Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Ten



RELATIVELY TO the principles of modern science, werewolves can not be. But I know of no such principle that is other than tautology or approximation. It is myth-stuff. Then, if relatively to a group of phantoms, werewolves can not be, there are at least negative grounds for thinking that they are quite likely.

Relatively to the principles, or lack of principles, of ultra-modern science, there isn't anything that can't be, even though also it is not clear how anything can be.

So my acceptance, or pseudo-conclusion, is that werewolves are quite likely-unlikely.

Once upon a time, when minds were dosed with the pill-theory of matter, werewolves were said to be physically impossible. Very little globes were said to be the ultimates of matter, and were supposed to be understandable, and people thought they knew what matter is. But the pills have rolled away. Now we are told that the ultimates are waves. It is impossible to think of a wave. One has to think of something that is waving. If anybody can [96/97] think of crime, virtue, or color, independent of somebody who is criminal, virtuous, or colored, that thinker -- or whatever -- may say that he knows what he is talking about, in denying the existence of anything, upon physical grounds. To say that the "ultimate waves" are electrical comes no closer to saying something. If there is no definition of electricity better than that of saying that it is a mode of motion, we're not enlighteningly told that the "ultimate waves" are moving motions.

My suspicion is that we've got everything reversed; or that all things that have the sanction of scientists, or that are in agreement with their myths, are ghosts; and that things called "ghosts," are, because they are not in agreement with the spooks of science, the more nearly real things. I now suspect that the spiritualists are reversedly right -- that there is a ghost-world -- but that it is our existence -- that when spirits die they become human beings.

I now have a theory that once upon a time, we were real and alive, but departed into this state that we call "existence" -- that we have carried over with us from the real existence, from which we died, the ideas of Truth, and of axioms and principles and generalizations -- ideas that really meant something when we were really alive, but that, of course, now, in our phantom-existence -- which is demonstratable by any X-ray photograph of any of us -- can have only phantom-meaning -- so then our never-ending, but always frustrated search for our lost reality. We come upon chimera and mystification, but persistently have beliefs, as retentions from an experience [97/98] in which there were things to believe in. I'd not say that all of us are directly ghosts: most of us may be the descendants of the departed from a real existence, who, in our spook-world, pseudo-propagated.

Once upon a time -- but in our own times -- there were two alleged marvels that were sources of uncommon contempt, or amusement, to scientists: they were the transformation of elements into other elements, and the transformation of human animals into other animals.

The history of science is a record of the transformations of contempts and amusements.

I think that the idea of werewolves is most silly, degraded, and superstitious; therefore I incline toward it respectfully. It is so laughable that I am serious about this.

Marauding animals have often unaccountably appeared in, or near, human communities, in Europe and the United States. The explanation of an escape from a menagerie has, many times, been unsatisfactory, or has had nothing to base upon. I have collected notes upon these occurrences, as teleportations, but also there may be lycanthropy.

Nobody has ever been finally reasonable, and it is impossible for me to be absolutely unreasonable. I can tell no yarn that is wholly a yarn, if it be my whim, or inspiration, to come out for the existence of werewolves.

What is there that absolutely sets apart the story of a man who turned into an ape, or a hyena, from the story of a caterpillar that became a butterfly? Or rascals who almost starve to death, and then learn to take on the looks [98/99] of philanthropists? There are shabby young doctors and clergymen, who turn so sleek, after learning the lingo of altruists, that they have the appearance of very different animals. Or the series of portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte -- and so much of his mind upon classical models -- and the transformation of a young haggard man into much resemblance to the Roman Emperor Augustus.

It is a matter of common belief that men have come from animals called "lower," not necessarily from apes, though the ape-theory seems to fit best, and is the most popular. Then why not that occasionally a human sloughs backward? Data of reversions, not of individuals, but of species, are common in biology.

I have come upon many allusions to the "leopard men" and the "hyena men" of African tribes, but the most definite story that I know of is an article by Richard Bagot, in the Cornhill Magazine, Oct., 1918, upon the alleged powers of natives of Northern Nigeria to take on the forms of lower animals.(1) An experience attributed to Capt. Shott, D.S.O., is told of. It is said that raiding hyenas had been wounded by gun-traps, and in each case had been traced to a point where the hyena tracks had ceased, and had been succeeded by human footprints, leading to a native town. A particular of the traditional werewolf story is that when a werewolf is injured, the injury appears upon a corresponding part of the human being of its origin. Bagot told of Capt. Shott's experience, alleged experience, whatever, with "one enormous brute" that had been shot, and had made off, leaving tracks that were followed. The hunters came to a spot where they [99/100] found the jaw of the animal, lying in a pool of blood. The tracks went on toward a native town. The next day a native died. His jaw had been shot away.

There have been many appearances of animals that were unexplained -- anyway until I appeared upon the horizon of this field of data. It seems to me that my expressions upon Teleportations are somewhat satisfactory in most of the cases -- that is, that there is a force, distributive of forms of life and other phenomena that could switch an animal, say from a jungle in Madagascar to a back yard somewhere in Nebraska. But theories of mine are no so god-like as to deny any right of being for all other theories. I'd not be dogmatic and say positively that once upon a time a lemur was magically transported from Africa to Nebraska: possibly somebody in Lincoln, Nebraska, had been transformed into a lemur, or was a werelemur.

Whatever the explanation may be, the story was told, in the New York Sun, Nov. 12, 1931. Dr. E.R. Mathers, of Lincoln, Nebraska, had seen a strange, small animal in his yard, acting queerly.(2) The next day he found the creature dead. The body was taken to Dr. I.H. Blake, of the University of Nebraska, who identified it as that of an African lemur of the Galaga group. A lemur is a monkey-like animal, with a long snout: size about that of a monkey.

I wrote to Dr. Mathers about this, and, considerably to my surprise, because mostly my "crank" letters are very properly ignored, received an answer, dated Nov. 21, 1931. Dr. Mathers verified the story. The lemur, stuffed [100/101] and mounted, is now upon exhibition in the museum of the State University, at Lincoln. Where it had come from had not been learned. There was no story of an escape, anywhere, that could match this appearance in a back yard. Accounts had been spread-headed, with illustrations, in the Lincoln State Journal, Oct. 23rd, and in the Sunday State Journal, Oct. 25th; but not even in some other back yard had this animal been seen, according to absence of statements.(3) I neglected to ask whether, at the time of the appearance of the lemur, the disappearance of any resident of Lincoln was reported.

Suppose, at a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, I should read a paper upon the transformation of a man into a hyena. There would be only one way of doing that. I recommend it to unrecognized geniuses, who can't otherwise get a hearing. It would have to be a hold-up.

But, without having to pull a gun, at the meeting of the N.A.S. at New Haven, Conn., Nov. 18, 1931, Dr. Richard C. Tolman suggested that energy may be transforming into matter.

If one can't think of a man transforming into a hyena, let one try to think of the motions of a thing turning into a thing.

My expression is that, in our existence of the hyphen, or of intermediateness between so-called opposites, there is no energy, and there is no matter; but that there is matter-energy, manifesting in different degrees of emphasis one way or the other:

That it is not thinkable that energy could turn into matter: but that it is thinkable that energy-matter could, [101/102] by a difference of emphasis, turn into matter-energy --

Of that there is no man who is without the hyena-element in his composition, and that there is no hyena that is not at least rudimentarily human -- or that at least it may be reasoned that, by no absolute transformation, but by a shift in emphasis, a man-hyena might turn into a hyena-man.

The year 1931 -- and there were everywhere, but most notably in the U.S.A., such shifts, or reversions, from the state that is called "civilization," that there was talk of repealing laws against carrying weapons, and of the arming of citizens to protect themselves, as if such cities as New York and Chicago were frontier towns. Out of policemen -- in all except physical appearance -- had come wolves that had preyed upon nocturnal women. There were chases of savages through the streets of New York City. Jackals on juries picked up bits from kills by bigger beasts, and snarled their jackal-verdicts.

New York Times, June 30, 1931 -- "Police at Mineola hunt ape-like animal -- hairy creature, about four feet tall."(4)

Out of judges had come swine.

County Judge W. Bernard Vause found guilty of using the mails to defraud, and sentenced to six years in Atlanta Penitentiary.(5) Federal Judge Grover M. Moscowitz was censured by the House of Representatives. The Magistrates, who, facing charges of corruption, resigned, were Mancuso, Ewald, McQuade, Goodman, Simpson.(6) Vitale was removed.(7) Crater disappeared. Rosenbluth went away, for his health's sake. [102/103]

And, near Mineola, Long Island, a gorilla was reported.

The first excitement was at Lewis & Valentine's nursery -- story told by half a dozen persons -- an ape that had come out of the woods, had looked them over, and had retreated. It seems that the police hadn't heard of "mass psychology": so they had to explain less learnedly. Several days later, they were so impressed with repeating stories that a dozen members of the Nassau County Police Department were armed with shot guns, and were assigned to ape-duty.

No circus had appeared anywhere near Mineola, about this time; and from neither any Zoo, nor from anybody's smaller menagerie, had the escape of any animal been reported. Ordinarily let nothing escape, or let nothing large, wild, and hairy appear, but let it be called an ape, anyway -- and, upon the rise of an ape-scare, one expects to hear of cows reported as gorillas: trees, shadows, vacancies taking on ape-forms. But -- New York Herald Tribune, June 27th -- Mrs. E.H. Tandy, of Star Cliff Drive, Malverne, reported something as if she had not heard of the ape-scare.(8) She called up the police station, saying that there was a lion in her back yard. The policeman, who incredulously received this message, waited for another policeman to return to the station, and share the joke. Both waited for the arrival of a third disbeliever. The three incredulous policemen set out, several hours after the telephone call, and by that time there wasn't anything to disturb anybody's conventional beliefs, in Mrs. Tandy's back yard. [103/104]

There was no marauding. All the stories were of a large and hairy animal that was appearing and disappearing --

And appearing and disappearing in the vast jungles not far from Mineola, Long Island, were skunks that were coming from lawyers. Some of them were caught and rendered inoffensive by disbarment. There was a capture of several dozen medical hyenas, who had been picking up livings in the trains of bootleggers. It could be that an occurrence, in New Jersey, was not at all special, but represented a slump back toward a state of about simian development. There was an examination of applicants for positions in the schools of Irvington. In mathematics, no question beyond arithmetic was asked; in spelling, no unusual word was listed. One hundred and sixteen applicants took the examination, and all failed to pass.(9) The average mark was 31.5. The creep of jungle-life stripped clothes from people. Nudists appeared in many places.(10) And it was not until later in the year, that the staunchest opponent of disclosures spoke out in the name of decency, or swaddling -- or when Pope Pius XI refused to receive Mahatma Gandhi, unless he'd put on pants.(11)

Upon the 29th of June, the ape-story was taken so seriously, at Mineola, the Police Captain Earle Comstock ordered out a dozen special motor patrols, armed with revolvers and sawed-off shot guns, with gas and ball ammunition, led by Sergeant Berkley Hyde. A posse of citizens was organized, and it was joined by twenty nurserymen, who were armed with sickles, clubs, and pitchforks. Numerous footprints were found. "The prints seemed to be solely those of the hind feet, and were about the size [104/105] and shape of a man's hand, though the thumb was set farther back than would be the case with a man's hand." However, no ape was seen. As to prior observations, Policeman Fred Koehler, who had been assigned to investigate, reported statements by ten persons.

The animal disappeared, about the last of June. Upon July 18th, it was reported again, and by persons who were out of communication with each other. It was near Huntington, L.I. A nurseryman, named Stockman, called up the police, saying that members of his family had seen an animal, resembling a gorilla, running through shrubbery. Then a farmer, named Bruno, three miles away, telephoned that he had seen a strange animal. Policemen went to both places, and found tracks, but lost them in the woods. The animal was not reported again.

And I suppose I shall get a letter from somebody in Long Island asking me not to publish his name, unless I consider that positively necessary, but assuring me that, of all the theorists, who had tried to explain the Ape of Mineola, only I have insight and penetration --

Or an impulse that had come upon him, in June, 1931, to climb trees, and to chatter, and to pick over the heads of his neighbors -- and then blankness. He had awakened from a trance, and had found on his carpet tracks of "thumbed footprints." A peculiar, greenish mud. He had gone to Lewis and Valentine's nursery, and there he had seen a patch of this mud, which was not known to exist anywhere else.

And, if I don't take seriously this letter that I shall probably receive from somebody in Long Island, it will [105/106] be because probably also I shall hear from somebody else, telling me that above all he shrinks from notoriety, but that personal considerations must be swept aside for the sake of science -- that, as told in the newspapers, somebody had slung a brick, hitting the retreating ape, and that he had been unable to sit down, next morning.

But the germination of a new idea, I'm feeling. I have wondered about occultly stealing a money-bag from a bank. But that is so paltry, compared with abilities, not considered occult, by which respectable operators steal banks. Or psychically dislocating somebody's shoulder, in a petty revenge -- whereas, politically, and upon the noblest of idealistic principles, whole nations may be dislocated. But, when it comes to the Miracle of Mineola, I feel the stirrings of Usefulness --

Or the makings of a new religion -- founded as solidly as any religion ever has been founded --

All ye who are world-weary -- unsatisfied with mere nudism, which isn't reverting far enough -- unsatisfied with decadence in creeds and politics of today, which conceivably might be more primitive -- conceiving that, after all, the confusion in the sciences isn't blankness, and that the cave-arts are at least scrawling something -- all ye who are craving a more drastic degeneration -- and a possible answer to your prayer --

"Make me, oh, make me, an ape again!"

What I need, to keep me somewhat happy, and to some degree interested in my work, is opposition. If lofty and academic, so much the better: if sanctified, I'm in great luck. I suspect that it may be regrettable, but, though I [106/107] am much of a builder, I can't be somewhat happy, as a writer, unless also I'm mauling something. Most likely this is the werewolf in my composition. But the science of physics, which, at one time, was thought forever to have disposed of werewolves, vampires, witches, and other pets of mine, is today such an attempted systemization of the principles of magic, that I am at a loss for eminent professors to be disagreeable to. Upon the principles of quantum mechanics, one can make reasonable almost any miracle, such as entering a closed room without penetrating a wall, or jumping from one place to another without traversing the space between. The only reason the exponents of ultra-modern mechanics are taken more solemnly than I am is that the reader does not have to pretend that he knows what I am writing about. There are alarmed scientists, who try to confine their ideas of magic to the actions of electronic particles, or waves; but, in the Physical Review, April, 1931, were published letters from Prof. Einstein, Prof. R.C. Tolman, and Dr. Boris Podolsky that indicate that this refinement can not be maintained.(12) Prof. Einstein applies the Principle of Uncertainty not only to atomic affairs, but to such occurrences as the opening and shutting of a shutter on a camera.

There can be no science, or pretended science, except upon the basis of ideal certainty. Anything else is to some degree guesswork. As a guesser, I'll not admit my inferiority to any scientist, imbecile, or rabbit. The position today of what is said to be the science of physics is so desperate, and so confused, that its exponents are try- [107/108] ing to incorporate into one system both former principles and the denial of them. Even in the anaemia and frazzle of religion, today, there is no worse state of desperation, or decomposition. The attempt to take the principle of uncertainty -- or the principle of unprincipledness -- into science is about the same as would be an attempt by theologians to preach the word of God, and also include atheism in their doctrines.

As an Intermediatist, I find the principle of uncertainty unsatisfactorily expressed. My own expressions are upon the principled-unprincipled rule-misrule of our pseudo-existence by certainty-uncertainty --

Or, whereas it seems unquestionable that no man has ever been transformed into a hyena, we can be no more than sure-unsure about this.

About the first of January, 1849, somebody, employed in a Paris cemetery, came upon parts of a human body, strewn on the walks. Up in the leafless tress dangled parts of a body. He came to a new-made grave, from which, during the night, had been dug the corpse of a woman. This corpse had been torn to pieces, which, in a frenzy, had been scattered. For details, see Galigani's Messenger (Paris) March 10, 23, 24, 1849.(13)

Several nights later, in another Paris cemetery, there was a similar occurrence.

The cemeteries of Paris were guarded by men and dogs, but the ghoul eluded them, and dug up bodies of women. Upon the night of March 8th, guards outside the cemetery of St. Parnasse saw somebody, or something, climbing a wall of the cemetery. Face of a wolf, or a clothed [108/109] hyena -- they could give no description. They fired at it, but it escaped.

Near a new-made grave, at St. Parnasse, they set a spring-gun. It was loaded with nails and bits of iron, for the sake of scattering. One morning, later in March, it was found that, during the night, this gun had discharged. Part of a soldier's uniform that had been shot away was found.

A gravedigger heard of a soldier, who had been taken to a Paris hospital, where he had told that he had been shot by an unknown assailant. It was said that he had been wounded by a discharge of nails and bits of iron.

The soldier's name was Francis Bertrand. The suspicion against him was considered preposterous. He was a young man of twenty-five, who had advanced himself to the position of Sergeant-Major of Infantry. "He bore a good name, and was accounted a man of gentle disposition, and an excellent soldier."

But his uniform was examined, and the fragment of cloth that had been found in the cemetery fitted into a gap in the sleeve of it.

The crime of the ghoul was unknown, or was unrecognized, in French law. Bertrand was found guilty, and was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, the maximum penalty for the only charge that could be brought against him. Virtually he could explain nothing, except that he surrendered to an "irresistible impulse." But there is one detail of his account of himself that I especially notice. It is that, after each desecration, there came to him another "irresistible impulse." That was to make for [109/110] shelter -- a hut, a trench in a field, anywhere -- and there lie in a trance, then rising from the ghoul into the soldier.

I have picked up another item. It is from the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, June 27, 1874 -- "Bertrand, the Ghoul is still alive; he is cured of his hideous disease, and is cited as a model of gentleness and propriety."(14) [110]

1. "The hyenas of Pirra." Cornhill Magazine, n.s. 3, 45 (October 1918): 353-61, at 359-361. The story, as related by Bagot, states that Capt. H.H. Shott had been unsuccessful in shooting the large hyena, distinguished from others by its tracks, and that his efforts to kill it with a gun-trap also had failed. Goats were taken from a zareba from weak points in the thorny enclosure; so, Shott aimed his gun at a weak point but left the trip wire attached at the entrance of the zareba. This alteration was apparently successful; tracks from where he found the animal's jaw led toward the Hausa town of Nafada, where they disappeared; however, it is not said that the hyena tracks were succeeded by human footprints. The "Galadina" of Nafada had returned to the village two hours after the gun-trap shot had been heard, his head was "all muffled up," he drove the woman from his compound, and he was found dead the next morning. What was considered convincing evidence by Shott was that no one in the village had a gun by which to inflict such a wound.

2. New York Sun, (November 12, 1931; could not find here).

3. "Lemur, native animal of Madagascar found in College View man's yard." Lincoln State Journal, October 23, 1931, p.1. "Anyone losing lemur may find same at university zoology department." Lincoln State Journal, October 25, 1931, p.8 c.4-5.

4. "Police at Mineola hunt ape-like animal." New York Times, June 30, 1931, p.2 c.6.

5. C.G. Poore. "Scandals arising over judgeships." New York Times, August 24, 1930, s. 9 p. 1.

6. C.G. Poore. "Scandals arising over judgeships." New York Times, August 24, 1930, s. 9 p. 1. "Goodman quits under fire; Court suspends Brodsky; Rothstein's loans sifted." New York Times, January 7, 1931, p. 1 c. 8 & p. 2 c. 1-2. "Simpson quits bench as he faces inquiry; Mayor ends leaves." New York Times, January 17, 1931, p. 1 c. 8 & p. 2 c. 1-2.

7. "Vitale removed by court over the Rothstein link; scored for incomptence." New York Times, March 14, 1930, p. 1 c. 8 & p. 2 c. 1-2.

8. "Lion and big ape play I-spy with Nassau County." New York Herald Tribune, June 27, 1931, p.3 c.6.

9. "Teacher test held obsolete in part." New York Times, August 12, 1931, p. 20 c. 1. Austen Bolam. "Tests for teachers." New York Times, August 18, 1931, p. 20 c. 7.

10. "Nature cult grows on French island." New York Times, July 13, 1930, s. 3 p. 3 c. 8. "French nudists gain approval." New York Times, July 5, 1931, s. 3 p. 8 c. 8. "Ottawa House votes anti-nude measure." New York Times, July 25, 1931, p. 14 c. 2.

11. "Gandhi's scant garb bars audience with Pope; he sees Vatican art and talks with Mussolini." New York Times, December 13, 1931, s. 1 p. 1 c. 6-7.

12. Albert Einstein, Richard C. Tolman, and Boris Podolsky. "Knowledge of the past and future in quantum mechanics." Physical Review: A Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics, s.2, 37 (March 15, 1931): 780-1.

13. Galigani's Daily Messenger (Paris), (March 10, 23, 24, 1849).

14. "The ghoul of Montparnasse." San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, June 27, 1874, p.4 c.2.

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