Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Eight



SOME TIME in the year 1867, a fishing smack sailed from Boston. One of the sailors was a Portuguese, who called himself "James Brown." Two of the crew were missing, and were searched for. The captain went into the hold. He held up his lantern, and saw the body of one of these men, in the clutches of "Brown," who was sucking blood from it. Near by was the body of the other sailor. It was bloodless. "Brown" was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged, but President Johnson commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. In October, 1892, the vampire was transferred from the Ohio Penitentiary to the National Asylum, Washington, D. C., and his story was re-told in the newspapers. See Brooklyn Eagle, Nov. 4, 1892.(1)

Ottawa Free Press, Sept. 17, 1910 -- that, near the town of Galazanna, Portugal, a child had been found dead, in a field.(2) The corpse was bloodless. The child had been last seen with a man named Salvarrey. He was arrested, and confessed that he was a vampire. [71/72]

See the New York Sun, April 14, 1931, for an account of the murders of nine persons, all but one of them females, which in the year 1929 terrorized the people of Düsseldorf, Germany.(3) The murderer Peter Kurten, was caught. At his trial, he made no defense, and described himself as a vampire.

I have a collection of stories of children, upon whom, at night, small wounds appeared. Rather to my own wonderment, considering that I am a theorist, I have not jumped to the conclusion that these stories are data of vampires, but have thought the explanation of rat bites satisfactory enough. But, in the Yorkshire Evening Argus, March 13, 1924, I came upon a rat story that seems queer.(4) Inquest upon the death of Martha Senior, aged 68, of New Street, Batley. "On the toes and fingers were a lot of wounds that rather suggested rat bites." It was said that these little wounds could have had nothing to do with the woman's death, which, according to the coroner, was from valvular heart disease. The only explanation acceptable to the coroner was that, before the police took charge of the body, the woman must have been dead a considerable time, during which rats mutilated the corpse. But Mrs. Elizabeth Lake, a neighbor, testified that she had found Mrs. Senior lying on the floor, and that Mrs. Senior had told her that she was dying. The statement meant that the woman had been attacked by something, before dying. The coroner disposed of it by saying that the woman must have been dead a considerable time, before the body was found, and that Mrs. Lake was mistaken in thinking that Mrs. Senior had spoken to her. [72/73]

The fun of everything, in our existence of comedy-tragedy -- and I was suspicious of the story of the terrorized Chinamen, as told by English reporters, because it was a story of panic that omitted the jokes -- mania without the smile. Every fiendish occurrence that gnashes its circumstances, and sinks its particulars into a victim, wags a joke. In June, 1899, there was, in many parts of the U.S.A., much amusement. Something, in New York City, Washington, and Chicago, was sending people to hospitals. I don't recommend the beating of a gong to drive away a hellish thing: but I think that the treatment is as enlightened as is giving to it a funny name. Hospitals of Ann Arbor, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; Rochester, N.Y.; Reading, Pa. --

The "kissing bug", it was called.

The story of the origin of the "kissing bug" scare-joke is that, upon the 19th of June, 1899, a Washington newspaper man, hearing of an unusual number of persons, who, at the Emergency Hospital, had applied for treatment for "bug bites," investigated, learning of "a very noticeable number of patients," who were suffering with swellings, mostly upon their lips, "apparently the result of an insect bite."(5) According to Dr. L.O. Howard, writing in Popular Science Monthly, 56-31, there were six insects, in the United States, that could inflict dangerous bites, or punctures, but all of them were of uncommon occurrence.(6) So Dr. Howard rejected the insect-explanation. In his opinion there had arisen a senseless scare, like those of former times, in southern Europe, when hosts of hysterical persons imagined that tarantulas had bitten them.(7) [73/74]

This is "mass psychology" again -- or the Taboo-explanation. To the regret of my contrariness, it is impossible for me utterly to disagree with anybody. I think with Dr. Howard that the "kissing bug" scare was like the tarantula scares. But it could be that some of those people of southern Europe did not merely imagine that something was biting them. If somebody should like to write a book, but is like millions of persons who would like to write books, but fortunately don't know just what to write books about, I suggest a study of scares, with the idea of showing that they were not altogether hysteria and mass psychology, and that there may have been something to be scared about.

New York Herald, July 9 -- names and addresses of 11 persons, who upon one day (8th of July) had either scared their bodies into producing swellings, or had been bitten by something that the scientists refused to believe existed.(8) And people who were bitten captured insects. Entomological News, Sept., 1899 -- some of these insects, which were sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, were house flies, bees, beetles, and even a butterfly.(9) There are wings of vampires that lull with scientific articles. See Taboo, as represented by Dr. E. Murray-Aaron, writing in the Scientific American, July 22, 1899 -- nothing but sensation-mongering from Richmond, Va., to Augusta, Me.(10)

There was a sensational horse, in Cincinnati. His jaw swelled. Would a child, aged four, be too young for "mass psychology"? I suppose not. I am not denying that there was much mass psychology in this. Cedar Falls, Iowa -- a [74/75] four-year-old child bitten. Trenton, N.J. -- Helen Lersch, two years old, bitten -- died. Bay Shore, L.I. -- a child, aged two, bitten.

Later, I shall give instances of sizeable wounds that have appeared upon people; but, in this chapter, I am considering tiny punctures that may not have been either rat bites or insect stings. An account, in the Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1899, is suggestive of traditional vampire stories.(11) A woman had been bitten. "The marks of two small incisors could be seen."

I don't know whether I am of a cruel and bloodthirsty disposition, or not. Most likely I am, but not more so than any other historian. Or, conforming to the conditions of our existence, I am amiable-bloodthirsty. In my desire for vampires, which is not in the least a queer desire, inasmuch as I have a theory that there are vampires, I was not satisfied with the "kissing bug": what I wanted was an account of hospital cases, not in the summer time. The insect-explanation, even though it was not upheld by Taboo, is too much at home, in the summer time. I needed an account, not in the summer time, to fill out my collection of data. Any collector will understand how pleased I was to come upon -- London Daily Mail, April 20, 1920 -- an account of human suffering.(12) "A number of people in country places have been bitten by some mysterious creature with a very poisonous fang. It is rare for any sort of poisonous bite or sting to occur before summer, and as a rule the culprit is known. This spring doctors have attended case after case, where the swellings have been sudden and severe, though there is little sign of the [75/76] bite itself." I have record of several winter time cases. See La Nature (Supplement), Jan. 16, 1897 -- that, while filling a stove with coal, in a house in the Rue de la Tour, Paris, a concierge had felt a stinging sensation upon his arm, which swelled.(13) He was taken to a hospital, where he died. People in the house said that they had seen gigantic wasps entering the house by way of stove pipes.

But the most mysterious of cases of insect bites, or alleged insect bites, is that of the small wound that led to the death of Lord Carnarvon, if be accepted that his death, and the deaths of fourteen other persons, were in any especial way related to the opening, or the violation, of the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen. Lord Carnarvon was stung by what was supposed to be an insect. What was said to be blood poisoning set in. What was said to be septic pneumonia followed.

The stories of the "kissing bug" differ from vampire stories, in that victims were painfully wounded. But there was an occurrence in Upper Broadway, New York City, May 7th, 1909, that may be more in agreement. It seems possible that a woman could, in a street crowd, viciously jab several persons with a hat pin, without being detected: but it does seem unlikely that she could enjoy such a stroll, jabbing at least five men and a woman, before being interfered with. A Broadway policeman learned that upon somebody a small wound, as if made by a hat pin, had appeared. Four other men and a woman joined the crowd and showed that they had been similarly wounded. The policeman arrested, as the cause of the excitement, a [76/77] woman, who told that her name was Mary Maloney, and gave a false address.(14)

Perhaps she had no address. She may have been guilty, but perhaps she was shabby. If somebody must be arrested, it is wise to pick out one who does not look very self-defensive. "Plead guilty and you'll get off with a light sentence." It is dangerous to be anywhere near any scene of crime, considering the way detectives pick up "suspects," even an hour or so later, obviously arguing that when somebody commits a crime, he hangs around to be suspected.

I have never been jabbed with a hat pin, but I have sat on pointed things, and my responses were so energetic that I suspect that at least six persons were not jabbed with a hat pin, before the jabber was caught. See data to come, that indicate that people may be -- by some means at present not understood -- wounded, and not know it until later. Also that a woman was accused makes me doubt that the marauder was caught. Women don't do such things. I have a long list of Jacks, ranging from rippers and stranglers to the egg throwers and ink squirters: but Mary Maloney is the only alleged Jill in my collection. Women don't do such things. They have their own deviltries.

Upon Dec. 4th, 1913, Mrs. Wesley Graff, who sat in a box, in the Lyric Theatre, New York City, felt something scratching her hand. She felt a pain like the sting of a wasp, and, staggering from her chair, fainted, first accusing a young man near her. The manager of the theatre held the young man, and called the police. Policemen [77/78] searched, and found, on the floor, a common darning needle. It was their theory that the young man was a white slaver, who by means of a hypodermic injection, had sought to render a victim insensible, probably having waiting outside, a cab, to which he, explaining that he was her companion, would carry her. There were marks upon Mrs. Graff's arm, but it seems that they were not made by a darning needle.

With the idea that the needle might be tipped with a drug, the police sent it to a chemist. To my astonishment, I record that he reported that he had found neither drug, nor poison, on it. A strange circumstance is that, at this place, where a woman was wounded somewhat as if by a darning needle, was found this darning needle, which was suggestive of a commonplace explanation.

Then arose the story that a gang of white slavers was operating in the city. But in the newspapers were published interviews with physicians, who stated that they knew of no drug by which women could be affected so as to make them easily abductable, because the pain of an injection would give minutes of warning, before a victim could be rendered helpless. But it may be that something, or somebody, was abroad, mysteriously wounding women. In the Brooklyn Eagle, Dec. 6, it was said that in a period of two weeks, the Committee of Fourteen, of New York City, had heard a dozen complaints of mysterious, minor attacks upon women, and had investigated, but had been unable to learn anything definite in any case.(15)

See back to the story of the Chicago woman, and "marks of two small incisors."(16) Upon Mrs. Graff's arm [78/79] were two little punctures. Dec. 29 -- girl named Marian Brindle said that something stung her. Upon her arm were two little punctures.

It may be that, in the period of the scare in New York City, the first occurrence of which was in November, 1913, a vampire was abroad. It could be that we pick up the trail more than a year before this time. In October, 1912, Miss Jean Milne, aged 67, was living alone in her home, in West Ferry, Dundee, Scotland. London Times, Nov. 5, 1912 -- the finding of her body.(17) The woman was beaten, presumably with a poker, which was found, according to the account in the Times: but it was said that, though she had been struck on the head, her skull was not fractured: so her death was not altogether accounted for. There was more of this story, in the London Weekly Dispatch, Nov. 24, 1912.(18) Upon this body were found perforations, as if having been made by a fork.

Late at night, Feb. 2, 1913, the body of a woman was found on the tracks of the London Underground Railway, near the Kensington High-street station. The body had been run over, and the head had been cut off. The body was identified as that of Miss Maud Frances Davies, who, alone, had been travelling around the world, and, earlier in the day, had, upon a ship train, arrived in London. She had friends and relatives in South Kensington, and presumably she was on her way to visit them. But the explanation at the inquest (London Times, Feb. 6, 1913) was that she had probably committed suicide by placing her neck upon a rail.(19) [79/80]

"Dr. Townsend said that over the heart he found a number of small, punctured wounds, over a dozen of which had penetrated the muscles; and one had entered the ventricle cavity of the heart. These punctures had been caused in life, with a sharp instrument, such as a hat pin. They were not enough to cause death, but had been made a few hours previously."

Upon December 29th, of this year, 1913, a woman, known as "Scotch Dolly," was found dead in her room, 18 Ethan Street, S. E. London. A man, who had lived with her, was arrested, but was released, because he was able to show that, before the time of her death, he had left the woman. Her face was bruised, but she had seldom been sober, and the man, Williams, before leaving her, had struck her. The verdict was that had died of heart failure, "from shock."

Upon one of the woman's legs was found a series of 38 little, double wounds. They were not explained. "The Coroner: `Have you ever had a similar case, yourself?' Dr. Spilsbury: `No, not exactly like this.'"(20) [80]

1. "Human vampire and a murderer." Brooklyn Eagle, November 4, 1892, p. 1 c. 4.

2. "Human vampire was this man." Ottawa Free Press, September 17, 1910, p. 16 c. 2.

3. New York Sun, (April 14, 1931; could not find here).

4. "Body eaten by rats." Yorkshire Evening Argus (Bradford), March 13, 1924, p. 5 c. 3.

5. The reporter was James F. McElhone, of the Washington Post.

6. L.O. Howard. "Spider bites and kissing bugs." Popular Science Monthly, 56 (November 1899): 31-42.

7. "Tarantism is a disorder characterized by dancing which classically follows the bite of a spider and is cured by music," (Russell). The "Tarantella" dance was practised to counter the toxic effects of the spider's venom, (whereas the St. Vitus' dance or dancing manias occurred without any insect provocateur); and, outbreaks of tarantism became "almost epidemic" in the seventeenth century. It has continued into modern times, though on a reduced scale. In June of 1959, Ernesto de Martino found thirty-five cases at Galatino, Apulia, Italy. One type of Apulian tarantula, known as the Latrodectus, has a venom with a "powerful psychotropic effect," however, this same spider is found in other countries, "where tarantism does not occur," including the United States, (individual cases have been reported in Persia, Albania, Ethiopia, Asia Minor, and America, "but none remotely resembling the scale of cases in Southern Italy"). Jean Fogo Russell. "Tarantism." Medical History, 23 (1979): 404-25; at 404, 408. Robert E. Bartholomew. "Tarantism, dancing mania and demonopathy: the anthro-political aspects of `mass psychogenic illness." Psychological Medicine, 24 (1994): 281-306; at 289, 300-1. I.M. Lewis. "The spider and the pangolin." Man, n.s., 26 (1991): 513-25, at 514.

8. New York Herald, (July 9, 1899; could not find here).

9. W.J.F. "Editorial." Entomological News, 10 (September 1899): 205-6.

10. Eugene Murray-Aaron. "The kissing bug scare." Scientific American, n.s., 81 (July 22, 1899): 54.

11. "Weird tales of kissing bug." Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1889, p. 2 c. 2. There is no mention of "incisors" among several reports, including policemen stung upon their lips; and, the dispatch from Cleveland, concerning Mrs. Wealthy Derr, is most probably referred to. Correct quote: "Two red spots showed where she had been stung around which a dark circle formed."

12. "Poison spiders." London Daily Mail, April 20, 1920, p.7 c.5.

13. "Singulier accident qui mérite une mention...." Nature (Paris), 1897, 1 (supplement; January 16, 1897): 25.

14. New York Sun, May 8, 1909, p. 1 c. 5. [D-302.]

15. "Many stories of girls drugged, as was Mrs. Graff." Brooklyn Eagle, December 6, 1913, pp.1-2.

16. See back to footnote 12 of this chapter. "Weird tales of kissing bug." Chicago Daily Tribune, July 11, 1889, p. 2 c. 2. There is no mention of "incisors" among several reports, including policemen stung upon their lips; and, the dispatch from Cleveland, concerning Mrs. Wealthy Derr, is most probably referred to. Correct quote: "Two red spots showed where she had been stung around which a dark circle formed."

17. "Murder at Dundee." London Times, November 5, 1912, p.12 c.3.

18. "The mystery of Miss Milne." London Weekly Dispatch, November 24, 1912, p.9 c.5.

19. "Woman decapitated on the Metropolitan Railway." London Times, February 6, 1913, p.8 c.4. No mention is made in this article to indicate she had friends in "South" Kensington. Correct quote: "Dr. Townsend said the body was decapitated. Over the heart he found a number of small punctured wounds, over a dozen of which had penetrated the muscles and one had entered one of the ventricle cavities of the heart. These punctures had been caused during life with a sharp instrument, such as a hat-pin. They were not enough to cause death, but had been made a few hours previously."

20. News of the World. South London Press, January 2, 1914, p.12 c.1. South London Press, January 16, 1914, p.9 c.4. London Daily Mail, January 20, 1914. London Daily Mail, January 2, 1914, p.5 c.4.

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