Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Fourteen



THE STORY of the "mad bats of Trinidad" is that the discoverer of them had solved a mystery of many deaths of human beings and cattle.(1) "Dr. Pawan, a Trinidad scientist, had discovered that the infection had been caused by mad vampire bats, affected by rabies, which they transmitted in a new form of insidious hydrophobia."

But the existence of hydrophobia is so questionable, or of such rare occurrence, even in dogs, that the story of the "mad bats of Trinidad" looks like some more of the sensationalism in science that is so obtrusive today, and compared with which I am, myself, only a little wild now and then. It is probable that the deaths of human beings and cattle, in Trinidad, have not been accounted for. Once upon a time the explanation would have been "witchcraft." Now it's "rabid vampires." The old hag on her broomstick is of inferior theatrical interest, compared with the insane blood-sucker.

The germ-theory of diseases is probably like all other theories, ranging from those of Moses and Newton and [147/148] Einstein and Brother Voliva down, or maybe up, or perhaps crosswise, to mine, or anybody else's. Many cases may be correlated under one explanation, but there must be exceptions. No pure, or homogeneous, case of any kind is findable: so every case is variously classifiable. There have been many cases of ailments and deaths of human beings that have not been satisfactorily explained in the medical terms that are just now fashionable, but that will probably be out of style, after a while. Nowadays one is smug with what one takes for progress, thinking of old-time physicians prescribing dried toads for ailments. Here's something for the enjoyment of future smugness. Newspapers of Jan. 14, 1932 -- important medical discovery -- dried pigs' stomachs, as a cure for anaemia. I now have a theory of what is called evolution, in terms of fashions -- that somewhere, perhaps on high, there is a Paris -- where, once upon a time, were dictated the modes in bugs and worms, and then the costumes of birds and mammals; grotesquely stretching the necks of giraffes, and then quite as unreasonably reacting with a repentance of hippopotami; passing on to a mental field of alternating extravagances and puritanisms, sometimes neat and tasteful, but often elaborate and rococo, with religions, philosophies, and sciences, imposing upon the fashion-slaves of this earth the latest thing in theories.

In the New York Sun, Jan. 17, 1930, Dr. E.S. Godfrey, of the New York State Department of Health, told, in an interview, of mysterious deaths on a vessel.(2) In a period of four years, twenty-seven officers and men had been stricken by what was called "typhoid fever." Taking [148/149] his science from the Sunday newspapers, which had full-paged the story of "Typhoid Mary", a scientific detective, with his microscope, boarded this vessel, and of course soon announced that he had "tracked down" one of the sailors, as a "typhoid carrier." Such sleuthing has become a modernized witch-finding. There are, in New York State, today, persecutions that are in some cases as deadly as the witchcraft-persecutions of the past. "There are 188 women and 90 men recorded as typhoid-carriers, in New York State." Why there should be twice as many women as men is plain enough: the carrier-finders, with "Typhoid Mary" in mind, probably went looking for women. It may be a matter of difficulty, or it may be impossible, in times of general unemployment, for somebody in the grocery or dairy business, to change into some other occupation: but these 278 "typhoid-carriers", tracked down by medical Sherlock Holmeses, who had read of "typhoid-carriers", are prohibited from working in food-trades, and have to report to district health officers once every three months. But this is for the protection of the rest of us. But that is what the witch-finders used to say. Chivalry can't die, so long as there is tyranny: every tyrant has been much given to protecting somebody or something. It is one of the blessings of our era that we are tormented by so many abominations, enormities, and pestiferous, smaller botherations that we can't concentrate upon the germ-scares that the medical "finders" would spread, if it were not for so much competition. They did spread, with some success, with their parrot-scare, in the year 1929. Abandoned parrots, in their [149/150] cages, were found, frozen to death, in parks and doorways. Probably the psittacosis scare, of 1929, did not become the hysteria of former scares, because lay-alarmists were checked by their inability to pronounce the name of it.(3)

There must be something the matter with the germ-theory of diseases, or the nursing and medical professions would not be so over-crowded. There must be something the matter with the germ-theory of diseases, if there is something the matter with every theory.

I looked up the case of "Typhoid Mary." With the preconceptions of everybody who looks up cases, I went looking for something to pick on. It was impossible for me to fail to find what I wanted to consider a case of injustice, if ours is an existence of justice-injustice. I of course found that the case of "Typhoid Mary" as a germ-carrier, was not made out so clearly as the "finders" of today suppose.

In the year 1906, it was noted that in several homes, in New York City, where Mary had been employed as a cook, there had been illnesses that were said to be cases of typhoid fever. The matter was investigated, according to what was supposed to be scientific knowledge, in the year 1906. The germ-theory of diseases was the dominant idea. Not a thought was given to relations between this woman and her victims. Had there been quarrels, before illnesses of persons, living in the same house with her, occurred? What was the disposition of the woman? There are millions of men and women, with long hours and little pay, who may, in their states of mind, be more [150/151] dangerous than germs. There are cooks with grievances, as well as cooks with germs. But Mary's malices were not examined. It was "found" that, though immune herself, she was a distributor of typhoid bacilli. For three years she was "detained" in a hospital, by the public health officials of New York City.

And then what became of Mary's germs? According to one examination, she had them. According to another examination, she hadn't them. At the end of three years, Mary was examined again, and, according to all tests, she hadn't them. She was released, upon promising to report periodically to the Board of Health.

Probably because of lively impressions of "detention", Mary did not keep her promise. Under various aliases, she obtained work as a cook.

About five years later, twenty-five persons, in the Sloane Maternity Hospital, New York City, were stricken with what was said to be typhoid fever. Two of them died. See Outlook, 109-803.(4) And Mary was doing the cooking, at the hospital. The Public Health officials "detained" her again, following their conclusion that they said was obvious. I know of hosts of cases that are obvious one way, and just as apparent some other way; conclusive, according to one theorist, and positively established, according to opposing theorists.

She had them, when, to support a theory, she should have them. She hadn't them, when her own support, as "detained," was becoming expensive. She had -- she hadn't -- But it does seem that in some way this woman was related to the occurrence of illnesses, sometimes fatal. [151/152]

Of all germ-distributors, the most notorious was Dr. Arthur W. Waite, who, in the year 1916, was an embarrassment to medical science. In his bacteriological laboratory, he had billions of germs, Waite planned to kill his father-in-law, John E. Peck, 435 Riverside Drive, New York City. He fed the old man germs of diphtheria, but got no results. He induced Peck to use a nasal spray, in which he had planted colonies of the germs of tuberculosis. Not a cough. He fed the old man calomel, to weaken his resistance. He turned loose hordes of germs of typhoid, and then tried influenza. In desperation, he lost all standing in the annals of distinctive crimes, and went common, or used arsenic. The old-fashioned method was a success.(5) One's impression is that, if anything, diets and inhalations of germs may be healthful.

It is not that I am attacking the germ-theory of diseases, as absolute nonsense. I do not attack this theory, as absolute nonsense, because I conceive of no theory that is more than partly nonsensical. I have some latitude. Let the conventionalists have their theory that germs cause diseases, and let their opponents have their theory that diseases cause germs, or that diseased conditions attract germs. Also there is room for dozens of other theories. Under the heading "Invalidism," I have noted 43 cases of human beings who were ill, sometimes temporarily, and sometimes dying, at the time of uncanny -- though rather common -- occurrences in their homes. No conventional theory fits these cases. But the stories, as collected by me, are only fragments.(6)

One day, in July, 1890, in the home of Mr. Piddock, [152/153] in Hafer-road, Clapham, London -- see the London Echo, July 16, 1890 -- the daughter of the household was dying.(7) Volleys of stones, of origin that could not be found out, were breaking through the glass of the conservatory. It is probable that not a doctor, in London, in the year 1890 -- nor in the year 1930 -- if what is known as a reputable physician -- would admit any possibility of relationship between a dying girl and stones that were breaking windows.

But why should any doctor, in London, in the year 1890, or any other year, accept the existence of any relations between a bombardment of a house and a girl's dying condition? He would be as well-justified in explaining that there was only coincidence, as were early paleontologists in so explaining, when they came upon bones of a huge body, and, some distance away, a relatively small skull -- explaining that the skull only happened to be near the other bones. They had never heard of dinosaurs. If many times they came upon similar skulls associating with similar other bones, some of them would at least refuse any longer to believe in mere coincidence; but the more academic ones, affronted by a new thought, would continue in their thought-ruts, decrying all reported instances as yarns, fakery, imposture, nonsense.

The dying girl -- showers of stones --

New York Sun, Dec. 22, 30, 1883 -- that, in a closed room in a house in Jordan, New York, in which a man was dying, stones were falling.(8)

In the home of Alexander Urquhart, Aberdeen, Scotland, there was an invalid boy. Stories of doings in this [153/154] house were told in London newspapers, early in January, 1920.(9) The boy was simply set down as "an invalid boy," and presumably doctors were not mystified by his ailment. Nobody was recorded as suspecting anything but coincidence between whatever may have been the matter with him, and phenomena that centered around him, as he lay in his bed. It was as if he were bombarded by unseen bombs. Explosive sounds that shook the house occurred over his bed, and, according to reports by policemen, the bed was violently shaken. Policemen reported that objects, in the boy's room, moved --

London Daily News, Jan. 10, 1920 -- "Aberdeen ghost laid low -- prosaic explanation for strange sounds -- nothing but a piece of wood that the wind had been knocking against a side of the house."(10)

That probably convinced the London readers who preferred something like the "mice-behind-the-baseboards" conclusion to such stories. But the Glasgow Herald, of the 13th, continued to tell of "thumping sounds that shook the house and rattled the dishes."(11)

The data are protrusions from burials. The body of a girl -- the body of a crow. Somebody dying -- and hostile demonstrations that can not conventionally be explained. But if there were connecting circumstances, they are now undiscoverable. It is said that there is a science of comparative anatomy, by which, given any bone of an animal, the whole skeleton can be reconstructed. So stated, this is one of the tall stories of science.(12)

The "father" of the science of comparative anatomy never reconstructed anything except conventionally. The paleontologists have recon- [154/155] structed crowds of skeletons that are exhibited as evidences of evolution: but Cuvier not only never reconstructed anything new, but now is notorious as a savage persecutor of evolutionists. There can not be reconstruction, unless there be a model. We may have comparative anatomy of our fragmentary circumstances, if we can fit the pieces of a situation-model. And it may be that we are slowly building that. Of course anything of the nature of old-fashioned, absolute science is no dream of mine.

From the Port of Spain (Trinidad) Mirror, and the Port of Spain Gazette, I take a story of phenomena that began Nov. 12, 1905, in Mrs. Lorelhei's boarding house, in Queen Street, Port of Spain.(13) The house was pelted with stones. A malicious neighbor was suspected, but then, inside the house, there were occurrences that, at least physically, could be attributed to nobody. Objects were thrown about. Chairs fell over, got up, and whirled. Out of a basket of potatoes, flew the potatoes. Stones fell from unseen points of origin, in rooms. A doctor was quoted as saying that he had seen some of these doings. He had been visiting a girl, who, in this house, was ill.

In the Religio-Philosophical Journal, July 15, 1882, as copied from the New York Sun, there is a boarding house story.(14) Mrs. William Swift's boarding house, 52 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn -- the occupant of the back parlor was ill. Raps were heard. Several times appeared a floating, vaporous body, shaped like a football. Upon the ailing boarder, the effect of this object was like an electric shock.

In the Religio-Philosophical Journal, March 31, 1883, [155/156] and the New York Times, March 12, 1883, there are accounts of the bewitchment of the house, 33 Church Street, New Haven, Conn.(15) Tramping sounds -- objects flying about. A woman in this house was ill. While she was preparing medicine in a cup, the spoon flew away. Sounds like Hey, diddle, diddle! Then it was as if an occult enemy took a shot at her. An unfindable bullet made a hole in a glass.

In the Bristol (England) Mercury, Oct. 12, 1889, and in the Northern Daily Telegraph, Oct. 8, 1889, are accounts of loud sounds of unknown origin in a house in the village of Hornington, near Salisbury.(16) Here a child, Lydia Hewlett, aged nine, "was stricken with a mysterious illness, lying in bed, never speaking, never moving, apparently at death's door." It was said that this child had incurred the enmity of a gypsy, whom she had caught stealing vegetables in a neighbor's garden.

One of the cases of "mysterious family maladies," accompanied by poltergeist disturbances, was reported by the Guernsey Star, March 5, 1903.(17) In the home of a resident of the island of Guernsey, Mr. B. Collinette, several members of the family were taken ill. Things were flying about.

Early in the year 1893 -- as told in the New York World, Feb. 17, 19, 1896 -- an elderly man, named Mack, appeared, with his invalid wife, and his daughter Mary, in the town of Bellport, Long Island, N.Y., and made of the ground floor of their house a little candy store.(18) The account in the World is of a starting up of persecutions of this family attributed to hostility of other [156/157] storekeepers, and to dislike "probably because of their thrift." Stones were thrown at the house "by street gamins." Several boys were arrested, but there was no evidence against them. At the time of one of the bombardments, Mary was on the porch of the house. A big dog appeared. He ran against her, knocking her down, injuring her spine, so that she was a cripple the rest of her life. All details of this story are in terms of persecutions by neighbors: in the terms of the telling, there is no suggestion of anything occult. Unidentified persons were throwing stones.

The terrified girl took to her bed. Stones thumped on the roof above her, throwing her into spasms of fright. In one of these convulsions, she died. Missing in this story is anything relating to Mack's experiences before arriving in Bellport. His daughter was crippled, and died of fright. He arrived with an invalid wife.

In his biography of the Bishop of Zanzibar (Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar) -- I take from a review in the London Daily Express, Oct. 27, 1926 -- Dr. H. Maynard Smith, Canon of Gloucester, tells of poltergeist persecutions, near the mission station, at Weti.(19) Clods of earth of undetectable origin, were bombarding a house in which lived a man and his wife. Clods fell inside the house. The bishop investigated, and he was struck by a clod. Inside the house, he saw a mass of mud appear on a ceiling. The door was open, but this point on the ceiling was in a position that could not be hit by anyone throwing anything from outside. There was no open window.

The bishop came ceremoniously the next morning, and [157/158] solemnly exorcised the supposed spirit. That these stories indicate the existence of spirits is what I do not think. But it seems that the bishop made an impression. The mud-slinging stopped. But then illness came upon the woman of this house.

Upon the night of August 9, 1920, as told in the London Daily Mail, Aug. 19, 1920, a shower of small stones broke the windows in the top floor of Wellington Villa, Grove-road, South Woodford, London, occupied by Mr. H.T. Gaskin, an American, the inventor of the Gaskin Life Boat.(20) There were many showers of stones of undetectable origin. Upon the night of the 13th, policemen took positions in the house, in the street, on roofs, and in trees. The upper floor of the house was bombarded with stones, but where they came from could not be found out. Night of the 14th -- a procession. Forty policemen, some of them local, and some of them from Scotland Yard, marched down Grove-road, and went up on roofs, or climbed into trees. Volleys of stones arrived, but the forty policemen learned no more than had the smaller numbers of the preceding investigations. Nevertheless it seems that they made an impression. Phenomena stopped.

The patter of stones -- and policemen on roofs, and policemen in trees, and the street packed with sightseers -- and this is a spot of excitement -- but it has no environment. I can pick up no trace of relations between anybody in this house and anybody outside.

In one of the rooms lay an invalid. Mr. Gaskin was suffering from what was said to be sciatica. In an interview he said that he could not account for the attack [158/159] upon him, or upon the house: that, so far as he knew, he had no enemy.

In some of these cases, I have tried to dig into blankness. I have shovelled vacancy. I have written to Mr. and Mrs. Gaskin, but have received no answer. I have looked over the index of the London Times, before and after August, 1920, with the idea of coming upon something, such as a record of a law case, or some other breeder of enmity, in which Mr. Gaskin might have been involved, but have come upon nothing. [159]

1. "Mad vampire bats spread hydrophobia." New York Times, September 29, 1931, p.8 c.6.

2. "278 carry Typhoid in state." New York Sun, January 17, 1930, p.6 c.1-2. No deaths were said to have resulted among those afflicted with illnesses aboard a marine ship on which a "carrier" was discovered.

3. The "parrot fever" scare may have begun in October of 1929, with the deaths of nine people in Buenos Aires; but, the scare spread across the United States and Europe early in 1930. A ban on the import of parrots imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department, on January 24, was lifted with the imposition of new import regulations at the end of October, 1930. "Parrot fever germ was found in 1892." New York Times, January 14, 1930, p.4 c.2. "Deny parrot fever affects humans," and, "Bavaria puts ban on parrot imports." New York Times, January 18, 1930, p.18 c.2. "Psittacosis." New York Times, January 19, 1930, s.3 p.4 c.2-3. "Defends the parrot." New York Times, February 9, 1930, s.1 p.8 c.3. "Parrot disease laid to newly found germ." New York Times, February 15, 1930, p.7 c.5. "Tells of city's study of parrot disease." New York Times, April 18, 1930, p.7 c.4. "League unit urges wide ban on parrots." New York Times, April 26, 1930, p.5 c.7. "Importing of parrots put under regulation." New York Times, October 31, 1930, p.3 c.2.

4. "Typhoid Mary." Outlook, 109 (April 7, 1915): 803-4.

5. Arthur Warren Waite was also impatient with the arsenic method. He stated: "Then I gave him arsenic. I don't remember what day it was. I gave him a lot of it in his food. One night I was left to watch by his bedside while my wife got some rest. The old man was groaning with pain. I looked over the medicine bottles beside his bed and found a small vial of chloroform. I saturated a rag with some of this and went over to him and said: `Father, here is some ether and ammonia which will relieve your pain.' I gave him a smell and then I gave him another dose. At last he fell asleep. I continued to put on more until he became unconscious. Then I got a pillow and placed it over Mr. Peck's face and held it there until he died." What brought Dr. Waite under suspicion were an anonymous letter, (received before Mr. Peck's body was to be buried), and the discovery of arsenic in the body during an autopsy. "Dr. Waite slew two and boasted of it." New York Sun, November 29, 1930, p.46 c.1-2. Denis Clark. "The Jekyll and Hyde murders: The case of A.W. Waite." J.M. Parrish, and, John R. Crossland, eds. The Fifty Most Amazing Crimes of the Last 100 Years. London: Odhams Press, 1936, 699-711.

6. For example, blue flames,"which seem to burst from the air itself," set numerous fires to bedding, clothing, wall draperies, and furniture in the home of a paralyzed invalid at Alva, Oklahoma. "Spook flames menace paralytic." New York Times, March 14, 1922, p.17 c.3.

7. "Mysterious affair." London Echo, July 16, 1890, p.3 c.2.

8. Richard Stevens, who lived on a large farm outside of Jordan, was suffering from pneumonia, which "was complicated by the excitement" from the poltergeist phenomena. The phenomena consisted primarily of falling stones and other objects, both in closed rooms in the home and at a Presbyterian church where two girls from the family were attending Sunday services. The phenomena ceased with Stevens' death on December 18, but it resumed on December 23. "Strange fall of stones." New York Sun, December 22, 1883, p.1 c.3. "Mysterious stone throwing." New York Sun, December 30, 1883, p.5 c.4.

9. Glascow Herald, January 13, 1920, p.12 c.4. London Evening Standard, January 8, 1920, p.11 c.3. London Globe; January 8, 1920, p.2 c.2; and, January 12, 1920, p.6 c.3. London Daily Express, January 9, 1920, p.5 c.1. London Daily News; January 10, 1920, p.5 c.6. London Daily Chronicle, January 8, 1920, p.7 c.5; and, January 9, 1920, p.7 c.6.

10. "A ghost laid." London Daily News, January 10, 1920, p.5 c.6.

11. "Mysterious noises in an Aberdeen house." Glascow Herald, January 13, 1920, p.12 c.4. Correct quote: "Thumping noises, as if a hammer were being used, came from below the living rooms, and sometimes the noises were heard on the walls above the fireplace. The house shook, dishes rattled, and articles of furniture were moved from their positions."

12. In 1922, Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History, announced the discovery of an anthropoid primate from America, which could be the missing link between ancestral apes and early man. His finding, (named Hesperopithecus haroldcookii), was based upon a single fossil tooth discovered by Harold J. Cook, in Nebraska, as well as another "badly water-worn tooth" from the same formation, which had been in the Museum's collection since 1908. The "Nebraska man" was believed, by William King Gregory and Milo Hellman of the Museum, by Grafton Elliot Smith of the University College in London, and by Othenio Abel of Vienna, to belong to a primate; but, further fossil hunting, between 1925 and 1927, yielded additional specimens, which were subsequently identified as those of an extinct species of peccary, (Prosthennops serus). William K. Gregory. "Hesperopithecus apparently not an ape nor a man." Science, n.s., 66 (December 16, 1927): 579-81. Charles Blinderman. "The curious case of Nebraska man." Science 85, 6 (June 1985): 46-9.

13. "Spiritualistic manifestations." Port-of-Spain Gazette (Trinidad), November 21, 1905, p.4 c.4. "Queen-street mystery." Port-of-Spain Gazette, November 22, 1905, p.4 c.4. "The supposed haunted house." Port-of-Spain Gazette, November 29, 1905, p.4 c.4. "The supposed haunted house." Port-of-Spain Gazette, November 30, 1905, p.4 c.5. "The Queen St. mystery." Port-of-Spain Mirror (Trinidad), November 21, 1905, p.13 c.2-3. "The Queen St. jumbie." Port-of-Spain Mirror, November 22, 1905, p.9 c.1. No mention is made of a doctor visiting an ill girl, but an invalid male was said to be receiving treatment by a visiting doctor, who had witnessed some of the phenomena. One of the residents of the house was "a thirteen or fourteen year old miss."

14. "Mysterious doings." Religio-philosophical Journal, 32 (n.20; July 15, 1882): p.6 c.1. New York Sun, (July 15, 1882; could not find in 9th to 15th).

15. "General notes." Religio-philosophical Journal, 34 (n.5; March 31, 1883): 4. "Connecticut phantom." New York Times, March 12, 1883, p.5 c.5. The location was in Hartford, Connecticut, (not in New Haven).

16. Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, (October 12, 1889). "Witchcraft in Wiltshire." Northern Daily Telegraph (Blackburn, England), October 8, 1889, p.2 c.6.

17. "Ghostly doings." Guernsey Star, March 7, 1903, p.2 c.5. For an earlier report: "A haunted house and Mr. Henry Turner's challenge." Guernsey Star, February 28, 1903, p.3 c.1.

18. "Tormented her to death." New York World, February 17, 1896, p.4 c.5. "Tormented by villagers." New York World, February 19, 1896, p.3 c.4.

19. "Bishop's war on witchcraft." London Daily News, October 27, 1926, p.3 c.1. Herbert Maynard Smith. Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar. New York: Macmillan Co., 1926, 112. Weti is now identified as Wete, Pemba Island, Tanzania.

20. "Bombarded villa." London Daily Mail, August 19, 1920, p.3 c.3.

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