Esther Cole returns now for the completion of the tale of a long cross-country trip
to the 1952 Worldcon. In the previous installment, she described adventures she and
her husband Les had at the 1952 Chicon, which was the biggest and perhaps most
future-looking worldcon held to that time. After four frenetic days of Chicon, the
trip home was supposed to a bit more leisurely, including a stop at Mount Rushmore.
Instead, though, as we will see, there was one other unexpected stop... the
Are dreams prophetic? I don't think so. But there have a few incidents in my life that make me wonder. Many years ago, when my friend Annette was pregnant, she was so healthy that I was positive the delivery would be fast and easy, and I'd be ready to assist. Even though we lived miles apart and I had no training as a midwife, I dreamed I delivered her baby, a girl that weighed nine pounds. Annette went to the hospital and did not need my help, but she delivered a nine-pound daughter.
When it was my turn, I was so slow in labor, the hospital sent Les home and promised to phone him the minute anything interesting happened. Les dreamed I had delivered a boy and the hospital had failed to notify him. Half-asleep he stumbled toward the phone to give them hell. Just as he reached for the phone, it rang -- it was the hospital, saying, "Come on down -- your wife just delivered a boy."
The was one other time a dream seemed prophetic, and it was scary. It was on our way back to Berkeley after a long weekend at a science-fiction convention in Chicago, the 1952 Worldcon. We were: June and Dave Koblick (owners of the car), Les and I, and our 4½-month-old son, Dana. We had gone from Berkeley to Chicago without stopping, getting there in 2½ days. There we spent another four days science fictioneering, getting little sleep. By the time the convention ended, we were all tired, edgy, and keyed-up. But the return journey was to be a bit more leisurely with a stop at Mount Rushmore and another at Yellowstone.
We left Chicago in plenty of time to reach Rushmore during daylight. Except that Dana got sick. As a new mother, I panicked, and we started looking for a doctor. We finally found one -- in a small town in South Dakota, in a saloon, no less -- who proved to be smart and wonderful because he calmed me down before he looked at Dana. Dana had a cold, and his red face was a result of my bundling him up too well. He would be fine. His parents would be fine. And we could continue our journey.
All these reassurances cost us far more in time than in money, and it soon became apparent we would not get to the national park at Mount Rushmore until well after dark. We were very disappointed, and stopped along the way to find out when the entrance to the park actually closed. Everyone assured us that there were no barriers to the viewing area and that the lights illuminating the carved faces stayed on at all times. That was great.
The road to the Park was dark, narrow and winding, and there wasn't another car in either direction. We kept looking for the lights that were always on. We were still looking when we reached the parking area -- still no lights, but at least there was a brilliant full moon. We got out of the car and those huge carved heads were peering down at us. The mountains are gray granite, but where the granite had been chipped away to form the faces of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt, the carved areas were light, almost white by contrast.
The moonlight threw shadows and made the presidents look exceedingly lifelike, though not benign. We speculated about visitors from other planets, far in the future, looking at this place and wondering about the kinds of gods Earthlings had worshiped. We had walked away from the car and I suddenly started worrying about Dana. He was alone in there and the woods behind us looked dark and threatening. We tumbled back into the car, feeling spooked, started up and drove along the road past the monument. Abruptly, the lights came on, and we all jumped.
We sat and stared and realized we had to turn around to get out of the parking area. As we did so, the lights went out. Now we were convinced we had triggered an electric eye, but to make sure, we again u-turned and drove forward. Nothing happened. That did it. Mount Rushmore was an eerie and threatening place, and it was time to get out of there. As we drove down that winding, narrow road, we imagined giant granite fingers reaching down to pluck our tiny car, lift it up to huge stone eyes, to inspect the puny humans inside.
None of us relaxed until we got out of the mountains and back on the highway heading toward Wyoming, with June driving. I guess the day's strain took its toll, as I soon drifted off to sleep. I dreamed I could hear a train whistle; I dreamed we were racing a train and that our road and the train tracks were about to intersect. June was driving very fast, and knew we could not outrace that speeding train. I woke up terrified and screaming to stop the car. Les was also yelling; he and I had had the same dream!
June pulled over and she and Dave stared at our hysterics. I recounted my dream, as did Les, and June assured us there was no danger. We actually were paralleling train tracks, and we could hear train whistles far in the distance. But there were no intersections -- it was just a weird coincidence of bad dreams. It was two o'clock, and we'd be in Cheyenne in an other hour where we'd take a break.
At a little after three in the morning we pulled into the only lighted spot in Cheyenne, an all-night coffee shop. There were a few other customers plus the employees, but instead of middle-of-the-night drowsy murmuring, the air was charged. Customers and employees were excited about something that had happened. We asked the counterman, and he said there had been a terrible train accident nearby. The conductor and the engineer had been killed. It had happened about an hour earlier, at two o'clock -- the same time Les and I had those nightmares!
June and Dave and Les and I looked at each other. The Mount Rushmore tension came back strong. We didn't need coffee to bring us fully awake.
Before we left, we asked to use the bathroom and were directed to the police station next door, where only one lone policeman was manning the desk. As we waited our turn to use the facilities, we told him about our visit to Mount Rushmore and asked if there were an electric eye that operated the lights. The policeman mulled that over and shook his head. "No," he said, "there's nothing like that there. Those lights," he emphasized, "are always on."
I could see those huge disapproving heads reflected in the moonlight, and I felt, once again, icy, granite fingers looming over my head...
All illustrations by Brad Foster