The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter XIX

I HAVE industriously sought data for an expression upon birds, but the prospecting has not been very quasi-satisfactory. I think I rather emphasize our industriousness, because a charge likely to be brought against the attitude of Acceptance is that one who only accepts must be one of languid interest and little application of energy. It doesn't seem to work out: we are very industrious. I suggest to some of our disciples that they look into the matter of messages upon pigeons, of course attributed to earthly owners, but said to be undecipherable. I'd do it, ourselves, only that would be selfish. That's more of the Intermediatism that will keep us out of the firmament: Positivism is absolute egoism. But look back in the time of Andrée's Polar Expedition. Pigeons that would have no publicity ordinarily, were often reported at that time.(1)

In the Zoologist, 3-18-21, is recorded an instance of a bird (puffin) that had fallen to the ground with a fractured head.(2) Interesting, but mere speculation -- but what solid object, high in the air, had the bird struck against?

Tremendous red rain in France, Oct. 16 and 17, 1846; great storm at the time, and red rain supposed to have been colored by matter swept up from this earth's surface, and then precipitated (Comptes Rendus, 23-832).(3) But in Comptes Rendus, 24-625, the description of this red rain differs from one's impression of red, sandy or muddy water.(4) It is said that this rain was so vividly red and so blood-like that many persons in France were terrified. Two analyses are given (Comptes Rendus, 24-812).(5) One chemist notes a great quantity of corpuscles -- whether blood-like corpuscles or not -- in the matter. The other chemist sets down organic matter at 35 per cent. It may be that an inter-planetary dragon had been slain somewhere, or that this red fluid, in which were many corpuscles, came from something not altogether pleasant to contemplate, about the size of the Catskill Mountains, perhaps -- but the present datum is that with this substance, larks, quail, ducks, and water hens, some of them alive, fell at Lyons and Grenoble and other places.

I have notes upon other birds that have fallen from the sky, but [239/240] unaccompanied by the red rain that makes the fall of birds in France peculiar, and very peculiar, if it be accepted that the red substance was extra-mundane. The other notes are upon birds that have fallen from the sky, in the midst of storms, or of exhausted, but living, birds, falling not far from a storm-area. But now we shall have an instance for which I can find no parallel: fall of dead birds, from a clear sky, far-distant from any storm to which they could be attributed -- so remote from any discoverable storm that --

My own notion is that, in the summer of 1896, something, or some beings, came as near to this earth as they could, upon a hunting expedition; that, in the summer of 1896, an expedition of super-scientists passed over this earth, and let down a dragnet -- and what would it catch, sweeping through the air, supposing it to have reached not quite to this earth?

In the Monthly Weather Review, May, 1917, W. L. McAtee quotes from the Baton Rouge correspondence to the Philadelphia Times:(6)

That, in the summer of 1896, into the streets of Baton Rouge, La., and from a "clear sky," fell hundreds of dead birds. There were wild ducks, and cat birds, woodpeckers, and "many birds of strange plumage," some of them resembling canaries.

Usually one does not have to look very far from any place to learn of a storm. But the best that could be done in this instance was to say:

"There had been a storm on the coast of Florida."

And, unless he have psycho-chemic repulsion for the explanation, the reader feels only momentary astonishment that dead birds from a storm in Florida should fall from an unstormy sky in Louisiana, and with his intellect greased like the plumage of a wild duck, the datum then drops off.

Our greasy, shiny brains. That they may be of some use after all: that other modes of existence place a high value upon them as lubricants; that we're hunted for them; a hunting expedition to this earth -- the newspapers report a tornado.

If from a clear sky, or a sky in which there were no driven clouds, or other evidences of still-continuing wind-power -- or, if from a storm in Florida, it could be accepted that hundreds of birds had fallen far away, in Louisiana, I conceive, conventionally, of heavier objects having fallen in Alabama, say, and of the fall of still heavier objects still nearer the origin in Florida. [240/241]

The sources of information of the Weather Bureau are widespread.

It has no records of such falls.

So a drag net that was let down from above somewhere --

Or something that I learned from the more scientific of the investigators of psychic phenomena:

The reader begins their work with prejudice against telepathy and everything else of psychic phenomena. The writers deny spirit-communication, and say that the seeming data are data of "only telepathy." Astonishing instances of seeming clairvoyance -- "only telepathy." After a while the reader finds himself agreeing that it's only telepathy -- which, at first, had been intolerable to him.

So maybe, in 1896, a super-dragnet did not sweep through this earth's atmosphere, gathering up all the birds within its field, the meshes then suddenly breaking --

Or that the birds of Baton Rouge were only from the Super-Sargasso Sea --

Upon which we shall have another expression. We thought we'd settled that, and we thought we'd establish that, but nothing's ever settled, and nothing's ever established, in a real sense, if, in a real sense, there is nothing but quasiness.

I suppose there had been a storm somewhere, the storm in Florida, perhaps, and many birds had been swept upward into the Super-Sargasso Sea. It has frigid regions and it has tropical regions -- that birds of diverse species had been swept upward, into an icy region, where, huddling together for warmth, they had died. Then, later, they had been dislodged -- meteor coming along -- boat -- bicycle -- dragon -- don't know what did come along -- something dislodged them.

So leaves of trees, carried up there is whirlwinds, staying there years, ages, perhaps only a few months, but then falling to this earth at an unseasonable time for dead leaves -- fishes carried up there, some of them dying and drying, some of them living in volumes of water that are in abundance up there, or that fall sometimes in the deluges that we call "cloudbursts."

The astronomers won't think kindly of us, and we haven't done anything to endear ourselves to the meteorologists -- but we're weak and mawkish Intermediatists -- several times we've tried to get the aeronauts with us -- extraordinary things up there: things that curators of museums would give up all hope of ever being fixed stars, to [241/242] obtain: things left over from whirlwinds of the time of the Pharaohs, perhaps: or that Elijah did go up in the sky in something like a chariot, and may not be Vega, after all, and that there may be a wheel or so left of whatever he went up in. We basely suggest that it would bring a high price -- but sell soon, because after a while there'd be thousands of them hawked around --

We weakly drop a hint to the aeronauts.

In the Scientific American, 33-197, there is an account of some hay that fell from the sky.(7) From the circumstances we incline to accept that this hay went up, in a whirlwind, from this earth, in the first place, reached the Super-Sargasso Sea, and remained there a long time before falling. An interesting point in this expression is the usual attribution to a local and coinciding whirlwind, and identification of it -- and then data that make that local whirlwind unacceptable --

That, upon July 27, 1875, small masses of damp hay had fallen at Monkstown, Ireland. In the Dublin Daily Express, Dr. J.W. Moore had explained: he had found a nearby whirlwind, to the south of Monkstown, that coincided.(8) But according to the Scientific American, a similar fall had occurred near Wrexham, England, two days before.

In November, 1918, I made some studies upon light objects thrown into the air. Armistice-day. I suppose I should have been more emotionally occupied, but I made notes upon torn-up papers thrown high into the air from windows of office buildings. Scraps of paper did stay together for a while. Several minutes, sometimes.

Cosmos, 3-4-574:(9)

That, upon the 10th of April, 1869, at Autriche (Indre-et-Loire) a great number of oak leaves -- enormous segregation of them -- fell from the sky. Very calm day. So little wind that the leaves fell almost vertically. Fall lasted about ten minutes.

Flammarion, in "The Atmosphere," p. 412, tells this story.(10)

He has to find a storm.

He does find a squall -- but it had occurred upon April 3rd.

Flammarion's two incredibilities are -- that leaves could remain a week in the air: that they could stay together a week in the air.

Think of some of your own observations upon papers thrown from an aeroplane.

Our one incredibility:

That these leaves had been whirled up six months before, when [242/243] they were common on the ground, and had been sustained, of course not in the air, but in a region gravitationally inert; and had been precipitated by the disturbances of April rains.

I have no records of leaves that have so fallen from the sky, in October or November, the season when one might expect dead leaves to be raised from one place and precipitated somewhere else. I emphasize that this occurred in April.

La Nature, 1889-2-94:(11)

That, upon April 19, 1889, dried leaves, of different species, oak, elm, etc., fell from the sky. This day, too, was a calm day. The fall was tremendous. The leaves were seen to fall fifteen minutes, but, judging from the quantity on the ground, it is the writer's opinion that they had already been falling half an hour. I think that the geyser of corpses that sprang from Riobamba toward the sky must have been an interesting sight. If I were a painter, I'd like that subject. But this cataract of dried leaves, too, is a study in the rhythms of the dead. In this datum, the point most agreeable to us is the very point that the writer in La Nature emphasizes. Windlessness. He says that the surface of the Loire was "absolutely smooth." The river was strewn with leaves as far as he could see.

L'Astronomie, 1894-194:(12)

That, upon the 7th of April, 1894, dried leaves fell at Clairvaux and Outre-Aube, France. The fall is described as prodigious. Half an hour. Then, upon the 11th, a fall of dried leaves occurred at Pontcarré.

It is in this recurrence that we found some of our opposition to the conventional explanation. The Editor (Flammarion) explains. He says that the leaves had been caught up in a cyclone which had expended its force; that the heavier leaves had fallen first. We think that that was all right for 1894, and that it was quite good enough for 1894. But, in these more exacting days, we want to know how wind-power insufficient to hold some leaves in the air could sustain others four days.

The factors in this expression are unseasonableness, not for dried leaves, but for prodigious numbers of dried leaves; direct fall, windlessness, month of April, and localization in France. The factor of localization is interesting. Not a note have I upon fall of leaves from the sky, except these notes. Were the conventional explanation, or "old correlate" acceptable, it would seem that similar occur- [243/244] rences in other regions should be as frequent as in France. The indication is that there may be quasi-permanent undulations in the Super-Sargasso Sea, or a pronounced inclination toward France --


That there may be a nearby world complementary to this world, where autumn occurs at the time that is springtime here.

Let some disciple have that.

But there may be a dip toward France, so that leaves that are borne high there, are more likely to be held in suspension than high-flying leaves elsewhere. Some other time I shall take up Super-geography, and be guilty of charts. I think, now, that the Super-Sargasso Sea is an oblique belt, with changing ramifications, over Great Britain, France, Italy, and on to India. Relatively to the United States I am not very clear, but think especially of the Southern States.

The preponderance of our data indicates frigid regions aloft. Nevertheless such phenomena as putrefaction have occurred often enough to make super-tropical regions, also, acceptable. We shall have one more datum upon the Super-Sargasso Sea. It seems to me that, by this time, our requirements of support and reënforcement and agreement have been quite as rigorous for acceptance as ever for belief: at least for full acceptance. By virtue of mere acceptance, we may, in some later book, deny the Super-Sargasso Sea, and find that our data relate to some other complementary world instead -- or the moon -- and have abundant data for accepting that the moon is not more than twenty or thirty miles away. However, the Super-Sargasso Sea functions very well as a nucleus around which to gather data that oppose Exclusionism. That is our main motive: to oppose Exclusionism.

Or our agreement with cosmic processes. The climax of our general expression upon the Super-Sargasso Sea. Coincidentally appears something else that may overthrow it later.

Notes and Queries, 8-12-228:(13)

That in the province of Macerata, Italy (summer of 1897?) an immense number of small, blood-colored clouds covered the sky. About an hour later a storm broke, and myriad seeds fell to the ground. It is said that they were identified as products of a tree found only in Central Africa and the Antilles.

If -- in terms of conventional reasoning -- these seeds had been high in the air, they had been in a cold region. But it is our accept- [244/245] ance that these seeds had, for a considerable time, been in a warm region, and for a time longer than is attributable to suspension by wind-power:

"It is said that a great number of the seeds were in the first stage of germination." [245]

1. S.A. Andrée brought pigeons along as messengers to mark the progress of his balloon's passage to the North Pole. Of the dozens brought along, only one pigeon was found bearing a genuine message from Andrée. One bird, which landed in the rigging of the Norwegian sealer Alken, was shot; it fell into the sea; but, when recovered, it was found to have a message from Andrée sent during his flight, on July 13, 1897. False messages were also claimed from other pigeons, such as one from Tromsoe Island, allegedly stating: "North Pole passed 15." Numerous pigeons were reported, pursued, and hunted in the mistaken belief of their bearing news from Andrée, whose whereabouts remained unknown until 1930. "Another Andree message." New York Times, September 21, 1897, p. 7 c. 3. "Polar pigeons not Andrée's." New York Times, July 24, 1897, p. 7 c. 1. Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic. New York: Macmillan Co., 1942; 207-8, 225.

2. "Storm-driven sea birds." Zoologist, s.3, 18 (1894): 21. This bird had died from a fractured skull, but there is no mention of its falling from the sky after it had died.

3. Ch. Seignobos. "Sur une pluie colorée en rouge, observée dans le département de l'Ardèche." Comptes Rendus, 23 (1846): 832-3.

4. Alph. Dupasquier. "Notice sur une pluie de terre, tombée dans les départements de la Drôme, de l'Isère, du Rhône et del'Ain, les 16 et 17 octobre 1846." Comptes Rendus, 24 (1847): 625-6.

5. Lewy. "Sur la pluie terreuse tombée dans la partie sud-est de la France, pendant les grands orages des 16 et 17 octobre 1846." Comptes Rendus, 24 (1847): 810-12. Lewy found 11.82 per cent organic matter in his sample; and, Dupasquier found 3.5 per cent organic matter, (not 35 per cent), in his sample from Meximieux, France. The observation given in this article upon the corpuscular matter was made by Decaisne, (not by Dupasquier).

6. Waldo L. McAtee. "Showers of organic matter." Monthly Weather Review, 45 (May 1917): 217-24, at 223. Correct quote: "The most plausible theory as to the strange windfall is that the birds were driven inland by the recent storm on the Florida coast."

7. "A shower of hay." Scientific American, n.s., 33 (September 25, 1875): 197.

8. "Remarkable shower of hay." Dublin Daily Express, July 28, 1875, p. 3 c. 5.

9. "Pluie de feuilles de chène par un temps très-calme et serein à Autrèche (Indre-et-Loire)." Cosmos: Revue encyclopédique, s.3, 4 (May 22, 1869): 574. Jollois attributed the elevation of the leaves to a squall on April 3, 1869.

10. Nicholas Camille Flammrion. Atmosphere. New York, 1873, 413-14. Flammarion repeats the attribution given by Jollois.

11. "Pluie de feuilles." Nature (Paris), 1889, 2 (July 6): 94.

12. "Pluie de feuilles mortes." Astronomie, 13 (1894): 194.

13. R. Hedger Wallace. "A marvellous rainfall of seeds." Notes and Queries, s. 8, 12 (September 18, 1897): 228. Correct quote: "It was found, upon examination, that a great number of the seeds were actually in he first stage of germination."

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