A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





A NAKED man in a city street -- the track of a horse in volcanic mud -- the mystery of the reindeer's ears -- a huge, black form, like a whale, in the sky, and it drips red drops as if attacked by celestial swordfishes -- an appalling cherub appears in the sea --


Showers of frogs and blizzards of snails -- gushes of periwinkles down from the sky --

The preposterous, the grotesque, the incredible -- and why, if I am going to tell of hundreds of these, is the quite ordinary so regarded?

An unclothed man shocks a crowd -- a moment later, if nobody is generous with an overcoat, somebody is collecting handkerchiefs to knot around him.

A naked fact startles a meeting of a scientific so- [1/12] ciety -- and whatever it has for loins is soon diapered with conventional explanations.

Chaos and muck and filth -- the indeterminable and the unrecordable and the unknowable -- and all men are liars -- and yet --

Wigwams on an island -- sparks in their columns of smoke.

Centuries later -- the uncertain columns are towers. What once were fluttering sparks are the motionless lights of windows. According to critics of Tammany Hall, there has been monstrous corruption upon this island: nevertheless, in the midst of it, this regularization has occurred. A woodland sprawl has sprung to stony attention.

The Princess Cariboo tells, of herself, a story, in an unknown language, and persons who were themselves liars, have said that she lied, though nobody has ever known what she told. The story of Dorothy Arnold has been told thousands of times, but the story of Dorothy Arnold and the swan has not been told before. A city turns to a crater, and casts out eruptions, as lurid as fire, of living things -- and where Cagliostro came from, and where he went, are so mysterious that only historians say they know -- venomous snakes crawl on the sidewalks of London -- and a star twinkles --

But the underlying oneness in all confusions.

An onion and a lump of ice -- and what have they in common?

Traceries of ice, millions of years ago, forming on the surface of a pond -- later, with different materials, these same forms will express botanically. If something had examined primordial frost, it could have predicted jungles. Times when there was not a living thing on the face of this earth -- and, upon pyrolusite, there were etchings of forms that, after the appear- [12/13] ance of cellulose, would be trees. Dendritic sketches, in silver and copper, prefigured ferns and vines.

Mineral specimens now in museums -- calcites that are piles of petals -- or that long ago were the rough notes of a rose. Scales, horns, quills, thorns, teeth, arrows, spears, bayonets -- long before they were the implements and weapons of living things they were mineral forms. I know of an ancient sketch that is today a specimen in a museum -- a colorful, little massacre that was composed of calcites ages before religion was dramatized -- pink forms impaled upon mauve spears, sprinkled with drops of magenta. I know of a composition of barytes that appeared ages before the Israelites made what is said to be history -- blue waves heaped high on each side of a drab streak of forms like the horns of cattle, heads of asses, humps of camels, turbans, and upheld hands.

Underlying oneness --

A new star appears -- and just how remote is it from drops of water, of unknown origin, falling on a cotton-wood tree, in Oklahoma? Just what have the tree and the star to do with the girl of Swanton Novers, upon whom gushed streams of oils? And why was a clergyman equally greasy? Earthquakes and droughts and the sky turns black with spiders, and, near Trenton, New Jersey, something pegged stones at farmers.(1) If lights that have been seen in the sky were upon vessels of explorers from other worlds -- then living in New York City, perhaps, or in Washington, D.C., perhaps, there are inhabitants of Mars, who are secretly sending reports upon the ways of this world, to their Governments?

A theory feels its way through surrounding ignorance -- the tendrils of a vine feel their way along a trellis -- a wagon train feels its way across a prairie --

Underlying oneness -- [13/14]

Projections of limonite, in a suffusion of smoky quartz -- it will be ages before this little mineral sketch can develop into the chimneys and the smoke of Pittsburgh. But it reproduces when a volcano blasts the vegetation on a mountain, and smoke-forms hang around the stumps of trees. Broken shafts of an ancient city in a desert -- they are projections in the tattered gusts of a sandstorm. It's Napoleon Bonaparte's retreat from Moscow -- ragged bands, in the grimy snow, stumbling amidst abandoned cannon.

Maybe it is only coincidence -- or what may there be to Napoleon's own belief that something was supervising him? Suppose it is that, in November, 1812, Napoleon's work, as a factor in European readjustments, was done. There was no military power upon this earth that could remove this one, whose work was done. There came coldness so intense that it destroyed the Grand Army.

Human knowledge -- and its fakes and freaks. An astronomer, insulated by his vanity, seemingly remote from the flops and frailties of everybody else, may not be so far away as he thinks he is. He calculates where an undiscovered planet will be seen. "Lo!" -- as the astronomers like to say -- it is seen.(2) But, for some very distressing, if not delightful, particulars, see, later, an account of Lowell's planet. Stars are said to be trillions of miles away, but there are many alleged remotenesses that are not so far away as they are said to be.

The Johnstown flood, and the smash of Peru, and the little nigger that was dragged to a police station --

* * *

Terrified horses, up on their hind legs, hoofing a storm of frogs. [14/15]

Frenzied springboks, capering their exasperations against frogs that were tickling them.

Storekeepers, in London, gaping at frogs that were tapping on their window panes.

We shall pick up an existence by its frogs.

Wise men have tried other ways. They have tried to understand our state of being, by grasping at its stars, or its arts, or its economics. But, if there is an underlying oneness of all things, it does not matter where we begin, whether with stars, or laws of supply and demand, or frogs, or Napoleon Bonaparte. One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.

I have collected 294 records of showers of living things.

Have I?

Well, there's no accounting for the freaks of industry.

It is the profound conviction of most of us that there never has been a shower of living things. But some of us have, at least in an elementary way, been educated by surprises out of much that we were "absolutely sure" of, and are suspicious of a thought, simply because it is a profound conviction.

I got the story of the terrified horses in the storm of frogs from Mr. George C. Stoker, of Lovelock, Nevada. Mr. John Reid, of Lovelock, who is known to me as a writer upon geological subjects, vouches for Mr. Stoker, and I vouch for Mr. Reid. Mr. Stoker vouches for me. I have never heard of anything -- any pronouncement, dogma, enunciation, or pontification -- that was better substantiated.

What is a straight line? A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Well, then, what is the shortest distance between two points? That is a straight line. According to the test of ages, the definition that a straight line is a straight line cannot be im- [15/16] proved upon. I start with a logic as exacting as Euclid's.

Mr. Stoker was driving along the Newark Valley, one of the most extensive of the desert regions of Nevada. Thunderstorm. Down came frogs. Up on their hind legs went the horses.

The exasperated springboks. They were told of, in the Northern News (Vryburg, Transvaal) March 21, 1925, by Mr. C.J. Grewar, of Uitenhage.(3) Also I have a letter from Mr. Grewar.

The Flats -- about 50 miles from Uitenhage -- springboks leaping and shaking themselves unaccountably. At a distance, Mr. Grewar could conceive of no explanation of such eccentricities. He investigated, and saw that a rain of little frogs and fishes had pelted the springboks. Mr. Grewar heard that some time before, at the same place, there had been a similar shower.

Coffins have come down from the sky: also, as everybody knows, silk hats and horse collars and pajamas. But these things have come down at the time of a whirlwind. The two statements that I start with are that no shower exclusively of coffins, nor of marriage certificates, nor of alarm clocks has been recorded: but that showers exclusively of living things are common. And yet the explanation by orthodox scientists who accept that showers of living things have occurred is that the creatures were the products of whirlwinds. The explanation is that little frogs, for instance, fall from the sky, unmixed with anything else, because, in a whirlwind, the creatures were segregated, by differences in specific gravity. But when a whirlwind strikes a town, away go detachables in a monstrous mixture, and there's no findable record of washtubs coming down in one place, all the town's cats in one falling battle that lumps its infelicities in one place, and all the kit- [16/17] tens coming down together somewhere else, in a distant bunch that miaows for its lump of mothers.

See London newspapers, August 18th and 19th, 1921 -- innumerable little frogs appeared, during a thunderstorm, upon the 17th, in streets of the northern part of London.

I have searched in almost all London newspapers, and in many provincial newspapers, and in scientific publications. There is, findable by me, no mention of a whirlwind upon the 17th of August, and no mention of a fall from the sky of anything else that might be considered another segregated discharge from a whirlwind, if there had been a whirlwind.

A whirlwind runs amok, and is filled with confusions: and yet to the incoherences of such a thing have been attributed the neatest of classifications. I do not say that no wind ever scientifically classifies objects. I have seen orderly, or logical, segregations by wind-action. I ask for records of whirlwinds that do this. There is no perceptible science by a whirlwind, in the delivery of its images. It rants trees, doors, frogs, and parts of cows. But living things have fallen from the sky, or in some unknown way have appeared, and have arrived homogeneously. If they have not been segregated by winds, something has selected them.

There have been repetitions of these arrivals. The phenomenon of repetition, too, is irreconcilable with the known ways of whirlwinds. There is an account, in the London Daily News, Sept. 5, 1922, of little toads, which for two days had been dropping from the sky, at Chalon-sur-Saône, France.(4)

Lies, yarns, hoaxes, mistakes -- what's the specific gravity of a lie, and how am I to segregate?

That could be done only relatively to a standard, and I have never heard of any standard, in any religion, philosophy, science, or complication of house- [17/18] hold affairs that could not be made to fit any requirement. We fit standards to judgments, or break any law that it pleases us to break, and fit to the fracture some other alleged law that we say is higher or nobler. We have conclusions, which are the products of senility or incompetence or credulity, and then argue from them to premises. We forget this process, and then argue from the premises, thinking we began there.

There are accounts of showering things that came from so far away that they were unknown in places where they arrived.

If only horses and springboks express emotions in these matters, we'll be calm thinking that even living things may have been transported to this earth from other worlds.

Philadelphia Public Ledger, Aug. 8, 1891 -- a great shower of fishes, at Seymour, Indiana.(5) They were unknown fishes. Public Ledger, Feb. 6, 1890 -- a shower of fishes, in Montgomery County, California.(6) "The fishes belong to a species altogether unknown here." New York Sun, May 29, 1892 -- a shower, at Coalburg, Alabama, of an enormous number of eels that were unknown in Alabama.(7) Somebody said that he knew of such eels, in the Pacific Ocean. Piles of them in the streets -- people alarmed -- farmers coming with carts, and taking them away for fertilizing material.

Our subject has been treated scientifically, or too scientifically. There have been experiments. I have no more of an ill opinion of experimental science that I have of everything else, but I have been an experimenter, myself, and have impressions of the servile politeness of experiments. They have such an obliging, or ingratiating, way that there's no trusting the flatterers. In the Redruth (Cornwall, England) Independent, August 13 and following issues, 1886, correspondents tell of a shower of snails near Redruth.(8) [18/19] There were experiments. One correspondent, who believed that the creatures were sea snails, put some in salt water. They lived. Another correspondent, who believed that they were not sea snails, put some in salt water. They died.

I do not know how to find out anything new without being offensive. To the ignorant, all things are pure: all knowledge is, or implies, the degradation of something. One who learns of metabolism, looks at a Venus, and realises she's partly rotten. However, she smiles at him, and he renews his ignorance. All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. But spots on the sun, and lumps on the planets -- and, being a person of learning, or, rather, erudition, myself, I've got to besmirch something, or nobody will believe I am -- and I replace the pure, blue sky with the wormy heavens --

London Evening Standard, Jan. 3, 1924 -- red objects falling with snow, at Halmstead, Sweden.(9)

They were red worms, from one to four inches in length. Thousands of them streaking down with the snowflakes -- red ribbons in a shower of confetti -- a carnival scene that boosts my discovery that meteorology is a more picturesque science than most persons, including meteorologists, have suspected -- and I fear me that my attempt to besmirch has not been successful, because the worms of heaven seem to be a jolly lot. However, I cheer up at thought of chances to come, because largely I shall treat of human nature.

But how am I to know whether these things fell from the sky in Sweden, or were imagined in Sweden?

I shall be scientific about it. Said Sir Isaac Newton -- or virtually said he -- "If there is no change in the direction of a moving body, the direction of a moving body is not changed." "But," continued he, "if something be changed, it is changed as much as it is [19/20] changed." So red worms fell from the sky, in Sweden, because from the sky, in Sweden, red worms fell. How do geologists determine the age of rocks? By the fossils in them. And how do they determine the age of fossils? By the rocks they're in. Having started with the logic of Euclid, I go on with the wisdom of a Newton.

New Orleans Daily Picayune, Feb. 4, 1892 -- enormous numbers of unknown brown worms that had fallen from the sky, near Clifton, Indiana.(10) San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 14, 1892 -- myriads of unknown scarlet worms -- somewhere in Massachusetts -- not seen to fall from the sky, but found, covering several acres, after a snow storm.(11)

It is as if with intelligence, or with the equivalence of intelligence, something has specialized upon transporting, or redistributing, immature and larval forms of life. If the gods send worms, that would be kind, if we were robins.

In Insect Life, 1892, p. 335, the Editor, Prof. C.V. Riley, tells of four other mysterious appearances of worms, early in the year 1892.(12) Some of the specimens he could not definitely identify. It is said that at Lancaster, Pa., people in a snow storm caught falling worms on their umbrellas.

The wise men of our tribes have tried to find God in a poem, or in whatever they think they mean by a moral sense in people, or in inscriptions in a book of stone, which by one of the strangest freaks of omission is not now upon exhibition in from fifteen to twenty synagogues in Asia Minor, and all up and down Italy --

Crabs and periwinkles --

Ordinary theologians have overlooked crabs and periwinkles --

Or mystery versus the fishmonger. [20/21]

Upon May 28th, 1881, near the city of Worcester, England, a fishmonger, with a procession of carts, loaded with several kinds of crabs and periwinkles, and with a dozen energetic assistants, appeared at a time when nobody on a busy road was looking. The fishmonger and his assistants grabbed sacks of periwinkles, and ran in a frenzy, slinging the things into fields on both sides of the road. They raced to gardens, and some assistants, standing on the shoulders of other assistants, had sacks lifted to them, and dumped sacks over the high walls. Meanwhile other assistants, in a dozen carts, were furiously shovelling out periwinkles, about a mile along the road. Also, meanwhile, several boys were busily mixing in crabs. They were not advertising anything. Above all there was secrecy. The cost must have been hundreds of dollars. They appeared without having been seen on the way, and they melted away equally mysteriously. There were houses all around, but nobody saw them.

Would I be so kind as to tell what, in the name of some slight approximation to sanity, I mean by telling such a story?

But it is not my story. The details are mine, but I have put them in, strictly in accordance with the circumstances. There was, upon May 28th, 1881, an occurrence near Worcester, and the conventional explanation was that a fishmonger did it. Inasmuch as he did it unobserved, if he did it, and inasmuch as he did it with tons upon acres, if he did it, he did it as I have described, if he did it.

In Land and Water, June 4, 1881, a correspondent writes that, in a violent thunderstorm, near Worcester, tons of periwinkles had come down from the sky, covering fields and a road, for about a mile.(13) In the issue of June 11th, the Editor of Land and Water writes that specimens had been sent to him.(14) He notes the mysteri- [21/22] ous circumstance, or the indication of a selection of living things, that appears in virtually all the accounts. He comments upon an enormous fall of sea creatures, unaccompanied by sand, pebbles, other shells, and sea weed.

In the Worcester Daily Times, May 30, it is said that, upon the 28th, news had reached Worcester of a wonderful fall from the sky, of periwinkles on Cromer Gardens Road, and spread far around in fields and gardens.(15) Mostly, people of Worcester were incredulous, but some had gone to the place. Those who had faith returned with periwinkles.

Two correspondents then wrote that they had seen the periwinkles upon the road before the storm, where probably a fishmonger had got rid of them.(16) So the occurrence conventionalised, and out of these surmises arose the story of the fishmonger, though it has never been told before, as I have told it.

Mr. J. Lloyd Bozward, a writer whose notes on meteorological subjects are familiar to readers of scientific periodicals of this time, was investigating, and his findings were published in the Worcester Evening Post, June 9th.(17) As to the story of the fishmonger, note his statement that the value of periwinkles was 16 shillings a bushel. He says that a wide area on both sides of the road was strewn with periwinkles, hermit crabs, and small crabs of an unascertained species. Worcester is about 30 miles from the mouth of the River Severn, or say about 50 miles from the sea.(18) Probably no fishmonger in the world ever had, at one time, so many periwinkles, but as to anybody having got rid of a stock, because of a glutted market, for instance, Mr. Bozward says: "Neither upon Saturday, the 28th, nor Friday, the 27th, was there such a thing procurable in Worcester as a live periwinkle." Gardens as well as fields were strewn. There were high walls around these [22/23] gardens. Mr. Bozward tells of about 10 sacks of periwinkles, of a value of about 20, in the markets of Worcester, that, to his knowledge, had been picked up. Crowds had filled pots and pans and bags and trunks before he got to the place. "In Mr. Maund's garden, two sacks were filled with them." It is his conclusion that the things fell from the sky during the thunderstorm. So his is the whirlwind-explanation.

There are extraordinary occurrences and conventionalization cloaks them, and the more commonplace the cloakery, the more satisfactory. Periwinkles appear upon a tract of land, through which there is a road. A fishmonger did it.

But the crabs and the fishmonger -- and if the fishmonger did the periwinkles, did he do the crabs, if he did it?

Or the crabs and the whirlwind -- and, if the periwinkles were segregated from pebbles and seaweed, why not from the crabs, if segregation did it?

The strongest point for the segregationists is in their own mental processes, which illustrate that segregations, whether by wind action, or not, do occur. If they have periwinkles and crabs to explain, and, say, that with a story of a fishmonger, or of a whirlwind, they can explain the periwinkles, though so they cannot explain the crabs, a separation of data occurs in their mentalities. They forget the crabs and tell of the periwinkles. [23]

1. The pegging was at Trenton, New York, (not New Jersey).

2. Robert Ball. The Story of the Heavens. New York: Cassell and Co.: 1905. Rev. ed., 230-1. 1901, Rev. ed., 330.

3. "More frogs from the sky." Northern News (Vrysburg, Transval), March 21, 1925.

4. London Daily News, (September 5, 1922), (Not found here.)

5. Philadelphia Public Ledger, (August 8, 1891), (Not found here.)

6. "Varities." Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 6, 1890, p.5 c.9.

7. "It rained strange eels." New York Sun, May 29, 1892, p.5 c.5. "A shower of eels." Philadelphia Times, May 22, 1892, p.14 c.6.

8. "A shower of shells." Redruth Independent, August 13, 1886, p.3 c.3. Observer. "Shower of shells. Redruth Independent, August 20, 1886, p.4 c.5. According to Observer, the snails died when put in salt water. Nat. "Shower of shells." Redruth Independent, August, 27, 1886, p.4 c.3. According to Nat., some were put in salt water, and it did not appear to harm them. Helix. "Shower of shells." Redruth Independent, September 10, 1886, p.4 c.2. Nat. "Shower of shells." Redruth Independent, September 17, 1886, p.4 c.1. Helix. "Shower of shells." Redruth Independent, September 24, 1886, p.4 c.2.

9. "Red snowfall." London Evening Standard, January 3, 1924, p.12 c.4. Correct location is Halmstad, Sweden, not Halmstead.

10. "It rained worms." New Orleans Daily Picayune, February 4, 1892, p.4 c.4.

11. "Colored snow." San Francisco Daily Chronicle, February 14, 1892, p.6 c.5.

12. "Insects on the surface of snow." Insect Life, 4 (June 1892): 335-6. Falls of worms, or larvae, were reported at: West Park, New York, on February 11 and 18; at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on March 2; and, Williamstown, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1892.

13. "A shower of periwinkles." Land and Water, 31 (June 4, 1881): 422.

14. "The shower of periwinkles near Worcester." Land and Water, 31 (June 11, 1881): 449.

15. "The storm in this district." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, May 30, 1881, p.3 c.1.

16. One correspondent, E.A. Hardman, claimed to see periwinkles confined upon the road before the rain commenced, "the same as if they had fallen or been thrown out at the back of a truck or cart as it went along." "Saturday's storm in Worcester." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, May 31, 1881, p.2 c.6. The second correspondent, John Stanton, claimed to have seen and walked over them, as they lay "from gutter to gutter," half an hour before the storm. John Stanton. "The storm at St. John's." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, June 2, 1881, p.3 c.1. A third correspondent, Gibson, who twice passed through the roads, claimed not to have seen any periwinkles about 11:30 A.M. but found the road literally covered" sometime between 12 and 12:30 P.M., before the thunderstorm. A.A. Gibson. "The fall of periwinkles." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, June 11, 1881, p.3 c.1.

17. J. Lloyd Bozward. "The case of the periwinkles." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, June 9, 1881, p.3 c.3-4. Bozward's article was not in the Worcester Evening Post; however, additional articles relating this incident are found in both newspapers as follows: "The storm at St. John's." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, June 1, 1881, p.3 c.4. "The fall of periwinkles." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, June 7, 1881, p.3 c.1-2. G.P. Yeats. "The fall of periwinkles." Worcester Daily Times and Journal, June 10, 1881, p.2 c.6. "Severe thunderstorm." Worcester Evening Post, May 30, 1881, p.3 c.1. W.E. Tucker. "The periwinkles again." Worcester Evening Post, June 13, 1881, p.2 c.5-6. Correct quotes: "Neither on Saturday, the 28th...," and, "Mr. Maund, market gardener, states that the quantity which fell in his garden is estimated at two sacks." There is no mention of high walls around the gardens, though Bozward mentions their being found in hedge-rows.

18. Worcester is about 50 milesfrom the "mouth" of the Severn and the Bristol Channel.

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