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Charlotte Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain: Accidental Time Travelers in Versailles?

While visiting the Petit Trianon in 1901, two scholarly women came face to face with visions they could not explain.

In August 1901, two scholarly women from England’s St. Hugh’s College,  Charlotte Anne Moberly (left) and Eleanor Jourdain (right), boarded a  train for Versailles. In the days prior, they had spent time sightseeing  around Paris, to which they were both relatively unfamiliar. Neither  was well-versed in French history. The little they knew came from  historical novels and the schoolhouse lessons of their youth. Moberly  had read the first volume of Justin H. McCarthy’s tome The French  Revolution, which gave her a slight academic advantage over Jourdain,  but did little to garner any real enthusiasm for the trip to Versailles.  In truth, both women expected a dull and uneventful outing.

After touring the Palace and feeling regrettably indifferent, they  sat down in the Salle des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) and enjoyed a light  breeze coming through the open windows. With time to spare, Moberly  suggested they visit the Petit Trianon, a small château first occupied  by Madame du Barry until 1774, when a newly crowned Louis XVI gave it to  his young Queen, Marie Antoinette. Using a Baedeker guide, they headed  in the general direction of the Trianon. They took an unusually long  route—down a large flight of steps by the fountains, along the full  length of the central avenue, and all the way to the head of the long  pond. The weather was overcast and gray. 

After an eternity of walking, Moberly and Jourdain found themselves  at the Grand Trianon, only to find it closed to the public. It was then  that strange visions came into view—visions of a century long since  past. 

They passed a wide green drive to the next path, where Jourdain  immediately noticed a woman shaking a white cloth out of an upstairs  window—seemingly, in slow motion. Walking further, they noticed two men  standing in the distance. Initially thinking the men were gardeners  given their wheelbarrow and pointed spade, Moberly and Jourdain were  dumbfounded by the manner in which they were dressed—in long, grey-green  coats with tri-cornered hats. Nevertheless, the men directed the women  to continue straight ahead.

Jourdain then noticed a cottage with a woman and girl standing in the  doorway. Both the woman and the girl wore a white kerchief tucked into a  bodice; the girl’s dress was down to her ankles and she wore a white  cap. Jourdain described it as a “tableau vivant,” similar to a pair of  wax figures rather than human beings. Suddenly, Moberly was engulfed by  extreme depression, which deepened with every step. 

At once they came upon a small wooded area with a circular garden  kiosk. A man was sitting there; he was wearing a cloak and a large shady  hat. The grass was lifeless and covered with dead leaves. The area  looked flat and unnatural with no light, shade, or shadows; there was no  wind in the trees. 

The man turned and looked at the two women and Moberly felt genuine  alarm. His face was repulsive and dark with smallpox scars; his  expression was hateful. Both women were frozen in place until becoming  startled by the sudden approach of another man. He was tall and handsome  with dark eyes, and wore a broad that hid all but a few strands of his  curly dark hair. The man muttered a few words in rapid French, smiled,  and persuaded Moberly and Jourdain to proceed to the right, which they  did by passing over a small bridge. 

When they finally reached the Petit Trianon, Moberly observed a  regal-looking woman sitting on a stool. The lady was holding out a piece  of paper at arm’s length as if to study it. She appeared to be  sketching the trees. As Moberly and Jourdain inched closer, the lady  turned to look at them. Her face was pretty but not young. She wore a  large white hat and had an abundance of light-colored hair that fluffed  around her forehead. A long-waisted summer dress sat on her shoulders  with a thin line of green-gold near the edge. It was of royal  18th-century fashion standards. Without speaking, Moberly and Jourdain  left the area and continued to feel a growing oppressiveness in the air.  Walking around to the opposite side, Moberly again saw the lady, this  time noticing that her shawl was pale green. 

Both women left the grounds shortly after.

Moberly and Jourdain did not speak of their experience until a week  later. After writing separate versions of what they encountered and  comparing notes, they visited the Trianon gardens again but could not  retrace their original path. Specific landmarks, notably the kiosk and  the bridge, were missing. Research led them to believe that the Trianon  was haunted, and that the lady in the royal dress was the ghost of Marie  Antoinette. Ironically, Jourdain had not seen the lady, and Moberly had  not seen the cottage with the woman and girl standing in the doorway.  However, both had seen the scowling man with the marked face; they  determined him to be Joseph Hyacinthe François de Paule de Rigaud (the  Comte de Vaudreuil), a nobleman at the court of King Louis XVI. 

They published the story of their trip to Versailles (An Adventure)  in 1911 under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont. A  whirlwind of excitement and skepticism followed. Critics found the tale  to be improbable and ventured that Moberly and Jourdain had simply  misinterpreted common events for paranormal activity. 

Parapsychological discussions of the “Moberly-Jourdain Incident” have  suggested that the women experienced a time-slip or some form of  retrocognition. Still, both women maintained the authenticity of what  they had seen until the day they died. 

Their true identities as the authors of the book were not made public until 1931. 

This story was first published on The Lineup. 

Read more: 

13 Bone-Chilling Ghost Stories 

8 Spooky Movies Inspired by Real Ghost Stories 

7 Ghost Story Books to Haunt You for Days (and Nights)

Published on 12 Dec 2016

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