Last week I experienced two odd little slips in time, to add to a growing list of such events in my life over the past thirty years. On the same day that one of the slips took place, I opened the New York Times to find shocking confirmation of the biggest one that ever happened to me.
Last week’s slips involved seeing things online and in the newspaper that were not there yet, and you can read about them here.
But I want to talk about the one from March of 1983, and how the clip from a picture that appears in the New York Times store seems to confirm it.
In 1983, we were living on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village, in a building on the northwest corner of Bleecker and LaGuardia. It was a Saturday morning and I was walking out to go to the bank. The morning was cloudy and drizzly. I reached the corner of LaGuardia and Houston and prepared to cross Houston and go into SoHo, where the bank was located.
As I stood waiting for the light to change, I heard a terrific clopping and clatter in front of me, and a great deal of sloshing. The sounds were loud and astonishing because they had no source. They passed and turned north around the corner. I followed them, and as I did, a huge dray horse came into view. There may have been another beside it, I did not notice. It was pulling a tall wagon lined with barrels. I didn’t see any signs, but the smell was unmistakable: the barrels contained pickles. Sitting high on the wagon was a man wearing what looked like a long black leather apron.
As this contraption passed by, I was confused to see that the tall, modern apartment buildings that were on the east side of the street had been replaced by a row of what appeared to me to be brick Federal houses. There was a much narrower street and across it stood a man in a derby, who shouted something at me. He seemed menacing, and I turned away, intending to go home.
As I turned, a woman dressed all in black went skittering off. She had been immediately to my right. She was short, and her clothing was very antique, from the latter part of the 19th Century.
I then saw down what is now West Broadway, and there were four or five people coming up the street on horseback and turning east on Houston. They were beautifully dressed in riding outfits and the horses looked very fine. The streets were narrower, they seemed covered in a brown substance which I think must have been manure, because there was a strong smell in the air that was a mixture of something burning and of manure.
At this point, it finally hit me that I was no longer in 1983. I was in 1883 or some other year in the late 19th Century. I say late 19th because the area was very built up, and I have subsequently done enough research to know that the date was somewhere between about 1875 and 1910.
I was not afraid, I had not had time to feel any emotions. I was simply perplexed. But then I thought, ‘I believe I’m back in time,’ and I wanted to find something to tell me what was going on.
I glanced around for a newsstand or something, but then noticed some printed paper in the gutter before me. And this is where the picture above comes in. I have described the curb a thousand times as being “curved” and tried to show that it had a distinct pipe-like rounding to it. I had never seen a curb like it and still never have.
Then, last week, I was reading the New York Times, as I do every day, and I came across this picture in an advertisement for their store. I was just floored, because there was a curb just like the one I had seen! It appears that there is a pipe running along it, which explains the strange shape.
This is the only picture that I have ever seen that shows such a curb, and frankly, I think that it is significant evidence that I really did slip back in time on that day. Of course, it’s hardly confirming, but it is fascinatingly suggestive.
What happened next was that I started to reach down to get the paper at my feet. It was a bit of crumpled paper with what appeared to be printed words on it. I do not know if it was a newspaper, but that was what I was hoping. Naturally, I was eager for a date, and especially something to take home as proof.
However, when I moved to get the paper, I experienced both a very bizarre sensation and an overwhelming emotion. The sensation was that ice cold water was flowing through my body. Every time I moved, it returned, and it was appallingly strange. Also, there was an emotion that I would describe as loneliness so intense that, had it continued for even a few minutes, I would have become psychotic. It was an unendurable maw of absolute, empty darkness inside me.
The combination of these two things froze me, and I thought, ‘If you take any action here at all, if you touch that paper or you step one step away from this spot, you are here forever.’
So I just stood there. By this time, the man across the street was talking more. He was shouting. At the time, he frightened me, but I have never been able to remember exactly what he said. My wife has told me that I told her right after the experience that he was complaining about my clothes, and I certainly would have looked a mess to somebody from that much more formal era. He was wearing a suit and hat. I was bareheaded, in jeans and an old sweater, and sneakers.
As I stood there, slowly, the present circa 1983 returned around me. The ‘Walk’ sign across the street, which had been showing a steady red ‘Don’t Walk’ when the event began was now flashing ‘Don’t Walk.’ So, unless it had cycled more than once, I had been ‘gone’ for about 45 seconds at that point.
Once things seemed normal, I tried to move again. All felt normal. I certainly didn’t proceed to the bank, though. I turned around and went home and was extremely glad to see my family all safe and sound. Anne said, ‘that was quick,’ and it developed that I’d only been gone for a few minutes. How long, we’re not precisely sure.
When I told her the story, she reminded me of an incident that had taken place about eight years earlier, when I’d been an advertising man working on Madison Avenue about a block from the New York Public Library, which is at 5th and 42nd.
Some secretaries had come back from lunch saying that there was something in front of the library that looked like the side of a huge pyramid. They thought it was some sort of a light show.
I was curious, and went out to see it, but there was nothing unusual there. I went into the library to find out more information, but there was no show in progress and they didn’t think they’d ever had a light show.
The reason I was curious was that I happened to know that the old Croton Reservoir had stood where the library is now, and its walls had been built to resemble the base of a pyramid.
I never figured it out and took it no further, but remembered it after my experience. I have no recollection of who the two women who told me this story were.
After my 1983 experience, I became quite interested in old New York, and bought lots of books about it. I also spent time in the library’s fabulous newspaper collection reading classified ad pages from the past, trying to see if anybody might have gotten stuck and put in an ad to try and let their families know what had happened to them.
I did this because, in April of 1983, about a month after this had happened, I was resting in the late afternoon when the sounds from outside began to change. I heard horses hooves clopping along, creaking noises, thuds, and voices. No city roar. No car sounds. I lay there absolutely still until it all passed, then got up and told Anne that, if I ever just disappeared on her, to look in the old classifieds for a message.
I never found one from myself, though.
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