The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter IV

IT is in the records of the French Academy that, upon March 17, 1669, in the town of Chatillon-sur-Seine, fell a reddish substance that was "thick, viscous, and putrid."(1)

American Journal of Science, 1-41-404:(2)

Story of a highly unpleasant substance that had fallen from the sky, in Wilson County, Tennessee. We read that Dr. Troost visited the place and investigated. Later we're going to investigate some investigations -- but never mind that now. Dr. Troost reported that the substance was clear blood and portions of flesh scattered upon tobacco fields. He argued that a whirlwind might have taken an animal up from one place, mauled it around, and have precipitated its remains somewhere else.

But, in volume 44, page 216, of the Journal, there is an apology.(3) The whole matter is, upon newspaper authority, said to have been a hoax by negroes, who had pretended to have seen the shower, for the sake of practicing upon the credulity of their masters: that they had scattered the decaying flesh of a dead hog over the tobacco fields.

If we don't accept this datum, at least we see the sociologically necessary determination to have all falls accredited to earthly origins -- even when they're falls that don't fall.

Annual Register, 1821-687:(4)

That, upon the 13th of August, 1819, something had fallen from the sky at Amherst, Mass. It had been examined and described by Prof. Graves, formerly lecturer at Dartmouth College. It was an object that had upon it a nap, similar to that of milled cloth. Upon removing this nap, a buff-colored, pulpy substance was found. It had an offensive odor, and, upon exposure to air, turned to a vivid red. This thing was said to have fallen with a brilliant light.

Also see the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 5-295.(5) In the Annales de Chimie, 1821-67, M. Arago accepts the datum, and gives four instances of similar objects or substances said to have fallen out of the sky, two of which we shall have with our data of gelatinous, or viscous matter, and two of which I omit, because it seems to me that the dates given are too far back.(6) [42/43]

In the American Journal of Science, 1-2-335, is Prof. Graves' account, communicated by Professor Dewey.(7)

That, upon the evening of August 13, 1819, a light was seen in Amherst -- a falling object -- sound as if of an explosion.

In the home of Prof. Dewey, this light was reflected upon a wall of a room in which were several members of Prof. Dewey's family.

The next morning, in Prof. Dewey's front yard, in what is said to have been the only position from which the light that had been seen in the room, the night before, could have been reflected, was found a substance "unlike anything before observed by anyone who saw it." It was a bowl-shaped object, about 8 inches in diameter, and one inch thick. Bright buff-colored, and having upon it a "fine nap." Upon removing this covering, a buff-colored, pulpy substance of the consistency of soft-soap, was found -- "of an offensive, suffocating smell."

A few minutes of exposure to the air changed the buff color to "a livid color resembling venous blood." It absorbed moisture quickly from the air and liquified. For some of the chemic reactions, see the Journal.

There's another lost quasi-soul of a datum that seems to me to belong here:

London Times, April 19, 1836:(8)

Fall of fish that had occurred in the neighborhood of Allahabad, India. It is said that the fish were of the chalwa species, about a span in length and a seer in weight -- you know.(9) They were dead and dry.

Or they had been such a long time out of water that we can't accept that they had been scooped out of a pond, by a whirlwind -- even though they were so definitely identified as of a known local species --(10)

Or they were not fish at all.

I incline, myself, to the acceptance that they were not fish, but slender, fish-shaped objects of the same substance as that which fell at Amherst -- it is said that, whatever they were, they could not be eaten: that "in the pan, they turned into blood."

For details of this story see the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1834-307.(11) May 16 or 17, 1834, is the date given in the Journal.

In the American Journal of Science, 1-25-362, occurs the inevitable damnation of the Amherst object.(12)

Prof. Edward Hitchcock went to live in Amherst. He says that [43/44] years later, another object, like the one said to have fallen in 1819, had been found at "nearly the same place." Prof. Hitchcock was invited by Prof. Graves to examine it. Exactly like the first one. Corresponded in size and color and consistency. The chemic reactions were the same.

Prof. Hitchcock recognized it in a moment.

It was a gelatinous fungus.

He did not satisfy himself as to just the exact species it belonged to, but he predicted that similar fungi might spring up within twenty-four hours --

But, before evening, two others sprang up.

Or we've arrived at one of the oldest of the exclusionists' conventions -- or nostoc. We shall have many data of gelatinous substance said to have fallen from the sky: almost always the exclusionists argue that it was only nostoc, an Alga, or, in some respects, a fungous growth. The rival convention is "spawn of frogs or of fishes." These two conventions have made a strong combination. In instances where testimony was not convincing that gelatinous matter had been seen to fall, it was said that the gelatinous substance was nostoc, and had been on the ground in the first place: when the testimony was too good that it had fallen, it was said to be spawn that had been carried from one place to another in a whirlwind.

Now, I can't say that nostock is always greenish, any more than I can say that blackbirds are always black, having seen a white one: we shall quote a scientist who knew of flesh-colored nostoc, when so to know was convenient. When we come to reported falls of gelatinous substances, I'd like it to be noticed how often they are described as whitish or grayish. In looking up the subject, myself, I have read only of greenish nostoc. Said to be greenish, in Webster's Dictionary -- said to be "blue-green" in the New International Encyclopedia -- "from bright green to olive-green" (Science Gossip, 10-114); "green" (Science Gossip, 7-260); "greenish" (Notes and Queries, 1-11-219).(13) It would seem acceptable that, if many reports of white birds should occur, the birds are not blackbirds, even though there have been white blackbirds. Or that, if often reported, grayish or whitish gelatinous substance is not nostoc, and is not spawn if occurring in times unseasonable for spawn.

"The Kentucky Phenomenon."

So it was called, in its day, and now we have an occurrence that attracted a great deal of attention in its own time. Usually these things of the accursed have been hushed up or disregarded -- sup- [44/45] pressed like the seven black rains of Slains -- but, upon March 3, 1876, something occurred, in Bath County, Kentucky, that brought many newspaper correspondents to the scene.

The substance that looked like beef that fell from the sky.

Upon March 3, 1876, at Olympian Springs, Bath County, Kentucky, flakes of a substance that looked like beef fell from the sky -- "from a clear sky." We'd like to emphasize that it was said that nothing but this falling substance was visible in the sky. It fell in flakes of various sizes; some two inches square, one, three, or four inches square. The flake-formation is interesting: later we shall think of it as signifying pressure -- somewhere. It was a thick shower, on the ground, on trees, on fences, but it was narrowly localized: or upon a strip of land about 100 yards long and about 50 yards wide. For the first account, see the Scientific American, 34-197, and the New York Times, March 10, 1876.(14)

Then the exclusionists.

Something that looked like beef: one flake of it the size of a square envelope.

If we think of how hard the exclusionists have fought to reject the coming of ordinary-looking dust from this earth's externality, we can sympathize with them in this sensational instance, perhaps. Newspaper correspondents wrote broadcast and witnesses were quoted, and this time there is no mention of a hoax, and, except by one scientist, there is no denial that the fall did take place.

It seems to me that the exclusionists are still more emphatically conservators. It is not so much that they are inimical to all data of externally derived substances that fall upon this earth, as that they are inimical to all data discordant with a system that does not include such phenomena --

Or the spirit or hope or ambition of the cosmos, which we call attempted positivism: not to find out the new; not to add to what is called knowledge, but to systematize.

Scientific American Supplement, 2-426:(15)

That the substance reported from Kentucky had been examined by Leopold Brandeis.

"At last we have a proper explanation of this much talked of phenomenon."

"It has been comparatively easy to identify the substance and to fix its status. The Kentucky `wonder' is no more or less than nostoc."

Or that it had not fallen; that it had been upon the ground in [45/46] the first place, and had swollen in rain, and, attracting attention by greatly increased volume, had been supposed by unscientific observers to have fallen in rain --

What rain, I don't know.

Also it is spoken of as "dried" several times. That's one of the most important of the details.

But the relief of outraged propriety, expressed in the Supplement, is amusing to some of us, who, I fear, may be a little improper at times. Very spirit of the Salvation Army, when some third-rate scientist comes out with an explanation of the vermiform appendix or the os cocyx that would have been acceptable to Moses. To give completeness to "the proper explanation," it is said that Mr. Brandeis had identified the substance as "flesh-colored" nostoc.

Prof. Lawrence Smith, of Kentucky, one of the most resolute of the exclusionists:(16)

New York Times, March 12, 1876:(17)

That the substance had been examined and analyzed by Prof. Smith, according to whom, it gave every indication of being the "dried" spawn of some reptile, "doubtless of the frog" -- or up from one place and down in another. As to "dried," that may refer to the condition when Prof. Smith received it.

In the Scientific American Supplement, 2-473, Dr. A. Mead Edwards, President of the Newark Scientific Association, writes that, when he saw Mr. Brandeis' communication, his feeling was of conviction that propriety had been re-established, or that the problem had been solved, as he expresses it: knowing Mr. Brandeis well, he had called upon that upholder of respectability, to see the substance that had been identified as nostoc.(18) But he had also called upon Dr. Hamilton, who had a specimen, and Dr. Hamilton had declared it to be lung-tissue. Dr. Edwards writes of the substance that had so completely, or beautifully -- if beauty is completeness -- been identified as nostoc -- "It turned out to be lung tissue also," He wrote to other persons who had specimens, and identified other specimens as masses of cartilage or muscular fibres. "As to whence it came, I have no theory." Nevertheless he endorses the local explanation -- and a bizarre thing it is:

A flock of gorged, heavy-weighted buzzards, but far up and invisible in the clear sky --

They had disgorged.

Prof. Fassig lists the substance, in his "Bibliography," as fish spawn.(19) McAtee (Monthly Weather Review, May, 1918), lists [46/47] it as a jelly-like material, supposed to have been the "dried" spawn either of fishes or of some batrachian.(20)

Or this is why, against the seemingly insuperable odds against all things new, there can be what is called progress --

That nothing is positive, in the aspects of homogeneity and unity:

If the whole world should seem to combine against you, it is only unreal combination, or intermediateness to unity and disunity. Every resistance is itself divided into parts resisting one another. The simplest strategy seems to be -- never bother to fight a thing: set its own parts fighting one another.

We are merging away from carnal to gelatinous substance, and here there is an abundance of instances or reports of instances. These data are so improper they're obscene to the science of to-day, but we shall see that science, before it became so rigorous, was not so prudish. Chladni was not, and Greg was not.

I shall have to accept, myself, that gelatinous substance has often fallen from the sky --

Or that, far up, or far away, the whole sky is gelatinous?

That meteors tear through and detach fragments?

That fragments are brought down by storms?

That the twinkling of stars is penetration of light through something that quivers?

I think, myself, that it would be absurd to say that the whole sky is gelatinous: it seems more acceptable that only certain areas are.

Humboldt, (Cosmos, 1-119), says that all our data in this respect must be "classed amongst the mythical fables of mythology." He is very sure, but just a little redundant.(21)

We shall be opposed by the standard resistances:

There in the first place;

Up from one place, in a whirlwind, and down in another.

We shall not bother to be very convincing one way or another, because of the over-shadowing of the datum with which we shall end up. It will mean that something had been in a stationary position for several days over a small part of a small town in England: this is the revolutionary thing that we have alluded to before; whether the substance were nostoc, or spawn, or some kind of a larval nexus, doesn't matter so much. If it stood in the sky for several days, we rank with Moses as a chronicler of improprieties -- or was that story, or datum, we mean, told by Moses? Then we shall have so many records of gelatinous substance said to have fallen with meteorites, that, between the two phenomena, some of us will have [47/48] to accept connection -- or that there are at least vast gelatinous areas aloft, and that meteorites tear through, carrying down some of the substance.

Comptes Rendus, 3-554:(22)

That, in 1836, M. Vallot, member of the French Academy, placed before the Academy some fragments of a gelatinous substance, said to have fallen from the sky, and asked that they be analyzed. There is no further allusion to this subject.

Comptes Rendus, 23-542:(23)

That, in Wilna, Lithuania, April 4, 1846, in a rainstorm, fell nut-sized masses of a substance that is described as both resinous and gelatinous. It was odorless until burned: then it spread a very pronounced sweetish odor. It is described as like gelatine, but much firmer: but, having been in water 24 hours, it swelled out, and looked altogether gelatinous --

It was grayish.

We are told that, in 1841 and 1846, a similar substance had fallen in Asia Minor.

In Notes and Queries, 8-6-190, it is said that, early in August, 1894, thousands of jelly fish, about the size of a shilling, had fallen at Bath, England.(24) I think it is not acceptable that they were jelly fish: but it does look as if this time frog spawn did fall from the sky, and may have been translated by a whirlwind -- because, about the same time, small frogs fell at Wigan, England.(25)

Nature, 87-10:(26)

That, June 24, 1911, at Eton, Bucks, England, the ground was found covered with masses of jelly, the size of peas, after a heavy rainfall. We are not told of nostoc, this time: it is said that the object contained numerous eggs of "some species of Chironomus, from which larvae soon emerged."

I incline, then, to think that the objects that fell at Bath were neither jelly fish nor masses of frog spawn, but something of a larval kind --

This is what had occurred at Bath, England, 23 years before.

London Times, April 24, 1871:(27)

That, upon the 22nd of April, 1871, a storm of glutinous drops neither jelly fish nor masses of frog spawn, but something of a railroad station at Bath.(28) "Many of them soon developed into a worm-like chrysalis, about an inch in length." The account of this occurrence in the Zoologist, 2-6-2686, is more like the Eton-datum: of [48/49] minute forms, said to have been infusoria; not forms about an inch in length.(29)

Trans. Ent. Soc. of London, 1871-proc. xxii:(30)

That the phenomenon has been investigated by the Rev. L. Jenyns, of Bath. His description is of minute worms in filmy envelopes. He tries to account for their segregation. The mystery of it is: What could have brought so many of them together? Many other falls we shall record of, and in most of them segregation is the great mystery. A whirlwind seems anything but a segregative force. Segregation of things that have fallen from the sky has been avoided as most deep-dyed of the damned. Mr. Jenyns conceives of a large pool, in which were many of these spherical masses: of the pool drying up and concentrating all in a small area; of a whirlwind then scooping all up together --

But several days before, more of these objects fell in the place.

That such marksmanship is not attributable to whirlwinds seems to me to be what we think we mean by common sense:

It may not look like common sense to say that these things had been stationary over the town of Bath, several days --

The seven black rains of Slains;

The four red rains of Siena.

An interesting sidelight on the mechanics of orthodoxy is that Mr. Jenyns dutifully records the second fall, but ignores it in his explanation.

R.P. Greg, one of the most notable cataloguers of meteoritic phenomena, records (Phil. Mag.: 4-8-463) falls of viscid substance in the years 1652, 1686, 1718, 1796, 1811, 1819, 1844.(31) He gives earlier dates, but I practice exclusions, myself.(32) In the Report of the British Association, 1860-63, Greg records a meteor that seemed to pass near the ground, between Barsdorf and Freiburg, Germany: the next day a jelly-like mass was found in the snow --(33)

Unseasonableness for either spawn or nostoc.

Greg's comment in this instance is: "curious, if true." But he records without modification the fall of a meteorite at Gotha, Germany, Sept. 6, 1835, "leaving a jelly-like mass on the ground."(34) We are told that this substance fell only three feet away from an observer. In the Report of the British Association, 1855-94, according to a letter from Greg to Prof. Baden-Powell, at night, Oct. 8, 1844, near Coblentz, a German, who was known to Greg, and another person, saw a luminous body fall close to them.(35) They [49/50] returned next morning and found a gelatinous mass of grayish color.

According to Chladni's account (Annals of Philosophy, n.s., 12-94) a viscous mass fell with a luminous meteorite between Siena and Rome, May, 1652; viscous matter found after the fall of a fire ball, in Lusatia, March, 1796; fall of a gelatinous substance, after the explosion of a meteorite, near Heidelberg, July, 1811.(36) In the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1-234, the substance that fell at Lusatia is said to have been the "color and odor of dried, brown varnish."(37) In the Amer. Jour. Sci., 1-26-133, it is said that gelatinous matter fell with a globe of fire, upon the island of Lethy, India, 1718.(38)

In the Amer. Jour. Sci., 1-25-396, in many observations upon the meteors of November, 1833, are reports of falls of gelatinous substance:(39)

That, according to newspaper reports, "lumps of jelly" were found on the ground at Rahway, N. J. The substance was whitish, or resembled the coagulated white of an egg;

That Mr. H. H. Garland, of Nelson County, Virginia, had found a jelly-like substance of about the circumference of a twenty-five-cent piece;

That, according to a communication from A.C. Twining to Prof. Olmstead, a woman at West Point, N. Y., had seen a mass the size of a tea cup. It looked like boiled starch;

That, according to a newspaper, of Newark, N. J., a mass of gelatinous substance, like soft soap, had been found. "It possessed little elasticity, and, on the application of heat, evaporated as readily as water."

It seems incredible that a scientist would have such hardihood, or infidelity, as to accept that these things had fallen from the sky: nevertheless, Prof. Olmstead, who collected these lost souls, says:

"The fact that the supposed deposits were so uniformly described as gelatinous substance forms a presumption in favor of the supposition that they had the origin ascribed to them."

In contemporaneous scientific publications considerable attention was given to Prof. Olmstead's series of papers upon this subject of the November meteors. You will not find one mention of the part that treats of gelatinous matter. [50]

1. Marcel de Serres. "Observations on the fall of stones from the clouds, or aerolites." Philosophical Magazine, s.1, 44 (1814): 217-24, 253-60, at 254. The substance was described as "very fetid, thick, and viscous residue," which resembled sulphur, (no mention of a red colour, herein).

2. "Shower of red matter like blood and muscle." American Journal of Science, s.1, 41 (1841): 403-4.

3. "Correction of the statement concerning an alleged shower of red matter like blood and muscle." American Journal of Science, s.1, 44 (1843): 216.

4. "Gelatinous meteor at Amherst in Massachusetts." Annual Register, 1821, pt.2, 687.

5. "Gelatinous meteor at Amherst in Massachusetts." Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 5, 395-6.

6. Annales de Chimie et de Physique, s. 2, 16 (1821): 68-72.

7. Rufus Graves. "Account of a gelatinous meteor." American Journal of Science, s.1, 2 (1820): 335-7. The light was seen by two members of Dewey's household, but they are not said to be family members.

8. Fort marked "Ap 9 35?" in the margin next to this line, which notes the error in the date. "Fall of fish." London Times, April 9, 1835, p. 3 c. 2.

9. A span is 9 English inches, and a seer is 2.057 pounds.

10. Fort marked "See 85" in the margin next to this line, which refers to page 85 of the original edition for further accounts of mutilated and putrefying fish said to have fallen fom the sky.

11. "Fall of fish." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 3 (1834): 367.

12. Edward Hitchcock. "On the meteors of Nov. 13, 1833." American Journal of Science, s.1, 25 (1834): 354-63, at 362-3 (postscript).

13. Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language. 1884, 892, s.v. "nostoc." New International Encyclopedia. 2d ed., (1925), v. 17, 260, s.v. "Nostoc." W.H. Grattann. "Nostoc commune." Hardwicke's Science Gossip, 10, 114. "Nostoc." Science Gossip, 7, 260. Hugh Macmillan. "Superstition respecting the tremella nostoc." Notes and Queries, s. 1, 11 (March 24, 1855): 219-20.

14. "A shower of meat." Scientific American, n.s., 34 (March 25, 1876): 197. "Flesh descending in a shower." New York Times, March 10, 1876, p. 1 c. 6. Correct quote: "The sky was perfectly clear at the time...." The flakes were said to be two inches square; and, "One piece fell near her which was three or four inches square."

15. < "The Kentucky shower of flesh." Scientific American Supplement, 2 (July 1, 1876): 426. Correct quote: " has been comparatively easy to identify the substance and to fix its status. The `Kentucky wonder' is nothing more or less than the `Nostoc' of the old alchemist."

16. His full name was John Lawrence Smith.

17. "Shower of flesh." New York Times, March 12, 1876, p. 1 c. 6. Though Smith claimed the material was "dried," the New York Times article, of March 10, states: "The meat when it first fell appeared to be perfectly fresh." Two men, who tasted it, gave their opinion that it was either "mutton or venison." Correct quote: "...doubtless that of the frog."

18. A. Mead Edwards. "The Kentucky meat-shower." Scientific American Supplement, 2 (July 22, 1876): 473. Correct quote: "...Mr. Brandeis' specimen, when examined by means of the microscope, turned out to be lung tissue also...."

19. Oliver Lanard Fassig. Bibliography of Meteorology. U.S. Signal Service, 1889, pt.2, "Showers of miscellaneous matter," 367-91, at 388.

20. Waldo L. McAtee. "Showers of organic matter." Monthly Weather Review, 45 (May 1917): 217-24, at 220.

21. Alexander von Humboldt. Cosmos. New York: Harper, 1855, v.1, 119. Fort misquotes Humboldt, who wrote: "classed amongst the mythical fables of meteorology;" thus, the minor redundancy was actually Fort's error.

22. "Corps tombés de l'atmosphère." Comptes Rendus, 3 (1836): 554-5.

23. Fort crossed out the page number here and wrote "452" next to it, thus indicating the correct page number. Tizenhauz. "Note sur une substance tombée de l'atmosphere." Comptes Rendus, 23 (1846): 452-4. The fall took place at Smorgon, Belorussia; and, the substance was discovered on the ground following a thunderstorm with heavy rain, starting April 3 and lasting all night.

24. C.W. Penny. "A shower of frogs." Notes and Queries, s.8, 6 (September 8, 1894): 190.

25. F.C. Birkbeck Terry. "A shower of frogs." Notes and Queries, s.8, 6 (September 8, 1894): 191.

26. M.D. Hill. "Jelly rain." Nature, 87 (July 6, 1911): 10. Correct quote: "Yesterday and the day before many larvæ emerged, and were obviously those of some species of Chironomus...." The letter is dated June 30. Chironomidae are non-biting midges.

27. "Storm of insects." London Times, April 24, 1871, p.7 c.6.

28. Fort marked a line in the margin next to this paragraph to indicate an error, which was a missing line of text between: "something of a" and "railroad station." From the source references, it appears possible that the missing line would read: "...something of a larval nature fell in the neighborhood of the Midland railroad station, at Bath."

29. "Proceedings of the Entomological Society," (c.v. "Exhibitions, &c."). Zoologist, s.2, 6 (July 1871): 2685-92, at 2686-87.

30. "Exhibitions, &c."; (for June 5, 1871). Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London, 1871, xxii-xxix, at xxii-xxiii.

31. R.P. Greg. "Observations on meteorolites or aërolites, considered geographically, statistically, and cosmologically, accompanied by a complete catalogue." Philosophical Magazine, s. 4, 8 (1854): 329-42, 449-63, at 463.

32. The other falls of viscid substances were: 850, 1110, 1548, 1557, and 1686.

33. R.P. Greg. "A catalogue of meteorites and fireballs." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1860, 48-120, at 62-3. The meteor was observed on January 21, 1803.

34. R.P. Greg. "A catalogue of meteorites and fireballs." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1860, 48-120, at 75.

35. Baden Powell. "Report on observations of luminous meteors, 1854-55." Annual Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1855, 79-100, at 94.

36. E.F.F. Chladni. "Nouveau catalogue des chutes de pierres ou de fer; de poussières ou de substances molles, sèches ou humides, suivant l'ordre chronologique." Annales de Chimie et de Physique, s. 2, 31 (1826): 253-70, at 265, 267. E.F.F. Chladni. "A new catalogue of the fall of stones, iron, dust, and soft substances, dry or moist, in chronological order." Annals of Philosophy, n.s., 12, 83-96, at 93-4.

37. "Account of meteoric stones, masses of iron, and showers of dust, red snow, and other substances, which have fallen from the heavens, from the earliest period down to 1819." Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1 (October 1819): 221-35, at 234.

38. Denison Olmsted. "Observation on the meteors of November 13th, 1833." American Journal of Science, s.1, 26 (1834): 132-74, at 133.

39. Denison Olmsted. "Observations on the meteors of November 13th, 1833." American Journal of Science, s.1, 25 (1834): 363-411, at 396, 408. The description of "whitish" color refers to the substance found by H.H. Garland.

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