If you have ever heard a story about someone seeing a loved one who was far away and soon afterwards found out they had died, then you have heard a case of the supernatural world warning us of a death or a disaster. When the something in question is a ghost, they are often called crisis apparition. Sometimes they come in the form of a dream that foretells tragedy or warn of death. And sometimes they are even more peculiar, such as the case of the visitor in Pennsylvania preceding the flood of 1911.
Pennsylvania’s flood visitor
When the Bayless Pulp & Paper Mill constructed the Austin Dam near the town of Austin in Pennsylvania in 1909, they decided to make it a little thinner than the original plan to save money. Quickly, their mistake showed as the dam cracked and bowed, leading many of the townspeople to head to higher ground for fear of a devastation flood.
But this wasn’t the only reason that the people of Austin were nervous. Following a run of unfortunate events, the town was being ‘haunted’ by a strange figure. People called it a ghost but it came with none of the typical signs of a haunting, such as a translucent figure walking through buildings or anything else. Instead, they described a tall man wearing all black clothing who appeared and then disappeared again.
Nor were his actions particularly ghostly, apart from his ability to vanish. He was seen riding in passenger cars on the railway as well as crawling between and running over the cars. Sightings continued right through until 1911, when the Austin Dam finally gave out.
The mill and most of the town was destroyed in the flood and a total of 78 people died. The entire valley was littered with debris including railroad equipment and even houses. At first, none of the residents thought much about their black-clad figure but around a year later, they began to talk about it. Then the story faded into local history.
Harbingers of death
Throughout history and folklore there have been many types of harbingers of death and misfortune who appear to warn of death or some terrible event. Some took a human form; others were more supernatural in their appearance. The banshee of Ireland is a classic example, wailing at the door of a house when an inhabitant was going to die. Black dogs were also sometimes seen as similar harbingers while the Grim Reaper was a personification of death who appears to people as they died, seemingly to direct their soul to heaven or hell (or anywhere else depending on their beliefs, if you believe Terry Pratchett!)
Examples of harbingers
The Mothman of Point Pleasant is often believed to have originally been a harbinger of sorts. This strange creature appeared around the town before the disaster of the Silver Bridge collapse in 1967. The creature has since been seen around the world but no clear correlation with disasters has been made.
Another example of a harbinger is the demon cat of Washington DC. This cat, black in colour, is seen around the White House and the US Capitol Building. It seems harmless in appearance but as it moves closer, it seems to get bigger and become more menacing. Its appearance is said to foretell of something bad happening and was seen before the stock market crash in the 1920s and before the assassination of JFK.
One of the worst disasters of recent times was the explosion at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl in 1986. This too seems to have had a harbinger, known as the Black Bird. Four employees reported seeing a large creature that was dark and seemed to be a headless man with wings and red eyes – eerily similar to the reports of the Mothman. At the time of the fire, many firefighters worked to fight the blaze, without realising they were receiving fatal doses of radiation. Before they died, a number of them also reported seeing the ‘bird’ flying through the ruins of the plant.