Field Guide Friday – Charles Fort, Master of Mysterious Factoids!

A few years ago I was browsing through a bookstore in Woodstock New York (Mirabai – you should check it out if you’re ever up that way) when I came across a fabulously fat and pulpy tome entitled The Book of the Damned by Charles Fort.  I opened to a page at random and read a passage about a cave on the Welsh coast where layers of tiny domestic artifacts had been unearthed – itty bitty shoes, tools and (yipes!) coffins. The implication being, of course, that there was some history to these items – not the local-girls-cut-out-drawings-of-fairies-and-photograph-them  kind of history, but actual, archaeological history. Needless to say, I was hooked.The proprietress smiled when I purchased it and said, rather mysteriously, “I been waiting to see who would find this.” Hmmm.

Who is this Charles Fort you may well ask? Well, let’s let Judith Joyce (The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal) tell you more!:

A 1941 New York Times review described Charles Fort as “the enfant terrible of science, bringing the family skeletons to the dinner table.”  Considered the leading pioneer of paranormal studies, Charles Fort was so influential that his name has entered the English language as an adjective: strange and extraordinary phenomenon and happenings are now defined as “Fortean.”

Born in Albany, New York in 1874, Charles Hoy Fort moved to New York City in 1892 where he found work as a newspaper reporter. He traveled the world for several years before marrying in 1896 and returning to New York. Meanwhile, Fort had begun compulsively collecting and  cataloging odd stories and anecdotes—interesting anomalies that lacked conventional explanation; phenomena that would eventually be  classified as “paranormal.” His first book, The Book of the Damned, was compiled from notes he had written on 40,000 slips of paper and stuffed into shoeboxes.

Fort introduced a revolutionary new topic and publishers did not quite know what to make of him. His writing career was encouraged by  Theodore Dreiser, author of the controversial 1900 novel Sister Carrie. Dreiser, who became Fort’s closest friend, was working as an editor at Street and Smith, publishers of pulp fiction. The Book of the Damned was only published because Dreiser threatened to leave his own publisher if they didn’t publish it.

Those reading his first book and expecting something demonic will be disappointed. The title of The Book of the Damned refers to data or  information that has been “damned” or excluded by science because it doesn’t fit accepted guidelines. According to Fort, science constructs theories by ignoring inconvenient facts. He compared the closed-mindedness of many scientists to religious fundamentalists and suggested that science had become a de facto religion with its own ideology and dogma.

Fort wrote seven books, of which only four survive. They have now been collected into one volume and republished as The Book of the Damned: The Collected Works of Charles Fort ( Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin Books, 2008). He was among the first to discuss alien abductions. A shy, reclusive man, Fort died in 1932 following a lengthy illness, most likely leukemia. The monthly Fortean Times Magazine was founded in 1973
with the intent of continuing Fort’s work.

I highly recommend a visit (and a subscription) to Fortean Times Magazine! It’s an Ankhie fave!

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