For a while after college, one of my husband Joe’s best friends worked at a used books–and-CDs store in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we all grew up. It was called McKay but everyone called it McKay’s—a tiny but somehow crucial distinction—and it was a wonderland of dog-eared pages and scratched ninety-two-cent discs and ineffable smells of humanity. Michael was always bringing home strange treasures that he’d eventually sell back for the exact amount he’d paid, but sometimes things would be too good not to hold onto. One summer Joe’s birthday merited a particularly special gift: a slim black paperback with a creased cover bearing a photo of a goateed man staring out from the center of a pink orb. Flaming rainbows flanked him on either side, and rays of light shot out from underneath his likeness. If anyone ever warranted such a wonder of post-midcentury graphic design, it was surely this man, Doc Anderson, who was, as his book cover proclaimed in yellow caps, THE MAN WHO SEES TOMORROW.
The book was published in 1970, its spine proclaiming it a “Paperback Library Occult Original” (retail price: seventy-five cents). It’s part biography and part defensive exegesis of Anderson’s psychic pronouncements, all researched and compiled by Robert E. Smith, which seems to be a pseudonym for one Warren B. Smith, who penned dozens of books on paranormal and cryptozoological subjects during his decades-long career. (A sampling from his bibliography: Let’s Face Facts About Flying Saucers, 1967; Strange Abominable Snowmen, 1970, Lost Cities of the Ancients—Unearthed!, 1976; and, inexplicably, The Sensual Male, 1971.)
Doc Anderson didn’t just see tomorrow; he saw next week, next month, years into the future. Sometimes he also saw the past, disconcerting strangers with his ability to pinpoint obscure facts about their lives. He grew up in Iowa, then traveled the country as a vaudeville strongman and, later, a semi-professonal boxer and bullfighter, before giving himself over to full-time psych icing. Smith hamfists his way through the first two-thirds of the book, trying to place Anderson among some pantheon of “true” prophets (“Since the first sabertooth tiger howled in the darkness beyond the caveman’s campfire, mankind has sought to lift the veil on the future…”). The real treasure is the catalog of Anderson’s predictions for the seventies and beyond.
His foresights are as much a product of his time as Smith’s unflinching use of terms like Negros and the Orient; there’s vague stuff about the looming threats of Russia and “Red China,” political scandals, rising divorce rates, increasing tolerance of sex and violence in media. Anderson foresees the invention of a lunar dune buggy, the development of an “artificial woman” (“Lonely men will purchase their ‘dream girl’ just as our children buy a doll in a store”), and the widespread acceptance of some garment called “the body stocking.” He also foretells in vitro fertilization and the democratization of the USSR and the rise of the personal computer, but his successes seem to be a matter of statistics: record enough “visions,” hazard enough guesses, and something’s bound to come true once in a while.
The final section of the book is all predictions split up by state. For Alabama, he determines “that the little known community of Muscle Shoals will become the rock-and-roll capital of the world within the next decade.” (This happened, kind of: Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones had recently cut tracks in the tiny Tennessee River town, and its reputation continued to swell in the seventies and eighties, though it hardly reached “capital” status.) He foresaw Washington, D.C., getting sacked by angry residents and the U.S. capital relocating to the Midwest. (This has not happened.) Along the way, he winds up declaring that most states are poised for racial tensions and general dissatisfaction with the government. (This has never not happened.)
Anderson’s predictions for Wyoming are by far the most salacious and display his tendency to punctuate especially juicy visions with an exclamation point: “A President of the United States will be divorced before the end of this decade and his wife will marry the bachelor governor of Wyoming! … Law enforcement officers [will] raid a motel in Wyoming and find a cluster of cottages where husbands take their wives to have them murdered!” The book’s final prediction may be the most relevant to our modern cultural discourse, though it seems only fractionally more likely now than it did in 1970: “I predict that as a method of raising tax funds for their state, it will be legal for ministers in Wyoming to perform marriages between homosexuals.”
I didn’t realize this until recently, when I found Joe’s copy of the book while packing for a move, but Anderson was actually in the business of seeing tomorrow from his office in Chattanooga: for a while he had a studio in Rossville, Georgia, then relocated just over the state line to the St. Elmo neighborhood, where he worked until his death. A regular hometown psychic—I never knew. In 1980, a local news station did a multipart series on psychics and the spotty science of ESP, in which he figured heavily. A young reporter sat with Anderson in his office, which vaguely resembled a typical workspace but for the thronelike chair in which the huge guy slumped. It was a high-backed thing with red velvet upholstered back pad and armrests (although, according to Smith, Anderson did his most intense “seeing” while reclined on a nearby couch). He spoke in a drawl he picked up who knows where between Iowa and Tennessee. His voice, his general self, seemed a bit shaky. He was seventy-two years old.
A few weeks after the series ran, unexpected events necessitated another. That March, Chattanooga got doused with a few days of heavy rain that sent low walls of flash floods rolling through the city. Anderson was out driving around town when his car stalled out in a patch of high water. He was just a few blocks from his office. He got out of his car and waded a few steps before the current pulled him down and away. After his body was recovered—days later; there were follow-up news reports all week—there was a big Catholic funeral down in Rossville, the church altar exploding with flowers. It was standing room only, news crews staked out in the parking lot. “Guess he didn’t see that one coming” was and remains the punch line; of all things, shouldn’t a psychic know the facts of his own death and avoid those circumstances at all costs? But Anderson had planned to fly out of town the next day for one last go-round at a Mexican bullfighting championship—and, yes, he got out of that car, waded into the rushing water, like it was nothing—so maybe he had no idea how he’d meet his end. Or maybe he did, maybe he thought he knew, had studied all the colors and contours of the day he would die, had let the vision wash over him, but what he saw was some other day, some other tragedy, some other moment of his life suddenly going all dark. Maybe he didn’t not know; maybe he was just wrong. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
Rachael Maddux is a writer and editor living in Decatur, Georgia.