#230: Crowdsourced Clairvoyance

Have you ever had a feeling that something bad was about to happen? Has it ever come true? On October 20, 1966, a young Welsh girl named Eryl Mai Jones recounted to her mother a dream in which she went to school and found it wasn’t there. “Something black had come down all over it,” she said. The next day, Eryl and 143 other people were killed when a pile of waste at a nearby coal mine collapsed and sent an avalanche of rubble into the village of Aberfan. After learning of Eryl’s dream—and others like hers—the psychiatrist John Barker teamed up with reporter Peter Fairley to establish a Premonitions Bureau at the Evening Standard newspaper to “log premonitions as they occurred and see how many were borne out in reality.” New Yorker staff writer Sam Knight tells the story of Barker’s experiment in his new book, The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold. Barker hoped that the bureau, which would receive more than 700 premonitions within 15 months (some of which proved true) might serve as a warning system for future calamities. But the gravest predictions that Barker received warned of his impending death.


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