A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book
Edited and Annotated by Mr. X
UNKNOWN, luminous things, or beings have often been seen, sometimes close to this earth, and sometimes high in the sky. It may be that some of them were living things that occasionally come from somewhere else in our existence, but that others were lights on the vessels of explorers, or voyagers, from somewhere else.
From time to time, luminous objects, or beings, have been reported from Brown Mountain, North Carolina. They appear, and then for a long time are not seen, and then they appear again. See the Literary Digest, Nov. 7, 1925.(1) I have other records. The luminosities travel, as if with motions of their own. They are brilliant, globular forms, and move in the sky, with a leisureliness and duration that exclude any explanation in meteoric terms. For many years, there [123/124] had been talk upon this subject, and then, in the year 1922, people of North Carolina, asking for a scientific investigation, were referred to the United States Geological Survey. A geologist was sent from Washington to investigate these things in the sky.
One imagines, but most likely only faintly, the superiority of this geologist from Washington. He heard stories from the natives. He contrasted his own sound principles with the irresponsible gab of the denizens, and went right to the investigation, scientifically. He went out on a road, and saw lights, and made his report. Forty-seven per cent. of the lights that he saw were automobile headlights, 33 per cent. of them were locomotive headlights, 10 per cent. were lights in houses, and 10 per cent. were bush fires. Tot that up, and see that efficiency can't go further. The geologist from Washington, having investigated nothing that he had been sent to investigate, returned to Washington, which also, by the way, is a place where there's plenty to investigate, and I suppose that the people of North Carolina will be no wiser, as to these things in the sky, if some other time they appeal to a United States Fish Commission, or the Department of Labour.
I don't know to just what degree my accusation, in these matters, is of laziness and feeble-mindedness of scientists. Or, instead of accusing, I am simply pointing out everybody's inability seriously to spend time upon something, which, according to his preconceptions, is nonsense. Scientists, in matters of our data, have been like somebody in Europe, before the year 1492, hearing stories of lands to the west, going out on the ocean for an hour or so, in a row-boat, and then saying, whether exactly in these words, or not: "Oh, hell! there ain't no America."
In Knowledge, Sept., 1913, Count de Sibour enjoyed his laziness, or incompetence, which a merciful provi- [124/125] dence, bent upon keeping us human beings reconciled to being human beings, made him think was his own superiority.(2) He told a story of foolish, credulous people, in North Norfolk, England, who, in the winter of 1907-08, believed that a pair of shining things, moving about the fields, could not be explained as he explained them. We are told of a commonplace ending of this alleged mystery: that finally a gamekeeper shot one of these objects, and found that it was a common barn owl, phosphorescent with decayed wood from its nesting place, or with a fungous disease of its feathers. According to other accounts, these things were as brilliant as electric lights. But a phosphorescent owl could not shine with a light like an electric light. So De Sibour described the light as "a pale, yellow glow," such as a phosphorescent owl could shine with.
Science concerns itself with adaptations, and science itself is adaptation. We are reminded of the Rev. Hugh Guy. He could not explain downpours: so he turned downpours into "a small quantity," which he could explain.
De Sibour knew nothing about this subject, from his own experiences. We go to the same records to which he went. Like him, we find just about what we want to find. In the London Times, Dec. 10, 1907, and in following issues, are accounts of these luminous objects, which were flying about the fields of North Norfolk, having been reported by Mr. R.W. Purdy, a well-known writer upon biologic subjects.(3)
Among other attempts to assimilate with the known, or among other expressions of a world-wide antipathy to the finding out of anything new, was the idea that owls are sometime luminous. The idea came first, or the solution of the problem was published first, and then the problem was fitted to the solution. This is [125/126] said to be a favourite method of ratiocination with inmates of a home for the mentally deficient, but I should think that one of these inmates should feel at home anywhere. De Sibour and others fitted in a story that a luminous owl had been shot. I think that at times there may be faintly luminous owls, because I accept that, under some circumstances, almost anything may be luminous. English Mechanic, 10-15 -- case of a woman with a luminous toe.(4)
Shining things, flying like birds, in the fields of North Norfolk continued to be reported. The brilliant things looked electric. When they rested on trees, everything around them was illuminated. Purdy's descriptions are very different from "a pale, yellow glow." Upon the night of December 1st, he saw something that he thought was the lamp of a motor cycle, moving rapidly, in a field, stopping, then rising several yards, moving higher, and then retreating. It moved in various directions. See the Field, Jan. 11, 1908.(5)
De Sibour was uncareful, in his mystery-squelching story, his bobbed story, a story, that forced a mystery to a commonplace ending. No gamekeeper shot a luminous owl, at this time, in North Norfolk.
But somebody did say that he had conventionally solved the mystery. Eastern Daily Press (Norwich), Feb. 7, 1908 -- that, early in the morning of the 5th, Mr. E.S. Cannell, of Lower Hellesdon, saw something shining on a grass bank.(6) According to him, it fluttered up to him, and he found that it was the explanation of a mystery. It was a luminous owl, he said: and, as told by him, he carried it to his home, where it died, "still luminous."
But see the Press of the 8th -- that Mr. Cannell's dead owl had been taken to a taxidermist, who had been interviewed.(7) Of course a phosphorescence of a bird, whether from decayed wood, or feather fungi, [126/127] would be independent of life or death of the bird. Questioned as to whether the body of the owl was luminous or not, the taxidermist said: "I have seen nothing luminous about it."
In zoological journals, one frequently comes upon allusions to these things, or beings, of North Norfolk. No gamekeeper killed one of them, but the story of the gamekeeper who killed a luminous owl is told in these records that are said to be scientific. It is not necessary that a gamekeeper should kill a luminous owl, and so put an end to a mystery. A story that he did, will serve just as well.
The finding, or procuring in some way or another, of the body of an owl, did not put an end to the mystery, except in most of the records, that are said to be scientific. There were at first two lights, and there continued to be two lights. The brilliant things continued to be seen in the fields, flitting about, appearing and disappearing. The last observation findable by me (May 3, 1908) is recorded in the Trans. Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society, 8-550.(8) Purdy records an observation upon the two lights, seen together, more than a month after the date upon which Mr. Cannell said that his owl fluttered right up to him.(9)
Something else was reported, in this region. In the Eastern Daily Press, Jan. 28, 1908, it is said that, at night -- moon bright -- "a dark, globular object, with a structure of some kind upon the side of it, travelling at a great pace," had been seen in the sky, by employees of the Norwich Transportation Company, at Mousehead.(10) "It seemed too large for a kite, and, besides, its movements seemed under control, for it was travelling against the wind."
I am here noting only a few of the many records of unknown, seeming living, luminous things that used [127/128] to be called will-o'-the-wisps. They come and they go, and their reappearances in a small region make me think of other localised repetitions that we have noted.
London Daily Express, Feb. 15, and following issues, 1923 -- brilliant luminous things moving across fields, sometimes high in the air, at Fenny Compton, Warwickshire.(11) They were "intense lights," like automobile headlights. Sometimes these luminous things, or beings, hovered over a farm house. It was a deserted farm house, according to the London Daily News, Feb. 13.(12) About a year later, one of these objects, or whatever they were, returned, and was reported as "a swiftly moving light," by several persons, one of them Miss Olive Knight, a school teacher, of Fenny Compton (London Sunday News, Jan. 27, 1924).(13)
The Earl of Erne tells, in the London Daily Mail, Dec. 24, 1912,
of brilliant luminosities that, from time to time, in a period of seven
or eight years, had been appearing near Lough Erne, Londonderry, Ireland,
"in size and shape very much like a motor-car lamp."(14)
In later issues of the Daily Mail, the Countess of Erne tells of
these things, or creatures, "like motor-car lamps, large and round."(15)
1. "The queer lights on Brown Mountain." Literary Digest, 87 n. 6 (wh.n. 1855; November 7, 1925): 44, 49. Ten per cent of the lights observed by the geologist in 1922 were attributed to "fixt lights," (not only house lights).
2. L. de Sibour. "The existence of luminous birds." Knowledge, n.s., 10 (September 1913): 321-322.
3. T. Digby Pigott. "Luminous owl." London Times, December 14, 1907, p.16 c.5. "A luminous owl?" London Times Weekly Edition, December 20, 1907, p.iv c.4. "Luminous owl." London Times, December 26, 1907, p.2 c.6. T. Digby Pigott. "Luminous owls." London Times, January 9, 1908, p.6 c.3. H.D. Rawnsley. "Luminous birds." London Times, January 14, 1908, p.6 c.2. Oswald Crawford. "Luminous birds." London Times, January 18, 1908, p.7 c.3. "Luminous birds." London Times, January 22, 1908, p.17 c.6.
4. "A luminous toe." English Mechanic, 10 (September 24, 1869): 24.
5. R.J.W.P. "Luminosity of the white owl." Field, 111 (January 11, 1908): 70. c.1. Correct quote: "...lamp of a motor bicycle moving rapidly...."
6. "Luminous owl at Hellesdon." Eastern Daily Press (Norwich), February 7, 1908, p.4 c.7.
7. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press (Norwich), February 8, 1908, p.9 c.5.
8. R.J.W. Purdy. "The occasional luminosity of the white owl (Strix flammea)." Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society, 8, 547-52, at 551-2. The two were observed for half an hour, on March 12, 1908, along the valley between Twyford and Guist.
9. For further correspondence on this subject: H.C. Cooke. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press (Norwich), January 1, 1908, p.6 c.7. John Knowlittle. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press, January 2, 1908, p.3 c.7. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press, January 3, 1908, p.6 c.6-7. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press, January 7, 1908, p.6 c.5-6. W.R. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press, January 8, 1908, p.3 c.5. "Luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press, January 9, 1908, p.6 c.6. C.A. Hamond, and, T.W. Purdy. "The luminous owl." Eastern Daily Press, January 17, 1908, p.8 c.5. W.S. Everitt. "The Hellesdon owl." Eastern Daily Press, February 8, 1908, p.8 c.3.
10. "Airship seen over Norwich." Eastern Daily Press (Norwich), January 29, 1908, p.6 c.5. The object over Mousehold, (not Mousehead), was observed by employees of the Norwich Tramway Company, at Norwich. Correct quotes: "...a dark globular object travelling at a great pace;" "...and there appeared some structure attached to the side of it," and, "It appeared too large for a kite or a small balloon, and, besides, its movements seemed to be under human control...."
11. "Ghost lights." London Daily Express, February 13, 1923, p.7 c.3. "Ghost ray mystery." London Daily Express, February 14, 1923, p.1 c.7. Correct quote: "The light is intense." "When the ghost walks." London Daily Express, February 15, 1923, p.4 c.4. "The farm of spooks." London Daily Express, February 19, 1923, p.7 c.7. "Ox-trot of the spooks." London Daily Express, February 20, 1923, p.7 c.7. "The ghost hunters." London Daily Express, February 21, 1923, p.1. c.7 & p.5 c.3. "Midnight ghost thunder." London Daily Express, February 22, 1923, p.3 c.2. "Bewitched farm." London Daily Express, February 26, 1923, p.3 c.1.
12. "Village ghost scare." London Daily News, February 13, 1923, p.5 c.3.
13. London Sunday News, (January 27, 1924).
14. "The yellow light." London Daily Mail, December 24, 1912, p.5 c.5. The period given was six or seven years, (not seven or eight); and, Lough Erne is located in Co. Fermanagh, (not at Londonderry). Correct quote: "...very much the same as a motor-car lamp."
15. "Chase of the will-o'-the-wisp." London Daily Mail, December 26, 1912, p.3 c.6. "Lake lights mystery." London Daily Mail, January 1, 1913, p.3 c.6. Elliot Mackirdy. "A mysterious light." London Daily Mail, January 2, 1913, p.4 c.5. James M. Monteith Erskine. "Will-o'-the-wisps." London Daily Mail, January 3, 1913, p.3 c.2.
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