If you believe that scientists and technicians are infallible wizards whose predictions are always right, don’t read the books of Charles Fort. In fact, if you think that mankind has this earth under full control, and understands all that goes on upon its surface or in the skies overhead, don’t read the books of Charles Fort. This astounding sceptic, who became in his own lifetime a legend almost overshadowing the Doubting Thomas of the New Testament, probably startled the minds of cocksure know-it-alls more than any man who ever lived. To this day much of the mass of strange and baffling events and occurrences described in his books remain complete mysteries to the “au-thorities” who are assumed by the general public to know all about such things.
Flying saucers? Fort’s books mention dozens of such strange objects in the sky, reported as being seen long before the current rash of these odd hap-penings—long before the invention of the airplane or even the balloon, in fact! Sea monsters? Fort’s writings describe enough incidents involving un-known denizens of the deep to people the night-mares of all the sailors who ever lived. Strange things fatting from the sky, frogs and fish in deserts, red rain, hailstones containing pictures, huge blocks of ice; all these things and hundreds even stranger are reported by Fort in The Book of The Damned and three later volumes. But the strangest fact of all is perhaps that, of all the bewildering events set forth in his books, not one can be attributed to Fort’s imagination. Each and every happening was selected from newspaper accounts, from the books and memoirs of other persons, or from the pages of history itself. Many of these mysterious happenings were witnessed by literally hundreds of people!
The Book of The Damned first appeared in 1919, and was hailed by no less a critic than Ben Hecht as “a terrible onslaught on the accumulated lunacy of fifty centuries!” In it, scientist and priest, doc-tor and pundit got their share of doubt and deri-sion, while Fort quoted such incidents as this: All over Europe in February, 1903, there was a fall of some substance from the sky in the form of a fine dust precipitated by rain. It was of various colors ranging from yellowish to reddish, and chemists in several countries could not agree on its composition. However, people had to agree that something was falling, for about ten million tons had fallen in England alone. And the fall also was reported in scientific journals in Belgium,; Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and in the Atlantic Ocean midway between Southampton, England, and Barbados, British West Indies. Just to make the matter more confusing, the fall was also observed in Australia, where it was quite reddish, and estimated at fifty tons per square mile! The “official” explanation was that the fall was dust from the Sahara Desert, mixed with pollen from prant life, carried down by the rain! And to this day, no better “explanation” has been offered. Nor was the reporting of this event the result of some feature editor’s desire to create a sensation. The most reputable scientific journals of the day reported the fall, and results of the various chem-ical tests.
But after all, a fall of dust, however poorly explained, is just one event. Were there other similar events? Fort described at least forty others,smaller in extent but equally well reported, and equally difficult to explain away as due to what orthodox science calls “natural” causes. These other falls ranged from black and red rains in various parts of the world to small frogs, fish and larvae, worms, unknown edible substances, masses of jelly-like stuff, and even lumps of ice, ranging up to one the size of an elephant, reported in India. Efforts were made to attribute such things to volcanic explo-sions, dust storms and other causes, but Fort rightly points out that all the “official” explana-tions are far too weak, considering the quantity of the material and the dates. Indeed, reports of such falls are studded through history almost to pre-historic times.
But let’s look at another phenomenon reported in The Book of The Damned. In the region near the Persian Gulf in the Indian Ocean, the log books of many ships report seeing vast streamers of light like huge spokes of an underwater wheel revolving in the sea beneath their keels. These accounts were reported in such scientific journals as Nature and Astronomy, but passed off with the explanation that they must be due to phosphorescence. This explanation by the ranking natural scientists of the day might have “explained” a little better, had not many of the captains with years of experience in those waters stated specifically that they drew up buckets of the water, and found no evidence of phosphorescence. Nor has there ever been reported a single example of actual phosphorescence taking the shape of a regular spoked wheel, and revolving.
Or let Fort tell a little of his collection of “flying saucer” happenings, as we now describe them. Such appearances of moving lights and objects in the sky have been reported steadily throughout recorded history, sometimes having been witnessed by hundreds of people. As a single example, Fort reprints an account by a Mr. E. W. Maunder in the 500th issue of Observatory magazine ( British) of the passage of a great cigar-shaped vessel through the sky on the night of November 17th, 1882. “Had the incident occurred a third of a century later,” said Fott. “beyond doubt everyone would have selected the same simile—it would have been ‘just like a Zeppelin’.” But airplanes and Zeppelins were unknown in those days and current scientific – opinion stubbornly insisted that the object was due to the Northern Lights!
This is only one instance of dozens of similar oc-currences recorded by Fort, each one reported in the scientific journals ot the day, usually is eye-witness accounts by several reputable persons, in-cluding scientists themselves. Fort painstakingly searched out these reports of mysterious and un-,explainable events, spending twenty-six years searching back files of scientific journals and news-:papers. In The Book of The Damned he presented a challenge to “authorized” science that has never been refuted. Indeed, the excitement generated by. his first book among a small group of people led him to issue a second book in 1923. This was called New Lands, and contained, in addition to accounts of objects seen moving through the sky and strange lights under the sea, descriptions of strange animals leaving tracks in snow unlike those of any known earthly animal, mysterious lights and sounds con-nected with earthquake shocks, and many equally baffling events. But in New Lands, Fort went fur-ther, and pointed out not only the lack of “scien-tific” explanation of these events, but also de-scribed many, many instances when, by their own records, the.predictions of scientists had been com-pletely wrong. And to make matters more startling, Fort chose. to attack particularly the science of astronomy; generally regarded as the most exact of all! For just one example, the “discovery” of the planet Neptune by calculations based on the ir-regular motion of Uranus, the planet nearest ,it was hailed as an astronomer’s triumph. Yet the calculations placed the planet about 37 times the earth’s distance from the sun, while it was actually about 30 times the earth’s distance away when first actually seen. This error of something like 670,000,000 miles was so great that the American Journal of Science refused to concede that the “discovery” proved the calculations were correct. Fort gleefully seized on dozens of%imilar faults in astronomers’ predictions of the return of comets, planets nearer the sun than Mercury, the com-panion star of Sirius, and reported them with full documentation in the astronomers’ own writings.
By this time, Fort had acquired a following, many of whom were men of high reputation and standing. His works were argued violently by people who supported the infallibility of orthodox science, yet they could not be disproven. In 1931, the third of his four books appeared. This was called Lo! and went even further in its attack on conventional explanations of strange events. In it, Fort brought his accounts most uncomfortably up to date, quoting incidents from the New York Times and many equally reputable papers, describ-ing falls of stones from thin air, oil and other liquids dripping from walls with no evidence of human agency, and scores of other strange occurrences. Fort’s last book, Wild Talents, appeared in 1932, and was devoted mainly to accounts of people a p-parently possessing unusual powers, such . as the ability to cause objects to move at a distance, tir produce fires and other strange effects. The famous case of John Lee, who could not be hanged because the trapdoor would not drop tinder him, although it would drop when any other person stood upon it, is included.
Born in 1874, Fort died May 3rd, 1932, but the Fortean Society, founded in 1931, carries on his attitude of doubt and scepticism. It issues a pub.: lication called Doubt, and continues to compile records of incidents that are unexplainable by the principles of accepted science. The Fortean Society has numbered among its members Ben Hecht, Booth Tarkington, Tiffany Thayer, Alexander Woollcott, Burton Rascoe and Harry Leon Wilson. Undoubtedly the Forteans are enjoying the cur-rent flare of interest in the “new” phenomena of flying saucers and strange lights in the sky, just as Fort would if he were alive today.