A century ago, a Versailles time-traveling incident made headlines around the world. Two academics named Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain experienced a strange event during a casual stroll through the gardens of Versailles in 1901. The women spent the next decade researching every detail from their trip, finally concluding that they had experienced a time slip. Since then, many have considered Moberly and Jourdain as real-life time travelers.
Moberly and Jourdain's book, republished as An Adventure: A True Story About Time Travel, recounts every detail of the incident, including exhaustive research into the clothing, layout, and people at Versailles in 1789. Some of the details they recall simply don't appear in most history books. And with all the fantastic stories about Versailles, it's not hard to imagine that mysterious things still might occur at the palace.
On August 10, 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain went for a walk in the gardens of Versailles. As they strolled, the two women went down an empty lane, searching for the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette's Hamlet. The two ended up lost in the woods, and they asked a pair of gardeners for directions. They walked past a woman and girl in a cottage, a pair of guards wearing capes, and a man at a pavilion. They spoke to a gentleman with a strange accent and were scolded away from a chapel.
The winding path took Moberly and Jourdain over a rustic bridge and through an arbor, then across a meadow with long grass. Finally, they reached a lady sitting on a terrace sketching. The entire walk struck both women as completely ordinary yet eerie. Moberly wrote that "the stillness and oppressiveness were so unnatural." It was almost as though "we were walking in a dream." It was only later the women wondered if they had slipped through time.
Both women described a feeling of depression and anxiety, beginning when they wandered down the path. Moberly was shocked to learn that Jourdain didn't see a woman sketching on the terrace, even though Moberly swore they sat only a few feet from her. After their journey, Moberly asked Jourdain, "Do you think that the Petit Trianon is haunted?"
Jourdain instantly responded, "Yes, I do." At that point, the two women independently wrote accounts of their journey and started researching the history of Versailles to learn more about what had happened.
They conducted research, as Moberly said, "with the idea of disproving the suggestion that anything unusual had happened." They eventually published their findings using pseudonyms. The publisher explained:
The ladies whose adventure is described in these pages have for various reasons preferred not to disclose their real names, but the signatures appended to the Preface are the only fictitious words in the book.
One mysterious lady baffled Moberly and Jourdain. Why did only Moberly see her when they both walked directly past the woman? Moberly pored over her recollection, recalling "her light-colored skirt, white fichu, and straw hat," and wondered if the woman was perhaps Marie Antoinette herself.
In 1908, Moberly and Jourdain found the journal of Madame Eloffe, the queen's dressmaker. Eloffe wrote that in 1789, Marie Antoinette had few dresses made. However, that summer Eloffe made two green silk bodices, large white fichus (a pashmina tied over the bodice), and a slightly yellow skirt. "This agrees exactly with the dress seen in 1901," Moberly reported.
When Moberly returned to the Petit Trianon in January 1902, she found herself again lost in the woods. As she tried to find her way back, she heard "faint music as of a band, not far off." She moved closer, catching the "very light music with a good deal of repetition in it." When she returned, she wrote down 12 bars of music from memory. In 1907, Moberly showed the bars to a musical expert. He determined that they dated from about 1780.
Moberly also interviewed caretakers at Versailles who said no bands were allowed to play in the park during winter. Regardless, bands could only play in one location and visitors couldn't possibly hear them from the Petit Trianon.