The Accidental Time Traveler

The photograph of actress Grace Rawlinson, taken by Sarony.
The photograph of actress Grace Rawlinson, taken by Napoleon Sarony.

“ACTUALLY SHE DID TIME TRAVEL but not in the way you think.” Dawson Grant threw out this tantalizing statement to his friend as they sat in a bistro with Victorian décor and quaint menu selection.

“Who?” Jeremy asked, as he tried to catch another glimpse of the pretty server who was disappearing behind a bank of huge potted palms. She wore her curly golden locks in an up-do secured with tortoiseshell pins. She was attired in lace-up ankle boots, only occasionally visible peeking from beneath her voluminous skirt. A white pinafore apron completed her look.

“Grace Rawlinson—this woman.”   Dawson showed a picture of a woman in what appeared to be Victorian times. Her hairdo was perfectly lovely, but it seemed to be achieved by a fake hairpiece cascading down to the shoulders. Its strands of hair had a different texture than the natural hair on top of the woman’s head. The photo was taken by Napoleon Sarony in his studio at 660 Broadway. Sarony photographed many people including Sarah Bernhardt and other prominent actors of the time such as Maurice Barrymore and Edwin Forest. He also photographed Oscar Wilde, Nicola Tesla, Walt Whitman and William Tecumseh Sherman.

“Who is this Grace Rawlinson?” Jeremy was only half paying attention.

“She was a British actress who came to America for a few short years seeking her theatrical fortune,” Dawson responded, trying to make more of an impact with his descriptions.

“Theatrical fortune?”

“She and some members of her troupe got valuable experience here, but not much monetary reward. When she realized her funds were drying up to the point of no return, she went back home to England and continued her acting career there on more familiar ground and possibly with the security of some family members close-by.”

“She was attractive, but I don’t see her as a stunning beauty, or one to be remembered for her appearance. Maybe it is the angle. Did she do mainly character parts?” Jeremy was encouraged that the lovely server seemed to now be giving him the eye.

“The bio right here says that she came to America to display her acting abilities during the years 1870, 1871, 1872 and 1873. Shortly after she arrived, she was able to secure a temporary part as a replacement actress in The Black Crook. She played the part of Amina. When the person she was replacing returned, she had the good fortune of securing an acting stint with the Louisville Opera House. While there, she worked with a James Stewart and Cordelia Cappell. After this, her career took a turn.”

“How so?” Now Jeremy was becoming more interested as he whiffed some mystery. He got the feeling there would not be any provable time-travel to his friends story, but the story itself was taking some twists.

“It was at this time that she teamed up with and actor, Neil Warner. They had some success together in a troupe of actors that performed scenes from famous productions. Some of the scenes were from well-known Shakespearean plays, also scenes from Hugo’s The Hunchback. After a few weeks of this, and after adding some members to the original troupe, they returned to New York, and at a theater in the Bowery they performed scenes from four of Shakespeare’s plays, including Macbeth and Richard III.”

“So explain to me how this actress, Grace Rawlinson, accidently time- traveled.” Jeremy smiled, an almost-knowing smile.

“After her work in New York, she returned to England in 1873 and lived the rest of her life, and at some point exited her time on earth as a mortal being. It happens to all of us.”

“Yeah, death happens! And?”

“It seems that a modern-day publisher of eerie Victorian tales was publishing a story about a fictional character named Alexandria Alexis. In the story, she is in the year 1898 and has traveled there from the year 2025. According to the publishing blurb, ‘she came from nowhere and took New York society by storm. Some fawned over her, others claimed she was insane.’ Before she could prove her point, she disappeared on New Year’s Eve 1899.”

“What does this have to do with Grace?”

“When looking for a photo to use for the character of the story, Alexandria Alexis, the publishers chose the photo of Grace Rawlinson, English Actress. The publishing blurb was put up several places, along with the photo, and those who did not read the whole account thought it was true—that a lady that lived in 1898 had actually been a time traveler that mysteriously disappeared. Several times this strange account comes to the surface again on social media, after first making the rounds in September of 2013. It is interpreted by the readers as the reporting of a true event and not a publishing blurb. So, this long ago actress did, in a strange way, travel to the present and get a second life.”

“That is one way to look at it!” Jeremy glanced up at the lovely server as she refilled his cup with dark, rich coffee. She had emerged from the grove of palms and seemed to glide in on a fog of exotic and scrumptious kitchen aromas. Some recent words echoed in his head: …she came from nowhere and took…society by storm. Some fawned over her, some thought she was insane…she disappeared in a cloud of mystery, never to return.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of stories dealing with the unknown and unexplained.


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