A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





UPON the 9th of January, 1907, Mr. McLaughlin, of the town of Magilligan, County Derry, Ireland, hadn't a red light, Neither had his sister, nor his niece, nor his maidservant. They hadn't a cabinet. But a show was staged at their house, as if they knew altogether too much about phosphorescent paint, and as if Mr. McLaughlin bought false whiskers. There were phenomena in sunlight, and there was an atmosphere as unmystical as pigs and neighbors. If any spiritualistic medium can do stunts, there is no more need for special conditions than there is for a chemist to turn down lights, start operations with a hymn, and ask whether there's any chemical present that has affinity with something named Hydrogen.

Mr. McLaughlin had cleaned soot from the chimney. I wonder what relation there may be. It is said that [57/58] immediately afterward, phenomena began. There were flows of soot from undetectable sources, in rooms, and from room to room, independent of draughts, sometimes moving against draughts. Also there were flows of stones, or bombardments. About thirty panes of glass were broken by stones, in the daytime, some of them in the presence of neighbors. This is the story, as it was told by reporters of the Derry Journal and the Coleraine Constitution, who had been sent to investigate.(1) Probably there was a girl, aged 14 or 15, in this house, but as to the ages of Mr. McLaughlin's niece and maid servant, I could not learn particulars.

The conventionally scientific, or fishmongerish, thing to do would be to think of some commonplace explanation of the soot, and forget the stones. There would not be so much science, if people had good memories. The flows of stones can be explained as peggings by neighbors, if the soot be forgotten.

Our data have been bullied by two tyrannies. On one side, the spiritualists have arbitrarily taken over strange occurrences, as manifestations of "the departed." On the other side, conventional science has pronounced against everything that does not harmonize with its systemizations. The scientists goes investigating, about as, to match ribbons, a woman goes shopping. The spiritualist stuffs the maws of his emotions. One is too dainty, and the other is too gross. Perhaps, between these two, we shall some day be considered models of well-bred behavior.

Showers of frogs and worms and periwinkles -- and now it's showers of nails. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Oct. 16, 1888 -- dispatch from Brownsville, Texas -- that, on the night of the 12th, the lighthouse, at Point Isabel, occupied by Mrs. Schreiber, widow of the keeper, who had departed not long before, had been struck by a rain of nails.(2) The next night, about dark, [58/59] came another shower of nails. More variety -- also down pelted clods of earth and oyster shells. Bombardments continued. People gathered and saw showers, mostly of nails, but could not find out where they were coming from.

In Human Nature, March 1871, is a story of flows of corn that were passing from a locked crib, in Buchanan, Virginia.(3) But, in this case, it was said that apparitions were seen, and mostly, at least so far as apparitions are concerned, our accounts are not ghost stories.

There have been mysterious showers of money, in public places. I have gravely copied accounts from newspapers, but there must have been something the matter with my gravity, because I put the notes away, without indexing them, and just now can't find them, among about 60,000. One of the stories was of coins that, for several days, a few years ago, fell intermittently into Trafalgar Square, London. Traffic was so interfered with by scramblers that the police investigated, but could trace nothing to the buildings around the Square. Every now and then there was a jingle of coins, and a scramble, and the annoyance of the police was increased. They investigated.

Maybe there are experimenters who have learned to do such things, teleportatively. I'd see some sport in it, myself, if it wouldn't cost too much.

There was a piker with pennies, in London, several years ago. New York Evening World, Jan. 18, 1928 -- flows of copper coins and chunks of coal, in a house in Battersea, London, occupied by a family named Robinson.(4) "The Robinsons are educated people, and scout the idea of a supernatural agency. However they are completely baffled, and declare the phenomena take place in closed rooms, thus precluding the possibility of objects being thrown from outside." [59/60]

There's small chance of such phenomena being understood, just at present, because everybody's a logician. Almost everybody reasons: "There are not supernatural occurrences: therefore these alleged phenomena did not occur." However through some closed skulls, mostly independently of eyes and ears and noses, which tell mostly only what they should tell, is penetrating the idea that flows of coins and chunks of coal may be as natural as the flows of rivers. Those of us who have taken this degree of our initiation may now go on to a more advanced stage of whatever may be the matter with us.

August 30th, 1919 -- Swanton Novers Rectory, near Melton Constable, Norfolk, England -- oil "spurting" from walls and ceilings. It was thought that the house was over an oil well, the liquid percolating and precipitating, but it was not crude oil that was falling: the liquids were paraffin and petrol. Then came showers of water. Oil was falling from one of the appearing points, at a rate of a quart in ten minutes. Methylated spirits and sandalwood oil were falling. In an account, dated Sept. 2nd, it is said that receptacles had been placed under appearing-points, and that about 50 gallons of oil had been caught. Of thirteen showers, upon Sept. 1st, two were of water.

The circumstance that is of most importance in this story is that such quantities of oils and water appeared here that the Rector, the Rev. Hugh Guy, had been driven out, and had moved his furniture to another house.

London Times, Sept. 9 -- "Norfolk Mystery Solved."(5) We are told that Mr. Oswald Williams, the "illusionist," or the stage magician, and his wife, who were investigating, had seen the housemaid, aged 15, enter the house, which for several days had been unoccupied, and throw a glass of water, which they had [60/61] salted, to a ceiling, then crying that another shower had occurred. They had shut off the water supply, in the house, and had placed around glasses and pails of water, salted so that it could be identified.

As Mr. and Mrs. Williams told it, they, in hiding, saw the girl throw the salted water, and rushed out of their hiding place and accused her. Conceivably all for the sake of science, and conceivably with not a thought of publicity-values, Mr. Williams told newspaper reporters of his successful stratagem, and put completeness into his triumph, by telling that the girl had confessed. "She admitted that she had done it, and finally she broke down and made a clean breast of it."

Times, Sept. 12 -- girl interviewed by a representative of a Norwich newspaper -- denied that she had confessed -- denied that she had played tricks of any kind -- denied that the Williamses had been in hiding -- told that she had gone to the house, with Mr. and Mrs. Williams, and that a wet spot had appeared on a ceiling, and that she had been wrongfully accused of having thrown water.(6)

"According to the little girl's statement, she was at no time alone in the kitchen" (London Daily News, Sept. 10).(7) "She insists that she was the victim of a trick, and that great pressure was put upon her to admit that she had thrown salted water to the ceiling. `I was told,' she said, `that I would be given one minute to say I had done it, or go to prison. I said that I didn't do it.'"

Having an interest in ways in which data are suppressed, I have picked up some information upon how little girls are "pressed." No details of the "pressure" were published in the London newspapers. Norfolk News, Nov. 8 -- that, in the Holt Petty Sessions had come up the case of the girl, Mabel Louisa Phillipo -- spelled Phillips, in the other accounts -- complainant [61/62] against Mrs. Oswald Williams, who was charged with having assaulted her.(8) The girl said that Mrs. Williams had time after time struck her in the face, and had called attention to her face, reddened by blows, as evidence of her guilt. Mrs. Phillipo testified that, when she arrived at the Rectory, her daughter's first words were that she had been beaten. The Rev. Hugh Guy testified, but he did not testify that he was in the house, at the time. According to details picked up from other accounts, he was not in the house, at the time.

It is said that legal procedure in Great Britain is superior to whatever goes under that name in the United States. I can't accept that legal procedure anywhere is superior to anything. Mr. Guy, who had not been present, testified that he had not seen the girl struck, and I found no record of any objection by the girl's attorney to such testimony. The case was dismissed.

And then a document closed investigation. It was a letter from Mr. Guy, published in the Times, Sept. 13.(9) Mr. Guy wrote that he had tasted the water, upon the ceiling, and had tasted salt in it: so he gave his opinion that the girl had thrown the water. Most likely there is considerable salt, reminders of long successions of hams and bacons, on every kitchen ceiling.

According to Mr. and Mrs. Williams, the girl had confessed. But see Mr. Guy's letter to the Times -- that the girl had not confessed.

So, because of Mr. Guy's letter, the Williamses can not be depended upon. But we're going to find that Mr. Guy can not be depended upon. To be sure, I am going to end up with something about photographs, but photographs can not be depended upon. I can't see that out of our own reasoning, we can get anywhere, if there isn't anything phenomenal that can be depended upon. It is my expression that, if we are entering upon [62/63] an era of a revised view of many formerly despised and ridiculed data, there will be a simultaneous variation of many minds, more favourably to them, and that what is called reasoning in those minds will be only supplementary to a general mental tropism.

The investigation was stopped by Mr. Guy. The inquiry-shearer, or the mystery-bobber, was this statement, in his letter -- "It would have taken only a small quantity to create the mess."

The meaning of this statement is that, whereas gallons, or barrels, of oils, at a cost of hundreds of dollars, could not be attributed to a mischievous girl, "only a small quantity" could be.

Flows of frogs -- flows of worms -- flows of lies -- read this:

London Daily Express, Aug. 30 -- "The Rector, in response to a request from the Daily Express, for the latest news, reported as follows:(10)

"`To the Editor of the Daily Express:

"`Expert engineer arriving Monday. Drippings ascribed to exudations, on August 8, of petrol, methylated spirits, and paraffin. House evacuated; vapor dangerous; every room affected; downpour rather than dripping -- Guy.'"

In the Daily Express, Sept. 2, is published Mr. Guy's statement that he had been compelled to move his furniture from the house.(11)

According to other accounts, the quantities were great. In the London Daily News were published reports by an architect, a geologist, and a chemist, telling of observations upon profuse flows.(12) In the Norwich newspapers, the accounts are similar. For instance, the foreman of an oil company, having been asked to give an opinion, had visited the house, and had caught in a tub, two gallons of oil, which had dripped, in four hours, from one of the appearing-points. Just how, as [63/64] a matter of tricks, a girl could have been concerned in these occurrences is not picturable to me. The house was crowded, while the oil-expert, for instance, was investigating. But it does seem that unconsciously she was concerned. The first of the showers occurred in her room. Ceilings were bored and ripped off, but nothing by which to explain was found. Then another stage magician, Mr. N. Maskelyne, went to Swanton Novers, with the idea of exposing trickery. Possibly this competition made the Williamses hasty. But Mr. Maskelyne could find nothing by which to explain the mystery. According to him (Daily Mail, Sept. 10) "barrels of it" had appeared, during the time of his observations.(13)

Just how effective, as an inquiry-stopper, was the story of the girl and the "small quantity," is shown by the way the Society for Psychical Research was influenced by it. See the Journal S.P.R., Oct., 1919.(14) Mr. Guy's letter to the Times is taken as final. No knowledge of conflicting statements by him is shown. The Society did not investigate. "A small quantity" can be explained, as it should be explained, but "barrels of it" must be forgotten. Case dismissed.

If the Rev. Hugh Guy described at one time a "downpour," which had driven out him and his tables, chairs, beds, rugs, all those things that I think of seriously, because I have recently done some moving, myself, and then told of "a small quantity," why have I not an explanation of this contradiction?

I wrote to Mr. Guy, asking him to explain, having the letter registered for the sake of a record. I have received no answer.

In the London Daily Mail, Sept. 3, 1919, are reproduced two photographs of oil dripping from different ceilings.(15) Large drops of oil are clearly visible. [64]

1. "Mysterious occurrences at Magilligan." Coleraine Constitution, January 26, 1907, p. 5 c. 2-3. "Extraordinary occurrence near Limavady." Derry Journal (Londonderry), January 23, 1907, p. 4 c. 6. "County Derry mystery." Derry Journal, January 25, 1907, p. 5 c. 1-2. "Mysterious occurrences at Magilligan." Derry Journal, January 30, 1907, p. 6 c. 1-2.

2. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, (October 16, 1888).

3. "Another `ghost story'." Human Nature, 5 (March 1871): 141-2. The Rev. G.C. Thrasher, whose residence was the center of the depredations, only once watched "something like a thin shadow, bearing resemblance to a human form" pass by him swiftly and disappear; otherwise, "not a track nor trace" was found, and nothing else was observed.

4. "Coin-tossing ghost batters residents of Battersea house." New York Evening World, January 18, 1928, p. 3 c. 1. Correct quote: "The Robinsons, who are educated people, scout the idea of a supernatural agency. They are completely baffled, however, and declare the phenomena takes place in closed rooms, thus precluding the possibility of the objects being thrown from outside." More details are available in a local newspaper: "Driven from home by ghostly pranks." London Daily Sketch, January 17, 1922, p. 9 c. 1. "Shower of coal and soda." London Daily Sketch, January 18, 1922, p. 2 c. 1. "Very shy spook." London Daily Sketch, January 19, 1922, p. 3 c. 3. "Spook tricks of a spook," and, "Gas-lighter riddle." London Daily Sketch, January 20, 1922, p. 3 c. 4. "Spook riddle new turn." London Daily Sketch, January 21, 1922, p. 1 (photograph). "Spook mystery development." London Daily Sketch, January 21, 1922, p. 2 c. 3. "Haunted house hopes." London Daily Sketch, January 22, 1922, p. 2 c. 1.

5. "Norfolk mystery solved." London Times, September 9, 1919, p. 7 c. 2. This article indicates that Mrs. Williams, (not Mabel Phillipo, the housemaid), "at once raised the alarm," after seeing a glass of water thrown up to the kitchen ceiling. Only Mrs. Williams had been spying through the floorboards, from the room above the kitchen. Correct quote: "...finally the girl, after first denying her hoax, made a clean breast of the matter in the presence of the whole party, and burst into tears." "Rectory oil mystery solved." London Daily News, September 9, 1919, p. 1 c. 4.

6. "Oil in Norfolk rectory." London Times, September 12, 1919, p.7 c.4.

7. "The rectory oil mystery." London Daily News and Leader, September 10, 1919, p.1 c.3. Correct quotes: "...statement, she was not once out of the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Oswald Williams, and was at no time alone in the kitchen...she is the victim...to admit she had been throwing salted water up to the ceiling...`I said I didn't do it.'"

8. "Swanton Novers oil mystery." Norfolk News and Weekly Press, (Norwich), November 8, 1919, p.7 c.4-5. Guy testified that he was present "the whole time," on September 8, and that he had not seen Miss Phillipo slapped nor dragged down the stairs by Mrs. Williams. "In his further evidence Mr. Guy repeatedly emphatically to the Clerk his denial that the girl's face was slapped. If it had happened he must have seen it, for he was standing close by all the time." According to the local newspaper account of the events of September 8, Hugh Guy, his wife Emily, Oswald Williams and his wife Rae, and Arthur Browning were in the house, when the trap was laid for the servant girl. "The Swanton Novers mystery." Norfolk News and Weekly Press, September 13, 1919, p.6 c.1-2. For an earlier report of the phenomena: "A Norfolk oil mystery." Norfolk News and Weekly Press, September 6, 1919, p.5 c.3-4.

9. "Swanton Novers Rectory." London Times, September 13, 1919, p.6 c.4. Guy writes: "After the girl was caught I fetched both her parents, who were very upset at first, and refused to believe that the girl was guilty; but in face of the evidence, and in spite of the girl's denials, they agreed with our views -- expressing great regret, and offering to do all in their power to make good the damage." Correct quote: "It would only take a small quantity to create the mess that was caused."

10. "Oil well in a rectory." London Daily Express, August 30, 1919, p.1 c.6. Correct quotes: "...replied as follows...," and "...exudation...."

11. "Oil haunted rectory." London Daily Express, September 2, 1919, p.5 c.2. For additional reports: "Pure paraffin now." London Daily Express, September 1, 1919, p.5 c.7. "Rectory well of many odours." London Daily Express, September 3, 1919, p.5 c.5. "Oily rectory to be pulled down." London Daily Express, September 5, 1919, p.1 c.4.

12. "Oil puzzle." London Daily News and Leader, September 2, 1919, p.5 c.5. "Rectory oil riddle." London Daily News and Leader, September 3, 1919, p.5 c.3. "Rectory oil mystery solved." London Daily News and Leader, September 9, 1919, p.1 c.4.

13. "Oily rectory." London Daily Mail, September 10, 1919, p.3 c.3.

14. "A supposed poltergeist case and its explanation." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 19 (October 1919): 95-9.

15. "The oil rectory." London Daily Mail, September 3, 1919, p.3 c.3-4.

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