Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Harry Lockhart’s psychic dream

My great-grandfather, Henry James Lockhart, generally known as Harry (1861-1905), was an elephant trainer, as were his two brothers Samuel and George.  Sam and George were far better known than Harry, who has rather been forgotten, perhaps because more of his life was spent in the United States.  Research needs to be done to excavate his career, which may have been as illustrious as his brothers’.

An intriguing anecdote about Harry can be found in the El Paso Herald from 18 January 1904, p. 8, almost exactly a year before his death.  It is headed ‘HARRY LOCKHART, ELEPHANT TRAINER, REACHES MOTHER’S BEDSIDE JUST IN TIME.’  He was in El Paso, Texas, for a few days en route to Mexico City where he was working for Orrin Brothers’ Circus, which had opened a Circus Teatro building in Mexico City in 1894 (Kanellos, p. 98).  El Paso seems to have been his usual stopping-point and he had good friends in the town.

From the article it can be seen that Harry was a popular man, described as ‘The famous elephant trainer and traveler, and prince of good fellows, genial Harry Lockhart’.  Harry was a larger-than-life character: ‘“Business is good" wherever Harry goes’ the journalist claimed, before noting that he had a great reputation as a joker.  On a more serious note, the journalist, who must have sat down with Harry over a few drinks, recounted a dream Harry said he had had:

‘Mr. Lockhart. while traveling through the west recently, dreamed that his mother was ill in Paris. He at once telegraphed to Mrs. Lockhart, who replied that she also had had a similar dream.’

Presumably at this point his mother was not unwell, or she would have said so.  But a dream was enough to set Harry off to Paris: the account concludes:

‘That settled it – Lockhart took the first train for New York, which left in ten minutes, and from there took the first steamer for Europe. arriving in Paris to find his mother seriously ill and praying for him to come. Mr. Lockhart has left a host of warm friends in this city behind him who will be always glad to welcome him back. He intended leaving yesterday, but his friends. Bloom and O'Brien, hid his baggage and he could not get away.’

His mother was Hannah Pinder, through whom the Lockharts are related to the illustrious Anglo-French Pinder circus family.  The dream was most likely precognitive, because when he had it Hannah was apparently not ill.  No more details are given, so the nature of the ailment is unknown.  We do not know how close in time her dream and Harry’s were, nor precisely how similar.

Hannah was born in 1826 so if the dream had occurred in 1903, she was 77, an age when a dutiful son might be worrying about her health.  But that would not explain him making a trip from the western United States to France to see her.  He may have made the entire incident up, but lying about your mother’s health is on a different level to pulling a journalist’s leg.  If he had been telling a yarn, surely it would have been a better one.

The article’s headline implies Harry arrived just in time to witness his mother’s demise, but Hannah outlived Harry.  She died in 1910, while Harry died of pneumonia in Mexico City on 31 January 1905 (family lore says that he had been out in the rain organising shelter for the elephants), and was buried in the city’s English Cemetery (Panteón Inglés, Real del Monte.).  It was almost exactly a year after the spectacular death of his brother George on 24 January 1904, when he was crushed by a runaway elephant at Walthamstow, London.

The El Paso Herald carried a story on 1 February 1905, p. 3: ‘Mrs. Harry Lockhart, wife of the well-known elephant trainer, passed through the city yesterday en route to the City of Mexico to join her husband, who is seriously ill there. “Harry” is well known here and his numerous friends hope that he may pull through and continue to delight the circus goers with his famous trained animals.’  Sadly by the time she arrived he was already dead, and there is a further family story of his wife and young son, also Harry, arriving at the cemetery as the mourners were leaving it.


Nicolás Kanellos. A History of Hispanic Theatre in the United States: Origins to 1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).