The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter II

IN the autumn of 1883, and for years afterward, occurred brilliant-colored sunsets, such as had never been seen before, within the memory of all observers. Also there were blue moons.

I think that one is likely to smile incredulously at the notion of blue moons. Nevertheless they were as common as were green suns in 1883.

Science had to account for these unconventionalities. Such publications as Nature and Knowledge were besieged with inquiries.(1)

I suppose, in Alaska and in the South Sea Islands, all the medicine men were similarly upon trial.

Something had to be thought of.

Upon the 28th of August, 1883, the volcano of Krakatoa, of the Straits of Sunda, had blown up.(2)


We're told that the sound was heard 2,000 miles, and that 36,380 persons were killed. Seems just a little unscientific, or impositive, to me: marvel to me we're not told 2,163 miles and 36,387 persons. The volume of smoke that went up must have been visible to other planets -- or, tormented with our crawlings and scurryings, the earth complained to Mars; swore a vast black oath at us.(3)

In all text-books that mention this occurrence -- no exception so far so I have read -- it is said that the extraordinary atmospheric effects of 1883 were first noticed in the last of August or the first of September.

That makes a difficulty for us.

It is said that these phenomena were caused by particles of volcanic dust that were cast high in the air by Krakatoa.

This is the explanation that was agreed upon in 1883 --

But for seven years the atmospheric phenomena continued --

Except that, in the seven, there was a lapse of several years -- and where was the volcanic dust all that time?(4)

You'd think that such a question as that would make trouble?

Then you haven't studied hypnosis. You have never tried to demonstrate to a hypnotic that a table is not a hippopotamus. [19/20] According to our general acceptance, it would be impossible to demonstrate such a thing. Point out a hundred reasons for saying that a hippopotamus is not a table: you'll end up agreeing that neither is a table a table -- it only seems to be a table. Well, that's what the hippopotamus seems to be. So how can you prove that something is not something else, when neither is something else some other thing? There's nothing to prove.

This is one of the profundities that we advertised in advance.

You can oppose an absurdity only with some other absurdity. But Science is established preposterousness. We divide all intellection: the obviously preposterous and the established.

But Krakatoa: that's the explanation that the scientists gave. I don't know what whopper the medicine men told.

We see, from the start, the very strong inclination of science to deny, as much as it can, external relations of this earth.

This book is an assemblage of data of external relations of this earth. We take the position that our data have been damned, upon no consideration for individual merits or demerits, but in conformity with a general attempt to hold out for isolation of this earth. This is attempted positiveness. We take the position that science can no more succeed than, in a similar endeavor, could the Chinese, or than could the United States. So then, with only pseudo-consideration of the phenomena of 1883, or as an expression of positivism in its aspect of isolation, or unrelatedness, scientists have perpetrated such an enormity as suspension of volcanic dust seven years in the air -- disregarding the lapse of several years -- rather than to admit the arrival of dust from somewhere beyond this earth. Not that scientists themselves have ever achieved positiveness, in its aspect of unitedness, among themselves -- because Nordenskiold, before 1883, wrote a great deal upon his theory of cosmic dust, and Prof. Cleveland Abbe contended against the Krakatoan explanation -- but that this is the orthodoxy of the main body of scientists.(5)

My own chief reason for indignation here:

That this preposterous explanation interferes with some of my own enormities.

It would cost me too much explaining, if I should have to admit that this earth's atmosphere has such sustaining power.

Later, we shall have data of things that have gone up in the air and that have stayed up -- somewhere -- weeks -- months -- but not by the sustaining power of the earth's atmosphere. For instance, the turtle of Vicksburg. It seems to me that it would be ridiculous to [20/21] think of a good-sized turtle hanging, for three or four months, upheld only by the air, over the town of Vicksburg. When it comes to the horse and the barn -- I think that they'll be classics some day, but I can never accept that a horse and a barn could float several months in this earth's atmosphere.(6)

The orthodox explanation:

See the Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society. It comes out absolutely for the orthodox explanation -- absolutely and beautifully, also expensively. There are 492 pages in the "Report," and 40 plates, some of them marvellously colored.(7) It was issued after an investigation that took five years. You couldn't think of anything done more efficiently, artistically, authoritatively. The mathematical parts are especially impressive: distribution of the dust of Krakatoa; velocity of translation and rates of subsidence; altitudes and persistences --

Annual Register, 1883-105:(8)

That the atmospheric effects that have been attributed to Krakatoa were seen in Trinidad before the eruption occurred;

Knowledge, 5-418:(9)

That they were seen in Natal, South Africa, six months before the eruption.

* * *

Inertia and its inhospitality.

Or raw meat should not be fed to babies.

We shall have a few data initiatorily.

I fear me that the horse and the barn were a little extreme for our budding liberalities.

The outrageous is the reasonable, if introduced politely.

Hailstones, for instance. One reads in the newspapers of hailstones the size of hens' eggs. One smiles. Nevertheless I will engage to list one hundred instances, from the Monthly Weather Review, of hailstones the size of hens' eggs. There is an account in Nature, Nov. 1, 1894, of hailstones that weighed almost two pounds each.(10) See Chambers' Encyclopedia for three-pounders.(11) Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1870-479 -- two-pounders authenticated, and six-pounders reported.(12) At Seringapatam, India, about the year 1800, fell a hailstone --

I fear me, I fear me: this is one of the profoundly damned. I blurt out something that should, perhaps, be withheld for several hundred pages -- but that damned thing was the size of an elephant.(13)

We laugh. [21/22]

Or snowflakes. Size of saucers. Said to have fallen at Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 24, 1891. One smiles.

"In Montana, in the winter of 1887, fell snowflakes 15 inches across, and 8 inches thick." (Monthly Weather Review, 1915-73.)(14)

In the topography of intellection, I should say that what we call knowledge is ignorance surrounded by laughter.

* * *

Black rains -- red rains -- the fall of a thousand tons of butter.

Jet-black snow -- pink snow -- blue hailstones -- hailstones flavored like oranges.

Punk and silk and charcoal.

* * *

About one hundred years ago, if anyone was so credulous as to think that stones had ever fallen from the sky, he was reasoned with:

In the first place there are no stones in the sky:

Therefore no stones can fall from the sky.

Or nothing more reasonable or scientific or logical than that could be said upon any subject. The only trouble is the universal trouble: that the major premise is not real, or is intermediate somewhere between realness and unrealness.

In 1772, a committee, of whom Lavoisier was a member, was appointed by the French Academy, to investigate a report that a stone had fallen from the sky at Luce, France. Of all attempts at positiveness, in its aspect of isolation, I don't know of anything that has been fought harder for than the notion of this earth's unrelatedness. Lavoisier analyzed the stone of Luce. The exclusionists' explanation at that time was that stones do not fall from the sky: that luminous objects may seem to fall, and that hot stones may be picked up where a luminous object seemingly had landed -- only lightning striking a stone, heating, even melting it.(15)

The stone of Luce showed signs of fusion.

Lavoisier's analysis "absolutely proved" that this stone had not fallen: that it had been struck by lightning.

So, authoritatively, falling stones were damned. The stock means of exclusion remained the explanation of lightning that was seen to strike something -- that had been upon the ground in the first place.

But positiveness and the fate of every positive statement. It is not customary to think of damned stones raising an outcry against [22/23] a sentence of exclusion, but, subjectively, aerolites did -- or data of them bombarded the walls raised against them --

Monthly Review, 1796-426:(16)

"The phenomenon which is the subject of the remarks before us will seem to most persons as little worthy of credit as any that could be offered. The falling of large stones from the sky, without any assignable cause of their previous ascent, seems to partake so much of the marvellous as almost entirely to exclude the operation of known and natural agents. Yet a body of evidence is here brought to prove that such events have actually taken place, and we ought not to withhold from it a proper degree of attention."

The writer abandons the first, or absolute, exclusion, and modifies it with the explanation that the day before a reported fall of stones in Tuscany, June 16, 1794, there had been an eruption of Vesuvius --

Or that stones do fall from the sky, but that they are stones that have been raised to the sky from some other part of the earth's surface by whirlwinds or by volcanic action.

It's more than one hundred and twenty years later. I know of no aerolite that has ever been acceptably traced to terrestial origin.(17)

Falling stones had to be undamned -- though still with a reservation that held out for exclusion of outside forces.

One may have the knowledge of a Lavoisier, and still not be able to analyze, not be able even to see, except conformably with the hypnoses, or the conventional reactions against hypnoses, of one's era.

We believe no more.

We accept.

Little by little the whirlwind and volcano explanations had to be abandoned, but so powerful was this exclusion-hypnosis, sentence of damnation, or this attempt at positiveness, that far into our own times some scientists, notably Prof. Lawrence Smith and Sir Robert Ball, continued to hold out against all external origins, asserting that nothing could fall to this earth, unless it had been cast up or whirled up from some other part of the earth's surface.(18)

It's as commendable as anything ever has been -- by which I mean it's intermediate to the commendable and the censurable.

It's virginal.

Meteorites, data of which were once damned, have been admitted, but the common impression of them is only a retreat of attempted exclusion: that only two kinds of substance fall from [23/24] the sky: metallic and stony: that the metallic objects are of iron and nickel --

Butter and paper and wool and silk and resin.

We see, to start with, that the virgins of science have fought and wept and screamed against external relations -- upon two grounds:

There in the first place;

Or up from one part of this earth's surface and down to another.

As late as November, 1902, in Nature Notes, 13-231, a member of the Selborne Society still argued that meteorites do not fall from the sky; that they are masses of iron upon the ground "in the first place," that attract lightning; that the lightning is seen, and is mistaken for a falling, luminous object --(19)

By progress we mean rape.

Butter and beef and blood and a stone with strange inscriptions upon it. [24]

1. "The green Sun in India," and, "Great sunspots and Sun blue." Knowledge, 4 (October 19, 1883): 247-8. "The green sun in India." Knowledge, 4 (November 9, 1883): 293. "Strange phenomenon." Knowledge, 4 (November 23, 1883): 322. R. Wade Jenkins. "Green Sun and sound waves from Krakatoa." Knowledge, 4 (November 23, 1883): 323. William Noble. "A strange phenomenon -- Jupiter's satellites." Knowledge, 4 (November 30, 1883): 337-8. M. Carey-Hobson. "Strange phenomenon." Knowledge, 4 (November 30, 1883): 338. "The extraordinary sunsets." Knowledge, 4 (December 14, 1883): 364-5. Arthur Severn. "Lunar shadows -- Strange sunrise and sunset effects in Lancashire." Knowledge, 4 (December 14, 1883): 365. H.L. "The eruption in the Sunda Straits." Knowledge, 4 (December 14, 1883): 365. "Great sea wave." Knowledge, 4 (December 14, 1883): 365. H.L. "The eruption in the Sunda Straits." Knowledge, (December 14, 1883): 365. W. Jerome Harrison. "A blue Moon." Knowledge, 4 (December 21, 1883): 380. Edward A. Martin. "Strange sunsets and blue Moon." Knowledge, 4 (December 21, 1883): 380. James B. Findlay. "Strange sunset." Knowledge, 4 (December 21, 1883): 380. Thos. Radmore. "Strange sunsets." Knowledge, 4 (December 28, 1883): 395-6. John A. Stewart. "Shower of perch -- Sunsets." Knowledge, 4 (December 28, 1883): 396. Isaac W. Ward. "Variable and red stars in Cygnus -- Double stars in Taurus and Orion -- Saturn -- Pons-Brooks' Comet -- The remarkable sunsets." Knowledge, 5 (January 4, 1884): 14. William Noble. "The afterglow." Knowledge, 5 (January 4, 1884): 14. W.H. Numsen. "Red skies in America." Knowledge, 5 (January 4, 1884): 15. "Colour of the Sun." Knowledge, 5 (January 11, 1884): 29. T.H. Davis. "Examination of the afterglow." Knowledge, 5 (January 11, 1884): 29. W.H. Numsen. "Sunset glow. -- Science of the `Day.'" Knowledge, 5 (January 11, 1884): 29. E.C.R. "The green Sun." Knowledge, 5 (January 11, 1884): 29-30. W. Mattieu Williams. "The afterglow." Knowledge, 5 (January 18, 1884): 47. F. Adeline Harker. "The afterglow in Cheshire." Knowledge, 5 (January 18, 1884): 47. Allan Ekershaw. "Sky-glow." Knowledge, 5 (January 18, 1884): 47. Chas. E. Bell. "Silent lightning. -- Strange sunsets in Australia." Knowledge, 5 (January 18, 1884): 47. William Noble. "The afterglow." Knowledge, 5 (January 25, 1884): 60. E. Howarth. "Red sky-glow." Knowledge, 5 (February 1, 1884): 76-7. "Blue Moon." Knowledge, 5 (February 1, 1884): 77. Chas. A. Akers. "After-glow in America." Knowledge, 5 (February 8, 1884): 90. E. Howarth. "Red glare." Knowledge, 5 (February 15, 1884): 104. William Noble. "The after-glow." Knowledge, 5 (February 22, 1884): 117. "Sky-glow," (extract from a letter). Knowledge, 5 (February 22, 1884): 117. [The following need to be confirmed]: "A green sun in India." Nature, 28 (October 11, 1883): 575-577. Henry Bedford. "A green sun." Nature, 28 (October 18, 1883): 588. "The green sun." Nature, 28 (October 25, 1883): 611-612. "The green sun." Nature, 29 (November 1, 1883): 7. "The green sun." Nature, 29 (November 8, 1883): 28. C. Michie Smith. "Electricity in India.--The green sun." Nature, 29 (November 15, 1883): 54-55. F.A.R. Russell. "Unusual cloud-glow after sunset." Nature, 29 (November 15, 1883): 55. "Green sunlight." Nature, 29 (November 22, 1883): 76. J.J. Walker. "The cloud-glow of November 9." Nature, 29 (November 22, 1883): 77. "Notes." Nature, 29 (November 22, 1883): 87-88, at 87. "Optical phenomena." Nature, 29 (November 29, 1883): 102-104. Nature, 29 (December 6, 1883): 130-133. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (December 20, 1883): 174-181. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (December 27, 1883): 195. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (December 27, 1883): 199-200. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (January 3, 1884): 222-225. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (January 10, 1884): 250-252. "Remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (January 17, 1884): 259-260. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (January 24, 1884): 283-286. "Notes." Nature, 29 (January 24, 1884): 294-296, at 295. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (January 24, 1884): 308-310. O.N. Stoddard. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (January 31, 1884): 355-356. "Notes." Nature, 29 (February 14, 1884): 364-367, at 366 and 367. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (February 21, 1884): 381-382. Sophus Trombolt. "Sun-glows and volcanic eruptions in Iceland." Nature, 29 (February 28, 1884): 420. "Notes." Nature, 29 (March 6, 1884): 435-437, at 436. "Societies and academies," (under "Royal Society," Dublin.) Nature, 29 (March 13, 1884): 467-472, at 470-471. Robt. J. Ellery. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (April 10, 1884): 548-549. S.E. Bishop. "The remarkable sunsets." Nature, 29 (April 17, 1884): 573. "Notes." Nature, 29 (April 24, 1884): 603-606, at 603 and 604.

2. The principal eruptions occurred between August 26 and 28, with the most powerful explosions being measured upon the 27th; and, by the morning of the 28th, the steamship Batavia reported that the northern part of Krakatau had disappeared. Tom Simkin and Richard S. Fiske. Krakatau 1883: The Volcanic Eruption and Its Effects. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983; 44, 215.

3. Sounds attributed to the eruptions of Krakatau were noticed at Rodriguez Island (4653 km. away), at Daly Waters, South Australia (3252 km. away), and at Diego Garcia (3374 km. away); all being more than 2,000 miles away. The number of fatalities would exceed the "36,380" deaths of non-Europeans reported from five residencies of the Dutch East Indies; there were another 37 Europeans reported as fatalities; thus, there were at least 36,417 deaths reported by the Dutch government. Ibid, 146, 218-9, 370, 374.

4. It is now, as it was in 1888, considered that the atmospheric effects produced by Krakatau's eruptions persisted until 1886, when "things had returned to their normal condition." Ibid, 397-418. Although Krakatau may have been responsible for some of the most spectacular of the atmospheric effects, its predominant contribution may not have been exclusive, before its May and August eruptions in 1883 and after 1886. The eruption of Etna in May of 1886 produced afterglows through that summer. And, the eruptions of Bandaisan in Japan, and of Ritter Island in the Bismarck Archipelago, in 1888, and the eruption of Bogoslov in the Aleutians, in 1890, may have been responsible for atmospheric effects following the lapse identified by Fort. H.H. Lamb. "Volcanic dust in the atmosphere; with a chronology and assessment of its meteorological significance." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, s.A, 266 (1970): 425-533, at 475, 520.

5. Nordenskiöld provides information upon six instances of dust that he collected from snow and ice, which he attributed to extra-terrestrial origin: (1) in December of 1871, snow from a heavy snowfall at Stocklholm yielded a black powder with grains of magnetic iron; (2) in March of 1872, snow melted by his brother, Karl Nordenskiöld, at Evois, Finland, yielded a residue of black powder with metallic iron; (3) on August 8, and September 2, of 1872, a layer of snow at Spitzbergen yielded a black residue with black grains, magnetic particles, iron, cobalt, and nickel; (4) hail melted after a storm in Stockholm in the autumn of 1873 yielded black metallic particles and cobalt, which Nordenskiöld did not believe resulted from hail striking neighbouring roofs; (5) in July of 1870, inland ice from Greenland yielded a dust containing grains of metallic iron, with cobalt, and a "main mass" which was "drenched through with an ill-smelling organic substance"; although Nordenskiöld identified this Greenland dust as "Kryokonite," a crystalline, double-refracting silicate, this claim was later disputed by Alfred Lacroix, who claimed the material was terrestrial dust of granitic origin; and, (6) on August 13, 1878, the Vega collected snow containing yellow crystals on some ice-floes in the Kara Sea, on the northern coast of Russia, which later was analyzed as containing carbonate of lime, though the yellow crystals did not dissolve in water until it was heated. Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. The Voyage of the Vega Round Asia and Europe. London: MacMillan and Co., 1883; 97, 99-103. "M. Daubrée informe l'Académie qu'il a reçu de M. Nordenskiöld...." Comptes Rendus, 77 (August 18, 1873): 463-5. "M. Daubrée fait part à l'Académie d'observations faites par M. le professeur Nordenskiöld...." Comptes Rendus, 78 (January 26, 1874): 236-9. Daubrée. "Chute de poussière observée sur une partie de la Suède et de la Norvége, dans la nuit du 29 au 30 mars 1875, d'après des communications de MM. Nordenskiöld et Kjerulf." Comptes Rendus, 80 (April 19, 1875): 994-5. Nil Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. "Analyse d'une poussière cosmique sur les Crodillères, près San Fernando (Chili)." Comptes Rendus, 103 (1886): 682-6. A. Dauvillier. Cosmic Dust. London: George Newnes Ltd., 1963, 125.

6. "Remarkable hail." Monthly Weather Review, 22 (May 1894): 215. Monthly Weather Review, May 1878, 9, c.v. "Tornadoes." These are reviewed in chapter seven.

7. George James Symons, ed. The Eruption of Krakatoa, and Subsequent Phenomena. London: Trübner & Co., 1888. There are actually 494 pages and 43 plates in this "Report."

8. "Remarkable sunsets." Annual register, 1883, pt.2, 105-6.

9. William Noble. "The recent extraordinary sunrises and sunsets." Knowledge, 5 (June 6, 1884): 418.

10. "Scientific serials." Nature, 51 (November 1, 1894): 24.

11. Chambers' Encyclopedia. 1890 ed. (New Edition), v. 5, 503 s.v. "Hail, hailstorm."

12. George M. Bache. "Account of a hail-storm in Texas." Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institute, 1870, 477-9, at 478.

13. George Buist. "Hailstorms in India, from June 1850 to May 1851." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1851, Trans., 31-3, at 32. "That mentioned by Dr. Hyne in his tracts published in 1814 as having fallen near Seringapatam in the time of Tippoo Sultan; it was the size of an elephant, and took two days to melt."

14. C.A. Jr. "Gigantic snowflakes." Monthly Weather Review, 43 (February 1915): 73. Correct quote: "In the winter of 1887 very large snowflakes were reported as having fallen on January 28, near Matt. Coleman's ranch at Fort Keogh, Mont. In this case, which is not recorded in the Monthly Weather Review for that year, the great flakes were described as being `larger than milk pans' and measuring 38 centimeters (15 inches) across by 20 centimeters (8 inches) thick."

15. Lazarus Fletcher. An Introduction to the Study of Meteorites. 11th ed. London: British Museum Trustees, 1914, 19-20. Antoine Lavoisier. "Rapport sur une pierre qu'on prétend ètre tombée du cil pendant un orage." 6 vols. Oeuvres de Lavoisier. Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1868, v. 4, 40-5.

16. "Remarks concerning stones said to have fallen from the clouds...." Monthly Review, 21 (December 1796): 425-7. Correct quote: "...will probably seem, to most persons, to be as little worthy...."

17. Sic, terrestrial. Some tektites are now believed to be terrestrial material, which was ejected into outer space from the earth as a result of a major meteorite impact and which later re-entered the earth's atmosphere as tektites.

18. Ball believed that meteorites were the product of volcanoes discharged into outer space, and in seeking to identify their origins, he eliminated by deduction the sun, moon, and other (major and minor planets), except for earth's distant past. "This theory, that the meteorites have originated in the earth, was so far as I know first put forward by Dr. Phipson. Mr. J. Lawrence Smith in a letter I received from him some months ago inclines to the same view as at all events one of the probable sources." Robert S. Ball. "Speculations on the source of meteorites." Nature, 19 (March 27, 1879): 493-5. Robert Ball. The Story of the Heavens. Rev. ed. London: Cassell and Co., 1905, 400-8. Lazarus Fletcher. An Introduction to the Study of Meteorites. 11th ed. London: British Museum Trustees, 1914, 50-1.

19. Peter Hastie. "Meteoric stones." Nature Notes, 13 (December 1902): 231.

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