On December 20, 1943, George G. Ritchie collapsed from pneumonia and allegedly left his physical body behind in a hospital room at Camp Barkeley, Tex. At first, Ritchie didn't realize he was in spirit form until he "passed through" an oblivious orderly in a hospital hallway. Ritchie saw a dead body covered with a sheet, and his fraternity ring on a hand sticking out. Instantly, it struck him that he was looking down on his own body.
"I thought suddenly: This is death... this splitting up of one's self," he recalled in his book Return From Tomorrow.
Next, a being of light flooded the room with brilliance. "It was a presence so comforting, so joyous and all-satisfying that I wanted to lose myself forever in the wonder of it."
Ritchies's life flashed before his eyes, and this spiritual presence asked him: "What did you do with your time on earth?"
The being of light led Ritchie on a tour of different spiritual worlds. Ritchie said he saw a dim spiritual realm co-existing with the physical world. It was filled with deeply unhappy earth-trapped spirits, apparently clinging to earthly obsessioins. "Each grief seemed diffrerent."
At another point, Ritche said he came to a hellsh dimension where arrogant and enraged spirits were in perpetual combat, unaware of angel-like beings of light who were trying to help. As Ritchie "ascended" -- like Dante up from the Inferno to Paradise -- he saw bright light replacing the dark gloom.
Now, he was in a heavenly world of thinkers and philosophers who studied and invented, a realm filled with universities, libraries and labs 'that surpassed the wildest inventions of science fiction."
Higher still, he glimpsed a city of light "infinitely far off."
After that, the being of light, he said, escorted him back to his body, and he lost consciousness.
All this time, Ritchie's heart had stopped for around nine minutes. But a ward boy about to prepare Ritchie's body for the morgue noticed slight movement. An adrenalin shot to the heart restarted a heartbeat.
Months later, Ritchie drove through Vicksburg, Mississippi and was startled to realize that this was the unidentified town he had visited as part of his elaborate pre-Christmas out-of-body journey. Although this was his first time -- physically -- in Vicksburg, Ritchie knew the town's layout and had no trouble recognizing the white frame cafe with neon letters and a Pabst sign in the window, where he had earlier seen the spirits of dead alcoholics moving into the bodies of living drinkers for a vicarious pursuit of their cravings.
"My return to life, (the doctor) told me, without brain damage or other lasting effect, was the most baffling circumstance of his career," Ritchie noted.