History of the First Fortean Times Part 2

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


By the time he was 17, he was selling feature stories to a New York syndicate and the Brooklyn World, where a year later, through with formal schooling, he took a job as a writer. He went from the World to the Woodhaven (Queens) Independent, which folded after a short life and left him jobless. So he took off on a trip around the world, living on the cheap, sometimes a near hobo (he narrowly missed serving time on a chain gang in the American South), consorting with sailors and cowboys. In Africa he contracted a fever (probably malaria) and he came back to New York to recover. Anna Filing, a young English woman he had known in Albany, took care of him, and in 1896 he married her. Four years older than he, she was nonliterary, a lover of movies and parakeets, a woman a contemporary described as "bustling" around the house.

In the first years of their marriage, the Forts lived in poverty. They broke up chairs to make firewood, pawned precious belongings, and suffered holes in their shoes. Charles worked at various odd jobs, then began to sell feature stories to newspapers and short stories to magazines. His short stories, which humorously chronicled the lives of his neighbors in the slums, appealed to Theodore Dreiser, who then worked for Smith's Magazine. Dreiser became a lifelong admirer and friend; he helped Fort get his books published.

Fort really wanted to be a novelist and estimated he put down more than 3 million words in novels, of which only one, The Outcast Manufacturers, published in 1909, made it into print.

In 1905 he began collecting notes about strange happenings. At one point he had 25,000 notes stuck into pigeonholes in a wall. (Also on the wall were framed specimens of spiders and butterflies.) More notes and clippings over-flowed from shoe boxes. All were the result of years of research in the public libraries of New York; to collect them, he went at least twice through all the scientific periodicals written in English and French going back to 1880.

When Fort was 42 years old, he inherited enough money to enable him to purse full time what was now an obsession. Four years later, he burned all the notes he had gathered and went with his wife to London, where he spent six months reading every day in the British Museum. At night he hung out with derelicts and loiterers in Hyde Park or went to the movies with his wife. For many years, he commuted between New York and London and accumulated 40,000 more notes.

Then he began to lose his sight (it returned briefly later), and since he was no longer able to read, he amused himself with a game he invented called super-checkers, which was played on a board with thousands of squares and with armies of men made of tacks and cardboard. Until he streamlined it by allowing mass moves, a game could last as long as a week.

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