Many people dream of being able to travel back in time. The chance to see what life was like decades, or even centuries, ago sounds appealing to some. And if their story is to be believed, two English scholars were granted this incredible opportunity in the early 20th century.
In August 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, both of whom were writers who also worked for a women’s college in Oxford, embarked on a trip to Paris. After seeing the sights of the city, they decided to visit the palace of Versailles, once home to the kings of France.
They first visited the main palace, but they were unimpressed, so they decided to visit some of the other buildings on the grounds. They settled on touring the Petit Trianon, which was once Queen Marie Antoinette’s private hideaway.
Using their guidebook map, they began walking towards the small chateau. Somehow, they ended up at the Grand Trianon instead (yet another grand house in the Versailles estate) but found it was closed for the day. Undaunted, they struck out again for the Petit Trianon, but soon became lost. It was then that things started to appear strange.
They found a pair of men with a wheelbarrow and spade. Assuming they were gardeners, they asked the men for directions. When they did, they realized the men were wearing tri-cornered hats and long coats that looked like part of a historical costume. But the men pointed the way to go, so the women continued on.
Following this incident, they came upon a cottage with a woman and girl standing outside. These women were also dressed in clothes from the past. They appeared to look more like wax figures than people, except for the fact that they were moving. There were no shadows, no wind, and everything began to appear flat and lifeless. Unsurprisingly, a deep depression came over both women.
For some reason, they kept on their path and soon reached the Temple of Love, a large marble sculpture near the Petit Trianon. There, they encountered a man sitting near a garden kiosk, also in historical clothing. His face was covered in smallpox scars, and the women felt his expression was “evil”. After this encounter they stumbled upon the Petit Trianon, their goal all along.
When they reached it, Moberly saw a lady sitting on a stool, sketching the gardens and trees. She wore a large hat and had light-colored hair. She was also dressed in royal 18th century clothing. They finally decided to leave Versailles after this.
The two women returned to Paris and did not discuss these events until a week later. They decided to visit the Trianon again, but could not find any of the strange things that had so disturbed them. They came to believe that the sketching lady was Marie Antoinette and the pock-marked man was the Comte de Vaudreil, an important nobleman during King Louis XVI’s reign. The women decided that Versailles was haunted.
Moberly and Jourdain published their story under pseudonyms to avoid publicity. This was wise, since their book created a sensation. While many experts said the women had made the story up or had experienced some kind of hysteria when they became lost, another explanation sounded more interesting.
Some parapsychologists suggested that the women had experienced a time-slip, meaning they had somehow slipped into the 18th century for a brief period of time.
Moberly and Jourdain were not revealed as the book’s authors until 1931, by which time Jourdain had already died. At this time, it came to light that this foray into pre-Revolutionary France was not the first time the women had claimed to have had a paranormal experience. Moberly once claimed that she saw the Roman Emperor Constantine in the Louvre in 1914. Jourdain insisted that the ghost of a German spy was hiding in her college.
So, was this a case of attention-seeking, or did these women really see these historical figures? If they wanted attention, why did they publish their book anonymously? Whatever the truth is, both women stuck to their story until their deaths.