Monday, August 4, 2014

Charles Lindbergh and the Third Man Factor

Charles Lindbergh in WV, 1927
Today is somewhat of an interesting day for West Virginia history.  On August 4, 1927 the famed aviator Charles Lindbergh landed his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, at Moundsville's Langin Field.  Following the success of his solo, non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight that May, Lindbergh was on the West Virginia leg of his country-wide tour promoting aviation.

As far as I know, there were no spooky occurrences directly related to the stop in Moundsville or Lindbergh's public appearance in Wheeling...but the same cannot be said about his actual trans-Atlantic journey!  During his solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, Lindbergh fought a storm, disorienting fog, ice in the fuselage and severe fatigue.  At one point, he actually was reported as falling asleep with his eyes open and suffering hallucinations.

But were these images really just simple hallucinations...or something else altogether?  Many believe that Charles Lindbergh experienced a very unique (possibly) paranormal phenomena that only a handful of others have experienced over the years:  The Third Man Factor.

These incidents wouldn't hit the mainstream public until 1953, when the book, The Spirit of St. Louis, was published.  The text contains a timeline of events, including notes concerning the idea that maybe Lindbergh WASN'T alone in his plane during his trans-Atlantic flight.  Here's just a few quotes, courtesy of Good Ghosts That Help, about the beings he began seeing around halfway through his historic flight :

* "Those phantoms speak with human voices.  They are friendly, vapor-like shapes without substance, able to appear or disappear at will, to pass in and out through the walls of the fuselage.."

* "They were discussing problems of my navigation, reassuring me, giving me messages of importance unattainable in ordinary life."

*  "These spirits have no rigid bodies, yet they remain human in outline and form.  They're neither intruders nor strangers, its more like a gathering of friends and family after years of separation, as though I'd known all of them before in some past life."

The Spirit of St. Louis at Langin Field

What Charles Lindbergh experienced while all alone up there in his plane has come to be known as the Third Man Factor.  The "third-man" moniker comes from Ernest Shackleton's experience of the phenomena when making the historic trip to the South Pole in 1916.  Shackleton, along with another member of the party, F.A. Worsley, both made statements to the effect that they had a strong sensation that they were accompanied by a fourth member of the expedition, or...a third companion. T.S. Eliot drew on that experience, and wrote a poem called The Waste Land, changing the Fourth Man to the Third Man.

However, it wouldn't be until 2009 that the term would really pick up steam.

That year, John Geiger released the book, The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible.  Building on over six years of research, the book chronicles the case studies of numerous people who survived with a little help and/or reassurance from someone who wasn't truly there.  According to Geiger, the Third Man is an unseen being that intervenes at a critical moment---when people are in great stress or in a life or death struggle---to give comfort, aid, or support.

Mountain climbers, solo sailors, survivors of shipwrecks, and polar explorers make up the largest demographic of witnesses to this phenomena, but the Third Man can pop up anywhere to anyone, it seems. In addition to Charles Lindbergh, another notable case is that of Ron DiFrancesco.  DiFrancesco was one of the last, if not THE last person to make it out of the second tower alive during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  At one point where DiFrancesco was giving up, he heard a voice calling him by name, telling him to get up, and that he could do this.  DiFrancesco claimed that not only did he hear the unidentified voice, but he also felt an unseen presence with him.  He even felt that 'person' lift him up and guide him to safety!

There are definitely enough case studies to show that something is happening to these people, but what exactly that might be is hotly debated.  Some believe that these beings are supernatural in origin.  Perhaps they are guardian angels or spirit guides?  Maybe they're the spirits of loved ones who have passed away coming back to help us when we need them the most?  One page I found went as far as to theorize that these beings are gremlins.

Other theories are a little more psychological and/or scientific.  It's highly likely that these ARE hallucinations, but hallucinations that are part of a larger coping mechanism as the witnesses are trying to make sense out of tough situations and subconsciously make appropriate choices that the conscious might not be able to tackle.  The process might have something to do with the theory of bicameralism, an idea that the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be "speaking," and a second part which listens and obeys.  To me, the theory of the bicameral mind sounds a lot like the idea of Socrates' daimon...a being he thought was a separate entity, but that later scholars argue was simply a manifestation of Socrates' own conscious.  Still...to many, this phenomena takes on a very religious or spiritual nature, especially for Christians as the similarities to the Footsteps poem are obvious.

There are a ton of excellent sources on the theory of The Third Man Factor, and I suggest anyone with an interest to do some research of their own as there is no way I can do the subject justice without making this post the size of a book!  I've listed a few sources that I used in this blog to get you started, though. Happy Reading!

Additional Reading:
Lindberg Lands in Moundsville, by Thomas O. James
Article from the Moundsville Journal
Charles Lindbergh's Gremlins, by Seeks Ghosts
Third Man Factor from Wikipedia
NPR's Guardian Angels or the Third Man Factor? 

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