For over a quarter of a century, Charles Fort combed the world’s newspapers and scientific journals for wonders which orthodox science either ignored or explained away. In the libraries of New York and London, he gathered tens of thousands of reports of ghosts and psychic phenomena, geophysical and atmospheric anomalies, and astronomical and archaeological mysteries, which he pounded into four spectacularly original tomes: The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932).
Over 1,200 documented anomalies wrestle for attention in Fort’s books: skyfalls of fish, snakes and frogs; spontaneous human combustion; unknown objects seen floating in outer space; evidence of pre-Columbian visitations to the New World; wild men; stigmata; out of place objects; phantom bullets, monsters seen in the seas, luminous UFOs noted in the skies of 18th century Europe.
We’re all familiar with the Shakespearean actor and the Platonic relationship, but rare is the author whose name equates discipleship. Ben Hecht proclaimed himself “a Fortean… the first disciple of Charles Fort,” in his review of The Book of the Damned. By writing the book, he said, Fort had “shot the scientific basis of modern wisdom full of large, ugly holes.”
Many of Fort’s speculations are humorous: he surmised that holes exist in time and space; that sinister forces emanate from Mars, and that massive, globular entities inhabit Earth’s upper atmosphere. This cosmic joker’s detractors accused him of being “the arch-enemy of science,” when nothing could be further from the truth. Ever the egalitarian, he wrote that “the interpretations will be mine, but the data will be for anybody to form his own opinions on.”
“All books by me are filled with quite ordinary occurrences,” Fort reasoned, although, as Bob Rickard and John Michell have pointed out, “He identified many previously unrecognized types in phenomenal reality, such as the UFO, the fireball and the teleportation effect.” Fort discovered that weird, luminous bodies would often materialize in the air preceding earthquakes, yet “earthquake lights” were only recognized by seismologists in the 1960s. (Their mechanisms are still not understood.) Fort rescued ball lightening from the realm of folklore, only to have it become plasma physics in modern parlance. “Witchcraft always has a hard time,” he wrote, “until it becomes established and changes its name.”
Before Einstein, Fort discussed the interconnectedness of two unlike things, and recognized that all forms of phenomena and experience exist as part of a continuum, “simply by existing in the same universe,” notes Bob
Rickard, who founded Fortean Times Magazine in 1973.
“This is a philosophical view that is at odds with the authoritarian nature of modern institutional science. Eg: many scientific things are defined by experiments, which are designed to focus on a specific set of phenomena and exclude the influence of rest of the universe. Fort’s view of good science was that it should be inclusive. It follows Occam’s Razor naturally, in that the simpler, more elegant, solutions are those which account for the greatest range of data including their anomalies.”
“[Forteans] are not realists. We are not idealists. We are intermediatists — that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,” he wrote. “All phenomena are approximations one way or the other between realness and unrealness. Our whole quasi-existence is an intermediate stage... like purgatory, I think.”
A year before his death, Fort was christened the unwilling mascot of a revolutionary group of thinkers. Theodore Dreiser, Tiffany Thayer and Aaron Sussman formed the New York Fortean Society in 1931 to “widen the scope of Fortean inquiry,” continue the work of gathering data, “perpetuate dissent” and foster the Fortean viewpoint--that of “enlightened skepticism.” Founded in 1965, The International Fortean Organization (INFO) can be found in Maryland, and Fortean groups flourish in Edinburgh and London.
INFO and the New York Fortean Society have impressive track records of examining the strange stuff--from UFOs and the paranormal to Pre-Columbian Viking relics in Minnesota and spontaneous human combustion...
in the Eastern half of the country.
We need more Bureau Chiefs!
There are several states we don’t have coverage for. Would you be interested in filling a Bureau Chief position for the remaining states of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah or Wyoming? It involves posting Fortean news from your state and commentary thereon to the appropriate blog. Please let us know, we’d love to fill out our roster... and welcome you on board!
John Alva Keel
March 25, 1930 - July 3, 2009