takes place in a rural area in southwestern Saskatchewan, near what is now the prairie ghost town of Ruthilda, just west of the town of Kerrobert. In 1916, Ona’s father, John Bradley, owned a farm in the area, where he lived with his wife and their son, Grover. Ona herself was already married, and living with her husband on an adjoining farm.
On January 16th, 1916, John Bradley died suddenly from a heart attack. Since there was no undertaker nor mortuary within 40 miles, the Bradley family decided to bury John on his own property, and spent three days chiseling a grave from the frozen earth. While they laboured in the dry, biting cold of the kind which only a Saskatchewan winter can produce, John’s corpse reposed in a casket in the living room, frozen solid. In an effort to preserve his body until its final earthly journey, the Bradleys had decided to turn the farmhouse into a makeshift morgue. They let the fire in their cast iron stove gutter out and temporarily moved in with the Hunters next door, allowing the farmhouse to assume the frigid temperature of the surrounding prairie. The only part of the dwelling they kept from freezing was the basement cellar, which was stocked with canned fruit and winter vegetables. The cellar was heated by a small stove, which the Bradleys were obliged to feed every day.
The first family member to stoke the cellar fire was Ona Hunter, who made a special trip to that frozen house of death while her brother toiled in the yard. With a matchbox in her hand and firewood in her arms, she walked past her father’s coffin on her way to the cellar stairs.
“As I descended the steps to the basement,” she wrote, “I felt my father’s presence going along with me as strongly as if he were there in the flesh. I had an intuition that he was trying to tell me something. Then, as the feeling grew, I was impressed with these words: ‘Don’t you come tomorrow. Send your brother.’
“The sense of Father’s presence and his message filled me with a strange fear. After replenishing the fire I hurried up the steps and out of the house.”
The following day, Ona did as instructed, asking Grover to tend the fire in her stead on the pretense that she was feeling unwell. She said nothing of her strange experience of the previous day, nor gave her brother any inkling of the cryptic message she believed the spirit of their father had conveyed to her.
“When Grover came back he was pale and shaken,” Ona wrote. “He told us how he had plainly felt his father’s presence and how he had been directed to go to a small box hidden behind some old fruit jars in the basement. In this box he had found Father’s will.
“None of us had known about the will. In it Father left the farm to my brother, with the provision that he make it his home and keep my mother as long as she lived.
“My brother was so worked up over all this he would not go back to their house on the third day.
“This time I had none of the consciousness of my father’s presence as on that first day. On my way out I went into the living room and looked down at the peaceful face in the casket. I thought, Father’s spirit accomplished its mission and has gone on.”
My Unseen Companion
Our next story takes us to southern Manitoba, to a rural area southwest of the city of Winnipeg. Back in the early 1900s, this stretch of farmland and broadleaf forest, interspersed with tiny rural communities, was a thriving agglomeration of suburbs connected to the provincial capital by the Canadian Pacific Railway. One of the towns in this once-booming corner of Manitoba was Starbuck, now a quaint hamlet hugging the banks of the La Salle River. According to Reverend Walter Davison, the one-time pastor of a Starbuck church to whom we owe this story, a mile from town was a neighbouring parish called Rolland, spelled with two ‘L’s. This assertion compounds the mystery we will explore shortly, as a 1926 map of southern Manitoba indicates that the only homophonic community in the area at the time was Roland, spelled with one ‘L’, which was located 31 miles southwest of Starbuck back in 1926, just as it is today. Davison, who told his story to Michael Bruce of Picton, Ontario, who, in turn, submitted the story for publication in the May 1960 issue of Fate, explained this geographical discrepancy by stating simply “the boundaries moved”.
Davison began his story by explaining that, back in 1920, his Starbuck congregation included a widow named Mrs. Parker and her two teenage daughters, Eileen and Mary, all three of whom he knew quite well. In the early 1920s, Davison was transferred to the parish in Rolland, and naturally fell out of touch with the Parkers and other of his former Starbuck parishioners, as his new congregation demanded all of his time and energy, and as automobiles and telephones were luxuries which most Manitobans did not enjoy at the time.
“One day in March 1924,” Davison wrote, “after I had been at the new parish almost a year, I heard a knock at the door and there stood Mary Parker.
“‘Could you come at once, please, Mr. Davison?’ she asked. ‘My sister Eileen is ill and wants to see you.’
“‘Certainly I’ll come,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry to hear that she is ill.’ And in a few moments we were on our way, talking about various matters as we walked along.
Less than a mile into their journey, the pair walked past the members of a road crew who were busy about their work. So engrossed were they in their conversation that neither pedestrian stopped to address the labourers, both of them continuing to chat as they walked by.
When they finally arrived at the Parker residence, Mary urged the reverend to use the front door while she herself went around the back. Davison did as requested and rapped on the door.
“Mrs. Parker answered my knock,” he wrote. “‘Good afternoon,’ I said. ‘Your daughter Mary called on me a few minutes ago. She tells me that Eileen is ill and wishes to see me.
“‘Mary!’ exclaimed Mrs. Parker. ‘It couldn’t…’ She checked herself and said, ‘Please come in. Eileen is very ill and wants to see you but I couldn’t leave her to fetch you; it came on so suddenly.’”
Davison proceeded to the bedroom where the sick girl lay and ministered to her spiritual needs. He neglected to disclose any details about their bedside chat, as all good confessors must, and left the room when their conversation was finished. On the other side of the door stood Mrs. Parker with a puzzled look on her face.
“Mr. Davison,” she said, “I thought you said my daughter Mary asked you to come over – but I must have been mistaken.”
“You weren’t mistaken,” the minister replied. “It was your daughter, Mary. I haven’t seen her for most of a year but I knew her perfectly well. Besides, she spoke of Eileen and walked here with me. She went round the house as I knocked at the front door.”
These words evidently distressed Mrs. Parker. “I’m sorry,” she stammered, “but you must be mistaken. You see, Mary died eight months ago.”
“I was stunned,” Davison wrote. “The only solution I could think of immediately was that some imposter had fooled me. But that was senseless; and Mary had spoken of intimate family matters with which I was familiar.
“I still was trying to puzzle it out when I again passed the group of road workers. On a sudden impulse I stopped.
“‘Good afternoon, men,’ I greeted them. ‘Do you remember seeing me pass here about an hour ago?’
“The men appeared embarrassed. ‘Well, Sir, yes we seen you,’ the foreman answered, looking at the ground.
“‘Was something wrong?’ I asked.
“The men shuffled their feet.
“‘If there was something queer I’d like to know,’ I urged.
“‘Well, Sir,’ the foreman spoke again. ‘You was alone but you had your head turned sideways and was talking steady – like someone was walking beside you, but nobody was there!’
Proof in Hand
Our third and final story was submitted by Richard W. Steinke of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and published in the November 1961 issue of Fate.
Back in 1944, at the height of Second World War, both Richard and his elder brother, Bill, were serving overseas in the Canadian Armed Forces. Nineteen-year-old Richard, who had signed on with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, saw furious action in Holland and Belgium, where he would be wounded four times in firefights with German infantry. Twenty-nine-year-old Bill, on the other hand, served in Italy as a private in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Although Richard survived his tour and returned to his Manitoban hometown after the war, Bill was killed in action on December 21st, 1944, and was buried in the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery in northeastern Italy.
At the time of his brother’s death, Richard did not believe in the possibility of an afterlife, gloomily suspecting that Bill’s consciousness had been snuffed into oblivion in the Italian countryside, like those of so many other Canadian soldiers. He maintained that belief for twelve years, during which he dreamed very seldom of his lost brother. In his estimation, Bill haunted his nocturnal reveries no more than three times a year, on average.
“On a November night in 1956,” Richard wrote, “I again had a dream in which I saw my brother. Suddenly I awoke and lay thinking about this dream, the first I had had in many months. I got to thinking that if survival is a fact, then perhaps my brother was close at hand and was attempting to communicate with me.
“With this thought in mind, I sat up in bed supporting myself on my left elbow and forearm. Looking around the bedroom, I could see my wife and the familiar bedroom furniture in the faint light streaming in the window. Feeling somewhat foolish, I spoke out loud saying, ‘Bill are you here?’
“Immediately I had the sensation that some unseen person had taken a firm hold of my left wrist. It was an electrifying shock. Somehow I managed to retain my presence of mind, and after a few seconds my wrist was released.
“Then I called out, ‘OK, Bill, now take hold of my other wrist.”
“Instantly I felt the same pressure on my right wrist. Then I lay back on my pillow feeling a lofty happiness such as I never have known before or since.
“The following Saturday I described my experience to my sister, Mrs. D. Elsasser. After listening to my story she asked me on what day it had taken place.
“I replied that it had been on Tuesday night.
“She then told me the story of a dream she had on Wednesday, the night after my experience. In my sister’s dream she met our brother, Bill. She asked Bill to come home, and he replied, ‘I was home Ann. Ask Richard. He will tell you that I was home.’
“The very use of the name ‘Richard’ is part of my proof of Bill’s survival. My sister calls me ‘Rick,’ as do all my associates. Only brother Bill always called me Richard.”
Have you ever been contacted by the spirit of a loved one? If you feel like sharing your experience, please feel free to write about it in the Comments below.
“Father’s Will,” by Ona Lacy Hunter of Springfield, Missouri, in the June 1960 issue of Fate
“My Unseen Companion,” by Walter Davison, as told to Michael Bruce, Picton, Ontario, Canada, in the May 1960 issue of Fate
“Proof in Hand,” by Richard W. Steinke of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the November 1961 issue of Fate
Manitoba & Northwestern Ontario Command – Military Service Recognition Book: Volume 7
“Two Men: So Far Apart, So Close Together,” by Peter Warren in the March 16th 1981 issue of the Winnipeg Sun