“When I was kidnapped, my parents snapped into action. They rented out my room” – Woody Allen
I have modest life goals. One of them is to not be sucked into an interdimensional portal. This might seem like an easily avoidable fate, but mind you, one never knows when a tunnel might poke through into our universe from some mysterious elsewhere, so it’s the sort of event that one cannot predict, but can nonetheless be prepared for should it occur. Take for instance the case of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Cumpston of Leeds, England, who on December 9, 1873, having just recently arrived and checked into the Victoria Hotel in Bristol, were very nearly sucked into a preternatural vortex. Bristol understandably does not include this in the tourist brochures, although some have suggested that Bristol may indeed be a weak point in the fabric of reality. Well, at least most fans of Cardiff City Football Club, so we take that with a grain of salt. Charles Fort described the uncanny events that landed the Cumpston’s in court.
Early in the morning of Dec. 9, 1873, Thomas B. Cumpston and his wife, “who occupied good positions in Leeds,” were arrested in a railroad station, in Bristol, England, charged with disorderly conduct, both of them in their nightclothes, Cumpston having fired a pistol. See the London Times, Dec. 11, 1873. Cumpston excitedly told that he and his wife had arrived the day before, from Leeds, and had taken a room in a Bristol hotel, and that, early in the morning, the floor had “opened,” and that, as he was about to be dragged into the “opening,” his wife had saved him, both of them so terrified that they had jumped out the window, running to the railroad station, looking for a policeman. In the Bristol Daily Post, December 10, is an account of proceedings in the police court. Cumpston’s excitement was still so intense that he could not clearly express himself. Mrs. Cumpston testified that, early in the evening, both of them had been alarmed by loud sounds, but that they had been reassured by the landlady. At three or four in the morning the sounds were heard again. They jumped out on the floor, which was felt giving away under them. Voices repeating their exclamations were heard, or their own voices echoed strangely. Then, according to what she saw, or thought she saw, the floor opened wide. Her husband was falling into this “opening” when she dragged him back. The landlady was called, and she testified that sounds had been heard, but she was unable clearly to describe them. Policemen said that they had gone to the place, the Victoria Hotel, and had examined the room, finding nothing to justify the extraordinary conduct of the Cumpstons. They suggested that the matter was a case of collective hallucination. I note that there was no suggestion of intoxication. The Cumpstons, an elderly couple, were discharged in the custody of somebody who had come from Leeds (Fort, 1941, p154).
Those stuffy Victorians generally considered it to be in bad taste to fire off your revolver in a hotel room during the early morning hours, as well as running about railway stations in one’s pajamas. You know, Monday night in modern New York City. The Cumpstons were taken into custody and charged with disturbing the peace. Two days later the London Times published a detailed account of the courtroom proceedings.
A singular circumstance came to light in the Bristol Police Court, on Tuesday. Mr. Thomas B. Cumpston, and his wife, Mrs. Ann Martha Cumpston, of Virginia Road, Leeds, were brought up for being disorderly at the Victoria Hotel and with letting off fire-arms. It was stated in evidence by the landlady of the hotel, Mrs. Tongue, that the defendants took an apartment at the hotel, on Monday evening, and retired to rest about twelve o’clock. About four o’clock in the morning she was awoke by loud screams and shouts in their bed room, succeeded by a report of fire-arms. She went down and found that they had both leapt from their bed room into the yard below—a depth of upwards of twelve feet—and then made their way to the railway station opposite.
Mr. T. Harker, the night superintendent on the Bristol and Exeter Railway, said the parties rushed into his office, partly dressed, crying out “Murder,” and they were in a terrible state of excitement. They told him they had escaped from a den of rogues and thieves, and they had to defend themselves. They were under the impression that someone was following them, and they made him search the waiting room to see there was no one there. Upon his sending for a policeman, Mr. Cumpston was searched, and a revolver and three knives were found upon him.
When asked by the magistrate what he had to say in explanation of the matter, Mr. Cumpston, who had an impediment in his speech, said he and his wife had been staying at Clifton; but, intending to proceed to Weston-super-Mare that morning, they came down and engaged a room at the Victoria Hotel, being near the railway station. They were alarmed at about four o’clock in the morning by terrible noises which they could not explain, and which frightened them very much. The bed seemed to open, and did all sorts of strange things. The floor, too, opened, and they heard voices. They were so terrified that they opened their bed-room window and leapt out.
Mrs. Cumpston, also, gave her version of the affair. She said they heard terrible noises at about four o’clock in the morning. The floor seemed to be giving way. It certainly opened, and her husband fell down some distance, and she tried to get him up. What they said was repeated every time they spoke. Being very much frightened she asked her husband to fire off his pistol, which he did, into the ceiling. The noises continuing, they got out of the window, but she did not know how. When they got outside she asked her husband to fire off his pistol again. They then ran up to the railway station. In reply to the Bench, the lady said she did not hear the noises so plainly as her husband. Ultimately, a Mr. Butt, who had been telegraphed for from Gloucester, attended the Court, and in reply to the Bench said the parties occupied a very good position in Leeds. He offered to take proper charge of them if they were handed over to him, which was ultimately done, the defendants being discharged from custody. No explanation can be given of this strange affair, and the belief is that it was a hallucination on the part of the husband (London Times, December 11, 1873).
Clearly, it does not make sense for us all to carry around a pistol and a few knives in the expectation that they will one day be required to avoid interdimensional abduction. Or maybe we should. I would recommend “occupying a good position” in whatever town you hail from, as this seems like a good way to prevent the full force of the law from coming down on you. What is striking about the event, apart from the obvious existential threat, are some of the cryptic details. The floor opened up, the husband fell into it, and voices could be heard through the vortex. Now, I’m all for physics. Good stuff. Key to the universe. And if this was just some random occurrence attributable to the weak character of the multiverse, or an interdimensional construction accident that inadvertently ruined the Cumpston’s vacation, we could write it off and go on with our lives at a slightly decreased level of paranoia. I mean, hey, you could get hit by lightning, too. At best one can hope that the voices heard by the Cumpstons were echoes of their own exclamations, but that seems an awfully and far less unsettling assumption than the possibility that an interdimensional hole was deliberately poked into the Victoria Hotel, and some unabashed kidnappers from another universe were attempting to make the Cumpstons disappear. I like to work with the worst case scenario, just to be safe.
Luckily, courtesy of the Cumpstons, we have a procedure to follow should this occur to you. First, you need a buddy to hang on to (Mrs. Cumpston is this instance). Second, ignore the voices. Third, fire your pistol into the ceiling. And finally, jump out the nearest window. Maybe we should practice.
Fort, Charles, 1874-1932. Lo! New York: Ace Books, 1941.
London Times, December 11, 1873.