A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





THERE was the case of Mrs. Guppy, June 3, 1871, for instance. As the spiritualists tell it, she shot away from her home, in London. Several miles away, she flopped down through a ceiling. Mrs. Guppy weighed 200 pounds. But Mrs. Guppy was a medium. She was a prominent medium, and was well-investigated, and was, or therefore was, caught playing tricks, several times. I prefer to look elsewhere for yarns, or veritable accounts.

In the New York World, March 25, 1883, is told a story of a girl, the daughter of Jesse Miller, of Greenville Township, Somerset Co., Pa., who was transported several times, our of the house, into the front yard.(1) But it was her belief that apparitions were around, and most of our data are not concerned with ghostly appearances. [215/216]

As told in the Cambria Daily Leader (Swansea, Wales), July 7, 1887, poltergeist phenomena were occurring in the home of the Rev. David Phillips, of Swansea.(2) Sometime I am going to try to find out why so many of these disturbances have occurred in the homes of clergymen. Why have so many supposed spirits of the departed tormented clergymen? Perhaps going to heaven makes people atheists. However, I do not know that poltergeists can be considered spirits. It may be that many of our records -- see phenomena of the winter of 1904-05 -- relate not to occult beings, as independent creatures, but to projected mentalities of living human beings. A woman of Mr. Phillips' household had been transported over a wall, and toward a brook, where she arrived in a "semi-conscious condition." I note that, not in agreement with our notions upon teleportation, it was this woman's belief that an apparition had carried her. Mr. Phillips and his son, a Cambridge graduate, who had probably been brought up to believe in nothing of the kind, asserted that this transportation had occurred.

A great deal has been written upon the phenomena, or the alleged phenomena, of the Pansini boys. Their story is told in the Occult Review, 4-17.(3) These boys, one aged seven, and the other aged eight, were sons of Mauro Pansini, an architect, of Bari, Italy. Their experiences, or their alleged experiences, began in the year 1901. "One day Alfredo and his brother were at Ruvo at 9 a.m., and at 9.30 a.m., they were found in the Capuchin Convent at Malfatti thirty miles away." In the Annals of Psychic Science, it is said that, about the last of January, 1901, the Pansini boys were transported from Ruvo to a relative's house, in Trani, arriving in a state of profound hypnosis.(4) In volumes 2 and 3, of the Annals, a discussion of these boys continues.(5) [216/217]

But I haven't told the damnedest. Oh, well, we'll have the damnedest. A Mediterranean harbour -- a man in a boat -- and, like Mrs. Guppy, down the Pansini boys flop into his boat.(6)

Into many minds flops this idea -- "It isn't so much the preposterousness of this story alone; but, if we'd accept this, what else that would threaten all conventional teachings, would we be led into?"

I can't help arguing. I have cut down smoking some, and our home brew goes flat so often that at times I have gone without much of that, but I can't stop arguing. It has no meaning, but I argue that much that is commonplace to-day was once upon a time denounced from pulpits as the way to hell. For all I know, a couple of kids flopped into a boat. I don't feel hellish about it. The one thought that I do so little to develop is that if there be something that did switch the Pansini boys from place to place, it may be put to work, and instead of wharves and railroad stations, there may be built departing and receiving points for commodities, which may be "wished," as it were, from California to London. Let stockholders of transportation companies get a hold of this idea, and, if I'm not satisfied with having merely science and religion against me, I'll have opposition enough to suit anybody who can get along without popularity. Just at present, however, I am not selling short on New York Central.

Has anybody, walking along a street, casually looking at someone ahead of him, ever seen a human being vanish? It is a common experience to think that one has seen something like this occur. Another common experience, which has been theorised upon by James and other psychologists, is to be somewhere and have an uncanny feeling that, though so far as one knows, one was never there before, one, nevertheless, was at some time there. It may be that before, one, nevertheless, was at some time there. It may be that many persons have [217/218] been teleported back and forth, without knowing it, or without having more than the dimmest impression of the experience.

But about walking along a street, and having a feeling that somebody has vanished -- there have been definitely reported observations upon disappearances. In these instances, the explanation has been that someone had seen a ghost, and that the ghost had vanished. We shall have accounts that look as if observers have seen, not ghosts, but beings like themselves, vanish.

In the Jour. Soc. Psychical Research, 11-189, is published a story by a painter, named John Osborne, living at 5 Hurst Street, Oxford, England.(7) He said that, about the last of March, 1895, he was walking along a road to Wolverton, when he heard sounds of a horse's hoofs behind him, and, turning, saw a man on horseback, having difficulty in controlling his horse. He scurried out of the way, and, when safe, looked again. Horse and man had vanished. Then came the conventionalisation, even though it would be widely regarded as an unorthodox conventionalisation. It is said that, the week before, a man on horseback had been killed in this part of the road, and that the horse, badly injured, had been shot. Usually there is no use searching for anything further in a publication in which a conventionalisation has appeared, but this instance is an exception. In the June number of the Journal, there is a correction: it is said that the accident with which this disappearance had been associated, had not occurred a week before, but years before, and was altogether different, having been an accident to a farmer in a hayfield.(8) Several persons investigated, among them a magistrate, who wrote that he was convinced at least that Osborne thought that he had seen the "figures" disappear.

Well, then, why didn't I get a Wolverton news- [218/219] paper, and even though it would be called "a mere coincidence" find noted the disappearance of somebody who had been last seen in horseback? I forget now why I did not, but I think it was because no Wolverton newspaper was obtainable. I haven't the item, but with all our experience with explanations, I should have the knack, myself, by this time. I think of a man on horseback, who was suddenly transported, but only a few miles. If, when he got back, he was a wise man on horseback, he got off the back of his horse and said nothing about this. Our general notion is that he would have been unconscious of the experience. Perhaps, if Osborne had lingered, he would have seen this man and his horse re-appear.

In the Jour. S.P.R., 4-50, is a story of a young woman, who was more than casually looked at, near the foot of Milton Hill, Massachusetts.(9) She vanished. She was seen several times. So this is a story of a place that was "haunted," and the "figure" was supposed to be a "ghost." For a wonder there was no story of a murder that was committed, years before, near this hill. For all I know, some young woman, living in Boston, New York, some distant place, may have had teleportative affinity with an appearing point, or terminal of an occult current, at this hill, having been translated back and forth several times, without knowing it, or without being able to remember, or remembering dimly, thinking that it was a dream. Perhaps, some time happening to pass this hill, by more commonplace means of transportation. she would have a sense of uncanny familiarity, but would be unable to explain, having no active consciousness of having ever been there before. Psychologists have noted the phenomenon of a repeating scene in different dreams, or supposed dreams. The phenomenon may not be of fancifulness, but of dim impressions of teleportations to one per- [219/220] sisting appearing point. A naïve, little idea of mine is that so many ghosts in white garments have been reported, because persons, while asleep, have been teleported in their nightclothes.

In Real Ghost Stories, published by the Review of Reviews (English), a correspondent tells of having seen a woman in a field, vanish.(10) Like others who have had this experience, he does not say that he saw a woman vanish, but that he saw "the figure of a woman" vanish. He inquired for some occurrence by which to explain, and learned that somewhere in the neighbourhood a woman had been murdered, and that her "figure" had haunted the place. In the Proc. S.P.R., 10-98, someone tells of having walked, with her father, upon a sandy place, near Aldershot, hearing footsteps, turning, seeing a soldier.(11) The footsteps suddenly ceased to be heard. She turned again to look. The soldier had vanished. This correspondent writes that her father never would believe anything except that it was "a real soldier, who somehow got away." In the Occult Review, 23-168, a correspondent writes that, while walking in a street in Twickenham, he saw, walking toward him, "a figure of a man."(12) The "figure" turned and vanished, or "disappeared through a garden wall." This correspondent failed to learn of a murder that had been committed in the neighbourhood, but, influenced by the familiar convention, mentions that there was an old duelling ground nearby.

The most circumstantial of the stories appears in the Jour. S.P.R., Nov., 1893. Miss M. Scott writes that, upon the afternoon of the 7th of May, 1893, between five and six o'clock, she was walking upon a road, near St. Boswells (Roxburghshire) when she saw ahead of her a tall man, who, dressed in black, looked like a clergyman.(13) There is no assertion that this "figure" looked ghostly, and there is a little cir- [220/221] cumstance that indicates that the "figure," or the living being, was looked at more than casually. Having considerable distance to go, Miss Scott started to run: but it occurred to her that it would not be dignified to run past this stranger: so she stood still, to let the distance increase. She saw the clerical-looking man turn a corner of the road, the upper part of his body visible above a low hedge -- "he was gone in an instant." Not far beyond this vanishing point, Miss Scott met her sister, who was standing in the road, looking about her in bewilderment, exclaiming that she had seen a man disappear, while she was looking at him.

One of our present thoughts is that teleportations, back and forth, often occur. There are many records, some of which may not be yarns, or may not be altogether yarns, of persons who have been seen far from where, so far as those persons, themselves knew, they were, at the time. See instances in Gurney's Phantasms of the Living.(14) The idea is that human beings have been switched away somewhere, and soon switched back, and have been seen, away somewhere, and have been explained to the perceivers, as their own hallucinations.

It may be that I can record a case of a man who was about to disappear, but was dragged back, in time, from a disappearing point. I think of the children of Clavaux, who were about to be taken into a vortex, but were dragged back by their parents, who were not susceptible. Data look as if there may have been a transporting current through so-called, solid substance, which "opened" and then "closed," with no sign of a yawning. It may be that what we call substance is as much open as closed. I accept, myself, that there is only relative substance, so far as the phenomenal is concerned: so I can't take much interest in what the physicists are doing, trying to find out what mere phenomenal substance really, or finally is. It isn't, or [221/222] it is intermediate to existence and non-existence. If there is an organic existence that is more than relative, though not absolute, it may be The Substantial, but its iron and lead, and gold are only phenomenal. The greatest seeming security is only a temporary disguise of the abysmal. All of us are skating over thin existence.

Early in the morning of Dec. 9th, 1873. Thomas B. Cumpston and his wife, "who occupied good position in Leeds," were arrested in a railroad station, in Bristol, England, charged with disorderly conduct, both of them in their nightclothes, Cumpston having fired a pistol. See the London Times, Dec. 11, 1873.(15) Cumpston excitedly told that he and his wife had arrived the day before, from Leeds, and had taken a room in a Bristol hotel, and that, early in the morning, the floor had "opened," and that, as he was about to be dragged into the "opening," his wife had saved him, both of them so terrified that they jumped out the window, running to the railroad station, looking for a policeman. In the Bristol Daily Post, Dec. 10, is an account of proceedings in the police court.(16) Cumpston's excitement was still so intense that he could not clearly express himself. Mrs. Cumpston testified that, early in the evening, both of them had been alarmed by loud sounds, but that they had been reassured by the landlady. At three or four in the morning the sounds were heard again. They jumped out on the floor, which was felt giving away under them. Voices repeating their exclamations were heard, or their own voices echoed strangely. Then, according to what she saw, or thought she saw, the floor opened wide. Her husband was falling into this opening when she dragged him back.

The landlady was called, and she testified that sounds had been heard, but she was unable clearly to [222/223] describe them. Policemen said that they had gone to the place, the Victoria Hotel, and had examined the room, finding nothing to justify the extraordinary conduct of the Cumpstons. They suggested that the matter was a case of collective hallucination. I note that there was no suggestion of intoxication. The Cumpstons, an elderly couple, were discharged in the custody of somebody who had come from Leeds.

Collective hallucination is another of the dismissal-labels by which conventionalists shirk thinking. Here is another illustration of the lack of standards, in phenomenal existence, by which to judge anything. One man's story, if not to the liking of conventionalists, is not accepted, because it is not supported; and then testimony by more than one is not accepted, if undesirable, because that is collective hallucination. In this kind of jurisprudence, there is no hope for any kind of testimony against the beliefs in which conventional scientists agree. Among their amusing disregards is that of overlooking that, quite as truly may their own agreements be collective delusions.

The loud sounds in the Cumpstons case suggest something of correlation with poltergeist phenomena. Spiritualists have persistently called poltergeist-sounds "raps." Sometimes they are raps, but often they are detonations that shake buildings. People up and down a street have been kept awake by them. Maybe existences open and shut noisily. From my own experience I don't know that there ever has been a poltergeist. At least, I have had only one experience, and that is explainable several ways. But what would be the use of writing a book about things that we think we're sure of? -- unless, like a good deal in this book, to show the deuce we are.

In the Sunday Express (London), Dec. 5, 1926, Lieut.-Colonel Foley tells of an occurrence that re- [223/224] sembles the Cumpstons' experience.(17) A room in Corpus Christi College (Cambridge University) was, in October, 1904, said to be haunted. Four students, of whom Shane Leslie, the writer, was one, investigated. Largerly the story is of an invisible, but tangible, thing, or being, which sometimes became dimly visible, inhabiting, or visiting, this room.(18) The four students went into the room, and one of them was dragged away from the others. His companions grabbed him. "Like some powerful magnet" something was drawing him out of their grasp. They pulled against it, and fought in a frenzy, and they won the tug. Other students, outside the room, were shouting. Undergraduates came running down the stairs, and, crowding into the room, wrecked it, even tearing out the oak panelling. Appended to the story, in the Sunday Express, is a statement by Mr. Leslie -- "Colonel Foley has given an accurate account of the occurrence." [224]

1. "Worried by a witch." New York World, March 25, 1883, p.9 c.6.

2. "The manifestations of spiritualism at Swansea." Cambria Daily Leader (Swansea), July 7, 1887, p.3 c.5. For earlier reports: "Alleged manifestations of spiritualism at Swansea." Cambria Daily Leader, July 5, 1887, p.36 c.2-3. "The spiritualistic manifestations at Swansea." Cambria Daily Leader, July 6, 1887, p.3 c.2.

3. Franz Hartmann. "Magical metathesis." Occult Review, 4 (July 1906): 17-25. In 1901, Alfredo was seven, and Paolo was eight. Correct quote: "One day the lad Alfredo, with his brother Paolo, aged eight years, were at Ruvo at 9 a.m., and at 9.30 they were found at the Capucine convent at Malfatti (some thrity miles away)."

4. "The strange voyage of two hypnotized children." Annals of Psychical Science, 1, 57-8. Although the Pansini moved to Ruvo, in 1901, and, a few days afterward, poltergeist phenomena and trances affected Alfredo Pansini, the travels did not begin until 1904.

5. "Strange adventures of two children." Annals of psychical science, 2, 399-401. "The two mediumistic children at Ruvo." Annals of Psychical Science, 3, 131-3.

6. The boys awoke on the boat but claimed that they did not know how they had arrived there.

7. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 11 (February 1904): 187-191, at 189.

8. "Correction." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 11 (June 1904): 252-5.

9. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 4, 50.

10. William Thomas Stead. Real Ghost Stories. London: G. Richards, 1897, 190-2, c.v. "A ghost on the Hambleton Hills." The Christmas issue of the British Review of Reviews, in 1891, was not part of the regular series of issues; its popularity was realized when all of its copies were sold in a few days; thus, Stead's book is a reprint of a serial issue, which is unlikely to be found in library collections.

11. "Professor Sidgwick's Committee." "Report on the census of hallucinations." Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 10 (1894): 25-422, at 98, c.v. "From Miss E.R.B." No mention is made of the cessation of hearing foot-steps, rather: "...when we missed him, and turning could not see him, so we went back to look for him, but he was nowhere to be seen." Correct quote: "...a real soldier, that somehow got away.."

12. Montague J. Summers. "Two apparitions." Occult Review, 23 (April 1916): 238-9. Correct quotes: "...the figure...," "a friend of mine and his wife...," (not the correspondent); and, "...the figure turn off the path and walk right through the garden wall, which offered no obstacle to its passage," (opposite Twickenham Ferry).

13. "G. 242. Collective apparition." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 6 (November 1893): 146-50. It was the sister, Louisa Scott, who believed the vanishing man to be dressed like a clergyman, during the encounter on May 7, 1892, (not 1893); and, this was later confirmed by Miss M.W. Scott, who saw the apparition again on June 12, 1893. Along the same road, she perceived the same figure and stated: "...hoping to get a nearer inspection, running in close pursuit; but here the strangest part of it all is that, though he was apparently walking, I could never get any closer than within a few yards, for in but a moment he seemed to float or skim away." The figure twice stopped to gaze at Miss Scott "finally fading from view at his usual spot by the hedge to the right." Having observed the figure more closely, she adds: "The man is certainly dressed as a clergyman of the last century...."

14. Edmund Gurney, Frederick W.H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. Phantasms of the Living. 1886. Abridged ed. Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, ed. New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1918.

15. "Extraordinary hallucination." London Times, December 11, 1873, p.11 c.5.

16. "Extraordinary occurrence at a Bristol hotel." Bristol Daily Post, December 10, 1873, p.3 c.2. Correct quote: "They were people who occupied a very good position." The Cumpstons were described as an elderly couple by Fort but were described herein as a young couple. Mr. Butt was from Gloucester, not from Leeds, and took charged of the couple and Mr. Cumpston's weapons.

17. Cyril Foley. "The ghost of Corpus Christi." London Sunday Express, December 5, 1926, p.11 c.3-5. One student performing an exorcism had two other students support him, (one of whom was Leslie Shane); soon after, the exorcist said, "The thing is pulling me...," whereupon a tug-of-war ensued, which ended by their pushing the exorcist toward the "thing" until crashing into a panelled wall.

18. Fort marked "X" in the margin next to this sentence to note the error in "Largerly", instead of largely.

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