Without a doubt one of the most widely known names when talking about cryptozoology and the paranormal and Forteana is none other that the Scottish born biologist and prolific writer on these phenomena, Ivan T. Sanderson. Mostly known as one of the founding fathers of the field of cryptozoology, he was a pioneer in researching the phenomena of such creatures as lake monsters, sea serpents, the Yeti, Sasquatch, and many, many others. He was also one of the original proponents of the idea that ships could vanish into thin air at places such as the Bermuda Triangle due to rifts in spacetime that occur at certain anomalous regions of the earth, which he called “vile vortices,” and that these areas produced more paranormal phenomena such as ghosts and UFOs than other places. Sanderson was truly a giant in the world of cryptozoology and the paranormal, his influence still felt and his numerous books still considered classics of the fields, so one might wonder if he himself ever had an experience that he could consider paranormal. Well, the answer is yes, and here we are talking about the time Ivan Sanderson shifted into a parallel reality through a time slip.
The whole bizarre story can be found as the ending chapter of his book More Things, which interestingly deals pretty much exclusively with cryptozoology and zoological anomalies and oddities, so it is a bit out of place to begin with. Indeed, at the beginning of the chapter, entitled Shared Hallucination? Sanderson explicitly mentions that he has little interest in the occult and psychic phenomena, but that he felt compelled to share his weird account, and what an account it is. It supposedly happened while he was living with his wife in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where they were engaged in a biological study on a grant. Things were already a bit weird, with a housekeeper they had who was very close with Sanderson’s wife, and who also happened to be a practitioner of a form of Voodoo called Vaudaun, which was mostly concerned with the healing arts. It turned out that this woman was supposedly extremely psychic, seemingly able to predict when Ivan and his wife would be home for dinner if they were out for no matter how long, with dinner always being placed out at the precise right time. It was something Sanderson wrote off as pure chance, and never gave much thought to until later.
The strange experience the two of them were to have began with a trip to a place called Lake Azuey, in a swath of desert terrain, where they planned to collect animal samples along with their assistant Frederick G. Allsop. Along the way their vehicle became mired in a quagmire of mud, and unable to free it they were forced to begin the long walk back home. As they made their way along, Allsop walked ahead, and it was at this time when a series of outlandish events would unfold. Sanderson would say of it:
Suddenly, on looking up from the dusty ground, I perceived absolutely clearly in the now brilliant moonlight, and casting shadows appropriate to their positions, three-storied houses of various shapes and sizes lining both sides of the road. These houses hung out over the road, which suddenly appeared to be muddy with patches of large cobblestones. The houses were of (I would say) about the Elizabethan period of England, but for some reason I knew they were in Paris! They had pent roofs, gables, timbered porticos with some dormer windows with tiny leaded panes. Here and there, there were dull reddish lights burning behind them, as if from candles. There were iron-frame lanterns hanging from timbers jutting from some houses and they were all saying together as if in a wind, but there was not the faintest movement of air about us.
I was marveling at this, and looking about me, when my wife came to a dead stop and gave a gasp. I ran smack into her. Then she went speechless for a time while I begged to know what was wrong. Finally, she took my hand and, pointing, described exactly what I was seeing. At which point, I became speechless. She said, “How did we get to Paris 500 years ago?” We stood marveling at what we apparently both saw now, picking out individual items and pointing, questioning each other as to details and so forth. Curiously, we found ourselves swaying back and forth and began to feel very weak, so I called out to Fred, whose white shirt was fast disappearing ahead.
I don’t remember exactly what happened then, but we tried to run towards him and, feeling dizzy, sat down on what we were convinced was a tall, rough curbstone. Fred came running back asking what was wrong but at first we did not know what to say. He was the “keeper of the cigarettes,” and he sat down beside us and gave us each one. By the time the flame from his lighter had cleared from my eyes, so had 15th century Paris, and there was nothing before me but the endless and damned thorn bushes and cactus and bare earth. My wife also “came back” after looking into the flame. Fred had seen nothing.
The incident apparently deeply troubled Sanderson, and he was unable to come to any rational explanation other than that it was a “shared hallucination.” This was at a time when he was not at all a believer in any sort of psychic phenomena and was loathe to embrace any sort of occult explanation of what they had seen. He nevertheless questioned his housekeeper on what she knew and how her powers worked, but she would not divulge any secrets. The only other hint he got was when he met a young man who worked on the estate with the housekeeper, who seemed to know what had transpired, and told Sanderson:
You saw things didn’t you? You don’t believe it, but you could always see things if you wanted to. We know, and we were watching you. We have always watched you, and, although you are foreigners, we feel you are good people.
Sanderson refused to buy into all of this mumbo jumbo. After all, for all of the seemingly fringe areas he delved into he was always very pragmatic, always looking for ways in which phenomena could be concretely proven, which he believed “psychic phenomena” could not. It is not that he necessarily disbelieved them, he just was not prepared to get involved with inherently unprovable phenomena. He would once write:
Charles Fort does not deal in mystical things: The Occult, ghosts, all this kooky stuff. Rather he deals with things like this ashtray, which you can get your hands on. We’re not against science on the one hand, and we’re not against the mystics on the other. We’re right in the middle. We’re a different group of people. We’re entirely pragmatic.
Sanderson would have this event haunting him at the back of his mind for the rest of his life, but mostly tried to move on, relegating it to the final chapter of his book of zoological oddities almost as an aside and afterthought, and it seems like he mostly just tried to push it way and forget it. We are left to wonder what it is he and his wife saw that day. Was this a time slip, in which people mysteriously phase into another time period of history, and if so, why medieval Paris? While Haiti was once occupied by the French, this did not happen until centuries later, so why that era at that place? Was this, as Sanderson believed, just a hallucination? If so, how is it that his wife saw precisely the same thing down to the last details? Whatever happened here, it is certainly an odd little chapter in the life of one of the greatest cryptozoologists and Fortean researchers there ever was.