History of the First Fortean Times Part 3

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


In the last year of his life, 1932, the fourth and last book of his collected notes and theories was published. The first, The Book of the Damned, had come out in 1919, with the help of Dreiser.

Here is a typical Charles Fort description of an unexplained event:

London Times, July 20, 1836:

That, early in July 1836, some boys were searching for rabbits' burrows in the rocky formation, near Edinburgh, known as Arthur's Seat. In the side of a cliff, they came upon some thin sheets of slate, which they pulled out.

Little cave.

Seventeen tiny coffins.

Three or four inches long.

In the coffins were miniature wooden figures. They were dressed differently in both style and material. There were two tiers of eight coffins each, and a third tier begun, with one coffin.

The extraordinary datum, which has especially made mystery here:

That the coffins had been deposited singly, in the little cave, and at intervals of many years....

Fort's other three books of notes and explanations--New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932)--were written in a similar style.

In two unpublished books called X and Y (he never got to Z), he advanced the theories that the earth was controlled by Martians ("I think we're property," he said) and that a civilization, unknown to most people, existed at the South Pole.

A doubter, even of giants like Galileo and Darwin, Fort had the saving grace of finding even himself absurd. He was slightly misanthropic, had few friends except author Tiffany Thayer and Dreiser, refused to allow a telephone in his apartment, and said, "I have considerable liking for people, so long as I can stay away from them." With his fat face, mustache, and pincenez, Fort greatly resembled Teddy Roosevelt. He was strong and tall, with a snub nose and calm eyes.

It's hard to say what Charles Fort thought of the Fortean Society, founded in 1931 by Tiffany Thayer to perpetuate Fort's name and works and to harass scientists. Many famous people of the day joined--Alexander Woollcott, John Cowper Powys, Ben Hecht--but Fort himself wouldn't, probably out of modesty and his antipathy toward all groups. In 1937 Thayer started the Fortean Society Magazine (later changed to Doubt), which published Fort's notes. As time went on, it became increasingly political advances and reporting embarrassments of scientists (e.g., the time an astronomer fell off his telescope) with testy glee. In the ninth issue, a new calendar (its year one, 1931) was introduced; its year contained a new month, Fort, sandwiched between August and September. The magazine folded in 1959. Now INFO (International Fortean Society) carries on.

The last word belongs to Fort, who once said, "I believe nothing. I have shut myself away from the rocks and wisdoms of ages, and from the so-called great teachers of all time, and perhaps because of that isolation I am given to bizarre hospitalities. I shut the front door upon Christ and Einstein, and at the back door hold out a welcoming hand to little frogs and periwinkles."

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