New Lands

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





COLD HARBOR, Hanover Co., Virginia — two men in a field — "an apparently clear sky." In the Monthly Weather Review, 28-29, it is said that upon Aug. 7, 1900, two men were struck by lightning.(1) The Editor says that the weather map gave no indication of a thunderstorm, nor of rain, in this region at the time.

In July, 1904, a man was killed on the summit of Mt. Gorgionio, near the Mojave desert. It is said that he was killed by lightning. Two days later, upon the summit of Mt. Whitney, 180 miles away, another man was killed "by lightning" (Ciel et Terre, 29-120).(2)

It is said, in Ciel et Terre, 17-42, that in the year 1893, nineteen soldiers were marching near Bourges, France, when they were struck by an unknown force.(3) It is said that in known terms there is no explanation. Some of the men were killed, and the others struck insensible. At the inquest it was testified that there had been no storm, and that nothing had been heard.

If there occur upon the surface of this earth pounces from blankness and seizures by nothings, and "sniping" with bullets of unfindable substance, we nevertheless hesitate to bring witchcraft and demonology into our fields. Our general subject now is the existence of a great deal that may be nearby, or temporarily nearby, ordinarily invisible, but occasionally revealed by special circumstances. A background of stars is not to be compared, in our data, with the sun for a background, as a means of revelations. We accept that there are sunspots, but we gather from general experience and special instances that the word "sunspot" is another of the standardizing terms like "auroral" and "meteoric" and "earthquakes." See Webb's Celestial Objects for some observations upon large definite obscurations called "sunspots" but which were as evanescent against the sun as would be islands and jungles of space, if intervening only a few moments between this [197/198] earth and the swiftly moving sun.(4) According to Webb, astronomers have looked at great obscurations upon the sun, have turned away, and then looked again, finding no trace of the phenomena. Eclipses are special circumstances, and rather often have large, unknown bulks been revealed by different light-effects during eclipses. For instance, upon Jan. 22, 1898, Lieut. Blackett, R.N., assisting Sir Norman Lockyer, at Viziadrug, India, during the total eclipse of the sun, saw an unknown body between Venus and Mars (Jour. Leeds Astro. Soc., 1906-23).(5) We have had other instances, and I have notes upon still more. The photographic plate is a special condition, or sensitiveness. In Knowledge, 16-234, a correspondent writes that, in August, 1893, in Switzerland, moon-lighted night, he had exposed a photographic plate for one hour.(6) Upon the photograph, when developed, were seen irregular, bright markings, but there had been no lightning to this correspondent's perceptions.

The details of the sheep-panic of Nov. 3, 1888, are extraordinary. The region affected was much greater than was supposed by the writer whom we quoted in an earlier chapter. It is said in another account in Symons' Meteorological Magazine, that, in a tract of land twenty-five miles long and eight miles wide, thousands of sheep had, by simultaneous impulse, burst from their bounds; and had been found the next morning, widely scattered, some of them still panting with terror under hedges, and many crowded into corners of fields.(7) See London Times, Nov. 20, 1888.(8) An idea of the great number of flocks affected is given by one correspondent who says that malicious mischief was out of the question, because a thousand men could not have frightened and released all these sheep. Someone else tries to explain that, given an alarm in one flock, it might spread to the others. But all the sheep so burst from their folds at about eight o'clock in the evening, and one supposes that many folds were far from contiguous, and one thinks of such contagion requiring considerable time to spread over 200 square miles. Something of an alarming nature and of pronounced degree occurred somewhere near, Reading, Berkshire, upon this evening. Also there seems to be something of special localization: the next year another panic occurred in Berkshire not far from Reading.(9)


I have a datum that looks very much like the revelation of a ghost-moon, though I think of it myself in physical terms of light-effects. In Country Queries and Notes, 1-138, 417, it is said that, in the sky of Gosport, Hampshire, night of Sept. 14, 1908, was seen a light that came as if from an unseen moon.(10) It may be that I can record that there was a moon-like object in the sky of the Midlands and the south of England, this night, and that, though to human eyesight, this world, island of space, whatever it may have been, was invisible, it was, nevertheless, revealed. Upon this evening of Sept. 14, 1908, David Packer, then in Northfield, Worcestershire, saw a luminous appearance that he supposed was auroral, and photographed it. When the photograph was developed, it was seen that the "auroral" light came from a large, moon-like object. A reproduction of the photograph is published in the English Mechanic, 88-211.(11) It shows an object as bright and as well-defined as the conventionally accepted moon, but only to the camera had it revealed itself, and Mr. Packer had caught upon film a space-island that had been invisible to his eyes. It seems so, anyway.

In Country Queries and Notes, 1-328, it is said that, upon Aug. 2, 1908, at Ballyconneely, Connemara coast of Ireland, was seen a phantom city of different-sized houses, in different styles of architecture; visible three hours.(12) It is said that no doubt the appearance was a mirage of some city far away -- far away, but upon this earth, of course. This apparition is not of the type that we consider so especially of our own data. The so-called mirages that so especially interest are interesting to us not in themselves, but in that they belong to the one order of phenomena or evidence that unifies so many fields of our data: that is, repetitions in a local sky, signifying the fixed position of something relatively to a small part of this earth's surface. We can not think that mirages, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial, could so repeat. But if in the local sky of this earth there be a fixed region, perhaps not a city, but something of rugged and featureful outlines, with projections that might look architectural, reflections from it, shadows, or Brocken spectres repeating always in one special sky are thinkable except by the Chinese-minded who regard all our data as "foreign devils." The writer in Country [199/200] Queries and Notes says — "Circumstantial accounts have been published of the city of Bristol being distinctly recognized in a mirage seen occasionally in North America." If we shall accept that anywhere in North America repeated representations of the same city or city-like scene have appeared in the same local sky, I prefer, myself, a foreign devil of thought, and its significance, whether hellish or not, that this earth is stationary, to such a domestic vagrant of a thought as the idea that mirage could so pick out the city of Bristol, or any other city, over and over, and also invariably pick out for its screen the same local sky, thousands of miles, or five miles away.

In the English Mechanic, Sept. 10, 1897, a correspondent to the Weekly Times and Echo is quoted.(13) He had just returned from the Yukon. Early in June, 1897, he had seen a city pictured in the sky of Alaska. "Not one of us could form the remotest idea in what part of the world this settlement could be. Some guessed Toronto, others Montreal, and one of us even suggested Pekin. But whether this city exists in some unknown world on the other side of the North Pole, or not, it is a fact that this wonderful mirage occurs from time to time yearly, and we were not the only ones who witnessed the spectacle. Therefore it is evident that it must be the reflection of some place built by the hand of man." According to this correspondent, the "mirage" did not look like one of the cities named, but like "some immense city of the past."

In the New York Tribune, Feb. 17, 1901, it is said that Indians of Alaska had told of an occasional appearance, as if of a city, suspended in the sky, and that a prospector named Willoughby, having heard the stories, had investigated, in the year 1887, and had seen the spectacle.(14) It is said that, having several times attempted to photograph the scene, Willoughby did finally at least show an alleged photograph of an aërial city. In Alaska, p. 140, Miner Bruce say that Willoughby, one of the early pioneers in Alaska, after whom Willoughby Island is named, had told him of the phenomenon, and that, early in 1889, he had accompanied Willoughby to the place over which the mirage was said to repeat.(15) It seems that he saw nothing himself, but he quotes a member of the Duc d'Abruzzi's expedition to Mt. St. [200/201] Elias, summer of 1897, Mr. C.W. Thornton, of Seattle, who saw the spectacle, and wrote — "It required no effort of the imagination to liken it to a city, but was so distinct that it required, instead, faith to believe that it was not in reality a city." Bruce publishes a reproduction of Willoughby's photograph, and says that the city was identified as Bristol, England. So definite, or so un-mirage-like, is this reproduction, trees and many buildings shown in detail, that one supposes that the original was a photograph of a good-sized terrestrial city, perhaps Bristol, England.

In Chapter 10, of his book, Wonders of Alaska, Alexander Badlam tries to explain. He publishes a reproduction of Willoughby's photograph: it is the same as Bruce's, except that all buildings are transposed, or are negative in positions.(16) Badlam does not like to accuse Willoughby of fraud: his idea is that some unknown humorist had sold Willoughby a dry plate, picturing part of the city of Bristol. My own idea is that something of this kind did occur, and that this photograph, greatly involved in accounts of repeating mirages, had nothing to do with mirages. Badlam then tells of another photograph. He tells that two men, near the Muir Glacier, had, by means of a pan of quicksilver, seen a reflection of an unknown city somewhere, and that their idea was that it was at the bottom of the sea near the glacier, reflecting in the sky, and reflecting back to and from the quicksilver. That's complicated. A photographer named Taber then announced that he had photographed this scene, as reflected in a pan of quicksilver.(17) Badlam publishes a reproduction of Taber's photograph, or alleged photograph. This time, for anybody who prefers to think that there is, somewhere in the sky of Alaska, a great, unknown city, we have a most agreeable photograph: exotic-looking city; a structure like a coliseum, and another prominent building like a mosque, and many indefinite, mirage-like buildings. I'd like to think this photograph genuine, myself, but I do conceive that Taber could have taken it photographing a panorama that he had painted. Badlam's explanation is that mirages of glaciers are common, in Alaska, and that they look architectural. Some years ago, I read five or six hundred pounds of literature upon the Arctic, and I should say that far-projected mirages are not common in the Arctic: mere [201/202] looming is common. Badlam publishes a photograph of a mirage of Muir Glacier. The looming points of ice do look Gothic, but they are obviously only loomings, extending only short distances from primaries, with no detachments from primaries, and not reflecting in the sky.

For the first identification of the Willoughby photograph as a photograph of part of the city of Bristol, see the New York Times, Oct. 20, 1889.(18) That this photograph was somebody's hoax seem to be acceptable. But it is not similar to the frequently reported scene in the sky of Alaska, according to descriptions. In the New York Times, Oct. 31, 1889, is an account, by Mr. L.B. French, of Chicago, of the spectral representation, as he saw it, near Mt. Fairweather.(19) "We could see plainly houses, well-defined streets, and trees. Here and there rose tall spires over huge buildings, which appeared to be ancient mosques or cathedrals....It did not look like a modern city -- more like an ancient European City."(20)

Jour. Roy. Met. Soc., 27-158:(21)

That, every year, between June 21 and July 10, a "phantom city" appears in the sky, over a glacier in Alaska; that features of it had been recognized as buildings in the city of Bristol, England, so that the "mirage" was supposed to be a mirage of Bristol. It is said that for generations these repeating representations had been known to the Alaskan Indians, and that, in May, 1901, a scientific expedition from San Francisco would investigate. It is said that, except for slight changes, from year to year, the scene was always the same.

La Nature, 1901-1-303:(22)

That a number of scientists had set out from Victoria, B.C., to Mt. Fairweather, Alaska, to study the repeating mirage of a city in the sky, which had been reported by the Duc d'Abruzzi, who had seen it and sketched it.


1. "Lightning from a cloudless sky." Monthly Weather Review, 28 (July 1900): 292-3.

2. E.L. "Phénomènes électriques sur les sommets des montagnes." Ciel et Terre, 29, 120-3. The location was San Gorgonio, (not San Gorgionio).

3. E. Van Den Broeck. "Un phénomène mystérieux de la physique du globe." Ciel et Terre, 16, 447-474, 479-501, 516-530, 535-546, 601-616; 17, 4-15, 37-43, 99-109, 148-157, 183-191, 208-219, 348-353, 399-407; at 17, 41-2. The phenomenon occurred in 1892, (not in 1893).

4. Thomas William Webb. Celestial Objects. 4th ed. 1881., 27, 39-45. 6th ed., 1917. "Herschel I. lost a group while merely turning away his eye for a moment...."

5. Ivo Gregg. "Planet of romance." Journal of the Leeds Astronomical Society, n. 14 (1906): 16-28, at 23. Lockyer notes stars, which had become visible to Lt. Blackett's group of observers before totality, disappeared during totality; and, he writes: "Secondly, while these notes were being made all the observers saw, but two only located on the chart, a bright body, midway between the planet Mars and Venus, where no star down to the third magnitude occurs on the chart, and this though many first magnitude stars in the sun's neighbourhood were not seen generally. Do Tewfic's comet of 1882, Watson's planet of 1878, the present observation, and others that might be named, represent meteoritic collisions near the sun?" Norman Lockyer. Recent and Coming Eclipses. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1900; 23-4, 187-8, 195.

6. Robert R. Levingston and A.C. Ranyard. "Lightning photographs or photographic defects." Knowledge, 16 (December 1, 1893): 234-5.

7. Richard H. Wake. "A puzzle." Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 23, 154.

8. "Extraordinary phenomenon." London Times, November 20, 1888, p. 13 c. 5.

9. J. Ross-Barker. "A stampede of sheep." London Standard, November 7, 1889, p. 2 c. 7.

10. Science Gossip, (also as, Country Queries and Notes), 1: 138, 328, 417.

11. D.E. Packer. "Aurora and meteor display of September 14." English Mechanic, 88 (October 2, 1908): 211.

12. Science Gossip, (also as, Country Queries and Notes), 1, 328.

13. "Curious mirage in British Columbia — What city can it be?" English Mechanic, 66 (September 10, 1897): 81. For the original article: "Yukon goldfields." London Weekly Times and Echo, September 5, 1897, p. 9 c. 1-2. Correct quote: "...this settlement could be in. Some guessed at Toronto...the North Pole or not remains to be proved. Nevertheless, it is a the hands of men."

14. "Arctic mystery." New York Tribune, February 17, 1901, Supp. p. 1 c. 1.

15. Miner Wait Bruce. Alaska. Seattle, 1895, 86-9. 2nd ed. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1899, 140-4. Correct quote: " distinct and plain that it required instead faith to believe...."

16. Alexander Badlam. Wonders of Alaska. Ch. 10, "Phantom cities and mirages," 127-37.

17. Isaiah West Taber, (1830-1912), was a professional photographer from San Francisco.

18. "Identity of the Silent City." New York Times, October 20, 1889, p. 13 c. 4.

19. "Silent City." New York Times, October 31, 1889, p. 2 c. 1. Correct quote: "...plainly see houses...."

20. Ten years later, on July 3, two schooners observed the "minarets and airy cupolas" of an inverted, aerial city for upwards of half an hour; however, the mirage was recognized as Coney Island by the excursion passengers. "A remarkable mirage." New York Times, July 4, 1899, p. 1 c. 4.

21. "Extraordinary mirage." Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 27 (1901): 158-9.

22. "Phénomène de mirage du mont Fairweather (Alaska)." Nature (Paris), 1901, 1, 303.

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