I have determined that, as a general rule, if you want to have a past-life glimpse when confronted with some aspect of a past life, you need two conditions met: it must be very much as it was "back in the day"; and, there must be strong emotion attached to it. I might theorize that long exposure, i.e., familiarity, could also prompt such a memory--it makes logical sense that it would--but this hasn't necessarily been borne out in my research.
In the sole biography of my past-life self, Mathew Franklin Whittier, which is actually a student thesis written in 1941, Mathew's addresses are listed for his 22-year stint in Portland, Maine (where I now reside), and also his 22-year stint in Boston, Mass. Not a single one of the structures associated with Mathew's life (i.e., residence or work) in Portland are standing, today. I have been to several of these locations, and no past-life impressions have arisen, at all. Of course, I am not under hypnosis when I visit these sites. Researchers like Marge Rieder hypnotized her subjects on-site, and got results. I don't have the luxury of being able to hire a portable hypnotist, nor of hypnotizing myself on a busy street corner in downtown Portland. I have reported only one definite experience, so far--at the Portland Head Light, which has changed very little since Mathew's time. The impression which arose had concomitant strong emotion regarding his beloved first wife, Abby--being there with her, and then, after her death, mourning her.
Today, I am going to visit at least two of the scenes of Mathew's life in Boston: the Custom House, where he worked for 20 years, and the scene of his death. The Sturdevant House, formerly the Maverick House Hotel, once sat on Maverick Square in East Boston. Today, there is a health center on the same spot. I'm quite sure that the Square looks nothing like it did even at the time of Mathew's death, in 1883. Thus, I would expect to have the same flat, unimpressive experience I had at Monument Square in Portland, which likewise has changed completely. Still, for the second book I intend to write, I must bring this physical body to the site of the death of the earlier one, if only for the poetry of the thing.
It's a kind of triumph, like thumbing your nose at Death. "You thought you got me, you bastard, but I'm back!!!"
The Custom House is another matter. I know precisely how Mathew felt about it, both from past-life impressions regarding one of his co-workers, and also from a poem and a short story. Here is the poem, published on July 30, 1870:
The traveler is roused
Ere the morning is gray,
By the folding of tents
And the Arabs' wild lay.
Dreary is the desert,
Widely stretching before—
No island of verdure,
No wood bounded shore.
When the Caravan moves
Still lingers his heart,
From fountains and palm trees
So loth to depart.
So we,—Pilgrims of Life—
With what joy do we greet
Some pleasant oasis—
Its welcome, how sweet.
As the cool sparkling waters
The soul's thirst allay
Sadly comes the summons,
"Up, up, and away."
Far over the desert
Floats back the refrain
Of the plaintive farewell.
Though never again
We drink at that fountain
We'll thank the good Giver
For each rill on earth
From the Heavenly River.
(I'll fill it in after I finish typing, here.) I once had a very, very strong past-life flashback looking at a portrait of George Bradburn, a former Abolitionist and Unitarian minister, who turned out to have been Mathew's co-worker for many years at the Custom House. Based on the feelings which arose, it must have been a very close friendship. I say that--seemingly, Mathew felt closer to some people than they felt to him (as I have recently discussed, regarding Edward Elwell*). He was a truer friend to some, than they turned out to have been, to him. But Bradburn was different. I think he was a real friend, a best friend. It was the type of friendship you might only have one or two of in a lifetime. The thought that forcibly came up for me when I first saw George's photograph in profile, and remembered what his smile looked like, was, "Like a warm hearth on a cold day."
After his death, I think the Custom House job was just drudgery; he knew he would never escape it until illness and death forced him to leave, and that's exactly what happened.
Given that I know how Mathew felt about the place, will any actual past-life experiences be triggered? I know that science requires prediction--but past-life memory is elusive. Heck, I can't even force myself to go to sleep when I should be sleeping, no less force myself to have a past-life flashback. I can only put myself in a situation which is likely to produce one--just as extreme angler Jeremy Wade, on the Animal Planet Channel, puts himself in the most favorable position to catch his "river monster."
Now, we all know about legendary fish stories. We believe Jeremy Wade, when we might not believe Uncle Fred, because of his credibility, and because of the video proving he caught it. What reason do you have to believe me? I can't videotape a past-life memory glimpse (though I did my best, at the Portland Head Light, by shooting a video and voicing my experience in real time). You have to make a decision about my credibility, that's all. That's what you have. This is why I go on about this issue, at times. I am strictly honest, and I have been practicing strict honesty for over 40 years, now. How long do you have to do that, before people believe you? Maybe a whole lifetime--maybe it's only your children, or your grandchildren, who recognize and accept it. My job is simply to do it.
I may also try to visit the site of one or two of Mathew's former residences, in the suburbs of Boston. When he lived in Medford, I think he would take walks to nearby Arlington, Mass. to visit his friend and fellow author, John Townsend Trowbridge. I say that because they lived about four miles apart at one time; and Trowbridge wrote a poem ("A Story of the Barefoot Boy") about Mathew's famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, which is said to have been based on a story that Mathew told him about their childhood.** Thus, I know that they were on good enough terms that Mathew would tell him such stories. There is also an account of Mathew being observed (when the writer was a little girl), taking a walk in Medford. He was, she says, tall, erect, wore old-fashioned clothes with a coat, top hat and cane, and her description suggests his face bore signs either of illness, or drinking. In the thesis, there is a mention of him "not being temperate" during this period. I discovered that he had been a Temperance man from the mid-1840's through the 1850's, in Portland; but when he moved to Boston, and took the Custom House job, he may have started drinking, again. The poem, "The Oasis," certainly suggests it.
But I have never been able to definitely find any of Mathew's residences, during this period, on Google Street View. It may very well be that these, also, are long gone. In which case it's unlikely the site, itself, will provoke any memories.
Mathew's wife, during this period--his third marriage--appears to have been a practical choice, only superficially compatible. In fact, he was locked into a dead-end job and a loveless marriage (more so that he realized), and his literary legacy had been obliterated by his own insistence on using pseudonyms for almost everything he wrote; and by not defending his work when other people claimed, stole or imitated it. He was a has-been, even as regards his one known series, "Ethan Spike." He also was not welcomed by the Boston literati into their exclusive society, although by rights he should have been. I have evidence for this, which I won't get into, now.
Finally, there are humorous sketches Mathew wrote which symbolically tell the same story about his life in Boston. Actors move to New York or Los Angeles to be at the hub of their profession, and hence to advance their careers. I think Mathew moved to Boston partly for this reason. I think he remained on the periphery of the famous writers, there, but was never accepted as one of them. Always, he was the "brother of the poet." He didn't even have a name, where he is mentioned in the historical record. Just "brother of the poet."
So these feelings may come up; or, I may feel nothing; or, it may be something else, entirely. I certainly didn't expect to feel grief, as the predominant theme, when I visited the Portland Head Light. Nor did I expect such an articulate memory, triggered by standing on one specific spot, but not at any other vantage-point.
As for the Custom House, in 1910 or so, they planted a huge phallic tower right in the cnter of it. You have seen it--when someone from Boston, like Jill Stein, is interviewed, it usually appears over their shoulder, as a landmark. Otherwise, I think the exterior of the building is more-or-less as it was in Mathew's day. Inside, it has been turned into a posh Marriot Hotel; but the lobby, and the second-floor dome, are more-or-less as they were. Obviously I am not going to pay $240 or whatever it is to stay in the tower, which wasn't even there in the 1800's. But I should be able to cruise the lobby, and probably get up into the second floor where the dome is. Everything else, inside, will have been remodeled several times.
There is also Fanueil Hall, within walking distance of the Custom House. Mathew undoubtedly was there many times. But whether there was strong emotion associated with it, is another matter. He would have attended talks and recitals there--but I would be surprised if I get much more than the usual tourist's awe at that place. If I have time, I'll try to walk to it.
So I can't predict anything. Jeremy Wade, as it seems, always gets his monster fish--or else, I suppose, if he doesn't, that expedition doesn't end up as an episode. I can't even tell you that I will catch anything. But this is how I'm trying to conduct, and present, my research. I'll tell you what I'm going to do, what might happen, and what the known variables are. Then, after the experiment, I'll report back.
I do know that the only letter I've ever discovered in Abby's hand, resides at a library at Harvard. I want to hold that letter in my hand and see what feelings might emerge--though it would be very hard to distinguish them from expectations. I think, however, that that will have to wait for another day. I'll have to make inquiries ahead of time, and so-on. I will have to accept being geographically close to that letter--which is also the only physical object I know, for sure, that she held--and not go to it. How can I have such strong feelings for someone I loved almost two centuries ago? Love doesn't die. It doesn't even fade a little. Not soul-mate love, at any rate.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Back from my trip. I was able to visit both the Boston Custom House (Marriott Hotel) where Mathew worked for the last 20+ years of his life, and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, which stands directly on the spot of the former Maverick House Hotel, where Mathew died in 1883. I shot video (including selfie video) and recorded my impressions in a running audio commentary at both locations. It will take some time to process all the media I recorded. The gist is that I had what I consider clear emotional reactions (although not dramatic ones) at each location, with a few potentially provable or disprovable details. The feelings (unfortunately, for the research-minded) come through much more clearly than any of the cognitive details. So those details could be wrong, i.e., they could turn out to have been merely imagination and speculation, while the feelings could still have been genuine past-life influence. But I will set out the entire thing when I get all of it captured and organized. I'll give you a brief preview. As I was walking from the parked car to the health center, I began feeling a heaviness in the pit of my stomach. I had forgotten that under hypnosis, when asked to describe Mathew's death, I had remembered very sharp stomach pains. There is nothing about this in the historical record regarding his death--but after this hypnotic session, I found copious evidence that he had suffered from stomach ailments since his youth. Once inside the building, however, this feeling left me. It was replaced, I think (i.e., if I'm not imagining it), with a sense of desperation, as though I had tried everything and was still going downhill. I would say that the initial feeling in the stomach was more reliable than the latter feeling, which might or might not have been imagination. Why I felt the stomach heaviness before entering the building, on the way to it, and not inside, I have no idea. On reflection, it's possible that it represented a kind of visceral dread of entering the place. Many years ago, I had suddenly remembered Mathew joking, upon seeing the sign for the Maverick House, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." I didn't realize, at the time that came to me, just how typical it would be for Mathew to use a quote in this way.
*Mathew may have also enjoined on his friends never to mention him to posterity in any context, including in their diaries, so some of what looks like shunning or disinterest may have been by his own request. Some portion of his motivation for this appears to me now, in hindsight, as cutting off his nose to spite his face, i.e., "sweet lemons." "Okay, if you're going to shun me and marginalize me, I'll wipe out my legacy entirely." But that was a mistake, which is one reason I'm recreating it, today.
**Note how a story that Mathew told about his childhood, is turned into a poem about his famous brother's childhood. And the real gist of it is lost, because the poem fails to mention that John Greenleaf was five years older at the time.
Music opening this page, "Desert Rose," by Eric Johnson,
from the album, "Ah Via Musicom"