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3 moments that might convince you Edgar Allan Poe was a time traveler.

In the case of Poe, it was his fiction that was, well, stranger than fiction.

3 moments that might convince you Edgar Allan Poe was a time traveler.

This story was originally published on HistoryBuff.

I'm pretty positive that Edgar Allan Poe had (has?) the power to travel through time. Hear me out on this one.

It's not just the well-known circumstances of his life — orphaned at a young age, father of the mystery novel, master of cryptology, maestro of the macabre. Nor am I referring to the head-scratching details of the days leading up to his death: how he was found on the street near a voting poll wearing someone else's clothes, and during his subsequent hospitalization, he was alleged to babble incoherently about an unidentified person named “Reynolds."


And I won't even get into the confounding reports of a nameless figure who, for seven decades, would show up to Poe's gravesite in the early hours of his birthday with a glass of cognac and three roses.

Tragic and curious, yes, but hardly evidence that the acclaimed horror writer could transcend the limits of space and time. No, my time travel theory concerns the author's creative output, which you'll soon see is so flukishly prophetic as to make my outlandish claim seem plausible — nay, probable!

The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is a loosely linked map of flesh-eating floaters, crunched skull survivors, and primordial particles. OK, here we go…

Exhibit A: "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket"

Photo by Albert Sterner/Wikimedia Commons.

Published in 1838, Poe's only completed novel details a mutiny on a whaling ship lost at sea. Out of supplies, the men revert to cannibalism, drawing straws to elect a sacrifice. A boy named Richard Parker draws the shortest straw and is subsequently eaten.

Now here's where it gets weird(er): In 1884, 46 years after the novel's publication, four men would be set adrift following the sinking of their yacht. Shipwrecked and without food, they too would go the survival cannibalism route, electing to kill and eat a 17-year-old cabin boy. The boy's name: Richard Parker.

The extraordinary parallel went unnoticed for nearly a century, until a widely-circulated letter from a descendant of the real Parker outlined the similarities between the novel's scene and the actual event. The letter was selected for publication in The Sunday Times after journalist Arthur Koestler put out a call for tales of “striking coincidence." Striking indeed.

Exhibit B: "The Businessman"

Image from the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus/Wikimedia Commons/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1848, a railroad worker named Phineas Gage suffered a traumatic brain injury after taking an iron spike through the skull. Somehow he survived, though his personality would change drastically. These behavioral changes were closely studied, allowing the medical community to develop the first understanding of the role played by the frontal lobe on social cognition.

Except for Poe, who'd inexplicably understood the profound personality changes caused by frontal lobe syndrome nearly a decade earlier. In 1840, he penned a characteristically gruesome story called “The Businessman" about an unnamed narrator who suffers a traumatic head injury as a young boy, leading to a life of obsessive regularity and violent, sociopathic outbursts.

Poe's grasp of frontal lobe syndrome is so precise that neurologist Eric Altshuler wrote, “There's a dozen symptoms and he knows every single one… There's everything in that story, we've hardly learned anything more." Altshuler, who, to reiterate, is a medically-licensed neurologist and not at all a crackpot, went on to say, “It's so exact that it's just weird, it's like he had a time machine."

Exhibit C: "Eureka"

Photo via NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

Still unconvinced? What if I told you that Poe predicted the origins of the universe 80 years before modern science would begin to formulate the Big Bang theory? Surely, an amateur stargazer with no formal training in cosmology could not accurately describe the machinery of the universe, rejecting widely-held inaccuracies while solving a theoretical paradox that had bewildered astronomers since Kepler. Except that's exactly what happened.

The prophetic vision came in the form of "Eureka," a 150-page prose poem critically panned for its complexity and regarded by many as the work of a madman. Written in the final year of Poe's life, "Eureka" describes an expanding universe that began in “one instantaneous flash" derived from a single “primordial particle."

Poe goes on to put forth the first legitimate solution to Olbers' paradox — the question of why, given the vast number of stars in the universe, the night sky is dark — by explaining that light from the expanding universe had not yet reached our solar system. When Edward Robert Harrison published "Darkness at Night" in 1987, he credited "Eureka" as having anticipated his findings.

In an interview with Nautilus, Italian astronomer Alberto Cappi speaks of Poe's prescience, admitting, “It's surprising that Poe arrived at his dynamically evolving universe because there was no observational or theoretical evidence suggesting such a possibility. No astronomer in Poe's day could imagine a non-static universe."

But what if Poe wasn't of a day at all, but of all the days?

What if his written prophecies — on the cannibalistic demise of Richard Parker, the symptoms of frontal lobe syndrome, and the Big Bang theory — were merely reportage from his journey through the extratemporal continuum?

Photo from Dodd, Mead and Company/Wikimedia Commons.

Surely I sound like a tinfoil-capped loon, but maybe, maybe, there are many more prophecies scattered throughout the author's work, a possibility made all the more likely by the fact that, as The New York Times notes, “Poe was so undervalued for so long, there is not a lot of Poe-related material around."

I'll leave you with this quote, taken from a letter that Poe wrote to James Russell Lowell in 1844, in which he apologizes for his absence and slothfulness:

"I live continually in a reverie of the future. I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active — not more happy — nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago. The result will never vary — and to suppose that it will, is to suppose that the foregone man has lived in vain — that the foregone time is but the rudiment of the future — that the myriads who have perished have not been upon equal footing with ourselves — nor are we with our posterity. I cannot agree to lose sight of man the individual, in man the mass… You speak of “an estimate of my life" — and, from what I have already said, you will see that I have none to give. I have been too deeply conscious of the mutability and evanescence of temporal things, to give any continuous effort to anything — to be consistent in anything. My life has been whim — impulse — passion — a longing for solitude — a scorn of all things present, in an earnest desire for the future."
Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


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