Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Four



NOT a bottle of catsup can fall from a tenement-house fire-escape, in Harlem, without being noted -- not only by the indignant people downstairs, but -- even though infinitesimally -- universally -- maybe --

Affecting the price of pajamas, in Jersey City: the temper of somebody's mother-in-law, in Greenland; the demand, in China, for rhinoceros horns for the cure of rheumatism -- maybe --

Because all things are inter-related -- continuous -- of an underlying oneness --

So then the underlying logic of the boy -- who was guilty of much, but was at least innocent of ever having heard of a syllogism -- who pasted a peach label on a can of string beans.

All things are so inter-related that, though the difference between a fruit and what is commonly called a vegetable seems obvious, there is no defining either. A tomato, for instance, represents the merging-point. Which is it -- fruit or vegetable? [35/36]

So then the underlying logic of the scientist -- who is guilty of much, but also is very innocent -- who, having started somewhere with his explanation of "mass psychology," keeps right on, sticking on that explanation. Inasmuch as there is always a view somewhere, in defense of anything conceivable, he must be at least minutely reasonable. If "mass psychology" applies definitely to one occurrence, it must, even though almost imperceptibly, apply to all occurrences. Phenomena of a man alone on a desert island can be explained in terms of "mass psychology" -- inasmuch as the mind of no man is a unit, but is a community of mental states that influence one another.

Inter-relations of all things -- and I can feel something like the hand of Emma Piggott reaching out to the hand, as it were, of the asphyxiated woman on the mountainside. John Doughty and bodies on benches in a Harlem park -- as oxygen has affinity for hydrogen. Rose Smith -- Ambrose Small -- the body of a shepherd named Funnell --

Upon the morning of April 10, 1893, after several men had been taken to a Brooklyn hospital, somebody's attention was attracted to something queer. Several accidents, in quick succession, in different parts of the city would not be considered strange, but a similarity was noted. See the Brooklyn Eagle, April 10, 1893.(1)

Then there was a hustle of ambulances, and much ringing of gongs --

Alex. Burgman, Geo. Sychers, Lawrence Beck, George Barton, Patrick Gibbons, James Meehan, George Bedell, [36/37] Michael Brown, John Trowbridge, Timothy Hennessy, Philip Oldwell, and an unknown man --

In the course of a few hours, these men were injured, in the streets of Brooklyn, almost all of them by falling from high places, or by being struck by objects that fell from high places.

Again it is one of my questions that are so foolish, and that may not be so senseless -- what could the fall of a man from a roof, in one part of Brooklyn, have to do with a rap on the sconce, by a flower pot, of another man, in another part of Brooklyn?

In the town of Colchester, England -- as told in Lloyd's Daily News (London) April 30, 1911 -- a soldier, garrisoned at Colchester, was, upon the evening of April 24th, struck senseless.(2) He was so seriously injured that he was taken to the Garrison Hospital. Here he could give no account of what had befallen him. The next night, to this hospital, was taken another seriously injured soldier, who had been "struck senseless by an unseen assailant." Four nights later, a third soldier was taken to this hospital, suffering from the effects of a blow, about which he could tell nothing.

I have come upon a case of the "mass psychology" of lace curtains. About the last of March, 1892 -- see the Brooklyn Eagle, April 19, 1892 -- people who had been away from home, in Chicago, returned to find that during the absence there had been an orgy of curtains.(3) Lace curtains were lying about, in lumps and distortions. It was a melancholy prostration of virtues: things so flimsy and frail, yet so upright, so long as they are supported. [37/38] Bureau drawers had been ransacked for jewelry, and jewelry had been found. But nothing had been stolen. Strewn about were fragments of rings and watches that had been savagely smashed.

There are, in this account, several touches of the ghost story. There are many records of similar wanton, or furious, destructions in houses where poltergeist disturbances were occurring. Also there was mystery, because the police could not find out how this house had been entered.

Then came news of another house, which, while the dwellers were away, had been "mysteriously entered." Lace curtains, in rags, were lying about, and so were remains of dresses that had been slashed. Jewelry and other ornaments had been smashed. Nothing had been stolen.

So far as the police could learn, the occupants of these houses had no common enemy. A rage against lace curtains is hard to explain, but the hatred of somebody, whose windows were bare, against all finery and ornaments, is easily understandable. Soon after rages had swept through these two houses, other houses were entered, with no sign of how the vandal got in, and lace curtains were pulled down, and there was much destruction of finery and ornaments, and nothing was stolen.

New York Times, Jan. 26, 1873 -- that, in England, during the Pytchley hunt.(4) Gen. Mayow fell dead from his saddle, and that about the same time, in Gloucestershire, the daughter of the Bishop of Gloucestershire, while hunting, was seriously injured; and that, upon the same day, in the north of England, a Miss Cavendish, while [38/39] hunting, was killed. Not long afterward, a clergyman was killed, while hunting, in Lincolnshire. About the same time, two hunters, near Sanders' Gorse, were thrown, and were seriously injured.

In one of my incurable, scientific moments, I suggest that when diverse units, of, however, one character in common, are similarly affected, the incident force is related to the common character. But there is no suggestion that any visible hater of fox-hunters was travelling in England, pulling people from saddles, and tripping horses. But that there always has been intense feeling, in England, against fox-hunters is apparent to anyone who conceives of himself, as a farmer -- and his fences broken, and his crops trampled by an invasion of red coats -- and a wild desire to make a Bunker Hill of it.

In the New York Evening World, Dec. 26, 1930, it was said that Warden Lewis E. Lawes, of Sing Sing Prison, had been ill.(5) The Warden recovered, and, upon Christmas morning, left his room. He was told that a friend of his, Maurice Conway, who had come to visit him, had been found dead in bed. Upon Christmas Eve, Keeper John Hyland had been operated upon, "for appendicitis," and was in a serious condition in Ossining Hospital. In the same hospital was Keeper John Wescott, who also had been stricken "with appendicitis." Keeper Henry Barrett was in this hospital, waiting to be operated upon "for hernia."

Probably the most hated man in the New York State Prison Service was Asael J. Granger, Head Keeper of Clinton Prison, at Dannemora. He had effectively quelled [39/40] the prison riot of July 22, 1929. Upon this Christmas Day, of 1930, in the Champlain Valley Hospital, Plattsburg, N.Y., Granger was operated upon "for appendicitis." Two days later he died. About this time, Harry M. Kaiser, the Warden of Clinton Prison, was suffering from what was said to be "high blood pressure." He died, three months later (N.Y. Herald Tribune, March 24, 1931).(6)

The London newspapers of March, 1926, told of fires that had simultaneously broken out in several parts of Closes Hall, the residence of Captain B. Heaton, near Clitheroe, Lancashire.(7) The fires were in the woodwork under the roof, and were believed to have been caused by sparks from the kitchen stove. These fires were in places that were inaccessible to any ordinary incendiary: to get to them, the firemen had to chop holes in the roof. Nothing was said of previous fires here. Maybe it is strange that sparks from a kitchen stove should simultaneously ignite remote parts of a house, distances apart.

A fire in somebody's house did not much interest me: but then I read of a succession of similars. In three months, there had been ten other mansion fires. "Scotland-yard recently made arrangements for all details of mansion fires to be sent to them, in order that the circumstances might be collated, and the probable cause of the outbreaks discovered."(8)

April 2, 1926 -- Ashley Moor, a mansion near Leominster, destroyed by fire.(9)

Somebody, or something, was burning mansions. How it was done was the mystery. There was a scare, and prob- [40/41] ably these houses were more than ordinarily guarded: but so well-protected are they, ordinarily, that some extraordinary means of entrance is suggested. In no report was it said that there was any evidence of how an incendiary got into the house. No theft was reported. For months, every now and then there was a mansion fire. Presumably the detectives of Scotland-yard were busily collating.

The London newspapers, of November 6th, told of the thirtieth mansion fire in about ten months.(10)

There were flaming mansions, and there were flaming utterances, in England.

Sometimes I am a collector of data, and only a collector, and am likely to be gross and miserly, piling up notes, pleased with merely numerically adding to my stores. Other times I have joys, when unexpectedly coming upon an outrageous story that may not be altogether a lie, or upon a macabre little thing that may make some reviewer of my more or less good works mad. But always there is present a feeling of unexplained relations of events that I note; and it is the far-away, haunting, or often taunting, awareness, or suspicion, that keeps me piling on --

Or, in a feeling of relatability of seemingly most incongruous occurrences that nevertheless may be correlated into the service of one general theme, I am like a primitive farmer, who conceives that a zebra and a cow may be hitched together to draw his plow --

But isn't there something common about zebras and cows?

An ostrich and a hyena. [41/42]

Then the concept of a pageantry -- the ransack of the jungles for creatures of the wildest unlikeness to draw his plow -- and former wild clatters of hoofs and patters of paws are the tramp of a song -- here come the animals, two by two --

Or John Doughty, three abreast with the dead men of a Harlem park, pulling on my theme -- followed by forty-five schoolgirls of Derby -- and the fish dealer's housemaid, with her arms full of sponges and Turkish towels -- followed by burning beds, most suggestively associated with her, but in no way that any conventional thinker can explain --

Or the mansion fires in England, in the year 1926 -- and, in a minor hitch-up, I feel the relatability of two scenes:

In Hyde Park, London, an orator shouts: "What we want is no king and no law! How we'll get it will be, not with ballots, but with bullets!"

Far away in Gloucestershire, a house that dates back to Elizabethan times unaccountably bursts into flames. [42]

1. "This was an unlucky day." Brooklyn Eagle, April 10, 1893, p.10 c.3.

2. "Mysterious garrison outrages." Lloyd's Sunday News, April 30, 1911, p.1 c.3.

3. Brooklyn Eagle, (April 19, 1892; could not find here).

4. "Chapter of accidents." New York Times, January 26, 1873, p.4 c.6.

5. New York Evening World, (December 26, 1930).

6. "Harry M. Kaiser dies; warden at Clinton 13 years." New York Herald Tribune, March 24, 1931, p.23 c.4.

7. "Another fire at a mansion." London Daily Express, March 30, 1926.

8. "Scotland Yard to compare all reports." London Evening Standard, March 10, 1926.

9. "Woman of 80 in a mansion fire." London Daily Express, April 3, 1926.

10. "Thirty country house fires." London Daily Express, November 6, 1926.

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