“Presentiments are strange things: and so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity had not yet found the key” ― Charlotte Brontë
What is a dream? The mental garbage of the day organized into a surreal narrative? Or is it the moment in which we tear down the walls that protect the borders of our consciousness from the realization that time itself is a nebulous entity that may or may not exist, allowing us to peer backwards and forwards through the veil of practicality and linearity? Do murder, suicide, and traumatic events ripple across the elusive time barrier and give us a glimpse of a universe where everything happens at once, but is experienced by our consciousness as flow? I have so many questions. Including, why do they put orange peel in marmalade. It’s a perfectly tasty food. There’s no need to introduce elements that get stuck in my teeth. Floss is the Devil’s fishing line. Let’s dream a little dream. Consider the tragic fate of William E. Esdaile.
On October 7th, 1885, the Chicago Daily News reported, “W.E. Esdaile, in the employ of Robert Warren and Co., commission merchants in the Royal Insurance Building, and residing at 4523 Woodlawn Avenue, Kenwood, has been missing since last Friday morning. Mr. Esdaile is a Canadian, unmarried, and twenty-seven years of age. His family resides at Montreal. He has been resting from business during the last week, and has spent much of his time strolling along the lake shore. As his accounts are all right and there is no assignable reason for his disappearance, his friends fear that he has committed suicide. Overwork it is thought and an injury to the skull, received some years ago, may possibly have brought on insanity. The police are searching for him”.
Mr. Ward, who had charge of Mr. Warren’s business during his absence, says that he was informed of Mr. Esdaile’s disappearance on Friday evening, October 2nd. On Saturday a.m., he examined the papers, etc., found in the young man’s room; found no evidence of suicidal intent, but indications that he was not in his right mind, and concluding that he might have wandered off a detective was employed to search for him. The matter was kept very quiet, so as to prevent publication of sensational reports that would alarm his friends, and also render it unpleasant for the young man should he be found. Mr. Ward is not aware that any announcement of the matter was made in any of the papers, before the item in the news of October 7th. They were following on the track of a young man, whose description corresponded somewhat with that of Mr. Esdaile, who had been seen at the waterworks of Hyde Park (and Kenwood) and then had travelled around the end of Lake Michigan into Indiana, and were expecting to find him very soon, when on Saturday morning, October 10th, notice was received that the body of Esdaile had been found on the lake shore near his home (Oxon, 1891, p67).
William E. Esdaile, Esq., but we can find him listed as a member of the Board of Trade of the City of Chicago in 1884 (CBT Annual, 1884, p159). The Chicago tribune noted on October 10th, 1885 that detectives were still on his trail and expected to eventually find him aimlessly wandering in some sort of fugue state. Later on the morning of October 10th, Esdaile’s body was found on the lake shore near his Kenwood neighbourhood home. The Coroner’s office, concluding that he had drowned in Lake Michigan on or around October 2nd, but were otherwise unable to determine if he had committed suicide or succumbed to an unfortunate accident. On February 28th, 1886, The New York Times reported that while his employer Robert Warren was in Europe, Esdaile had been left in charge of the business (which largely seems to have consisted of moving around large shipments of meat and grain). Esdaile appears to have overdrawn the company accounts and lost some $3800 speculating on the market. He never mentioned any of this to his friends (who it is said would have gladly helped him out), and the implication was that he had taken his own life in shame.
On the morning of October 7th, 1885, a prominent Chicago editorial writer for the Chicago Times named Franc B. Wilkie and his wife Ellen Morse Wilkie had not yet left their bedroom and were just getting dressed when Ellen asked Franc “if he knew anyone named Edsale or Esdale. A negative reply was given and then a ‘Why do you ask?’ She replied: ‘During the night I dreamt that I was on the lake-shore and found a coffin there, with the name of Edsale or Esdale on it, and I am confident that someone of that name has recently been drowned there’” (Willson, 1908, p65-66).
On opening his morning paper, the first item that attracted his attention was the report of the mysterious disappearance from his house in Hyde Park of a young man named Esdaile (Tuckett, 1911, p124).
Franc Wilkie pointed out that he had no knowledge whatsoever of young Esdaile, nor had his wife, who offered the following statement:
The dream was the cause of considerable comment for the few days following, as to the various features of the case, and whether the dream would be verified. My previous presentiments had been with reference to intimate friends, which made this one appear the more marked, and caused Mr. Wilkie to examine the matter more carefully in all its details. The residence of the young man was eight miles from our home. I am not aware that we have ever known any of the young man’s friends, or anyone who knew him; and am certain that had the fact of his disappearance been mentioned in my hearing prior to the morning after the dream, I should have remembered the name, for I distinctly remembered that it seemed peculiar to me, when I saw it in apparently large silver letters on the coffin – signed, Mrs. Franc B. Wilkie (Myers, 1895, p375-378).
Now, Mrs. Wilkie admitted to the occasional dream-based presentiment regarding close friends and acquaintance, but wasn’t about to hang out a shingle and start reading people’s futures. What stuck in her craw was that she had no idea who her dream was about. Perhaps Esdaile’s personal pain was like dropping a pebble in the lake, a fateful choice made in despair that rippled out into whatever the medium our consciousnesses share, outside of time, to present itself in an inexplicable dream to a stranger. Emily Dickinson once said, “Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn, Indicative that suns go down; The notice to the startled grass; That darkness is about to pass.”
Chicago Board of Trade. Annual Report. Chicago, 1884.
Oxon, M.A. ed. “Coincidences”. Harry Houdini Collection (Library of Congress), England College of Psychic Studies (London, and London Spiritualist Alliance). Light v11:527. London: Eclectic Pub. Co., 1891.
Myers, F.W.H. “The Subliminal Self”. Society for Psychical Research (Great Britain). Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research v11. London: Society for Psychical Research, 1895.
Myers, F. W. H. 1843-1901. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1961.
Tuckett, Ivor Lloyd. The Evidence for the Supernatural: a Critical Study Made With “uncommon Sense”. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1911.
Willson, Beckles, 1869-1942. Occultism and Common-sense. London: T.W. Laurie, 1908.