Strange stories

A master of the bizarre

(Published in GralsWelt 11/1999)

There were and are many oddities on our planet who sometimes even make a name for themselves. One of the strangest among these outsiders is undoubtedly Charles Fort (1874-1932), who is so well known in the Anglo-Saxon-speaking world that two societies (the "Fortean Society" founded in New York in 1931 and the "INFO" which was founded in Arlington, Virginia in 1969) International Fortian Organization) deal with his ideas and his legacy.

Since 1971 he has also had a magazine dedicated to continuing his research (“The Fortian Times”, London). As part of our series “Misunderstood Genius?” Siegfried HAGL introduces Charles Fort, a “master of the bizarre”, of whom it is still not really known whether he was an important critic of science or just a tireless archivist of inexplicable phenomena and puzzling phenomena .

The Worcester Fishmonger
“Crabs and periwinkles - The common theologians have overlooked the crabs and periwinkles - Or mystery versus fishmongers.
On May 28, 1881, near the town of Worcester, England, a fishmonger with a dozen enterprising helpers and a column of wagons laden with various kinds of crabs and periwinkles appeared in an unnoticed moment on a busy street. The fishmonger and his journeymen grabbed sacks of periwinkles and hurled the animals into the fields on either side of the road with angry zeal. They ran to several gardens, some helpers climbed onto the shoulders of other helpers, sacks were lifted up for them and they were emptied over man-high walls. Meanwhile, for a distance of about a mile, other helpers were shoveling periwinkles out of a dozen carts into the street in a frenzied hurry. Meanwhile, other boys were also busy mixing the snails with crabs. It wasn't an advertising campaign. Rather, the whole thing happened in secret. The cost should have been a few hundred dollars. The column appeared without being seen along the way, and then just as mysteriously vanished into thin air. There were numerous houses on the street, but no one saw them.
Would I be so kind as to explain what, in the name of even a vaguely healthy mind, I am trying to tell such a story?
But it's not my story. I have admitted the details, but I have included them precisely according to the circumstances. On the 28th time 1881 something happened near Worcester and the conventional explanation was that a fishmonger was responsible. In so far as he was unobserved when he was, and in so far as he was not petty with barrel and arrows when he was, he must have done it as described when he was.
In Land and Water, June 4, 1881, a reporter writes that tons of periwinkles fell from the sky during a violent storm near Worcester, covering about a mile of fields and road. In the June 11th edition, the editor writes that various copies have been sent to him. He refers to the puzzling fact or clue that appears in almost all reports that it was a selection of living beings. He speaks of a tremendous case of marine animals that was not accompanied by sand, gravel, mussel shells, or seaweed.
The Worcester Daily Times, May 30th, says that on the 28th, word arrived in Worcester that a miraculous rain of periwinkles had fallen from the sky on Cromer Gardens Road and the surrounding fields and gardens. Most of the people in Worcester were in disbelief, but some made their way there. Those of the faith were rewarded with periwinkles.
Thereupon two readers wrote. they had seen the periwinkles lying on the street before the storm, where they were presumably dumped by a fishmonger. That way the event became conventional, and from those guesses the fishmonger story arose, although it has never been told in the way I did above.
Mr. J. Lloyd Bozward, an author whose meteorological account should be familiar to readers of scientific journals of the period, investigated the matter and the results appeared in the Worcester Evening Post on June 9th. Regarding the fishmonger, I refer to his finding that the price of periwinkles was 16 shillings a bushel (36 liters). He writes that a large area on either side of the Strait was covered by periwinkles, hermit crabs, and smaller crabs of undetermined species. Worcester is about 30 miles (50 km) from the mouth of the River Severn or about 50 miles (80 km) from the sea. Probably never a single fishmonger in the world has owned so many periwinkles at once, but on the possibility that one of them could have got rid of his goods because the market was oversaturated, says Mr. Bozward: “Neither on Saturday, the 28th, A living periwinkle was found in Worcester on Friday the 27th. ”Gardens and fields were littered with it. The gardens are surrounded by high walls. Mr. Bozward reports 10 sacks of periwinkles, valued at around £ 20 each, which he investigates have been collected and sold in Worcester markets. The crowd had filled pots and pans and bags and boxes with periwinkles before he reached the place. "They filled two sacks in Mr. Maund's garden." His conclusion is that the things fell in the sky during the thunderstorm. So being is the whirlwind explanation.
Extraordinary things happen, they are veiled by conventionalizations and the more banal the veil, the happier one is. Periwinkles cover a large stretch of land with a road running through it. It was a fishmonger.
But the crabs and the fishmonger - and if the fishmonger has the periwinkles, does he have the crabs too, if it was him? "
From: Louis Kaplan, "Witzenschaftliche Weltverachtungen, Das verdammte Universum des Charles Fort", Mathias Gutza Verlag, Berlin 1991, p. 88 f.

Charles Fort was born on August 6, 1874 in Albany (New York) into a petty bourgeois merchant family of Dutch origin. His non-conformist tendencies became apparent as a child, and difficulties with the strictly Victorian-minded father were inevitable. Charles dreamed of becoming a naturalist, occupied himself with anything and everything, read countless books and neglected the duties entrusted to him in the parental grocery store
“As little boys we puzzled over the inconsistencies of the Bible and we asked questions that couldn't be answered satisfactorily… We should have shouldn't let these heresies be revealed, but we felt that there must be a higher form of life than that of a shopkeeper. Although we didn't know exactly what was about them, we'd been drawn to the things that had nothing to do with cities and good, busy people. "

At the age of seventeen, Charles Fort began selling literary works to the New York press. Soon after, he became a newspaper reporter in Albany and New York City. He was not yet 20 years old when he was made editor-in-chief of a small magazine, the Woodhaven Independent. A promising journalistic career lies ahead of him.

Quantum Physics and the Principles of Magic
“Astronomers give explanations about things that cannot be seen with telescopes. The physicists announce discoveries that cannot be seen with microscopes. I wonder if anyone can discover even a shadow of meaning in the accusation that my stories are about the invisible.
I am a sensational person.
And it is assumed that modern science, which is supposedly my main adversary, is very far removed from me and my methods.
Nobody has ever seen steam. Electricity is invisible. The science of physics is occultism. Specialists in the use of steam and electricity are magicians. For the most part, we do not consider their practices to be witchcraft, but we have our guess what would have been thought about them at earlier stages of this dark age we live in.
The science of physics, which was once thought to have done away with forever with werewolves, vampires, witches and other my favorite cuddle animals, is now so much like an experimental systematization of the principles of magic that I look in vain for famous professors who make me uncomfortable could be. With the principles of quantum mechanics, almost every miracle can be reasonably explained. For example, how to get into an enclosed space without going through the wall, or how to jump from one place to another without going through the space in between. And the exponents of ultramodern physics are only taken more seriously than me because my readers don't have to pretend they understand what I'm writing about. "
From “Joke-based world observations” p. 141 f.

He was unable to seize this opportunity, however, because his research into the unusual, the abnormal, the unbelievable drew him so under its spell that he devoted most of his life to these unprofitable studies.

He managed to travel large parts of the English-speaking world for two years (1893-94) on an income of $ 20 a month. From Nova Scotia and New Orleans to Great Britain and on via the Canary Islands, St. Helena, South Africa and back to New York.

There he married in 1896, lived in modest circumstances, and got by with a wide variety of jobs:
"I was a tramp and editor, reporter, joke writer, fireman, rowing servant, bookmaker, stoker, dishwasher ..."

In 1905 Fort met his literary mentor and lifelong friend in the journalist Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), who helped him publish short stories. In 1909 a novel by Charles Fort was published in New York. ("The Outcast Manufacturers").

But Fort is passionate about collecting scientific anomalies and “damned” data, most of which he finds in the New York Public Library. His 1919 appears "The Book of the Damned" ("The Book of the Damned"). Fort understands the "damned" data and facts rejected (= damned) by scientists:
“Science is a gullet, or a headless and limb stomach, an amoeba-like gut that keeps itself alive by incorporating what can be assimilated and rejecting what is indigestible. Whirlwinds and waterspouts exist, and the occasional occurrence of weakly phosphorescent owls seems at least acceptable. Through a process of data selection that eliminates the disreputable and incorporates the desirable, science saves itself a lot of stomach ache. "

From 1920 Fort was in London several times for long periods of time to do further research in the library of the British Museum. When he went blind in one eye - presumably due to overworking - he had to interrupt his search for the strange thing, but was able to publish further books (1923: "New Lands", German "Neuland"; 1931: "Lo!", German "Da!"). His work was recognized, and in 1931 the "Fortean Society" was founded at the New York Placa Hotel to spread the spirit and ideas of Charles Fort. In 1932, Charles Fort died of a heart condition at the age of 57.

Today, Charles Fort is well known in the English-speaking world. His humorous collections of inexplicable and unbelievable incidents - fish raining from the sky, rain of blood, visual objects (UFOs?), Extraterristian messages, astronomical antics - seem to appeal to Anglo-Saxons magically. For German-speaking readers, his works, known as “Jitzenschaft”, have only recently become accessible. They are not to everyone's taste, and two reading samples to get you in the mood (see box) may let each reader decide for himself whether he wants to study the most peculiar phenomenon of Charles Fort.

What he meticulously put together in decades of painstaking detailed work appears to us today as a chaotic hodgepodge of observation errors, unexplained phenomena, misinterpreted effects and transcendent phenomena, in the abundance of which no one has been able to bring order and system to find the further knowledge, that Charles Fort dreamed of. It will probably take some time and some effort before we know whether the unique eccentric was a major critic of science or just a tireless archivist of the bizarre.

Fort, Charles: "The Book of the Damned", Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt, 1995.
Fort, Charles: "Neuland", two thousand and one, Frankfurt, 1996.
Fort, Charles: "Da", Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt, 1997.
Kaplan, Louis: "Joke-based world observations", Mathias Gutza, Berlin, 1991.
Magin, Ulrich: "The ride on the comet", two thousand and one, Frankfurt, 1997.
Fortian journals:
Fortean Times, 20 Paul Street, Frome, Somerset BA 111 DX United Kingdom.
Strange, P.0. Box 2246, Rockville, MD 20847 USA.