A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book
Edited and Annotated by Mr. X
HERE is the shortest story that I know of:
St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Nov. 2, 1886 -- a girl stepped from her home, to go to a spring.(1)
Still, though we shall have details and comments, I know of many occurrences of which, so far as definitely finding out anything is concerned, no more than that can be told.
After all, I can tell a shorter story:
He walked around the horses.
Upon November 25th, 1809, Benjamin Bathurst, returning from Vienna, where, at the Court of the Emperor Francis, he had been representing the British Government, was in the small town of Perleberg, Germany. In the presence of his valet and his secretary, he was examining horses, which were to carry [198/199] his coach over more of his journey back to England. Under observation, he walked around to the other side of the horses. He vanished, For details, see the Cornhill Magazine, 55-279.(2)
I have not told much of the disappearance of Benjamin Bathurst, because so many accounts are easily available; but the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, in Historic Oddities, tells of a circumstance that is not findable in all other accounts that I have read.(3) It is that, upon Jan. 23rd, 1810, in a Hamburg newspaper, appeared a paragraph, telling that Bathurst was safe and well, his friends having received a letter from him. But his friends had received no such letter. Wondering as to the origin of this paragraph, and the reason for it, Baring-Gould asks: "Was it inserted to make the authorities abandon the search?" Was it an inquiry-stopper? is the way I word this. Some writers have thought that, for political reasons, at the instigation of Napoleon Bonaparte, Bathurst was abducted. Bonaparte went to the trouble to deny that this was so.
In the Literary Digest, 46-922, it is said that the police records of London show that 170,472 persons mysteriously disappeared, in the years 1907-13, and that nothing had been found out in 3,260 of the cases.(4) Anybody who has an impression of 167,212 cases, all explained ordinarily, may not think much of 3,260 cases left over. But some of us, now educated somewhat, or at least temporarily, by experience of pseudo-endings of mysteries, will question that the 167,212 cases were so satisfactorily explained, except relatively to not very exacting satisfactions. If it's a matter of re-marriage and collection of insurance, half a dozen bereft ones may "identify" a body found in a river, or cast up by the sea. They settle among themselves which shall marry again and collect. Naturally enough, wherever Cupid is, cupidity is not far away, [199/200] and both haunt morgues. Whether our astronomical and geological and biological knowledge is almost final, or not, we know very little about ourselves. Some of us can't, or apparently can't, tell a husband or a wife from somebody else's husband or wife. About the year 1920, in New York City, a woman, whose husband was in an insane asylum, was visited by a man, who greeted her fondly, telling her that he was her husband. She made everything cheerful and home-like for him. Some time later, she learned that her husband was still in the asylum. She seemed resentful about this, and got the other man arrested. Cynical persons will think of various explanations. I have notes upon another case. A man appeared and argued with a woman, whose husband was a sailor, that he was her husband. "Go away!" said she: "you are darker than my husband." "Ah!" said he: "I have had yellow fever." So she listened to reason, but something went wrong, and the case got into a police court.
Because of the flux and the variation of all supposed things, I typify all judgments in all matters -- in trifles and in scientific questions that are thought to be of utmost importance -- with this story of the woman and her uncertainties. If a husband, or a datum, would stay put, a mind, if that could be kept from varying, might be said to know him, or it, after a fashion.
There have been many mysterious disappearances of human beings. Here the situation is what it is in every other subject, or so-called subject, if there is no subject that has independent existence. Only those who know little of a matter can have a clear and definite opinion upon it. Whole civilizations have vanished. There are statistical reasons for doubting that five sixths of the Tribes of Israel once upon a time disappeared, but that is tradition, anyway. Historians tell us what became of the Jamestown Colonists, but what [200/201] becomes of historians? Persons as well-known as Bathurst have disappeared. As to the disappearance of Conant, one of the editors of Harper's Weekly, see the New York newspapers beginning with Jan. 29th, 1885. Nothing was found out. For other instances of well-known persons who have disappeared, see the New York Tribune, March 29, 1903, and Harper's Magazine, 38-504.(5)
Chicago Tribune, Jan. 5, 1900 -- "Sherman Church, a young man employed in the Augusta Mills (Battle Creek, Mich.) has disappeared.(6) He was seated in the Company's office, when he arose and ran into the mill. He has not been seen since. The mill has been almost taken to pieces by the searchers, and the river, woods, and country have been scoured, but to no avail. Nobody saw Church leave town, nor is there any known reason for his doing so."
Because of the merging of everything -- without entity, identity, or soul of its own -- into everything else, anything, or what is called anything, can somewhat reasonably be argued any way. Anybody who feels so inclined will be as well justified, as anybody can be, in arguing about all mysterious disappearances, in terms of Mrs. Christie's mystery. In December, 1926, Mrs. Agatha Christie, a writer of detective stories, disappeared from her home in England. The newspapers, noting her occupation, commented good-naturedly, until it was reported that, in searching moors and forests and villages and towns, the police had spent 10,000. Then the frugal Englishmen became aware of the moral aspect of the affair, and they were severe. Mrs. Christie was found. But, according to a final estimate, the police had spent only 25. Then everybody forgot the moral aspect and was good-natured again. It was told that Mrs. Christie, in a hotel, somewhere else in England, having been keen [201/202] about getting newspapers every morning, had appeared at the hotel, telling fictions about her identity. She was taken home by her husband. She remembered nobody, her friends said, but, thinking this over, they then said that she remembered nobody but her husband. Several weeks later, a new book by Mrs. Christie was published. It seems to have been a somewhat readable book, and was pleasantly reviewed by frugal Englishmen, who are very good-humoured and tolerant, unless put to such expense as to make them severe and moral.(7)
Late in the year 1913, Ambrose Bierce disappeared. It was explained. He had gone to Mexico, to join Villa, and had been killed at the Battle of Torreon. New York Times, April 3, 1915 -- mystery of Bierce's disappearance solved -- he was upon Lord Kitchener's staff, in the recruiting service, in London.(8) New York Times, April 7, 1915 -- no knowledge of Bierce, at the War Office, London.(9) In March, 1920, newspapers published a dispatch from San Francisco, telling that Bierce had gone to Mexico, to fight against Villa, and had been shot. It would be a fitting climax to the life of this broad-minded writer to be widely at work in London, while in Mexico, and to be killed while fighting for and against Villa. But that is pretty active for one, who, as Joseph Lewis French points out, in Pearson's Magazine, 39-245, was incurably an invalid and was more than seventy years old.(10) For the latest, at this writing, see the New York Times, Jan. 1, 1928.(11) Here there is an understandable explanation of the disappearance. It is that Bierce had criticised Villa.
London Daily Chronicle, Sept. 29, 1920 -- a young man, evening of September 27th, walking in a street, in South London --(12)
Magic -- houses melting -- meadows appearing --
Or there was a gap between perceptions.
However he got there, he was upon a road, with [202/203] fields around. The young man was frightened. He might be far away, and unable to return. It was upon a road, near Dunstable, 30 miles from London, and a policeman finding him exclaiming, pacing back and forth, took him to the station house. Here he recovered sufficiently to tell that he was Leonard Wadham, of Walworth, South London, where he was employed by the Ministry of Health. As to how he got to this point near Dunstable, he could tell nothing. Of a swish, nobody could tell much.
Early in the year 1905, there were many mysterious disappearances in England. See back to the chapter upon the extraordinary phenomena of this period. Here we have an account of one of them, which was equally a mysterious appearance. I take it from the Liverpool Echo, Feb. 8.(13) Upon the 4th of February, a woman was found, lying unconscious, upon the shore, near Douglas, Isle of Man. No one had seen her before, but it was supposed that she had arrived by the boat from England, upon the 3rd of February. She died, without regaining consciousness. There were many residents of the island, who had, in their various callings, awaited the arrival of this boat, and had, in their various interests, looked more than casually at the passengers: but 200 Manxmen visited the mortuary, and not one of them could say that he had seen this woman arrive. The news was published, and then came an inquiry from Wigan, Lancashire. A woman had "mysteriously disappeared" in Wigan, and by her description the body found near Douglas was identified as that of Mrs. Alice Hilton, aged 66, of Wigan. As told, in the Wigan Observer, somebody said that Mrs. Hilton had been last seen, upon Feb. 2nd, on her way to Ince, near Wigan, to visit a cousin.(14) But nobody saw her leave Wigan, and she had no known troubles. According to the verdict, at the inquest, Mrs. Hilton [203/204] had not been drowned, but had died of the effects of cold and exposure upon her heart.
I wonder whether Ambrose Bierce ever experimented with self-teleportation. Three of his short stories are of "mysterious disappearances."(15) He must have been uncommonly interested to repeat so.
Upon Sept. 4th, 1905, London newspapers reported the disappearance, at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, Ireland, of Prof. George A. Simcox, Senior Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford.(16) Upon August 28th, Prof. Simcox had gone for a walk, and had not returned. There was a search, but nothing was learned.
Several times before, Prof. Simcox had attracted attention by disappearing.
The disappearance at Ballycastle was final. 
1. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, (November 2, 1886), (Not found here).
2. "The disappearance of Bathurst." Cornhill Magazine, n.s., 8 (March 1887): 279-91.
3. Sabine Baring-Gould. Historic Oddities. London: Metheun Books, 1884, 1-25. Correct quote: "Was it designed to cause the authorities to relax their efforts to probe the mystery, and perhaps to abandon them altogether?"
4. "Why people disappear." Literary Digest, 46 (n.16; wh.n.1200, April 19, 1913): 922-4. The figures given are for persons "reported missing."
5. "Mysterious disappearances." New York Tribune, March 29, 1903, s. 2 p. 2 c. 6. "Missing." Harper's Magazine, 38 (March 1869): 504-11.
6. Chicago Daily Tribune, (January 5, 1900).
7. In 1926, from December 3, when she left her home at Sunningdale by car, until December 14, when her husband met her at the Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Agatha Christie effectively disappeared under the guise of "Mrs. Theresa Neele," from Cape Town, (which was how she registered when checking into the hotel on December 4). The manager of the hotel said that, when her husband met her: "She only seemed to regard him as an acquaintance, whose identity she could not quite fix." Upon her return home, she did not recognize her daughter. Her "loss of memory" was soon restored, but her memory of the period of her disappeance and her assumed identuty was never completely recovered. Janet Morgan. Agatha Christie: A Biography. London: Collins, 1984, 135-61.
8. "Hears Major Bierce is with Kitchener." New York Times, April 3, 1915, p.1.
9. "No trace of Bierce." New York Times, April 7, 1915, p.4.
10. Joseph Lewis French. "Ambrose Bierce." Pearson's Magazine (American edition), 39 (August 1918): 245-7. Bierce was suffering from asthma.
11. "Ambrose Bierce's last tilt with Mars." New York Times, January 1, 1928, Mag. pp.6, 13.
12. "Lost his memory." London Daily Chronicle, September 29, 1920, p.3 c.5.
13. "The Douglas mystery." Liverpool Echo, February 8, 1905, p.4 c.6. For earlier reports: "Tragedy on Douglas shore." Liverpool Echo, February 4, 1905, p.5 c.3. "The Douglas Beach mystery." Liverpool Echo, February 6, 1905, p.7 c.4.
14. "A mystery cleared." Wigan Observer and District Advertiser, February 4, 1905, p.8 c.4. "A mystery cleared," and "Resumed inquest." Wigan Observer and District Advertiser, February 10, 1905, p.6 c.3.
15. These three short stories are: "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field," "An Unfinished Race," and, "Charles Ashmore's Trail." To these should be added: "At Old Man Eckert's." Ambrose Bierce. Can Such Things Be? Vol. 3 of The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce. New York: Gordian Press, 1966; 389-392, 413-27.
16. "Ireland." London Times, September 4, 1905, p.4 c.2.
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