In 1901, two women who had broken through the glass ceiling of their era, Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, took a vacation in Paris, together. These two professors were determined, to visit as many historical sites as they could, before the end of their holiday. Little did they know that one of these destinations, would draw them into the first known time warp, and that their publication of this experience, would take hold of the public imagination, for the next half century.
At Oxford in the Saint Hughes College for young women, in 1886, Anne Moberly was appointed the first Principle. She asked for an assistant, to help her run the college. For this position, the Board of Trustees considered Eleanor Jourdain, who had been assistant mistress at the Tottenham and Clifton high schools. But before she could be hired, the board asked Moberly, to interview Jourdain herself, and so the Principle traveled to Paris. Jordain owned an apartment there, where she tutored English children.
These hard-working, successful women, were very unlikely, to be inventing fairy stories. On August 10th, the two women visited the Palace of Versailles. They traveled with a detailed guide book, but when they missed a turn on their walking tour of the palace grounds, they entered an unknown lane. They said they saw lavish, elaborate gardens, such as those favored by the French monarchy, of the late 1700s. They saw people wearing clothing from the period of Louis XVI. Moberly said she saw a woman, hanging old-fashioned bedclothes out of a window, to be aired by the sun. Jourdain noticed a roughly hewn gardener’s shed, against which was leaning a disused, rusty old plough, apparently broken.
As the two educators continued walking, a feeling of oppression and heaviness came over them. They saw men who looked like palace gardeners, who bowed to them out of respect. The gardeners’ station was low, but their composure was dignified, and they were dressed in long greyish-green coats, and three-cornered hats. Moberly later wrote, that the trees seemed flat and lifeless, like images from a fabric tapestry. For a moment everything seemed frozen, as if no wind stirred the leaves.
They reached the edge of a forest, close to the Temple de l’Amour, and came across a man seated in a reclining chair. According to Moberly, his appearance was most repulsive, for his face was scarred by smallpox, and he seemed to take offense at their presence. They were rescued by another man who came up to them, whom they considered more handsome. They described him as tall, with large dark eyes, and curly hair, and he escorted them to a bridge nearby.
After crossing the ornamental bridge, they spied the attraction they had been seeking all along, the Petit Trianon, a cozy chateau on the grounds, which King Louis had given to Marie Antoinette, as her private residence, where she was free to do what ever a queen might do, as a teenager. Now a young woman was sitting in the doorway on a three-legged stool, wearing a light summer dress, and a large white hat to provide shade. She was drawing in a sketch book. At first Moberly thought it was a tourist, but the girl’s dress was like something out of 1780. Then Moberly realized that the comely young lady, bore a very strong resemblance to Marie Antoinette.
After they recognized their tour guide in the distance, they rushed away, literally running out of the past. Moberly and Jourdain visited the Trianon gardens again, on several occasions, but were unable to retrace their steps. Various landmarks, such as the gardener’s shed and the rusty plough, were now missing, and the grounds were now full of so many more people. The book about their adventure, which they wrote together, was published in 1911, and it became a sensation overnight.
The evil-looking man in the reclining chair, they later identified as the Comte de Vaudreuil, a confidant of Marie Antoinette. Later was found an old map, of the Trianon gardens, showing the bridge, the two women may well have crossed, a bridge which no longer existed, according to all other existing maps.
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