The Book of the Damned

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X



Chapter XXV

A FORMATION having the shape of a dirigible." It was reported from Huntington, West Virginia (Scientific American, 115-241).(1) Luminous object that was seen July 19, 1916, at about eleven p.m. Observed through "rather powerful field glasses," it looked to be about two degrees long and half a degree wide. It gradually dimmed, disappeared, reappeared, and then faded out of sight. Another person -- as we say: it would be too inconvenient to hold to our intermediatist recognitions -- another person who observed this phenomenon suggested to the writer of the account that the object was a dirigible, but the writer says that faint stars could be seen behind it. This would seem really to oppose our notion of a dirigible visitor to this earth -- except for the inconclusiveness of all things in a mode of seeming that is not final -- or we suggest that behind some parts of the object, thing, construction, faint stars were seen. We find a slight discussion here. Prof. H. M. Russell thinks that the phenomenon was a detached cloud of aurora borealis. Upon page 369 of this volume of the Scientific American, another correlator suggests that it was a light from a blast furnace -- disregarding that, if there be blast furnaces in or near Huntington, their reflections would be commonplaces there.(2)

We now have several observations upon cylindrical-shaped bodies that have appeared in this earth's atmosphere: cylindrical, but pointed at both ends, or torpedo-shaped. Some of the accounts are not very detailed, but out of the bits of description my own acceptance is that super-geographical routes are traversed by torpedo-shaped super-constructions that have occasionally visited, or that have occasionally been driven into this earth's atmosphere. From data, the acceptance is that upon entering this earth's atmosphere, these vessels have been so racked that had they not sailed away, disintegration would have occurred: that, before leaving this earth, they have, whether in attempted communication or not, or in mere wantonness or not, dropped objects, which did almost immediately violently disintegrate or explode. Upon general principles we think that explosives have not been purposely dropped, but that parts [278/279] have been racked off, and have fallen, exploding like the things called "ball lightning." May have been objects of stone or metal with inscriptions upon them, for all we know, at present. In all instances, estimates of dimensions are valueless, but ratios of dimensions are more acceptable. A thing said to have been six feet long may have been six hundred feet long: but shape is not so subject to the illusion of distance.

Nature, 40-415:(3)

That, Aug. 5, 1889, following a violent storm, an object that looked to be about 15 inches long and 5 inches wide, fell, rather slowly, at East Twickenham, England. It exploded. No substance from it was found.

L'Année Scientifique, 1864-54:(4)

That, Oct. 10, 1864, M. Leverrier had sent to the Academy three letters from witnesses of a long luminous body, tapering at both ends, that had been seen in the sky.

In Thunder and Lightning, p. 87, Flammarion says that on Aug. 20, 1880, during a rather violent storm, M. A. Trécul, of the French Academy, saw a very brilliant yellowish-white body, apparently 35 to 40 centimeters long, and about 25 centimeters wide.(5) Torpedo-shaped. Or a cylindrical body, "with slightly conical ends." It dropped something, and disappeared in the clouds. Whatever it may have been that was dropped, it fell vertically, like a heavy object, and left a luminous train. The scene of this occurrence may have been far from the observer. No sound was heard. For M. Trécul's account, see Comptes Rendus, 103-849.(6)

Monthly Weather Review, 1907-310:(7)

That, July 2, 1907, in the town of Burlington, Vermont, a terrific explosion had been heard throughout the city. A ball of light, or a luminous object, had been seen to fall from the sky -- or from a torpedo-shaped thing, or construction, in the sky. No one had seen this thing that had exploded fall from a larger body that was in the sky -- but if we accept that at the same time there was a larger body in the sky --

My own acceptance is that a dirigible in the sky, or a construction that showed every sign of disrupting, had barely time to drop -- whatever it did drop -- and to speed away to safety above.

The following story is told, in the Review, by Bishop John S. Michaud:

"I was standing on the corner of Church and College Streets, just in front of the Howard Bank, and facing east, engaged in conversa- [279/280] tion with Ex-Governor Woodbury and Mr. A. A. Buell, when, without the slightest indication, or warning, we were startled by what sounded like a most unusual and terrific explosion, evidently very nearby. Raising my eyes, and looking eastward along College Street, I observed a torpedo-shaped body, some 300 feet away, stationary in appearance, and suspended in the air, about 50 feet above the tops of the buildings. In size it was about 6 feet long by 8 inches in diameter, the shell, or covering, having a dark appearance, with here and there tongues of fire issuing from spots on the surface, resembling red-hot, unburnished copper. Although stationary when first noticed, this object soon began to move, rather slowly, and disappeared over Dolan Brothers' store, southward. As it moved, the covering seemed rupturing in places, and through these the intensely red flames issued."

Bishop Michaud attempts to correlate it with meteorological observations.

Because of the nearby view this is perhaps the most remarkable of the new correlates, but the correlate now coming is extraordinary because of the great number of recorded observations upon it. My own acceptance is that, upon Nov. 17, 1882, a vast dirigible crossed England, but by the definiteness-indefiniteness of all things quasi-real, some observations upon it can be correlated with anything one pleases.

E. W. Maunder, invited by the Editors of the Observatory to write some reminiscences for the 500th number of their magazine, gives one that he says stands out (Observatory, 39-214).(8) It is upon something that he terms "a strange celestial visitor." Maunder was at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, Nov. 17, 1882, at night. There was an aurora, without features of special interest. In the midst of the aurora, a great circular disk of greenish light appeared and moved smoothly across the sky. But the circularity was evidently the effect of foreshortening. The thing passed above the moon, and was, by other observers, described as "cigar-shaped," "like a torpedo," "a spindle," "a shuttle." The idea of foreshortening is not mine: Maunder says this. He says: "Had the incident occurred a third of a century later, beyond doubt everyone would have selected the same simile -- it would have been `just like a Zeppelin.'" The duration was about two minutes. Color said to have been the same as that of the auroral glow in the north. Nevertheless, Maunder says that this thing had no relation to auroral phenomena. "It appeared to be a definite body." Motion too fast [280/281] for a cloud, but "nothing could well be more unlike the rush of a great meteor." In the Philosophical Magazine, 5-15-318, J. Rand Capron, in a lengthy paper, alludes throughout to this phenomenon as an "auroral beam," but he lists many observations upon its "torpedo-shape," and one observation upon a "dark nucleus" in it -- host of most confusing observations -- estimates of heights between 40 and 200 miles -- observations in Holland and Belgium.(9) We are told that according to Capron's spectroscopic observations the phenomenon was nothing but a beam of auroral light. In the Observatory, 6-192, is Maunder's contemporaneous account.(10) He gives apparent approximate length and breadth at twenty-seven degrees and three degrees and a half. He gives other observations seeming to indicate structure -- "remarkable dark marking down the center."

In Nature, 27-84, Capron says that because of the moonlight he had been able to do little with the spectroscope.(11)

Color white, but aurora rosy (Nature, 27-87).(12)

Bright stars seen through it, but not at the zenith, where it looked opaque. This is the only assertion of transparency (Nature, 27-87). Too slow for a meteor, but too fast for a cloud (Nature, 27-86). "Surface had a mottled appearance" (Nature, 27-87).(13) "Very definite in form, like a torpedo" (Nature, 27-100).(14) "Probably a meteoric object" (Dr. Groneman, Nature, 27-296).(15) Technical demonstration by Dr. Groneman, that it was a cloud of meteoric matter (Nature, 28-105).(16) See Nature, 27-315, 338, 365, 388, 412, 434.(17)

"Very little doubt it was an electric phenomenon" (Proctor, Knowledge, 2-419).(18)

In the London Times, Nov. 20, 1882, the Editor says that he had received a great number of letters upon this phenomenon. He publishes two.(19) One correspondent describes it as "well-defined and shaped like a fish...extraordinary and alarming." The other correspondent writes of it as "a most magnificent luminous mass, shaped somewhat like a torpedo." [281]

1. Walter H. Eagle. "An unusual aurora." Scientific American, n.s., 115 (September 9, 1916): 241. Correct quotes: "The formation, having the shape...," and, "...rather powerful field glass...."

2. Elmer Harrold. "Another explanation." Scientific American, n.s., 115 (October 21, 1916): 369.

3. A.T. Hare. "Globular lightning." Nature, 40 (August 29, 1889): 415.

4. "Les pierres tombées du ciel. -- Aérolithe du 14 mai 1864." Année Scientifique et Industrielle, 9 (1864): 39-59, at 54.

5. Nicholas Camille Flammarion. Thunder and Lightning. 87. The observation was made on August 25, 1880, not on August 20.

6. A. Trécul. "Rappel de l'observation d'une matière incandescente, en fusion, tombée d'un nuage orageux; à l'occasion de la dernière note de M. St. Meunier." Comptes Rendus, 103 (1886): 848-50. For the original report: A. Trécul. "Cas remarquable de tonnerre en boule; éclairs diffus voisons de la surface du sol." Comptes Rendus, 92 (1881): 775-7.

7. William H. Alexander. "A possible case of ball lightning." Monthly Weather Review, 35 (July 1907): 310-11. Correct quote: "...the shell or cover having a dark appearance...."

8. E. Walter Maunder. "A strange celestial visitor." Observatory, 39 (1916): 213-4.

9. J. Rand Capron. "The auroral beam of November 17, 1882." Philosophical Magazine, s.5, 15 (1883): 318-39, at 320-324, 328. Torpedo-shape is not quoted, as such; and, the "dark nucleus" was observed by William Munro, at Chatham.

10. E. Walter Maunder. "The auroral beam of 1882, November 17." Observatory, 6 (1883): 192-3. The breadth given was twenty-three-and-a-third degrees. Correct quote: "Prof. Oudemans noticed a remarkable dark marking, 10 in length, down its centre...."

11. "The magnetic storm and aurora." Nature, 27 (November 23, 1882): 82-7, at 84.

12. "The magnetic storm and aurora." Nature, 27 (November 23, 1882): 82-7, at 87, c.v. "A.S.P."

13. "The magnetic storm and aurora." Nature, 27 (November 23, 1882): 82-7; at 87, c.v. W. Makeig Jones; at 86, c.v. Stephen H. Saxby; at 87, c.v. John L. Dobson.

14. "The aurora." Nature, 27 (November 30, 1882): 99-100, at 100, c.v. Alfred Batson.

15. H.J.H. Groneman. "Remarks on and observations of the meteoric auroral phenomenon of November 17, 1882." Nature, 27 (January 25, 1883): 296-8, at 296.

16. H.J.H. Groneman. "The true orbit of the auroral meteoroid of November 17, 1882." Nature, 28 (May 31, 1883): 105-7.

17. "The aurora of November 17, 1882." Nature, 27 (February 1, 1883): 315. Stephen H. Saxby. "Meteor of November 17." Nature, 27 (February 8, 1883): 338. H. Dennis Taylor. "Meteor of November 17." Nature, 27 (February 15, 1883): 365. H.J.H. Groneman. "The auroral meteoric phenomenon of November 17, 1882." Nature, 27 (February 22, 1883): 388. "The auroral meteoric phenomenon of November 17, 1882." Nature, 27 (March 1, 1883): 412-3. H. Dennis Taylor. "The meteoroid of November 17, 1882." Nature, 27 (March 8, 1883): 434.

18. "The aurora." Knowledge, 2 (November 24, 1882): 419-20.

19. "Meteor." London Times, November 20, 1882, p.6 c.6.

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