‘Pertaining to extraordinary phenomenon and happenings’
If you have recently walked up the path by the Thames, from Richmond Bridge to Hammerton’s Ferry, you may have noticed an elephant lurking in the bushes. Whether it is an actual elephant or something that just looks like an elephant is neither here nor there but it would have been of considerable interest to American writer and researcher Charles Hoy Fort. He would even have had a name for such a curiosity - Simulacra.
Charles Fort was a dedicated student of anomalous phenomena - best described as occurrences, events or experiences that fall outside current understanding, common sense or established science. Flying saucers, ghosts, shape shifters, showers of frogs and time travel are all examples of anomalous phenomena and the list goes on.
Born in Albany New York in 1874, Fort was a bright, curious child with a keen interest in the natural world. At the age of 18 he set out on a grand tour “to put some capital in the bank of experience” visiting the Western USA, Europe, the U.K and South Africa before returning home in the early 1890’s and marriage to Anna Filing. She was a caring soul with a liking for movie films and parakeets! Supported by her and an inheritance from his uncle Fort was able to concentrate upon his consuming interest - the study of anomalous phenomena.
Like Fox Mulder of ‘The X Files’ Charles Fort believed that “The Truth is Out There” and would finally reveal itself if enough evidence was gathered and the mystery examined impartially, without any preformed ideas or opinions. He was very critical of scientists and researchers who, steered by their own beliefs, would suppress or ignore any inconvenient evidence or data. Following his philosophy that “One measures a circle starting anywhere”.
Charles Fort began amassing a collection of ‘evidence’ of anomalous phenomena. This included his own notes along with reports and newspaper cuttings from all over the world. His ever expanding collection continues to this day, filed away under a series of familiar acronyms like UFO, ESP, SHC, (Spontaneous Human Combustion), BVM (Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary), OBE (Out of Body Experience) and headings such as Cryptozoology and the Conspirasphere. If the truth is out there it might just be lurking in Fort’s collection!
Fort wrote a number of books about his research:- The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932); some of which include newspaper cuttings from our own neighbourhood…
“Nov 19 1912 - explosive sounds reported from Sunninghill, Berkshire. No earthquake was recorded at the Kew Observatory, and in the opinion of W.F Denning the explosion was in the sky.”
NEW LANDS (1923)
“A correspondent writes that while walking in a street in Twickenham, he saw, walking toward him, “a figure of a man.” The “figure” turned and vanished, or “disappeared through a garden wall.” This correspondent failed to learn of a murder that had been committed in the neighbourhood, but, influenced by a familiar convention, mentions that there was an old duelling ground nearby.”
Maynard Shipley, a critic with the New York Times, said that “Reading Fort is a ride on a comet”
In later years and suffering from poor health and failing eyesight, Fort was amazed to find himself the subject of a cult following…
“Fort himself, who did nothing to encourage any of this, found the idea hilarious. Yet he faithfully corresponded with his readers, some of whom had taken to investigating reports of anomalous phenomena and sending their findings to Fort”
Distrustful of doctors, Charles Fort died on May 3rd 1932 in the Royal Hospital in the Bronx, New York. His collection of research notes and newspaper clippings were donated to the New York Public Library. 80 years on his books are still in print and his collection of notes and clippings is actively augmented by a monthly magazine, the Fortean Times and the many people around the world who call themselves Forteans. They share a motto that says it all… “I have no opinion!” Like Fox Mulder and Charles Fort they believe that the truth is out there and one day it will reveal itself.
– from Martyn Day