History of the First Fortean Times Part 1

About the history of Charles Fort and the first Fortean Times a journal of the unusual and unexplained.


Was Charles Fort a crackpot cantankerously kicking at the theories of established science, or was he a self-taught scientific genius who saw clearly beyond the narrow channels of Western thought? Or was he a humorist, who perpetuated in the thousand pages of his books what Ben Hecht called "a gargantuan jest"? Admired by great men, among them Theodore Dreiser and Buckminster Fuller, he advanced findings and theories that are believed by loonies and literati, and have been debunked by science (when science has deigned to look at them).

For the last 26 years of his life, Charles Fort collected stories of happenings science could not explain: frogs, crabs, manna, and blood falling from the sky; light-wheels with 300-yd.-long spokes; people bursting spontaneously into flame and burning to ashes; phantom bullets; poltergeists; strange disappearances; grave-yards of animal bones. He believed that there is a universe parallel to the one we perceive, that the earth rotates only once a year, and that God "drools comets and gibbers earthquakes." He also held that the sky is really a shell with holes which appear to be stars and through which things fall, that this shell is partly gelatinous so that aviators might find themselves "stuck like currants" in it, that above the earth is an aerial Sargasso Sea in which things taken up from earth float and then are shaken loose by storms and other phenomena, and that "we are all bugs and mice and are only different expressions of an all-inclusive cheese." What he was probably trying to say was that we don't know it all; that the world is full of surprises; that the principle of uncertainty reigns.

Fort's Victorian childhood in Albany, N.Y., was like something out of Charles Dickens. His mother died four years after his birth in 1874, and his father ran a tight ship. Children, who were supposed to be "seen and not heard," were beaten regularly. Charles never took it lying down. Once, his nose bloodied by a smash in the face from his father, Charles ran upstairs and wiped the gore all over the bedding, carpet, and curtains in the spare bedroom. His resentment generated in him a streak of cruelty. One of his hobbies was to collect birds; he killed them, cut off their wings and other parts, and mounted them on boards. Never a good student (at least in school), he had a reputation as a clown. His inventive mind never stopped hatching schemes. If a friend had not backed out of a proposed plan for the two of them to run away to Burma to be elephant drivers, it is very likely, one suspects, that Charles would have gone through with it.

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