A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X







EMISSIONS of arms -- the bubbling of faces, at crevices -- fire and smoke and a lava of naked beings. Out of a crater, discharges of bare bodies boiled into fantastic formations --

Or -- five o'clock, morning of Dec. 28, 1908 -- violent shocks in Sicily. The city of Messina fell in a heap, which caught fire. It is the custom of Sicilians to sleep without nightclothes, and from this crater of blazing wreckage came an eruption of naked beings. Thick clouds of them scudded into thin vapours.

The earth quaked at Messina, and torrential rain fell. According to Nature, Dec. 31, 1908, a fall of meteorites had been reported in Spain, a few days before the quake.(1) According to the wisemen of our more or less savage tribes, the deluge at Messina, at the time of this quake, fell only by coincidence. No [313/314] wisemen would mention the fall of meteorites, as having any relation.

There were, at the time, world-wide disturbances, or rather, disturbances, along a zone of this earth -- Asia Minor, Greece, Sicily, Spain, Canary Islands, Mexico. But all wisemen who wrote upon this subject clipped off everything else, and wrote that there had been a subsidence of land in Sicily. It is the same old local explanation. Scientists and priests are unlike in some respects. but they are about equally parochial.

Dec. 3rd, 1887 -- from a plinth of ruins, an obelisk of woe sounded to the sky.

It was at Roggiano, Italy, 900 houses were thrown down by an earthquake. The wail that went up from the ruins continued long before individual cries could be distinguished. Then the column of woe shattered into screams and prayers.

The survivors said that they had seen fires in the heavens. In Cosmos, n.s., 69-422, we are told that Prof. Agamennone had investigated these reported celestial blazes.(2) But they were new lights upon old explanations. A blazing sky could have nothing to do with a local, geological disturbance. The orthodox explanation was that a stratum of rocks had slipped. What could the slip of rocks have to do with sky-fires? We are told that the Professor had reduced all alleged witnesses of the blaze in the heavens to one, who had told about it, "with little seriousness." What had suggested levity to him, as to scenes of ruination and slaughter, was not enquired into: but the story is recorded as a jest, and it may be all the more subtle, because the fun of it is not obvious.

About 6 a.m., Feb. 23, 1887, at Genoa, Italy, burst a dam of conventional securities. There was a flood of human beings. An earthquake cast thousands of people into the streets. The sky was afire. There was a pour [314/315] to get out of town. It was a rush in a glare. If, at the time of a forest fire, a dam should burst, thousands of logs, leaping red in the glare, would be like this torrent of human forms under a fiery sky. At other places along the Riviera, the quake was severe. At other places was made this statement that orthodox science will not admit -- that the sky was afire. See Pop. Sci. News, 21-58.(3) It will not be admitted, or it is said to be merely a coincidence. See L'Astronomie, 1887, p. 137 -- that at Apt (Vaucluse) a fiery appearance had been seen, and that then had come a great light, like a Bengal fire -- "without doubt coincidences."(4)

The 16th of August, 1906 -- and suddenly people, living along the road to Valparaiso, Chile, lost sight of the city. There had come "a terrible darkness." With it came an earthquake. The splitting of ground, and the roar of falling houses -- intensest darkness -- and then a voice in this chaos. It was a scream. People along the road heard it approaching.

Chile lit up. Under a flaming sky, the people of Valparaiso were running from the smashing city -- people as red as flames, under the glare in the heavens: screaming and falling, and leaping over the bodies of the fallen -- an eruption of spurting forms that leaped and were extinguished. This reddened gush from Valparaiso -- rising, falling shapes -- brief faces and momentary arms -- it was like looking at vast flames and imagining that spurts of them were really living beings.

In Nature, 50-990, it is said the 136 reports upon illuminations in the sky, at Valparaiso, had been examined by Count de Ballore, the seismologist.(5) At one stroke, he bobbed 98 of them, saying that they were indefinite. He said that the remaining 38 reports were more or less explicit, but came from a region where at the time, a deluge was falling. He clipped these, too. [315/316] For a wonder there was an objection: a writer in Scientific American, 107-67, pointed out that De Ballore so dismissed the subject, without enquiring into the possibility that the quake and the deluge were related.(6)

Had he admitted the possibility of relationship, dogma would have slipped upon dogma, and upon the face of this earth there would have been a subsidence of some ignorance.

"The lights that were seen in the sky," said De Ballore, "were very likely only searchlights from warships."

"The whole sky seemed afire" (Scientific American, 106-464).(7) In Symons' Met. Mag., 41-226, William Gaw, of Santiago, describing the blazing heavens, writes that it seemed as if the sober laws of physics had revolted.(8)

"Or," said De Ballore, "the people may have seen lights from tram-cars."

It does not matter how preposterous some of my own notions are going to seem. They cannot be more out of accordance with events upon this earth than is such an attribution of the blazing sky of a nation to searchlights or to lamps in tram-cars. If I should write that the stars are probably between forty and fifty miles away, I'd be not much more of a trimmer of circumstances than is such a barber, who clips are said to be scientific. Maybe they are scientific. Though, mostly, barbers are artists, some of them do consider themselves scientific.

Upon July 11th, 1856, the sun rose red in the Caucasus. See Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (London), Sept. 21, 1856.(9) At five o'clock in the afternoon, at places where the sun was still shining red, there was an earthquake that destroyed 300 houses. There was another earthquake, upon the 23rd of July. Two days later, [316/317] black water fell from the sky, in Ireland (News of the World, Aug. 10, 1856).(10)

And what has any part of that to do with any other part of that? If a red-haired girl, or a red shirt on a clothes-line, had been noted here, there would be, according to orthodox science, no more relation with earthquakes than there could be between a red sun and an earthquake. Black water falling in Ireland -- somebody spilling ink in Kansas.

The moon turned green.

For two observations upon a green moon that was seen at a place where an earthquake was going to occur, see the Englishman (Calcutta), July 14 and 21, 1897.(11) One of the observations was six days before, and the other one before, the quake in Assam, June 12, 1897. It was a time of drought and famine, in India.

The seismologist knows of no relation between a green moon, or a red sun, and an earthquake, but the vulcanologist knows of many instances in which the moon and the sun have been so coloured by the volcanic dusts and smokes that are known as "dry fogs." The look is that "dry fogs," from a volcanic eruption, came to the sky of India, one of them six days before, and the other one day before, a catastrophe.

The mystery is this:

If there had been a volcanic eruption somewhere else, why not volcanic appearances in Italy, or Patagonia, or California -- why at this place where an earthquake was going to occur?


Upon the 11th of June, in Upper Assam, where, upon the 12th, the centre of the earthquake was going to be, torrents fell suddenly from the sky. A correspondent to the Englishman, July 14, writes that this deluge was of a monstrousness that exceeded that of [317/318] any other downpour that he had ever seen in Assam, or anywhere else.

At 5.15 p.m., 12th of June, there was a sight at Shillong that would be a marvel to the more innocent of the text-book writers. I tell so much of clipping and bobbing and shearing, but also there may be considerable innocence. Not a cloud in the sky--out of clear blue vacancy, dumped a lake. This drop of a bulk of water, or transportation, or teleportation, of it, was at the time of one of the most catastrophic of earthquakes, centring farther north in Assam.

This earthquake was an earth-storm. Hills were waves, and houses cast adrift were wrecked on them. Out into fields stormed people from villages, and long strings of them, in white summer garments, were lines of surf on the earthwaves. Breakers of them spumed with infants. In a human storm, billows of people crashed against islands of cattle. It is not only in meteorology that there are meteorological occurrences. The convulsions were so violent that there was scene-shifting. When the people recovered and looked around, it was at landscapes, changed as if a curtain had gone down and then up, between acts of this drama. They saw fields, lakes, and roads that, in the lay of the land, before the quake, had been hidden. It is not only in playhouses that there are theatrical performances. It is not exclusively anywhere where anything is, if ours is one organic existence, in which all things are continuous.

There were more deluges that will not fit into conventional explanations. Allahabad Pioneer, June 23, 1897 -- extremest droughts -- the quake -- enormous falls of water.(12)

There are data for thinking that somewhere there was a volcanic eruption. Another datum is that, at Calcutta, after the earthquake, there was an "after- [318/319] glow." "Afterglows" are exceptional sunsets, sometimes of an auroral appearance, which are reflections of sunlight from volcanic dust high in the sky, continuing to be seen an hour or so later than ordinary sunsets. Friend of India, June 15 -- "The entire west was a glory of deepest purple, and the colours did not fade out, until an hour after darkness is usually complete."(13)

Something else that I note is that in many places in Assam, the ground was incipiently volcanic, during the earthquake. Countless small craters appeared and threw out ashes.

Considering the volcanic and the incipiently volcanic, I think of a relation between the catastrophe in Assam and a volcanic eruption somewhere else.

But there is findable no record of a volcanic eruption upon this earth to which could be attributed effects that we have noted.

I point out again that, if there were a volcanic eruption in some part of our existence, external to this earth, or upon this earth, it would, unless a special relation be thought of, be as likely to cause an "afterglow" in England or South Africa, as in India. The suggestion is that somewhere, external to this earth, if in terrestrial terms there is no explanation, there was a volcanic eruption, and that the earthquake in India was a response to it, and that bulks of water and other discharges came from somewhere else exclusively to a part of this earth that was responsively, or functionally, quaking, because a teleportative current of some kind, very likely electric between the two centres of disturbances.

Upon the 25th of June, dust fell from the sky, near Calcutta (Englishman, July 3). In the issue of this newspaper, of July 14th, a meteorologist, employed in the Calcutta Observatory, described "a most [319/320] peculiar mist," like volcanic smoke, which had been seen in the earthquake-regions.(14) In his opinion, it was "cosmic dust," or dust that had fallen to this earth from outer space. He said nothing of possible relationship with the earthquakes. He would probably have called it "mere coincidence." Then he told of a fall of mud, upon the 27th of June, at Thurgrain (Midnapur). There was a fall of mud, in the Jessore District of Bengal, night of the 29th. "It fell from a cloudless sky, while the stars were shining" (Madras Mail, July 8).(15)

Suppose it were "cosmic dust." Suppose with the conventionalists that this earth is a swiftly moving planet that had overtaken a cloud of "cosmic dust," in outer space. In one minute, this earth would be more than a thousand miles away from this point of contact, by orbital motion, and would turn away axially.

But other falls of dust came upon India, while the shocks were continuing, as if settling down from an eruption somewhere else, to a world that was not speeding away orbitally, and to a point that was not turning away by daily rotation.

Five days after the first fall of dust, "a substance resembling mud" fell at Ghattal (Friend of India, July 14).(16) For descriptions of just such a "dry fog," as has often been seen in Italy, after an eruption of Vesuvius, see the Madras Mail, July 5, and the Friend of India, July 14 -- "a perpetual haze on the horizon, all around," "sky covered with thick layers of dust, resembling a foggy atmosphere."(17) About the first of July, mud fell at Hetamphore (Beerbhoom) according to the Friend of India, July 14.

I list these falls of dust and mud, but to them I do not give the importance that I give to the phenomena that preceded this earthquake. I have come upon nobody's statement that they were of volcanic material. [320/321] But it may be that there were other precipitations, and that they were of a substance that is unknown upon this earth. In the Englishman (Calcutta), July 7, a correspondent wrote that, several days before, at Khurdah, there had been a shower at night, and that the air became filled with the perfume of sandalwood. The next morning everything was found covered with "a coloured matter, which emitted the scent of sandalwood." About the same time, somebody else wrote to the Madras Mail, (July 8), that, at Nadia, there had been a fall from the sky, of a substance "more or less resembling the sandal used by the natives in worshipping their gods."(18)

The moon turns green before an earthquake.

Torrential rains precede an earthquake.

We have only begun listing phenomena that appear before catastrophes. They are interpretable as warnings. Clipped from events, by barber-shop science.

There was an investigation of phenomena in Assam. It was scientific, in the sense that the tonsorial may be the scientific. Dr. Oldham enormously reduced a catastrophe to manageable dimensions. He lathered it with the soap of this explanations, and shaved it clean of all unconventional details. This treatment of "Next!" to catastrophes is as satisfactorily beautifying, to neat, little minds, as are some of the marcel waves that astronomers have ironed into tousled circumstances. For a review of Dr. Oldham's report, see Nature, 62-305.(19) There is no mention of anything that was seen in the sky, nor of anything that fell from the sky, nor of occurrences anywhere else. Dr. Charles Davison, in A Study of Recent Earthquakes, gives 57 pages to his account of this catastrophe, and he, too, mentions nothing that was seen in the sky, or that fell from the sky.(20) He mentions no simultaneous phenomena anywhere else. It is a neat and well-trimmed account, [321/322] but there's a smell that I identify as too much bay rum.

Simultaneous phenomena that always are left out of a conventionalist's account of an earthquake -- one of the most violent convulsions ever known in Mexico, while the ground in India was quaking. There was a glare in the sky, and Mexicans thought that the glare was volcanic. If so, no active volcano in Mexico could be found (New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 22).(21) Deluges fell upon this quaking land. One of the falls of water, upon a Mexican town, drowning some of the inhabitants, is told of, in the San Francisco Chronicle, June 17.(22)

In all this part of our job, our opposition is not so much denial of data, as assertions that the occurrences in which we see relationship were only coincidences. If I ever accept any such explanation, I shall be driven into extending it to everything. We'll have a theory that in our existence there is nothing but coincidence; and, according to my experience with theorists, we'll develop this theory somewhat reasonably. Chemical reactions, supposed to be well-known and accounted for, do not invariably work out, as, according to formula, they should work out. Failures are attributed to impurities in chemicals, but perhaps it is only by persistent coincidence, like that of glares so often occurring at times of earthquakes, that water appears when oxygen and hydrogen unite.(23) Meteors frequently fall to this earth during earthquakes, but that may be only by coincidence, just as offsprings so often appear after marriage -- indicating nothing exclusively of relationships, inasmuch as we have heard of cases of alleged independent reproduction. Let the feminists become only a little more fanatical, and they will probably publish lists of instances of female independence. It is either that our data are not of coincidences, or that everything's a coincidence. [322/323]

As to some deluges, at times of earthquakes, there is no assertion of coincidence, and there is no mystery. There's an earthquake, and water falls from the sky. Then it is learned that a volcano -- one of this earth's volcanoes -- had been in eruption, and that, responsively to it, the earth had quaked, and that volumes of water, some of them black, and some of them not discoloured, had been discharged by this volcano, falling in bulks, or falling in torrential rains upon the quaking ground. Sometimes the sky darkens during earthquakes, and there is no assertion of coincidence, and there is no mystery. Upon March 11th, 1875, for instance, a vast, black cloud appeared at Guadalajara, Mexico. There was an earthquake. See L'Année Scientifique, 1876-322.(24) In this instance, the darkened sky at the time of the earthquake was explained, because it was learned that both phenomena were effects of an eruption of the volcano Carobucuco. There have been unmysterious showers of meteors, or of fireballs that looked like meteors, at times of earthquakes. There were eruptions upon this earth, and the fireballs, or meteors, came from them. There were especially spectacular showers of volcanic bombs that looked like meteors, or that were meteors, during the eruptions in Java, Aug., 1883; New Zealand, June, 1886; West Indies, May, 1902.

But our data are of such phenomena in the sky, during earthquakes, at times when no terrestrial volcano could have had such effects was active.

So far we have not correlated with anything that could be considered a volcanic eruption anywhere in regions external to this earth. Now we are called upon, not only for data seemingly of volcanic eruptions in a nearby starry shell around this earth, but for data that may be regarded as observations upon celestial volcanoes in action. [323]

1. "Notes." Nature, 79 (December 31, 1908): 255-260, at 255-256. The falls of meteorites occurred at Burgos and at Jubilla del Agua, in Spain.

2. "Les phénomènes lumineux des tremblements de terre." Cosmos: Les mondes, n.s., s.4, 69 (October 16, 1913): 422.

3. "The earthquake in France." Popular Science News, 21 (1887): 58. Nothing is said of coincidence in this article, which dismisses the aerial phenomenon as imaginary.

4. Nicholas Camille Flammarion. "Les tremblements de terre et leurs causes." Astronomie, 6 (1887): 121-42, at 136-7 (fn. 1).

5. "Notes." Nature, 90 (January 16, 1913): 547-51, at 550.

6. "Luminous phenomena associated with earthquakes." Scientific American, n.s., 107 (July 20, 1912): 67.

7. "Curious lightning in the Andes." Scientific American, n.s., 106 (May 18, 1912): 464.

8. William Gaw. "Atmospheric phenomena during the Chile earthquake." Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 41, 226-8.

9. "Earthquake in the Caucasus." Lloyd's Sunday News, September 21, 1856, p.3 c.1.

10. "Black rain." News of the World (London), August 10, 1856, p.3 c.2.

11. "Appearance of the moon." Englishman (Calcutta), July 14, 1897, Weekly Summary, p.16 c.4. "Appearance of the moon." Englishman, July 21, 1897, Weekly Summary, p.13 c.2.

12. "The Earthquake." Allahabad Pioneer Mail, June 23, 1897, pp.17-19.

13. "Severe earthquake in Calcutta." Friend of India and Statesman (Calcutta), June 15, 1897, p.14 c.4 & p.15 c.1-3.

14. "Appearance of the moon." Englishman, July 14, 1897, Weekly Summary, p. 16 c. 4.

15. "Bengal." Madras Mail, July 8, 1897, p.3 c.2. Correct quote: "The sky was clear and full of stars."

16. "The earthquake." Friend of India and Statesman (Calcutta), June 22, 1897, p.3 c.2-4 & p.4 c.1.

17. "Seismic disturbances in Assam." Madras Mail, July 5, 1897, p.5 c.5. Correct quote: "...there is perpetual haze...." "Mofussil letters." Friend of India and Statesman, July 14, 1897, p.7 c.3-4 and p.8 c.1-3.

18. "Bengal." Madras Mail, July 8, 1897, p.3 c.2. Correct quote: "...resembling more or less the sandal used by Hindus in worshipping their gods."

19. "The great earthquake of June 12, 1897." Nature, 62 (July 26, 1900): 305-7. Oldham's original report, before clipped by the editor at Nature, did provide some interesting data, though not of falls of non-meteoric substances and afterglows. Oldham reports that, while in many places there was no forewarning of the earthquake, it coincided with lightning in the Assam Valley. Oldham also writes: "Though somewhat apart from the scope of this chapter, the effect of the earthquake on the mud volcanoes of Kyauk Pyu may be noticed." The Deputy Commissioner at Kyauk Pyu reported the following phenomena on June 12, 1897: "The mud volcano in this island is well known to all people, and is occasionally active. On this occasion loud reports were heard coming from this volcano followed by a flow of mud, which continued for an hour and a half. About 11 o'clock that night loud reports were again heard, and a new volcano opened out 2,500 feet to the south of the old volcano. There was a very large flow of mud from this new crater, so large in fact that it spread out over the land near, destroying acre 1.05 of paddy land belonging to a cultivator named Na-Ban-San. The flow continued until about midday on the 13th June. The reports made by the opening of the new crater were followed by a very brilliant meteor which appeared to travel from the south to the north. On the 23rd June about 7 P.M., a slight shock of earthquake was felt and another meteor was seen, and three sounds as of the distant booming of a gun were heard." Kyauk Pyu, in British Aracan, is now identified as Kyaukpyu, Myanmar (Burma). Oldham also provided an entire chapter on: "The earthquake sounds, with some remarks on the Barisal Guns," which includes references to the sounds at Melida and the mistpouffers reported by Van den Brck and A. Cancani. R.D. Oldham. "Report on the Great Earthquake of 12th June 1897." Memoirs of the Geological Survey of India, 28 (1899): 26, 41, 191-204.

20. Charles Davison. Study of Recent Earthquakes. 262-320.

21. "Earthquakes in Mexico." New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 22, 1897, p.1.

22. "Severe earthquakes in Southern Mexico." San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 1897, p.4 c.3.

23. "If Avogadro's hypothesis were strictly applicable to oxygen and hydrogen, the molecular weights of these gases would be exactly proportional to their densities, determined at the same temperature and pressure. Since the molecules of both gases are diatomic, the atomic weights would be proportional to the densities; and if both the density and atomic weight of hydrogen are taken as unity, the atomic weight of oxygen would be numerically equal to its density," states Sydney Young. However, the ratio of weight of oxygen to hydrogen in numerous experiments was measured at "15.88 if H = 1" or a "slight deviation from Boyle's and Gay Lusaac's laws." Since experiments had been first carried out by Dumas in 1819, and as late as 1897, most efforts to determine the atomic weight of oxygen has concluded with an atomic weight below 16, (ranging from 15.77 to 16.005). Thus, when the formula for water did not work out as expected, it became necessary to adjust the atomic weight of hydrogen by dividing the expected number of 16 (for oxygen) by the measured value (15.88) to reach a value of "H = 1.008." Sydney Young. Stoichiometry. William Ramsay, ed. Text-Books of Physical Chemistry. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908, 71-8.

24. "Le tremblement de terre de Guadalajara (Mexique)." Année scientifique et industrielle, 19 (1875): 321-322. The volcano was Ceboruco, (not Carobucuco), in Mexico.

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