Friday, May 4, 2012

Did a Ghost, a Moth or an Angel save Queen Victoria’s Train?

This story was told as a tale of a ghostly figure or moth that saved a train, in the late 1800s, from a fatal disaster. 

A swollen stream had washed out a bridge and its tracks, just before a British express train would have headed over it. 

It is still not known today whether it was a ghostly flagman, a moth, or a guardian angel that saved this train from continuing on its path, that fateful night over 200 years ago.

Late one night, an express train made its way to London. This train had a very famous passenger, Queen Victoria was on board. 

It was a dark, foggy night as the train’s engineer looked out on the tracks, pierced by the intense light of the train’s headlamp. * 

Startled, he spied a figure standing in the middle of the tracks, seemingly waving him off. He quickly grabbed the brake bringing the train to an abrupt, grinding halt.

The engineer and several of his fellow workers climbed down from the cab, to inspect the tracks. In the dense fog, they found no trace of the ghostly figure the engineer had spotted. 

Hearing rushing water ahead, the engineer decided to explore further. To his horror, he discovered that the bridge the train would have crossed had been washed out. The middle section had collapsed entirely into the icy rushing water below. If he had not stopped the train when he did, it would have plunged off the bridge.

It was not until the rails and bridge were repaired that the train was able to make its way to London. This, and the fact that the engineer did not come up with a plausible explanation for what he had seen until after he reached London, allowed the myth of the ghostly figure to be spread. 

It resulted in the belief a “ghostly figure or flagman” had saved the lives of the passengers and crew.

Once the train was in the London station, the engineer discovered a sizeable dead moth, at the base of the engine’s headlamp. On impulse, he wet the wings of the moth and pasted it onto the glass of the lamp. He climbed back into the cab and observed the light. He then saw the “ ghostly flagman” in the beam. 

He believed that a moth had flown into the beam, and flapped its wings, just minutes before the train was due to reach the bridge. In the fog, it had appeared to him to be a ghostly figure waving its arms. But by the time the engineer came up with this explanation, the tale of the ghostly figure had already taken hold.

The third explanation for what happened that night was supplied by Queen Victoria, and then by Reverend Billy Graham years later. Queen Victoria, after hearing about the strange events that night, stated before she left the station:

“I’m sure it was no accident. It was God’s way of protecting us.”

Reverend Billy Graham, in his book "Angels," published in 1975, recounts the story of the London express train, and Queen Victoria’s belief. 

He agreed since the train was saved just minutes before it reached the collapsed bridge, that it was the work of a guardian angel sent by God to protect the people on the train. I find this reason just as plausible as the engineer's moth theory. 

Many people feel what happened that night was more than just a coincidence.

* In the course of doing research for this post, I found a very entertaining exchange between train enthusiasts about this subject. These posters were arguing over the fact that train headlights at that time would not have been strong enough to cast enough light, so the engineer could see a “ghostly figure,” especially through a fog.

One British poster pointed out that the fog would have acted as a good “reflector,” and no matter how strong the lamp used, the moth could have been seen. 

But all of this is moot if one believes the guardian angel theory—if this angel wanted to be seen, it would have been observed regardless of what form it took, or the available light.

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