Archives For Philadelphia

You’re all still here!  Joy!

Today’s story is a little less straightforward than the last one, but definitely not less strange. It happened about a year ago.

As many of you know, I’ve been doing research for a biographical piece on my favorite Hot Dead Guy, Robert Cornelius.

Although he’s dreamy and delightful, he hasn’t made things easy for me because he didn’t leave any papers behind.  So I’ve had to cast a pretty wide net to find correspondence from him or pertaining to him.

After a while I hit a wall.  I had exhausted all of the possibilities I could think of.  One afternoon I was particularly frustrated and I sat at my desk, stewing.

All of a sudden I got an idea about where to look next.  And then another idea.  That happens sometimes.  If you give your mind time to work on a problem, it can come up with solutions more easily.  So that’s what I assumed it was.

But I became aware of an odd sensation around me.  It felt like static, but not really.  I heard a faint buzzing noise, but the room was completely quiet.  I got the impression of a hazy, bluish veil around me, but nothing was visible.  And I couldn’t help feeling that someone was in the room with me.

After another idea popped into my head from seemingly nowhere, I wondered, “What if these ideas aren’t coming from me?  What if they’ve been given to me by whoever or whatever is here?”  But that would be nuts.  That doesn’t happen except in movies and stuff.  My brain was obviously just playing tricks on me.

So I decided to debunk my own theory.  I said, “Okay, if there’s someone here, tell me something that I don’t know, but that I can easily verify.”  So there.  My brain, though crafty and wily, wouldn’t be able to fake that.  I sat quietly for a few minutes, waiting.  Nothing.  See?  I knew it.  I let my imagination get the best of me, that’s all.

But then I heard a male voice, very clearly, in my head:  There’s a church on the corner of 17th and Spruce.

This is in reference to Philadelphia, by the way.  Robert Cornelius lived there his whole life, so I’ve traveled to Philly many times to do research.  I had never been on Spruce Street. 17th Street, on the other hand, was well-known to me; it’s dotted with hotels and I’ve stayed there many times.

Aha!  I call bullshit on you, brain. 17th Street was the first street that occurred to you since I’ve been there so often.  And Spruce Street is just the first “tree” street you happened to think of (a lot of cross streets in Center City are named after trees).  But that was stupid, because I have no idea what’s on Spruce, therefore neither do you.  This will be an easy one to disprove.  You’re busted, brain, busted!  Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!

So I pulled up Philadelphia on Google Maps and looked to see what was at that intersection.

Yeah.  This is the Tenth Presbyterian Church, on the southwest corner of 17th and Spruce.  It’s been there since 1855.

My stomach lurched as I stared at the street view photo on Google Maps.  It could have been a wild guess that happened to be correct against all odds.  But somehow I didn’t think so.

My friends, I can absolutely guarantee that I did not have this information before this incident.  I had never been at or near this intersection.  I didn’t know about this church.  Robert Cornelius was a Presbyterian but he wasn’t a member of the Tenth Presbyterian; his church was much further uptown.

Meanwhile  I still had the sensation of not being alone—the static, the buzzing, and the gauzy veil were all still there—but the energy had shifted somewhat.  Now it felt like whoever was in the room was gloating.  It had a “See? Told ya so” kind of vibe.

The energy gradually dissipated and I felt like I was by myself again.  And that was it.

I’ve had a few other visits from this same mystery guest since then, but those have felt more like someone dropping in to say, “Hey, how’s it going?” and then leaving.  Believe me when I tell you that this has all been Deeply Weird.

So who’s my mystery guest?  Is it Robert Cornelius saying hello to his #1 fan?  Possibly.  Or maybe it’s someone else who decided to lend a helping hand.  I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure.  All I know is that he’s friendly, helpful, and kind of a smartass.

So that’s my story for Part II.  I’m saving the eeriest story for Part III………