The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter XXIII

TEXT-BOOKS tell us that the Dhurmsalla meteorites were picked up "soon," or "within half an hour." Given a little time the conventionalists may argue that these stones were hot when they fell, but that their great interior coldness had overcome the molten state of their surfaces.

According to the Deputy Commissioner of Dhurmsalla, these stones had been picked up "immediately" by passing coolies.

These stones were so cold that they benumbed the fingers. But they had fallen with a great light. It was described as "a flame of fire described as about two feet in depth and nine feet in length." Acceptably this light was not the light of molten matter.

In this chapter we are very intermediatistic -- and unsatisfactory. To the intermediatist there is but one answer to all questions:

Sometimes and sometimes not.

Another form of this intermediatist "solution" of all problems is:

Yes and no.

Everything that is, also isn't.

A positive attempts to formulate: so does the intermediatist, but with less rigorousness: he accepts but also denies: he may seem to accept in one respect and deny in some other respect, but no real line can be drawn between any two aspects of anything. The intermediatist accepts that which seems to correlate with something that he has accepted as a dominant. The positivist correlates with a belief.

In the Dhurmsalla meteorites we have support for our expression that things entering this earth's atmosphere sometimes shine with a light that is not the light of incandescence -- or so we account, or offer an expression upon, "thunderstones," or carved stones that have fallen luminously to this earth, in streaks that have looked like strokes of lightning -- but we accept, also, that some things that have entered this earth's atmosphere, disintegrate with the intensity of flame and molten matter -- but some things, we accept, enter this earth's atmosphere and collapse non-luminously, quite like deep-sea fishes brought to the surface of the ocean. Whatever [268/269] agreement we have is an indication that somewhere aloft there is a medium denser than this earth's atmosphere. I suppose our stronghold is in that such is not popular belief --

Or the rhythm of all phenomena:

Air dense at sea level upon this earth -- less and less dense as one ascends -- then denser and denser. A good many bothersome questions arise --

Our attitude:

Here are the data:

Luminous rains sometime fall (Nature, March 9, 1882; Nature, 25-437).(1) This is light that is not the light of incandescence, but no one can say that these occasional, or rare, rains come from this earth's externality. We simply note cold light of falling bodies. For luminous rain, snow, and dust, see Hartwig, "Aerial World," p. 319.(2) As to luminous clouds, we have more nearly definite observations and opinions: they mark transition between the Old Dominant and the New Dominant. We have already noted the transition in Prof. Schwedoff's theory of external origin of some hailstones -- and the implications that, to a former generation, seemed so preposterous -- "droll" was the word -- that there are in inter-planetary regions volumes of water -- whether they have fishes and frogs in them or not. Now our acceptance is that clouds sometimes come from external regions, having had origin from super-geographical lakes and oceans that we shall not attempt to chart, just at present -- only suggesting to enterprising aviators -- and we note that we put it all up to them, and show no inclination to go Columbussing on our own account -- that they take bathing suits, or, rather, deep-sea diving-suits along. So then that some clouds come from inter-planetary oceans -- of the Super-Sargasso Sea -- if we still accept the Super-Sargasso Sea -- and shine, upon entering this earth's atmosphere. In Himmel und Erde, Feb., 1889 -- a phenomenon of transition of thirty years ago -- Herr O. Jesse, in his observations upon luminous night-clouds, notes the great height of them, and drolly or sensibly suggests that some of them may have come from regions external to this earth.(3) I suppose he means only from other planets. But it's a very droll and sensible idea either way.

In general I am accounting for a great deal of this earth's isolation: that it is relatively isolated by circumstances that are similar to the circumstances that make for relative isolation of the bottom of the ocean -- except that there is a clumsiness of analogy now. To call ourselves deep-sea fishes has been convenient, but, in a quasi- [269/270] existence, there is no convenience that will not sooner or later turn awkward -- so, if there be denser regions aloft, these regions should now be regarded as analogues of far-submerged oceanic regions, and things coming to this earth would be like things rising to an attenuated medium -- and exploding -- sometimes incandescently, sometimes with cold light -- sometimes non-luminously, like deep-sea fishes brought to the surface -- altogether conditions of inhospitality. I have a suspicion that, in their own depths, deep-sea fishes are not luminous. If they are, Darwinism is mere jesuitism, in attempting to correlate them.(4) Such advertising would so attract attention that all advantages would be more than offset. Darwinism is largely a doctrine of concealment: here we have brazen proclamation -- if accepted. Fishes in the Mammoth Cave need no light to see by. We might have an expression that deep-sea fishes turn luminous upon entering a less dense medium -- but models in the American Museum of Natural History: specialized organs of luminosity upon these models.(5) Of course we do remember that awfully convincing "dodo," and some of our sophistications we trace to him -- at any rate disruption is regarded as a phenomenon of coming from a dense to a less dense medium.

An account by M. Acharius, in the Transactions of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1808-215, translated for the North American Review, 3-319:(6)

That M. Acharius, having heard of "an extraordinary and probably hitherto unseen phenomenon," reported from near the town of Skeninge, Sweden, investigated:

That, upon the 16th of May, 1808, at about 4 p.m., the sun suddenly turned dull brick-red. At the same time there appeared, upon the western horizon, a great number of round bodies, dark brown, and seemingly the size of a hat crown. They passed overhead and disappeared in the eastern horizon. Tremendous procession. It lasted two hours. Occasionally one fell to the ground. When the place of a fall was examined, there was found a film, which soon dried and vanished. Often, when approaching the sun, these bodies seemed to link together, or were then seen to be linked together, in groups not exceeding eight, and, under the sun, they were seen to have tails three or four fathoms long. Away from the sun the tails were invisible. Whatever their substance may have been, it is described as gelatinous -- "soapy and jellied."

I place this datum here for several reasons. It would have been a good climax to our expression upon hordes of small bodies that, in [270/271] our acceptance, were not seeds, nor birds, nor ice-crystals: but the tendency would have been to jump to the homogeneous conclusion that all our data in that expression related to this one kind of phenomena, whereas we conceive of infinite heterogeneity of the external: of crusaders and rabbles and emigrants and tourists and dragons and things like gelatinous hat crowns. Or that all things, here, upon this earth, that flock together, are not necessarily sheep, Presbyterians, gangsters, or porpoises. The datum is important to us, here, as indication of disruption in this earth's atmosphere -- dangers in entering this earth's atmosphere.

I think, myself, that thousands of objects have been seen to fall from aloft, and have exploded luminously, and have been called "ball lightning."

"As to what ball lightning is we have not yet begun to make intelligent guesses." (Monthly Weather Review, 34-17.)(7)

In general, it seems to me that when we encounter the opposition "ball lightning" we should pay little attention, but confine ourselves to guesses that are at least intelligent, that stand phantom-like in our way. We note here that in some of our acceptances upon intelligence we should more clearly have pointed out that they were upon the intelligent as opposed to the instinctive. In the Monthly Weather Review, 33-409, there is an account of "ball lightning" that struck a tree.(8) It made a dent such as a falling object would make. Some other time I shall collect instances of "ball lightning," to express that they are instances of objects that have fallen from the sky, luminously, exploded terrifically. So bewildered is the old orthodoxy by these phenomena that many scientists have either denied "ball lightning" or have considered it very doubtful. I refer to Dr. Sestier's list of one hundred and fifty instances, which he considered authentic.(9)

In accord with our disaccord is an instance related in the Monthly Weather Review, March, 1887 -- something that fell luminously from the sky, accompanied by something that was not so affected, or that was dark:(10)

That, according to Capt. C. D. Swart, of the Dutch bark, J. P. A., upon March 19, 1887, N. 37 39', W. 57 00', he encountered a severe storm. He saw two objects in the air above the ship. One was luminous, and might be explained in several ways, but the other was dark. One or both fell into the sea, with a roar and the casting up of billows. It is our acceptance that these things had [271/272] entered this earth's atmosphere, having first crashed through a field of ice -- "immediately afterward lumps of ice fell."

One of the most astonishing of the phenomena of "ball lightning" is a phenomenon of many meteorites: violence of explosion out of all proportion to size and velocity. We accept that the icy meteorites of Dhurmsalla could have fallen with no great velocity, but the sound from them was tremendous. The soft substance that fell at the Cape of Good Hope was carbonaceous, but was unburned, or had fallen with velocity insufficient to ignite it. The tremendous report that it made was heard over an area more than seventy miles in diameter.(11)

That some hailstones have been formed in a dense medium, and violently disintegrate in this earth's relatively thin atmosphere:

Nature, 88-350:(12)

Large hailstones noted at the University of Missouri, Nov. 11, 1911: they exploded with sounds like pistols shots. The writer says that he had noticed a similar phenomenon, eighteen years before, at Lexington, Kentucky. Hailstones that seemed to have been formed in a denser medium: when melted under water they gave out bubbles larger than their central air spaces. (Monthly Weather Review, 33-445.)(13)

Our acceptance is that many objects have fallen from the sky, but that many of them have disintegrated violently. This acceptance will coördinate with data still to come, but, also, we make it easy for ourselves in expressions upon super-constructions, if we're asked why, from thinkable wrecks of them, girders, plates, or parts recognizably of manufactured metal have not fallen from the sky. However, as to composition, we have not this refuge, so it is our expression that there have been reported instances of the fall of manufactured metal from the sky.

The meteorite of Rutherford, North Carolina, is of artificial material: mass of pig iron. It is said to be fraudulent. (Amer. Jour. Sci., 2-34-298.)(14)

The object that was said to have fallen at Marblehead, Mass., in 1858, is described in the Amer. Jour. Sci., 2-25-135, as a "furnace product, formed in smelting copper ores, or iron ores containing copper."(15) It is said to be fraudulent.

According to Ehrenburg, the substance reported by Capt. Callam to have fallen upon his vessel, near Java, "offered complete resemblance to the residue resulting from combustion of a steel wire in a flask of oxygen." (Zurcher, "Meteors," p. 239.)(16) Nature, Nov. 21, [272/273] 1878, publishes a notice that, according to the Yuma Sentinel, a meteorite that "resembles steel" had been found in the Mohave Desert.(17) In Nature, Feb. 15, 1894, we read that one of the meteorites brought to the United States by Peary, from Greenland, is of tempered steel.(18) The opinion is that meteoric iron had fallen in water or snow, quickly cooling and hardening. This does not apply to composition. Nov. 5, 1908, Nature publishes a notice of a paper by Prof. Berwerth, of Vienna, upon "the close connection between meteoric iron and steel-works' steel."(19)

At the meeting of Nov. 24, 1906, of the Essex Field Club, was exhibited a piece of metal said to have fallen from the sky, Oct. 9, 1906, at Braintree. According to the Essex Naturalist, Dr. Fletcher, of the British Museum, had declared this metal to be smelted iron -- "so that the mystery of the reported `fall' remained unexplained."(20) [273]

1. W.H.C.B. "A strange phenomenon." Nature, 25 (March 9, 1882): 437.

2. George Ludwig Hartwig. Aerial World. London: (1824), 1875 ed., 319-20. As follows:

"The rare phenomena of luminous rain, hail, or snow, also belong to the domain of electricity. In 1761 the famous Swedish naturalist Bergmann wrote to the Royal Society of London that he had twice witnessed a rain, unattended by thunder, which emitted sparks as it fell, so that the ground seemed covered with glowing waves.

"Luminous snow was seen by Forskall on April 22, 1759, at Upsala, and the same phenomenon occurred on Loch Aire, in Argyleshire, in March 1823; and on January 25, 1822, near Freiberg, in Saxony, when it was witnessed in two different places.

"Luminous dust has likewise been observed. During the eruption of Vesuvius in 1794, the extremely fine dust which fell upon the town of Naples emitted a weak but clearly discernable phosphoric gleam. An English gentleman who was at the time in a boat near Torre del Greco, remarked that his hat and those of the sailors, as well as those parts of the sail on which the dust had collected, emitted a similar faint glimmering of light."

3. O. Jesse. "Die leuchtenden Nachtwolken." Himmel und Erde, 1 (February 1889): 263-86. As examples, the luminous cloud see from Berlin and Potsdam on July 6, 1887, was estimated to be 75 kilometers in altitude, (p. 267); and, Jesse notes the hypotheses that these clouds may have originated from solar or planetary atmospheres, comets, or interplanetary gases put forward by William Siemens, Encke, and Gesetze, (p. 275).

4. This should be spelt "Jesuitism."

5. Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. 6th ed. New York: Rand, McNally & Co., 1872, 106-8. Darwin, with regard to the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, writes: "By the time that an animal had reached, after numberless generations, the deepest recesses, disuse will on this view have more or less perfectly obliterated its eyes...." According to this same logic of "Natural Selection," deep-sea fish species should be blind in the absence of any surface light, (like those in the Mammoth Cave), whereas many of them possess limited vision and luminous organs.

6. E. Acharius. J.C. Hauff, trans. "Account of an extraordinary meteoric phenomenon." North American Review, 3 (1816): 320-2. For the original article: Erik Acharius. "Besynnerligt meteor phenomén." Handlingar Svenska Venetskap Akademein, 1808, 215-8.

7. George C. Simpson. "Atmospheric electricity." Monthly Weather Review, 34 (January 1906): 16-7. Correct quote: "As to what globe lightning is...."

8. "Ball lightning." Monthly Weather Review, 33 (September 1905): 409.

9. Ami Daniel Felix Sestier. De la Foudre, de Ses Formes, et de Ses Effets.... Paris: J.B. Baillière et fils, 1866, v.1, 167. Sestier only mentions 130 instances of ball lightning.

10. "Rare electrical phenomenon at sea." Monthly Weather Review, 15 (March 1887): 84. Correct quote: "The ball fell into the water very close alongside the vessel with a roar, and caused the sea to make tremendous breakers which swept over the vessel. A suffocating atmosphere prevailed, and the perspiration ran down every person's face on board and caused everyone to gasp for fresh air. Immediately after this solid lumps of ice fell on deck, and everything on deck and in the rigging became iced, notwithstanding that the thermometer registered 19 Centigrade."

11. Thomas Maclear. "An account of the fall of a meteoric stone in the Cold Bokkeveld, Cape of Good Hope." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 129 (1839): 83-4. This meteorite is now identified as the Cold Bokkeveld.

12. W.G. Brown. "Explosive hail." Nature, 88 (January 11, 1912): 350. The University of Missouri is located at Columbia; and, Brown's earlier observation was made at Lexington, Virginia, (not in Kentucky).

13. "Structure of hailstones." Monthly Weather Review, 33 (October 1905): 445.

14. C.F. Rammelsberg. "On some North American meteorites." American Journal of Science, s.2, 34 (1862): 297-8.

15. A.A. Hayes. "On the supposed meteorite from Marblehead." American Journal of Science, s.2, 25 (1858): 135. The object was not called fraudulent, but its status was demeaned by "supposed" and the "negative evidence" of its meteoric origin.

16. Frédéric Zurcher, and, Elie Margollé. Meteors, Aërolites, Storms, and Atmospheric Phenomena. New York: C. Scribner & Co., 1871, 238-9. Correct quote: "...from the combustion of a steel wire burned in a flask full of oxygen...."

17. "Notes." Nature, 19 (November 21, 1878): 59-62, at 61. Correct quote: "...resembled steel...."

18. "A tempered steel meteorite." Nature, 49 (February 15, 1894): 372.

19. "Meteoric iron and artificial steel." Nature, 79 (November 5, 1908): 20. For the original article: Frederick Berwerth. "Steel and meteoric iron." Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 75 (1907): 37-51.

20. "Reputed meteorite." Essex Naturalist, 14 (January 1907): 272-3.

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