Greg Lippert & Robert Haydon Jones


Greg Lippert
Inspiration piece

Robert Haydon Jones
Like a Picture From a Fairy Book
©2013, RHJA, LLC. All Rights Reserved

I’m a writer by trade. I am not sure why I waited 53 years to publish the story of the most astonishing thing that has ever happened to me.

Just to put things in perspective, in 1972, when I was a TV reporter, I broke the story of the Munich Olympic massacre with a live report from Germany on U.S. network TV. I was the first to announce to a world anxiously waiting for word about the Israeli Olympic athletes being held hostage – that the terrorists had killed them all. The AP confirmed my bulletin.

This is a bigger story. Much bigger.

Oh, I’ve told the story out a few times. First, right when it happened, I told the story to people in my family and to some of the people I worked with. Looking back, I realize now that no one really paid any attention to what I was saying.

I was claiming I had foreknowledge of the ghastly, midair collision of two airliners that left the charred corpses of 133 people strewn in the streets of New York City with the gaily wrapped Christmas presents they had brought for their loved ones. The fact is absolutely no one paid any attention to my story. It’s not so much they didn’t believe it – – I don’t think they really heard it.

Down through the years, once in a while, I would bring up December 16, 1960. Often, I would do this in company with my wife, who was at the center of it all. Carol was painfully shy about everything – but she wouldn’t object when I repeated the story and in her laconic, soft-spoken way, she would confirm my account.

Every time I told the story, people were polite. No one acted like I was fibbing. People mostly shook their heads and gave a little smile. Looking back, it reminds me of the opening lines of Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Happiness.”

I ASKED the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them.

So, now, I’m going to tell the story out to you.

Early in the morning of December 16, 1960, my wife, Carol, woke me up in our bedroom in Connecticut. She was very upset. She told me she had just dreamed she saw two airliners collide high above a city and plummet down thousands of feet and crash into the city and burn. She said she could hear a lot of screaming as the planes fell to earth – it took quite a long time and it was terrible.

Carol began to cry and tremble. She said everyone died except for a boy who was thrown clear of one of the planes on to a snow bank on the street. The boy was conscious but badly hurt. Carol said the boy was rushed to a hospital. She said she dreamed that the chaplain at the hospital was the minister of the church she attended as a girl when she had lived in Louisville, Kentucky. She said that the boy was conscious and talking but afraid. The chaplain was trying to reassure him.

Poor Carol was badly shaken. I did my best to console her. I told her not to worry – that it was only a dream. I called Carol’s mother who lived nearby and asked her to come over. I had to take the train to my job in New York City – and Carol had our two-year old boy and our month old infant son to care for.

When I got to work, I called home. Carol’s mother answered. She told me Carol had gone back to bed and was sleeping. I told her Carol had been upset by a bad dream. She said Carol had told her about the midair collision and the boy in the snow bank and the minister from Louisville comforting the boy at the hospital.

At about 10am, I left the office with one of the secretaries and took the elevator down to Madison Avenue for a coffee break. Actually, we weren’t going for coffee. We jumped into the bar on the corner of 48th street and each had two quick ponies of medium sherry.

At 22, I was already an alcoholic, albeit a “functioning” one. Judith, the secretary, was a good drinking companion. She was from England and had an open mind and as it turned out had a crush on me.

When we got back to the office, everyone was crowded around the TV in the conference room. Two airliners had collided on approach to the city. One airliner had crashed on an open field in Staten Island. The other had crashed into the street in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. It appeared there were no survivors.

As I recall, I told Judith about Carol’s dream and she gave me the smile I would become used to. I’m sure I told some other people at work – and I remember telling some of my friends on the bar car on the way home – but like I said, they acted as if they didn’t really hear me.

It was nearly 9 when I got home. Carol’s mother went right out as I came in – it was clear she was not pleased at my late arrival. The children were sleeping – Carol had just fed the baby. She had slept until late afternoon. She and her mother had learned about the crash on the TV. She was very upset.

I poured us a couple of stiff highballs. Carol drained her drink and started to weep. She said she was overwhelmed with guilt – that she should have warned the airlines. She told me she had seen the names and insignia of the planes. If she had called, perhaps the crash could have been averted.

Well, what could I say?

I told Carol she couldn’t know the location of the planes she had seen in her dream. I told her that no one would have believed her. And then, I’m sorry to say, I told her it was only a dream – a strange coincidence.

It was Friday night. We had several more drinks and nibbled at some meatloaf her mother had made. We watched the late news on TV. The crash was the lead story. It turned out that there had been a survivor of the plane that crashed in Brooklyn.

An 11-year old boy, from Wilmette, Illinois, had been thrown clear into a snow bank on the street. He was badly hurt but he was conscious and talking. It appeared he would survive. His parents were headed to the hospital to be with him.

The boy said that right before the collision he had been gazing out the window at the snow falling on the city. “It was beautiful. Like a picture from a fairy book.” Then there had been a loud bang – and the last thing he remembered he was falling.

It was very disturbing to hear this. I had quite a few more drinks. I got pretty drunk. Carol couldn’t stop crying. I went to bed. As I drifted off to sleep, my poor wife was still sobbing.

On Saturday morning, it was all over the front page of the Times. The still photos were even more graphic then the TV. There were enormous pieces of the plane jumbled through the street. A big church had been utterly destroyed.
200 brownstone houses had burned. There were a number of candid shots of firemen grimly carrying stretchers with body bags. 83 passenger and crew had been killed, most burned beyond recognition. Six people had perished on the ground.

There was a photo of the boy, lying there on his back on the snow bank. A woman in a leopard skin coat held an umbrella over him. His face is grimy with soot. His eyes are wild with shock. He is holding his right hand out from his body as if 
in supplication.

Carol and I took solace from the fact that the boy on the snow bank had survived. His parents were reported to be with him at the hospital. According to the Times, the churches were crowded with people praying for little Stephen Baltz.

Later that afternoon, NBC TV ran a Special Report. A famous anchorman said the disaster could have been averted. The nation’s Air Traffic Controllers were not equipped to handle the volume of airliners in metropolitan areas in the Jet Age. (Jet passenger service had just begun in 1958.)

They interview a pilot from United who regularly flew the DC-8 Jet model that had crashed in Brooklyn. The pilot says that he and other pilots have experienced an ever-increasing number of “near-misses”. He says the problem is the Controllers don’t have instruments that tell them the altitude of the planes they are tracking.

Suddenly the broadcast is interrupted by a bulletin, live from the Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. A group of doctors and a minister are clustered around a microphone. The minister announces that the survivor, Stephen Baltz, has just died unexpectedly from respiratory issues. He says the boy went peacefully and his parents were with him.

“Oh, God,” I said to Carol. “How horrible.

“That’s my minister from Louisville,” Carol said.

Well, I got goose bumps when she said that. To tell you the truth, I got goose bumps again just now when I wrote out what Carol said.

It was 53 years ago this month. Carol made other uncanny forecasts over the years. Some scientists from Duke wanted to study her – but Carol didn’t like the attention.

A few years later, we were at a party in Greenwich Village when Carol started talking a strange sounding kind of English that was hard to understand. As it happened, a lady standing near us was a professor of Medieval Studies and a Chaucer expert.

She said, “Your wife is talking in Old English.”

I said, “What is she saying? “

The lady told me Carol was saying she was an old woman who had been through a life full of pain and she was tired.

Then Carol said, “Is that what I was saying? I could hear myself talking but I couldn’t understand what I was saying.”

Carol was special. She had this unique gift – and she was so modest and unassuming. She certainly tried her hardest with me – but my alcoholism got worse and worse until finally she asked me to do the decent thing and leave. I did very reluctantly. We were divorced and Carol remarried and lived happily for decades until her death a few years back.

I finally did get sober. Part of the recovery process is learning that you can’t change the past – but it is hard to accept that. This very attractive, intelligent, gentle woman with a unique gift — loved me and gave me three wonderful sons –- yet I made alcohol and drugs my priority over Carol and my family. It is sad to think about.

I guess that’s the big reason I held off on telling my story of December 16, 1960.

I’m clean and sober and happily married now for decades. But every time I think about the morning when Carol told me about that dream, I feel a stab of pain.

What do I make of it? I’m a Unitarian. My minister, Frank, says that some times in life you run into things where’s there’s more there than meets the eye. I can leave it at that.

I’ve attached some URL’s that will connect you to the TV and newspaper coverage of the midair airliner collision of December 16, 1960 that Carol foretold. Warning: Some of the coverage is pretty graphic. The picture of poor little Stephen lying on the snow bank is particularly disturbing.


  1. Posted December 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm | #

    An amazing mysterious experience for the writer and a very troubling experience for the wife………..easy to understand why no one really heard the story in light of all the media coverage of the actual occurence.

  2. Posted December 29, 2013 at 4:10 am | #

    You know, I’ve read a number of wonderful writing’s by R.H.Jones and when reading my latest, “Like A Picture From A Fairy Book”, I realized that he gets my full attention right from the very first word! That doesn’t happen very often with me–my attention span can be compared to an eight year old kid with A.D.D. No matter what he composes you’re hooked forever on his work–my latest read is no exception–check it out, I think you’ll agree with me!–Jack Orth

  3. Posted December 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm | #

    Robert Haydon Jones does it again. Just a stunning story. One of your best. Perfectly written. Powerful piece. Beautiful art too.
    Congratulations Bob, nice going.

  4. Posted December 31, 2013 at 6:17 am | #

    I don’t know what else I can add to the comments already submitted other than to say the man can write.

  5. Posted December 31, 2013 at 2:35 pm | #

    I’ve enjoyed this one live as well. Good stuff.

  6. Posted January 3, 2014 at 11:36 am | #

    I’m speechless; this is really true?
    The links show it is true and I am constantly amazed at people and life. RHJ writes lean and mean and true. Carol sounds like she existed on another plane of consciousness than the rest of us. I can see why RHJ put off writing this all these years; it’s just too weird and hard to accept that this happened.

    Amazing piece

    To make it even weirder when I opened the 1st link there was a link showing Adolph Hitler on his 50th birthday “surrounded by Brunettes.”

    How absurd is that?

  7. Posted January 4, 2014 at 9:35 am | #

    Jones is our champion fabulist — in the best sense. His stories are believable, sometimes chillingly so. Except when they’re true? Like now? But he’s also a reporter, so you have to believe him….

  8. Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:02 am | #

    Thanks for this, and for reminding me once again, “you can’t change the past – but it is hard to accept that.”

  9. Posted January 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm | #

    I heard this story years ago from Bob Jones . Reading it in detail has once more left my jaw agape. Prescience in whatever form leaves my cynicism in tatters and my disbeliefs in disarray .Truth is so powerful that it kicks the shit out of our prejudices especially when so well documented and so well recounted.Thank you for a great human story even sad as it is and so tragic.
    Malachy Mccourt

  10. Posted January 13, 2014 at 10:42 am | #

    The story gave me chills. Felt for the wife in the story — her power was also a curse. We can’t change the past. But she could see the future and couldn’t change that either. Powerful…