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An Accidental Encounter
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An Accidental Encounter, Precognition,
the Ark, and J.B. Rhine

[EHE Account 35]

 Margaret Ann Harrell

 Reprinted with permission
First published in the Exceptional Human Experience News, vol. 6, Nr. 2 (September 1999), by Director Rhea A. White, whose website can be found at

To read what Rhine had to say about the photo, please click here

      I report here a story peripherally involving J. B. Rhine, first told to me in 1983 by a woman who is the principal in the case, who wishes not to be named because of her position in the community. Here she is called simply "the experiencer." She told me this story when by accident we were in the same car together for several hours. Twelve years later, on the occasion of the 1995 convention of the Para psychological Association, I was the first speaker in a session commemorating the centennial of J.B. Rhine's birth[1]. There I briefly mentioned the experience described here. Beforehand I called the experiencer to verify the details of the story as I had them. At that time she was surprised that she had told me the story because she made it a rule never to tell strangers.

     Dr. J. B. Rhine was involved in the experience, along with Dr. Singh, a guru from India with a Ph.D. and a member of a high caste. Not only were the details correct as I remembered, but she elaborated further, with each call for verification. I made several in the course of preparing this account, and I even visited her to let her read a draft of the paper. I felt it important to not let this story get lost, because it provides a glimpse of Dr. Rhine that many may not have known existed. He is best known as a laboratory parapsychologist, but this account portrays his manner when working "in the field."

     The story begins in the seventies. The experiencer is in a plane headed south from New York. She opens her purse to take out a pencil to do a crossword puzzle. To her astonishment, she finds a large cross stowed within her pocketbook She decides that a friend whom she had helped, who was sick with cancer in New York City, must have slipped it in. She called him to inquire but he had no idea what she was talking about.

     Shortly thereafter, when she is back home—with many people as witnesses—an Indian guru, with a flying robe and hair pulled onto his head, went into the Objets d'Art shop with the biblical name of Jacob's Ladder. He was searching intensively for a cross, a particular one that had disappeared out of India. This was Dr. Singh, part of a group that believed this cross could guide them to the Lost Ark. They intended to bury it in a wilderness area, in the hope that it would shine and point to the location.

     Now the experiencer, I, and everyone else know how unusual and unbelievable this story is. Nevertheless, the more it is told not only does it get more incredible but it also begins to make sense, to hook up with other things, to gain a certain logic. But that takes time, which is why I six times checked back, to make sure I had it right, that I had not left something out, and that she stood by the account. ("I verify every word," she says. "This is no cock and bull story. This is a true story. This is not imagination. This was a happening.")

     Along with Dr. Singh on this excursion was Dr. Rhine, who had been called into the picture in the following way. Dr. Singh, arriving from India in search of the lost cross that was to serve as a guide—so his organization believed—to the location of the missing Ark, felt that it was not in New York City. Having earlier met Dr. Rhine, he telephoned him from New York, and Rhine invited him down to Durham. After he arrived, he and Dr. Rhine, while meditating together, detected the vibration of the cross in a particular nearby area. (Everything led our source to believe that Dr. Rhine meditated with Dr. Singh.) They then went to that area, and, so she remembers it, Dr. Rhine said, "The vibrations got stronger as we approached Jacob's Ladder." Going inside, they were told no cross was there, but that further down the mall, there was someone who had one. Dr. Rhine went on down the mall alone and met the experiencer in the tearoom. When he approached her, and she produced this particular cross, he pressed her to come with him to Jacob's Ladder. Dr. Rhine, she said, was "very quiet, very anxious for me to come and speak to Dr. Singh and show him my Crucifix. It was big—and large for what I think of as a Crucifix (four or five inches)—rough, in wood, not a beautiful cross by any means." I asked in the 1999 interview if it was old: "Old? Very old. Extremely old."

     Now, this unbelievable story, if we start out with conceptions of what is believable or not, is by no means finished. The distinctly unusual part—besides the inexplicable appearance of the cross in her purse; the guru following it, on her trail, from New York to North Carolina, recruiting Dr. Rhine, whom he already knew; Dr. Rhine and he tracking the "vibration," in the very words of Dr. Rhine—is that Dr. Singh asked her for the cross and the experiencer refused. She told them: "The cross isn't for sale."

     But Dr. Singh persisted. She says he had "a red dot on his forehead" and was very impressive. Finally, she did relinquish, not sell, it to him with the comment, "It is better to give than to receive. Take the cross." Up to this moment, the two men had been "all business." Dr. Singh was "quite intellectual," a man of few words, who "went straight to the point. They were there for one reason."

     After she gave up the cross, she retreated into the tearoom (literally, "ran away"). When she went, she found Dr. Rhine waiting outside the building. The guru asked her to go back to India with him; she remembers her granddaughter becoming hysterical, calling out, "You can't take my nanny."

     They left then. But the story was not over. From aboard ship, sailing out of Norfolk, Dr. Singh wrote the experiencer in a letter: "I will walk with you always. My hand is on your shoulder." Stunningly, almost these exact words had been said to her as a child in New Zealand, when she had her fortune read by a visiting "seer." Dr. Singh added in the letter that this incident had restored his faith, which had been flagging. He wrote: "It seemed as if God Himself had put the cross into my hand."

     I quote the following from the transcript of the tape she recorded on January 1999 of her experience as a child of eight or nine—an experience that partially correlates with the language in the encounter in the seventies just described.

     "My mother took me to a meeting. There was a 'seer' coming into town at the municipal theater, and she was going to read a flower. Along with the donations, you were to pass it up,  which I thought—this was for the birds. I picked a little jonquil, a 'snowdrop,' as we called them in New Zealand. Mom didn't want anybody to see that she was bringing me, a kid, to this meeting. I can remember it so distinctly at the municipal theater—you know, it's light outside. And then it's dark in the theater (you sit on people's laps). And I can remember being pushed along. And then the next thing I can remember was a blood-curdling wail."

     The seer, on stage, had been affected by their entry and was yelling, "Put the lights on." She had "slithered onto the floor and was shaking all over. The helper came"…He announced that "that presence" had to leave—pointing to her mother.

     It was following this exchange that the fortuneteller interrupted her performance to go outside and ask her mother why she had held her "in a spell," whereas the mother retorted she did no such thing; she had been "wondering if you were for real." To finish briefly: it was outside after this that the seer read the child's wilting "snowdrop," first authenticating herself by seeing "a tombstone, and on the tombstone I see Grandmother, and I see a lily on the tombstone [this was correct, but the grandmother having died in the South Island, the child had never known her nor seen the tombstone]; "a vase in a pot-cupboard [in their house (true)]. Travel. Wealth. But the greatest thing of all, I see an Indian.He's going to follow your daughter all the days of her life. His hand will be on her shoulder, guiding her."

     The grandmother and mother were in a female line of "psychically gifted." Her mother was an "orange woman" (that is, in the High Church of Orange, which she took to be indicative of a certain rank, she had a pew reserved for her in the Church of England). Her mother had "an uncanny ability to predict. She [indirectly] predicted the Great Earthquake of 1931 in New Zealand," in forecasting the death of the daughter of a dear friend. She did this secretively, among friends ("She was too much of a lady" to do it openly).

     This background preconditioned the encounter in the seventies. Dr. Rhine had told the experiencer in the initial meeting not to tell him first how she came to have the cross, but to wait and tell it to Dr. Singh. She said, "No one will believe my story. Nobody." And then she accompanied him to Jacob's Ladder. As the confirmatory letter was mailed after Dr. Singh left Durham, none of the other principals ever knew this background element. The event involving Dr. Singh, Dr. Rhine, and the crucifix had been hyperintense in itself, but only on arrival of the letter did she make the mind-boggling connection between it and the New Zealand prediction. She never saw the two other two principals again. The story just sat there in a little nest without an ending, an epiphany, on their end—except in details just as obscure, at this late date, as this childhood experience would have been, had it not been for the accidental encounter she described it to me in 1983. In a major sense, it is still not ended, because these leads have not been traced, as I only got the last details shortly before this deadline. I could not, therefore, look into old newspapers for any follow-up clues or references to Dr. Singh or his announced project. The experiencer did chance to hear something about such a project on the news shortly afterwards but did not pay much attention to it.

     It should be added here that the experiencer resisted knowing the future, always shifting her ability in a direction that could be immediately useful. She also had a dramatic near-death recovery from terminal cancer in Watts Hospital in Durham, in the sixties, which she taped in this interview, in case of a request to print it in the future.

     I prepare material for publication level by level, letting a foundation exist before going to the next focus, and making sure that foundation is firm. I did nothing with this information for 12 years. When I called to ask her to retell the story, she repeated everything she had said; she has an incredible memory. This solidified the foundation. The strange (though in fact predictable) thing was that the more I began to examine her account, looking for how I might weave the threads in, the more threads it brought out, which I will not go into here, as that would lead us far afield. But, in a sense, her experience moved into mine, and mine hers—and possibly even Dr. Rhine's, hers. That is another story. I have already touched on it in my books, triggered by an experience occurring in the last two years of a life. This time factor was true of J. B. Rhine in this case; the above event occurred between 1978 and 1980—the latter being the year of his death.. Quite possibly, it is in a line of experiences associated with the Approach of Death—described, with according significance, in shamanic, Jewish, mystical, and Jungian gestalts of the Larger, Unified Picture as it "self-organizes." 

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Margaret Harrell is editor, author, and currently the coordinator of an international retrospective of a museum in Belgium (Het Toreke) for the beginning of 2001. She was educated at Duke and Columbia universities and is a citizen of both the U.S. and Belgium. Her first published essay was The Milton Klonsky I Knew (1993).  She has published 4 volumes in English in a book series titled Love in Transition (Sibiu, Romania: Hermann Press, 1996-1998). They may be ordered by faxing her (see above). Her latest book is Marking Time With Faulkner, published in 1999.


[1] Photo taken 1961, photographer unknown. This image has been reprinted in several books. Although the wire cage is for a PK test, the photo was posed, and the score card is for another psi ability. The original purpose of the photo was to go into an encyclopedia. Probably the photo was requested by Rhine due to the published accounts of interviews of his Lab made on the Duke Campus at this time by myself (other figure in the photo). One of the main attributes of the psi experiments conducted in the Lab was the enthusiasm generated in the participants, according to the Chronicle stories (i.e., printed in the Duke University campus newspaper), based on interviews with the staff. I wrote one at the time, entitled "Researchers Shoot Dice for Science," describing the game as something worthy of an "originality cup" in the Oscars.


Last Modified on September 26, 2002
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