We’ve all heard the story of a relative or friend who avoided tragedy by listening to a premonition they had the previous night. The tale has been told with some of the details changed a thousand times over. And this is partially because it is an uncommon, but not entirely unheard of occurrence. So what do people do when the coach-man leans his head out from the hearse and says, “Room for one more?” We often hear stories of those who listened to their psychic warnings, but it’s not always the case. And have these moments ever had an effect on history?
The story has been told and retold as a staple of horror fiction, but unlike so many other urban legends of its kind the participants aren’t always distant friends of friends and long forgotten acquaintances. People report that they personally have been affected by a sudden and inexplicable inspiration to forsake a trip or drop out of an event exclusively because they received very specific and explicit portents of doom. The classical interpretation of this is generally portrayed as a skeletal figure leaning out of a hearse or elevator and saying the now classic words of doom, “Room for one more.” But often those actually experiencing a premonition of doom may have little more than a vague feeling of unease or a bad dream about the event. And while it isn’t always right, sometimes they do feel the need to refrain from making the trip and as a result their lives are saved.
Of course there have been many who didn’t listen to this feeling of doom. Shortly before his assassination, for example, President Lincoln had a ghostly premonition that summoned him from his bedchamber in the middle of the night. In a written account, the president claimed to have heard a pitiable wailing throughout the White House. When he finally came to the room that was the source of the noise he found a number of people assembled around a coffin in a profound state of mourning. When he asked what had happened they all said the president had been assassinated by a lone gunman. Horrified, Lincoln soon found himself back in his bedchamber. Though he was unsure whether the event had been a dream or not, he found he could not get back to sleep. Some accounts suggest he connected the dream to another event that would shortly follow – his attendance of the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford Theater. And of course this was the night he would be brutally murdered and history would change forever.
Another premonition came during Kennedy’s term of office when he said to his secretary on June 5, 1961, “I know that there is a god and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me, I am ready.” These tragic words also came shortly before the plot which ultimately claimed his life. And whether this plot was enacted by a single individual or a more elaborate one is something debated to this day.
Perhaps we are most moved by the premonitions made by leaders because they are both recorded by history and fly in the face of any known explanation during such world changing events. But premonitions of doom do not exclusively happen during times of major global or national change. Actually in 2006 a study released by Russian News suggested that most people predicted their own deaths with a certain specific psychological state anywhere from a few weeks to half a year before the event.