Seven Times Seven

When the late Arthur Koestler published The Roots of Coincidence, a study of curious synchronicities in time and place, he was bombarded by letters from people who had had similar experiences.

The most consistently coincidental of all probably came from Anthony S. Clancy of Dublin, who was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the century, which also happened to be the seventh day of the week. �I was the seventh child of a seventh child,� he wrote, �and I have seven brothers; that makes seven sevens.�

Actually, it makes eight sevens if one counts the number of letters in his first name, but to continue: On his twenty-seventh birthday, according to Clancy, he went to the track. The seventh numbered horse in the seventh race was named Seventh Heaven, and was handicapped seven stone. The odds against Seventh Heaven were seven-to-one, but Clancy bet seven shillings anyway.

Seventh Heaven finished seventh.

A Tale of Three Titans

The greatest maritime disaster of all time befell the greatest man-made behemoth of all time - the White Star Line's tragically ill-fated Titanic. The real-life tragedy was matched only by that of the Titan, a fictional luxury liner that also went down with a terrible loss of life in April 1898, fourteen years before the Titanic struck the iceberg that sent her to her watery grave, also on an April evening.

The Titan sailed only in the pages of Morgan Robertson's novel, aptly named Futility. But the parallels between the two gigantic passenger ships stagger the imagination. Robertson's prophetic Titan departed Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage, as did the "unsinkable" Titanic herself. Both ships were about the same length, 800 feet and 828� feet long, and of comparable tonnage - 70,000 and 66,000 tons respectively. Each had three propellers and carried 3000 passengers apiece.

Each ship was jammed to the gunwales with wealthy citizens. Both struck an iceberg at the same spot and sank. And both boats suffered terrible casualties because neither carried enough lifeboats. In the case of the Titanic, 1513 passengers died, most from exposure in the frigid Atlantic.

One of those who died aboard the Titanic was famous spiritualist and journalist W.T. Stead, who had written his own short story foretelling a similar sinking in 1892. But neither Futility nor Stead's story could save the doomed Titanic. Another premonition, however, did avoid tragedy. In April 1935, seaman William Reeves was standing on the bow watch aboard the tramp steamer Titanian, bound for Canada from England. The similarities and memories of the Titanic tragedy preyed upon his mind and sent a shiver up his spine. His boat's bow was cutting through the same still waters the Titanic had. And as midnight, the hour of the great ocean liner's end, approached, Reeves remembered that the date of the great ocean liner sank - April 14, 1912 - was his own birthday.

Overwhelmed by coincidence, Reeves called out, and the Titanian hove to, stopping just short of a looming iceberg. Soon after, other crystal mountains rose out of the night. The Titanian sat still, but safe, for nine days, until the icebreakers from Newfoundland finally cut a swath through the deadly ice.

Cannibalistic Coincidence

Fact often follows fiction. Take the uncanny case of the two Richard Parkers. The first was a cabin boy in Edgar Allen Poe's uncompleted adventure novel, Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, published in 1837. In the course of the story, four sailors are shipwrecked at sea and escape in a small lifeboat. Facing starvation, the four finally decide to draw straws to see who will be sacrificed and cannibalized by the other three. Parker drew the short stick and is promptly stabbed and eaten by the surviving trio.

More than forty years later, Poe's unfinished tale was repeated in amazingly accurate and grim detail. Four survivors of a shipwreck, adrift in an open boat, did draw straws to see who would survive and who would be eaten. And the loser was Richard Parker, the ship's cabin boy. His mates stood trial for his murder in England in 1884.

The macabre event might not have come to light at all but for a contest sponsored by the London Sunday Times seeking remarkable coincidences. Twelve-year-old Nigel Parker won the competition. The unfortunate cabin boy eaten by his comrades had been Nigel's great-grandfather's cousin.

Lightning Strikes More Than Twice

In 1899 a bolt of lightning killed a man as he stood in his backyard in Taranto, Italy. Thirty years later his son was killed in the same way and in the same place. On October 8, 1949, Rolla Primarda, the grandson of the first victim and the son of the second, became the third.

Just as strange was the fate of a British officer, Major Summerford, who while fighting in the fields of Flanders in February 1918 was knocked off his horse by a flash of lightning and paralyzed from the waist down.

Summerford retired and moved to Vancouver. One day in 1924, as he fished alongside a river, lightning hit the tree he was sitting under and paralyzed his right side.

Two years later Summerford was sufficiently recovered that he was able to take walks in a local park. He was walking there one summer day in 1930 when a lightning bolt smashed into him, permanently paralyzing him. He died two years later.

But lightning sought him out one last time. Four years later, during a storm, lightning struck a cemetery and destroyed a tombstone. The deceased buried here? Major Summerford.

A Human Lightning Rod

Roy Cleveland Sullivan, a retired forest ranger from Waynesboro, Virginia, was known as the Human Lightning Rod because he was struck by lightning seven times in the course of his thirty-six-year career.

The first strike, in 1942, caused the loss of a big toenail. Twenty-seven years later a second bolt burned his eyebrows off. The following year, in 1970, a third bolt seared his left shoulder.

After Sullivan's hair was set afire by a forth strike in 1972, he began hauling a bucket of water around with him in his car. He was driving on August 7, 1973, as a bolt came out of a small, low-lying cloud, hit him on the head through the hat, set his hair on fire again, knocked him ten feet out of his car, went through both legs and knocked his shoe off. Sullivan poured the bucket of water over his head to cool off.

Sullivan was struck for the sixth time on June 5, 1976, hurting his ankle. The seventh blow from above hit Sullivan on June 25, 1977, while he was fishing. He required hospitalization for stomach and chest burns on that occasion.

Though he was never able to explain his peculiar attraction for lightning, Sullivan once said that he could actually see the bolts as they headed for him.

At 3 A.M. on the morning of September 28, 1983, Sullivan, aged seventy-one, took his own life with a bullet. Two of his Ranger hats, burned through the crown by lightning blasts, now reside in Guinness World Exhibit Halls in New York City and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, proof that lightning DOES strike the same place twice.

Liincoln and Kennedy

Shortly before he departed for Dallas in November 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, warned him not to go. Kennedy dismissed her premonition of tragic consequences. On November 22, he was slain when Lee Harvey Oswald fired a bolt-action, Italian carbine from a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

The number of curious parallels between the American Presidents John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, also assassinated after a premonition warning of his death, strains the bounds of coincidence. Lincoln, for example, had been elected president on November 6, 1860, Kennedy on November 8, 1960. Both had first been elected to Congress a hundred years apart, Lincoln in 1846, Kennedy in 1946. The two men who succeeded them as president were also born a century apart and share the same surname, Andrew Johnson in 1808 and Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1908. Their assassins, John Wilkes Booth and Oswald, were born 101 years apart.

Booth shot Lincoln in the head from behind, in a theater, and fled to a barn: Oswald struck Kennedy in the head from the rear, from a warehouse, and fled to a theater. Both assassins were killed before they could come to trial. Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot on a Friday, in the presence of their wives. Lincoln had been shot in Ford's Theater, Kennedy in a Lincoln made by the Ford Motor Company.

And both presidents foresaw their own deaths. Lincoln told a guard on the day he was assassinated that there were "men who want to take my life...And I have no doubt they will do it...If it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent."

A few hours before he was felled by Oswald's bullets, Kennedy said to his wife, Jacqueline, and Ken O'Donnell, his personal advisor: "If someone wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?"

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