Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Five



GOOD MORNING!" said the dog. He disappeared in a thin, greenish vapor.

I have this record, upon newspaper authority.

It can't be said -- and therefore will be said -- that I have a marvellous credulity for newspaper yarns.

But I am so obviously offering everything in this book, as fiction. That is, if there is fiction. But this book is fiction in the sense that Pickwick Papers, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Uncle Tom's Cabin, Newton's Principia, Darwin's Origin of Species, Genesis, Gulliver's Travels, and mathematical theorems, and every history of the United States, and all other histories, are fictions. A library-myth that irritates me most is the classification of books under "fiction" and "non-fiction."

And yet there is something about the yarns that were told by Dickens that set them apart, as it were, from the yarns that were told by Euclid. There is much in Dickens' grotesqueries that has the correspondence with experience that is called "truth," whereas such Euclidean characters [43/44] as "mathematical points" are the vacancies that might be expected from a mind that had had scarcely any experience. That dog-story is axiomatic. It must be taken on faith. And, even though with effects that sometimes are not much admired, I ask questions.

It was told in the New York World, July 29, 1908 -- many petty robberies, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Avenue, Pittsburgh -- detectives detailed to catch the thief. Early in the morning of July 26th, a big, black dog sauntered past them. "Good morning!" said the dog. He disappeared in a thin, greenish vapor.(1)

There will be readers who will want to know what I mean by turning down this story, while accepting so many others in this book.

It is because I never write about marvels. The wonderful, or the never-before-heard-of, I leave to whimsical, or radical, fellows. All books written by me are of quite ordinary occurrences.

If, say, sometime in the year 1847, a New Orleans newspaper told of a cat, who said: "Well, is it warm enough for you?" and instantly disappeared sulphurously, as should everybody who says that; and, if I had a clipping, dated sometime in the year 1930, telling of a mouse, who squeaked: "I was along this way, and thought I'd drop in," and vanished along a trail of purple sparklets; and something similar from the St. Helena Guardian, Aug. 17, 1905; and something like that from the Madras Mail, year 1879 -- I'd consider the story of the polite dog no marvel, and I'd admit him to our fold.(2) [44/45]

But it is not that I take numerous repetitions, as a standard for admission --

The fellow who found a pearl in the oyster stew -- the old fiddle that turned out to be a Stradivarius -- the ring that was lost in a lake, and then what was found when a fish was caught --

But these often repeated yarns are conventional yarns.

And almost all liars are conventionalists.

The one quality that the lower animals have not in common with human beings is creative imagination.(3) Neither a man, nor a dog, nor an oyster ever has had any. Of course there is another view, by which is seen that there is in everything a touch of creativeness. I cannot say that truth is stranger than fiction, because I have never had acquaintance with either. Though I have classed myself with some noted fictionists, I have to accept that the absolute fictionist never has existed. There is fictional coloration to everybody's account of an "actual occurrence," and there is at least the lurk somewhere of what is called the "actual" in everybody's yarn. There is the hyphenated state of truth-fiction. Out of dozens of reported pearls in stews, most likely there have been instances; most likely once upon a time an old fiddle did turn out to be a Stradivarius; and it could be that once upon a time somebody did get a ring back fishwise.

But when I come upon the unconventional repeating, in times and places far apart, I feel -- even though I have no absolute standards to judge by -- that I am outside the field of ordinary liars.

Even in the matter of talking dogs, I think that the [45/46] writer probably had something to base upon. Perhaps he had heard of talking dogs. It is not that I think it impossible that detectives could meet a dog, who would say: "Good morning!" That's no marvel. It is "Good morning!" and disappearing in the thin, greenish vapor that I am making such a time about. In the New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 21, 1928, there was an account of a French bulldog, owned by Mrs. Mabel Robinson, of Bangor, Maine.(4) He could distinctly say: "Hello!" Mrs. J. Stuart Tompkins, 101 West 85th Street, New York City, read of this animal, and called up the Herald Tribune, telling of her dog, a Great Dane, who was at least equally accomplished.(5) A reporter went to interview the dog, and handed him a piece of candy. "Thank you!" said the dog.

In the city of Northampton, England -- see Lloyds' Weekly News (London) March 2, 1912 -- a detective chased a burglar, who had entered a hardware store.(6) The burglar got away. The detective went back, and got into the store. There were objects hanging on hooks, overhead. "By coincidence," just as the detective passed under one of them, it fell. It was a scythe-blade. It cut off his ear. Now I am upon familiar ground; there are suggestions in this story that correlate with suggestions in other stories.

"A bank in Blackpool was robbed, in broad daylight, on Saturday, in mysterious circumstances" -- so says the London Daily Telegraph, Aug. 7, 1926.(7) It was one of the largest establishments in town -- the Blackpool branch of the Midland Bank. At noon, Saturday, while the doors were closing, an official of the Corporation Tramways Department went into the building, with a bag, which [46/47] contained 800, in Treasury notes. In the presence of about twenty-five customers, he placed the bag upon a counter. Then the doorman unlocked the front door for him to go out, and then return with another amount of money, in silver, from a motor van. The bag had vanished from the counter. It was a large, leather bag. Nobody could, without making himself conspicuous, try to conceal it. Nobody wearing a maternity cloak was reported.

In the afternoon, in a side street, near the bank, the bag was found, and was taken to a police station. But the lock on it was peculiar and complicated, and the police could not open it. An official of the Tramways Department was sent for. When the Tramways man arrived with the key, no money was found in the bag. If a bag can vanish from a bank, without passing the doorman, I record no marvel in telling of money that vanished from a bag, though maybe the bag had not been opened.

Well, then, there's nothing marvellous about it, if from a locked drawer of Mrs. Bradley's bureau, money disappeared. New York Times, Feb. 28, 1874 -- Mrs. Lydia Bradley, of Peoria, Ill., "mysteriously robbed."(8) There were other occurrences, and they, too, were anything but marvellous. Pictures came down from the walls, and furniture sauntered about the place. Stoves slung their lids at people. Such doings have often been reported from houses, in the throes of poltergeist disturbances. There are many records of pictures that couldn't be kept hanging on walls. Chairs and tables have been known to form in orderly fashion, three or four abreast, and parade. In Mrs. Bradley's home, the doings were in the presence of [47/48] the housemaid, Margaret Corvell. So the girl was suspected, and one time, in the midst of pranks by things that are ordinarily so staid and settled, somebody held her hands. While her hands were held, a loud crash was heard. A piano, which up to that moment had been behaving itself properly, joined in. But the girl was accused. She confessed to everything, including the stealing of the money, except whatever had occurred when her hands were held. There are dozens of poltergeist cases, in which the girl -- oftenest a young housemaid -- has confessed to all particulars, except things that occurred while she was held, tied, or being knocked about. Ignoring these omissions, accounts by investigators end with the satisfactory explanation that the girl had confessed.

In the Home News (Bronx) Sept. 25, 1927, is a story of "ghost-like depredations."(9) In the town of Barberton, Ohio, lived an uncatchable thief. I call attention to an element often of openness, often of defiance, that will appear in many of our stories. It is as if there are criminals, and sometimes mischievous fellows, who can do unaccountable things and delight in mystifying their victims, confident that they cannot be caught. For ten years the uncatchable thief of Barberton had been operating, periodically. In some periods, as if to show off his talents, he returned to the same house half a dozen times.

In January, 1925, the police of London were in the state of mind of the rest of us, when we try to solve crossword puzzles that have been filled in with alleged Scotch dialect, obsolete terms, and names of improbable South American rodents. Somebody was playing a game, un- [48/49] fairly making it difficult. The thing that he did were what a crossword author would call "vars." He was called a "cat burglar." Since his time, many minor fellows have been so named. The newspapers stressed what they called this criminal's uncanny ability to enter houses, but I think that the stress should have been upon his knowledge of just where to go, after entering houses. Whether he had the property of invisibility or not, residents of Mayfair reported losses of money and jewelry that could not be more mystifying, if an invisible being had come in through doors or windows without having to open them, and had strolled through rooms, sizing up the lay of things.(10) He was called the "cat burglar," because there was no conventional way of accounting for his entrances, except by thinking that he had climbed up the sides of houses -- always knowing just what room to climb to -- climbing with a skill that no cat has ever had. Sometimes it was said that marks were seen on drain pipes and on window sills. Just so long as the police can say something, that is accepted as next best to doing something. Of course, in this respect, I'd not pick out any one profession.

The "cat burglar" piled up jewelry that would satisfy anybody's dream of expensive junk, and then he vanished, maybe not in a thin, greenish vapor, but anyway in an atmosphere of the unfair mystification of crosswords that have been made difficult with "vars" and obs."(11) Perhaps marks were found on drain pipes and on window sills. But only logicians think that anything has any exclusive meaning. If I had the power of invisibly entering [49/50] houses, but preferred to turn off suspicions, I'd made marks on drain pipes and window sills. Everything that ever has meant anything has just as truly meant something else. Otherwise experts, called to testify at trials, would not be the fantastic exhibits that they so often are.

New York Evening Post, March 14, 1928 -- people in a block of houses, in the Third District of Vienna, terrorized.(12) They were "haunted by a mysterious person," who entered houses, and stole small objects, never taking money, doing these things just to show what he could do. Then, from dusk to dawn, the police formed a cordon around this block, and at approaches to it stationed police dogs. The disappearances of small objects, of little value, continued. There were stories of this "uncanny burglar or maniac" having been seen, "running lizardwise along moonlit roofs." My own notion is that nothing was seen running along roofs. There was such excitement that the "highest authorities" of Vienna University offered their mentalities for the help of the baffled policemen and their dogs. I wish I could record an intellectual contest between college professors and dogs; there might be some glee from my malices. There are probably many college professors, who at times read of strange crimes, and sympathize with civilization, because they had not taken to detective work. However, nothing more was said of the professors who offered to help the cops and the dogs. But there was a challenge here, and I am sorry to note that it was not accepted. It would have been a crowning show-off, if this perhaps occult sportsman had entered [50/51] the homes of some of these "highest authorities" and had stolen from them whatever it is by which "highest authorities" maintain their authority, or had robbed them of their pants. But he did not rise to this opportunity. After we have more data, it will be my expression that probably he could not practice outside this one block of houses. However, he got into a house in which lived a policeman, and he went to the policeman's bedroom. He touched nothing else, but stole the policeman's revolver.

Upon the afternoon of June 18, 1907, occurred one of the most sensational, insolent, contemptible, or magnificent thefts in the annals of crime, as viewed by most Englishmen; or a crime not without a little interest to Americans. On a table, on the lawn back of the grandstand, at Ascot, the Ascot Cup was on exhibition. 13 inches high, and 6 inches in diameter; 20-carat gold; weight 68 ounces. The cup was guarded by a policeman and by a representative of the makers. The story is told, in the London Times, June 19th.(13) Presumably all around was a crowd, kept at a distance by the policeman, though, according to the standards of the Times, in the year 1907, it was not dignified to go into details much. From what I know of the religion of the Turf, in England, I assume that there was a crowd of devotées, looking worshipfully at this ikon.

It wasn't there.

About this time, there were a place and a time and a treasure that were worthy the attention of, or that were a challenge to, any magician. The place was Dublin Castle. Outside, day and night, a policeman and a soldier [51/52] were on duty. Within a distance of fifty yards were the headquarters of the Dublin metropolitan police; of the Royal Irish Constabulary; the Dublin detective force; the military garrison. It was at the time of the Irish International Exhibition, at Dublin. Upon the 10th of July, King Edward and Queen Alexandra were to arrive to visit the Exhibition. In a safe in the strong room of the Castle had been kept the jewels that were worn by the Lord Lieutenant, upon State occasions. They were a barbaric pile of bracelets, rings, and other insignia, of a value of $250,000.

And of course. They had disappeared about the time of the disappearance of the Ascot Cup: sometime between June 11th and July 6th.

All investigations came to nothing. For about twenty-four years nothing new came out. Then, according to a dispatch from London to the New York Times, Sept. 6, 1931, there was a report of attempted negotiations with the Dublin authorities, or an offer by which, "under certain conditions," the jewels would be returned.(14) If this rumor were authentic, the remarkable part is that the various jewelled objects had not been broken up, but for twenty-four years had been kept intact. This is the look of the stunt.

But what I am worrying about is the big dog who said "Good morning!" and disappeared in a thin, greenish vapor. I am not satisfied with my explanation of why I rejected him. Considering some of my acceptances, it seem illogical to turn down the dog who said "Good morning!" -- except that only to the purist, or the scholar, can [52/53] there be either the logical or the illogical. We have to get along with the logical-illogical, in our existence of the hyphen. Everything that is said to be logical is somewhere out of agreement with something, and everything that is said to be illogical is somewhere in agreement with something.

I need not worry about the big dog who said "Good morning!" If, considering some of my acceptances, I inconsistently turn him down, I am consistent with something else, and that is the need in every mind to turn down something -- the need in every mind that believes, or accepts anything, to consider something else silly, preposterous, false, evil, immoral, terrible -- taboo. It is not necessary that we should all agree in being revolted, shocked, or contemptuous. Some of us taken Jehovah, and some of us take Allah, to despise, or to be amused with. To give us limits within which to seem to be, and to give it contrasts by which to seem to be, every mind must practice exclusions.

I draw my line at the dog who said "Good morning!" and disappeared in a thin, greenish vapor. He is a symbol of the false and arbitrary and unreasonable and inconsistent -- though of course also the reasonable and consistent -- limit, which everybody must somewhere set, in order to pretend to be.

You can't fool me with that dog-story. [53]

1. "Fido's ghost wishes sleuths good morning." New York World, July 29, 1908, p.1 c.2. "Pittsburg's Latest -- A dog ghost." New York Tribune, July 29, 1908, p. 7. The occurrence was on July 27, (not July 26).

2. These references are probably fictitious examples; as, for instance, the St. Helena Guardian of August 17, 1905, contains no such story.

3. Fort knew some other qualities that man and the "lower animals" did not have; so, this might be better understood as: "One quality that the lower animals lack in common with man is creative imagination."

4. "Talking dog really talks, amazes experts at Boston show." New York Herald Tribune, February 21, 1928, pp.1, 26.

5. "Dog that talks demonstrates in New York home." New York Herald Tribune, February 22, 1928, p.3 c.5-6.

6. Obviously an erroneous date, (no such issue). Lloyd's Weekly News, (March 2, 1912): [No issue of this date, not in March 3rd nor 24th.]

7. "Daylight bank robbery." London Daily Telegraph, August 9, 1926, p.10 c.5.

8. "Remarkable imposture." New York Times, February 28, 1874, p.9 c.7.

9. "Thief misses quick death by not opening trunk." Bronx Home News, September 25, 1927, p.26 c.2.

10. Sic, jewellery.

11. Sic, jewellery.

12. "Ape robs block in Vienna nightly as police line it." New York Evening Post, March 14, 1928, p.8 c.6-7. The article says nothing about the policeman's revolver being the only object stolen, just that it was stolen. Correct quote: "Haunted nightly by a mysterious person...."

13. "Ascot Cup stolen." London Times, June 19, 1907, p.7 c.6.

14. "Crown jewels, stolen in 1907, offered back for price in Dublin." New York Times, September 6, 1931, p.5 c.2. Correct quote: "...on certain conditions...."

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