Home | Features | Other Worlds | From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Ernest Henry Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson on the British National Antarctic Expedition (a.k.a. Discovery-Expedition), 2 Nov 1902 (public domain photo) Ernest Henry Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson on the British National Antarctic Expedition (a.k.a. Discovery-Expedition), 2 Nov 1902 (public domain photo)

The "third man" phenomenon


When Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail single-handedly around the world in 1895, fell ill on his ship Spray, he was doubled up with cramps caused by food poisoning. and went below, collapsing on the floor in pain. He recorded what happened next in his book, “Sailing Around the World.” (1900)

“I lay there a long time, delirious, and when I came to realized the sloop was plunging into heavy seas, but looking out the companionway, to my amazement I saw a tall man at the helm; he would’ve been taken for a pirate in any part of the world and I wondered if he’d come to cut my throat but he seemed to divine my thoughts and doffed his cap and said, “Senor, I mean you no harm. I am one of Colombus’ crew, the pilot of the Pinta come to assist you. Now lie quiet, you have a fever but you’ll be all right tomorrow.”

The phantom pilot told Slocum the source of his food poisoning (cheese and plums) and kept the Spray on course through the heavy seas. When Slocum awoke the next day the phantom pilot had gone and “the Spray was still heading as I had left her and was going like a race horse. Columbus himself could not have held her more true.”

Slocum’s experience is a prime example of what has come to be called by researchers the “third man” phenomenon. It gets its name from Shackleton’s experiences in the Antarctic, when he and his companions were positive that an unseen companion accompanied them on their adventures to safety.

The experience is most commonly reported by high altitude mountaineers or by miners trapped underground for long periods of time by cave-ins. Out of scores of such accounts I’ll relate just one. In Sheppton, Pennsylvania in August of 1963, three miners were trapped by a cave-in. One was killed immediately, but Dave Fellin (58) and Hank Throne (28) survived for three weeks in a small alcove.

After they were rescued Fellin requested psychiatric care and press releases and stories began to circulate about visions and hallucinations they had experienced. Horrified at the glib way they were deemed as ignorant and fancy-prone, the men refused to answer any more questions or give interviews. However, on the first anniversary of the cave-in, the two men gave a lengthy, live radio interview to radio station WAZI in nearby Hazelton, detailing a fascinating glimpse into a parallel world.

The two mens’ visions began in the day following the cave-in. A glowing figure appeared on the cavern wall. Dave kept quiet about it for fear he was imagining things, so Hank was the first to point it out. Next came what they termed “the linemen,” whose foreheads held funnel-shaped pulsing waves of light rather than a steady beam. To Hank they seemed like ordinary guys wearing miner’s lamps and utility belts, unrolling wire from a big spool. Hank asked them to bring some light into the cave and the two men agreed that the light filled the cavern. “It was bluish, sort of like steam.”

At that point a huge, white marble staircase in the cave, 12 feet wide, appeared and rose steeply out of sight. Hank wanted to climb the steps but Dave held him back, afraid it would mean their deaths. Hank began to hammer on the steps and the vision disappeared, but three “linemen” appeared with a book on which were inscribed the names of dead miners. Hank and Dave were overjoyed to find their own names weren’t listed, and the men knew then they’d eventually be rescued.

Other mystery “helpers” appeared “who seemed to glow with unearthly light.” The men “walked into a beautiful garden filled with angelic beings.” They recognized people they’d known who’d died. Finally, three weeks after the cave-in, the two miners were pulled alive from the rubble.

The “third man” phenomenon has been widely reported throughout history. For more information, you can simple Google “third man phenomenon” and a few sites of interest should pop up. You can find Joshua Slocum’s account of the phantom pilot in his book, “Sailing Alone Around the World.” The Pennsylvania miners’ story can be found in “The Angels of Cokeville” by John Ronner (1995). 

‘til next time, all homage to Xena!


Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

T.S. Eliot “The Wasteland”


Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0 posted)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image:

  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Author info

Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

Tagged as:

third man phenomenon, ghosts

Rate this article