Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Six



CONSERVATISM is our opposition, But I am in considerable sympathy with conservatives. I am often lazy, myself.

It's evenings, when I'm somewhat played out, when I'm most likely to be most conservative. Everything that is highest and noblest in my composition is most pronounced when I'm not good for much. I may be quite savage, mornings; but, as my energy plays out, I become nobler and nobler, and lazier, and conservativer. Most likely my last utterance will be a platitude, if I've been dying long enough. If not, I shall probably laugh.

I like to read my evening newspaper comfortably. And it is uncomfortably that I come upon any new idea, or suggestion of the new, in an evening newspaper. It's a botheration, and I don't understand it, and it will cost me some thinking -- oh, well, I'll clip it out, anyway.

But where are the scissors? But they aren't. Hasn't anybody a pin? Nobody has. There was a time when one could maneuvre over to the edge of a carpet, without [54/55] having to leave one's chair, and pull up a tack. But everybody has rugs, nowadays. Oh, well, let it go.

Something in a newspaper about a mysterious hair-clipper. This is a new department of data, though hair-stealing links with other mysterious thefts. Where's a pin? Oh, well, there's nothing in particular about this matter of hair-clipping. A petty thief stole hair to sell, of course. Vague suggestions hanging over from reading of various phrases of "black magic" -- but, if there is a market for human hair, hair-clippers are accounted for -- still --

And so I could go on, every now and then, for many years, feeling a haunt of a new idea, but feeling more comfortable, if doing nothing about it. But, daytimes, I go to Libraries, and, if several times, close together, something that is new to me, in newspapers, attracts my attention, I get the power somewhere to make a note of it.

These vague, new ideas that flutter momentarily in every mind -- sometimes they're as hard to catch as is the moment they flutter in. It's like trying to pin a butterfly without catching it. They're gone. They can't develop, because one doesn't, or can't, note them, and collect notes. We'd all be somewhat enlightened -- if that would be any good to us -- were it not for easy chairs. Where's a pin? Hereafter I'm going to have a pet porcupine around the house. One can't learn much and also be comfortable. One can't learn much and let anybody else be comfortable.

Two cases of hairdressers' windows broken, and women's switches stolen. Probably to sell to other hairdressers. [55/56]

I noted this, just as an oddity:

London Daily Chronicle, July 9, 1913 -- Paris -- wealthy engineer, named Leramgourg, arrested.(1) "At Leramgourg's residence, the police found locks of hair of 94 women."

I put this item with others upon freaks of collectors. In Oklahoma City, July, 1907, somebody collected ears. Bodies of three men--ears cut off. In April, 1913, a collector, who was known as Jack the Slipper-snatcher, operated in the subways of New York City. Girl going up the steps of a subway exit -- one foot up from the step -- the snatch of her slipper --

The fantastic, or the amusing -- but it is as close to the appalling as is the beautiful to the hideous --

The murderer of the Conners child, in New York, in July, 1916, hacked hair from his victim.

I have only two records of male victims of hair-clippers. I conceive that once upon a time abundant whiskers were tempting. Where do manufacturers of false whiskers get their material? Both of these victims were children. There was a case of three gypsy women, who waylaid a boy, aged eight, and cut off his hair. That they were gypsies may be of occult suggestion, but this could be simply the theft of something that could be sold.

A case is told of, in the People (London), Jan. 23, 1921.(2) The residents of Glenshamrock Farm, Anchenleck, Ayrshire, Scotland, awoke one morning to find that during the night a burglar had made off with various articles. There were screams from the bedroom of a young female member of the household. Upon awakening, she had learned that her hair had been cut off. I say that this case [56/57] was told of -- but a case of what? And, in the New York Sun, March 7, 1928 -- a case of what? An old man had entered the home of Angelo Nappi, 83 Garside Street, Newark, N.J., and had cut off the hair of his three little daughters.(3)

Old age and youth -- male and female -- there is the haunt, in stories of hair-clippers, of something that is not of hair-selling. If Jack the Slipper-snatcher were in the second-hand business, he'd have maneuvred girls into having both feet in the air.

I take a story from the Medium and Daybreak, Dec. 13, 1889.(4) It was copied from the Brockville (Ontario) Daily Times, Nov. 13th.(5) There were doings in the home of George Dagg, a farmer, living in the Township of Clarendon, Province of Quebec, Canada. With Dagg lived his wife, two young children, and a little girl, aged 11, Dina McLean, who had been adopted from an orphan asylum. The report from which I quote was the result of investigations by Percy Woodcock. I know that that sounds fictitious, but just the same Percy Woodcock was a well-known painter. Also Mr. Woodcock was a spiritualist. It could be that he colored as much on paper as on canvas.

The first of the "uncanny" occurrences -- as they are so persistently called by persons who do not realize how common they are -- was upon Sept. 15th. Window panes broke. There were unaccountable fires -- as many as eight a day. Stones of unknown origin were thrown. A large stone struck one of the children, and "strange to say, it did not hurt her in the least" -- [57/58]

And I give my opinion that, in comments upon my writings, my madness has been over-emphasized. Of course I couldn't pass any alienist's examination -- but could any alienist? But when I come upon a detail like this of stones striking people harmlessly, in an Ontario newspaper, and have noted the same detail in a story in a Constantinople newspaper, and have come upon it in newspapers of Adelaide, South Australia, and Cornwall, England, and other places -- and when I note that it is no standardized detail of ghost stories, so that probably not one of the writers had ever heard of anything of the kind before -- I'd consider myself sane and reasonable in giving heed to this, if there were sanity and reasonableness.

"One afternoon, little Dina felt her hair, which hung in a long braid down her back, suddenly pulled, and, on crying out, the family found her braid almost cut off, simply hanging by a few hairs. On the same day, the little boy said that something had pulled his hair all over. Immediately it was seen by his mother that his hair, also, had been cut off, in chunks, as it were, all over his head."

Woodcock told of a voice that was heard. This is an element that does not appear in the great majority of cases of poltergeist disturbances. His story is of conversations that were carried on between him and an invisible being. There was a feud between the Daggs and neighbors named Wallace; and "the voice" accused Mrs. Wallace of having sent him, or her, or it, or whatever, to persecute the Daggs. Most of the time, the house was crowded. When this accusation was heard, a number of farmers went to the home of the Wallaces, and returned [58/59] with Mrs. Wallace. The story is that "the voice" again accused Mrs. Wallace, but then made statements that were so inconsistent that it was not believed. It was an obscene voice, and Mr. Woodcock was shocked. He reasoned with it, pointing out that there were farmeresses present. And "the voice" was ashamed of itself. It repented. It sang a hymn and departed.

I take something from the Religio-Philosophical Journal, Oct. 4, 1873, and following issues, as copied from the Durand (Wisconsin) Times, and other newspapers.(6) Home of Mr. Lynch, 14 miles from Menomonie, Wisconsin -- had moved from Indiana, a few years before, and was living with a second wife and the four children of the first wife's. She had died shortly before he had moved. Lynch went to town one day, and returned with a dress for his wife. Soon afterward, this dress was found in the barn, slashed to shreds. Objects all over the house vanished. Lynch bought another dress. This was found, in the barn, cut down to fit one of the children. Eggs rose from tables, tea cups leaped, and a pan of soft soap wandered from room to room. One of the children, a boy, aged six, was thought to be playing tricks, because phenomena centered around him. Nobody lambasted him until he confessed, but he was tied in a chair -- tea cups as lively as ever.

There was the usual openness. No midnight mysteries of a haunted house. Sightseers were arriving in such numbers that there was no room in the house for them. Several hundred of them lounged outside, sitting on fences or leaning against anything that would hold them up, [59/60] ready for a dash into the house, at any announcement of doings.

"One day one of the children, named Rena, was standing close to Mrs. Lynch. Her hair was sheared off, close to her scalp, and vanished."

There have been single instances, and there have been hairclipping scares that were attributed to "mass psychology." Also I have noted cases in which girls were accused of having cut off their own hair, hoping to take up some newspaper space. My only reason for doubt is the satisfactory endings of these accounts, with statements that the girls confessed.

There were accounts in the London newspapers, of Dec. 2 and 10, 1922, of a scare in places east and west of London. In a street, in Uxbridge, Middlesex, a woman found that her braid had been cut off. She had been aware of no such operation, but remembered that, in a crowd, her hat had been pushed over her eyes. According to the stories, women were terrorized by "a vanishing man." "Disappeared as if by magic." It is an uncatchable again, a defiant fellow, operating openly, as if confident that he could not be caught. Note that these are not ghost stories. They are stories of human beings, who seemed to have ghostly qualities, or powers. Dorris Whiting, aged 17, approaching her home, in the village of Orpington, saw a man, leaning on the gate. As she was passing him, he grabbed her, and cut off her hair. The girl screamed, and her father and brother ran to her. They searched, but the clipper was unfindable. A maid, employed by Mrs. Glanfield, of Crofton Hall, Orpington, [60/61] was pounced upon by a man, who hacked off a handful of her hair. He vanished. There was excitement in Orpington, at the end of a bus route. A girl exclaimed that much of her hair had been cut off. Merely this does not seem mysterious; it seems that a deft fellow could have done this without being seen by the other passengers. But other girls were saying whatever girls say when they discover that their hair has been cut off. At Enfield, a girl named Brand, employed as a typist, at the Constitutional Club, was near the club house, one morning, about eight o'clock, when a man grabbed her and cut off her hair. "No trace of him was found, though the search was taken up a minute after the outrage."

I have noted occurrences in London, which look as if there was a desire, not generally for hair, or for anybody's hair, but for hair, and then more hair, of one victim. See the Kensington (London) Express, Aug. 23, 1907.(7) Twice a girl's hair had been clipped. In a London street, she felt a clip, the third time. The girl accused a man. He was arrested and was arraigned at the Mansion House. Neither the girl nor anybody else had seen him as a clipper, but he had "walked sharply away," and when accused had run. Nothing was said of either scissors or hair in any quantity found in his possession. The hair that had been cut off was not found. But "there was some hair on his jacket," and he was found guilty and was fined.

I have record of another case of "mass psychology." It is my expression that the description "mass psychology" does partly apply to it, just as would "horizontal ineptitude," or "metacarpal iridescence," or any other idea, or [61/62] combination of ideas, apply, to some degree, to anything. In an existence of the hyphen, it is impossible to be altogether wrong -- or right. This is why it is so hard to learn anything. It is hard to overcome that which can not be altogether wrong with that which can not be altogether right. I look forward to the time when I shall refuse to learn another thing, having accumulated errors enough.

In the Spiritualist, July 21, 1876, was published a story of "mass excitement" in Nanking and other cities of China.(8) Uncatchables, who could not even be seen, were cutting off the pigtails of Chinamen, and there was panic. More of the story was told, but I preferred to take accounts from a local newspaper. I give details, as I found them, in various issues of the North China Herald, from May 20 to Sept. 16, 1876.(9)

Panic in Nanking and other towns, and its spread to Shanghai -- people believed that invisibles were cutting off their pigtails. It was said that, regard this story of the invisibles as one would, there was no doubt that a number of pigtails had been cut off, and that great alarm existed, in consequence. "Many Chinamen have lost their tails, and we can hardly admit that the imaginary sprites are real men with steel shears, for it could hardly happen that some one would not have been detected, before this, in the act of cutting. The most likely explanation is that agents, whoever they may be, operate by means of some potent acid."

Panic spreading to Hangchow -- "Numerous cases are reported, but few of them are authentic." "The cases are increasing daily." [62/63]

In the streets of Shanghai men, fearing attacks behind, were holding their pigtails in front of them. Quack doctors were advertising charms. Probably the reputable physicians, devoted to their own incantations, were indignant about this. The Military Commandant stationed soldiers in various parts of the city. "Suffice it to mention that, amongst much that is untrustworthy, there seem good ground for believing that some children have actually lost part of their tails."

Sellers of charms suspected of cutting off pigtails, to stimulate business -- mischievous children suspected -- missionaries accused, and anti-Christian placards appearing in public places -- rumors of drops of ink thrown in people's faces, "by invisible agencies," and people so treated dying -- inhabitants of Woosin and Soochow mad with terror -- the lynching of suspected persons -- arrests and torture. People had suspended work, and had organized into guards. At Soochow broke out "the crushing mania," or a belief that at night people were crushed in their beds. The beating of gongs was taken up so that the supply ran out, and anybody who wanted a gong had to wait for one to be made.

The standardized way of telling of such a scare is to elaborate upon the extremities at the climax of the excitement, and to ignore, or slightingly to touch upon, the incidents that preceded. There was a panic, or a mania, in China. Perhaps there was. I have no Chinaman's account. For all I know, some Chinaman may have sent an account to his newspaper, of us, beating gongs, during the parrot-disease scare, of the year 1929, having seen [63/64] a janitor knocking off dust from the cover of an ash can.(10) There was probably considerable excitement that was the product of delusions: nevertheless it does seem acceptable that there were cases of mysterious hair-clipping. [64]

1. London Daily Chronicle, (July 9, 1913): (Could not find on 9th, 10th, nor 19th.)

2. "Girl's hair cut off." People (London), January 23, 1921, p. 9 c. 7. The location was Auchinleck, Ayrshire, Scotland, (not Anchenleck).

3. "Clips children's hair." New York Sun, March 7, 1928, p. 1 c. 8.

4. "Marvellous spontaneous manifestations: Canada." Medium and Daybreak, 20 (n.1028; December 13, 1889): 785-9. The name of the adopted girl was Dinah Burden McLean, (not Dina), who had come from the same orphanage as Jennie Bramwell. Correct quotes: "...strange to say not hurting her in the least," and, "One afternoon little Dinah felt...by a few hairs. It had to be cut off entirely, and looked as if a person had grabbed the braid and sawed it off with a knife. On the same day the little boy began crying, and said somebody pulled his hair all over. Immediately it was seen by his mother that his hair had also had been cut off in chunks as it were all over his head."

5. Brockville Daily Times (Ontario).

6. "Spiritual phenomena." Religio-philosophical Journal, 15 (n.3; October 4, 1873): p.2 c.4-5. T.F. Talmage. "Spiritualism and its phenomena." Religio-philosophical Journal, 15 (n.7; November 1, 1873): p.1 c.1-5 & p.5 c.1. "The haunted house of Wisconsin." Religio-philosophical Journal, 15 (n.9; November 15, 1873): p.2 c.4-5.

7. "The rape of the lock." Kensington Express, August 23, 1907, p.2 c.3. Correct quotes: "...walk sharply away," and, "Some hair was found on his jacket."

8. "Marvellous disappearance of pigtails." Spiritualist and Journal of Psychological Science, 8 (July 21, 1876): 339. Correct quote: mass "excitement," (not "mass excitement").

9. "Summary of the news." North China Herald (Shanghai), n.s., 16 (May 20, 1876): 474-5, at 474. "The tail cutting excitement." North China Herald, n.s., 16 (May 27, 1876): 506. "The tail-cutting mania at Wuchang." North China Herald, n.s., 17 (August 5, 1876): 122. "Summary of the news." North China Herald, n.s., 17 (August 12, 1876): 142-3, at 143. "Summary of the news." North China Herald, n.s., 17 (August 26, 1876): 190-1, at 191. "Summary of the news." North China Herald, n.s., 17 (September 2, 1876): 218-9. "Summary of the news." North China Herald, n.s., 17 (September 16, 1876): 270-1. The locations in China (Zhong Guo) mentioned are: Cheefoo (Yantai), Chinkiang (Zhenjiang), Hangchow (Hangzhou), Kiangnan (Jiangsu province), Ngan-hwei (Anhui province), Nanking (Nanjing), Shanghai, Soochow (Suzhou), Woosih (not "Woosin," and, now, Wuxi), Wuchang (Wuhan), and Yangchow (Yangzhou). Correct quotes: "...that agents, whoever they are, of the conspirators, whoever they may be, operate...," and, "...the, among much that is untrustworthy...." No mention is made of lynchings, but at least three men at Wuxi were decapitated under the Chinese form of "lynch law."

10. The psittacosis scare began late in 1929 but was most widespread in 1930.

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