Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Eighteen



I RECORD that, once upon a time, down from the sky came a shower of virgins.

Of course they weren't really virgins. I can't accept the reality of anything, in such an indeterminate existence as ours.

See the English Mechanic, 87-436 -- a shower of large hailstones, at Remiremont, France, May 26, 1907.(1) Definitely upon some of these objects were printed representations of the Virgin of the Hermits.

It used to be the fashion, simply and brusquely to deny such a story, and call it a device of priestcraft: but the tendency of disbelievers, today, is not to be so free and monotonous with accusations, and to think that very likely unusual hailstones did fall, at Remiremont, and that out of irregularities or discolorations upon them, pious inhabitants imagined pictorial representations. I think, myself, that the imprints upon these hailstones were of imaginative origin, but in the sense that illustrations in a book are; and were not simply imagined by the inhabi- [190/191] tants of Remiremont, any more than are some of the illustrations of some books only smudges that are so imaginatively interpreted by readers that they are taken as pictures.

The story of the hailstones of Remiremont is unique in my records. And a statement of mine has been that our data are of the not extremely uncommon. But, early in this book, I pointed out that any two discordant colors may be harmonized by means of others colors; and there are no data, thinkable by me, that can not be more or less suavely co-ordinated, if smoothly doctored; or that can not be aligned with the ordinary, if that be desirable.

I am a Jesuit. I shift aspects from hailstones with pictures on them, to pictures on hailstones -- and go on with stories of pictures on other unlikely materials.

According to accounts -- copied from newspapers -- in the Spiritual Magazine, n.s., 7-360, and in the Religio-Philosophical Journal, March 29, 1873, there was more excitement in Baden-Baden, upon March 12th, 1872, than at Remiremont.(2) Upon the morning of this day, people saw pictures that in some unaccountable way had been printed upon window panes of houses, with no knowledge by occupants as to how they got there. At first the representations were crosses, but then other figures appeared. The authorities of Baden ordered the windows to be washed, but the pictures were indelible. Acids were used, without effect. Two days later, crosses and death's heads appeared upon window glass, at Rastadt.

The epidemic broke out at Boulley, five leagues form Metz. Here, because of feeling, still intense from the [191/192] Franco-Prussian War, the authorities were alarmed. Crosses and other religious emblems appeared upon window panes -- pictures of many kinds -- death's heads, eagles, rainbows. A detail of Prussian soldiers was sent to one house to smash a window, upon which was pictured a band of French zouaves and their flags. It was said that at night the pictures were invisible. But the soldiers did not miss their chance: they smashed a lot of windows, anyway. Next morning it looked as if there had been a battle. In the midst of havoc, the zouaves were still flying their colors.

This story, I should say, then became a standardized newspaper yarn. I have a collection of stories of pictures appearing upon window glass, that were almost busily told in American newspapers, after March, 1872, not petering out until about the year 1890.(3)

But it can not be said that all stories told in the United States, of this phenomenon, or alleged phenomenon, were echoes of the reported European occurrences, because stories, though in no such profusion as subsequently, had been told in the United States before March, 1872. New York Herald, Aug. 20, 1870 -- a representation of a woman's face, appearing upon window glass, in a house in Lawrence, Mass.(4) The occupant of the house was so pestered by crowds of sightseers that, not succeeding in washing off the picture, he removed the window sash. Human Nature, June, 1871 -- copied from the Chicago Times -- house in Milan, Ohio, occupied by two tenants, named Horner and Ashley.(5) On window panes appeared blotches, as if of water mixed with tar, or crude oil -- [192/193] likenesses of human faces taking form in these places. New York Times, Jan. 18, 1871 -- that, in Sandusky and Cinncinnati, Ohio, pictures of women had appeared upon window panes.(6)

Still, it might be thought that there was one origin for all the stories, and that that was the spirit-photograph controversy, which, in the early eighteen-seventies, was a subject of intense beliefs and disbeliefs, in both Europe and America. A point that has not been taken up, in this controversy, which continues to this day, even after the fateful spread of knowledge of double exposure, is whether the human imagination can affect a photographic plate. I incline to the idea that almost all spirit-photographs have been frauds, but that a few may not have been -- that no spirits were present, but that, occasionally, or very rarely, a quite spookless medium has, in a profound belief in spirits, engendered, out of visualizations, something wraith-like that has been recorded by a camera. Against the explanation that stories of pictures on window panes probably had origin in the spirit-photograph craze, I mention that similar stories were told centuries before photography was invented. For an account of representations of crosses that appeared, not upon window glass, but upon people's clothes, as told by Joseph Alexander Grünpech, in his book, Speculum Naturalis Coelestis, published in the year 1508, see Notes and Queries, April 2, 1892.(7)

"After the death of the late Dean Vaughan, of Llandaff, there suddenly appeared on the wall of Llandaff Cathedral, a large blotch of dampness or minute fungi, formed into [193/194] a lifelike outline of the dean's face" (Notes and Queries, Feb. 8, 1902).(8)

Throughout this book, my views, or preconceptions, or bigotries, are against spiritual interpretations, or assertions of the existence of spirits, as independent very long from human bodies. However, I do think of the temporary detachability of mentalities from bodies, and that is much like an acceptance of the existence of spirits, My notion is that Dean Vaughan departed, going where any iceberg goes when it melts, or where any flame goes when it is extinguished: that intense visualizations of him, by a member of his congregation, may have pictorially marked the wall of the church.

According to reports, in the London Daily Express, July 17 and 30, and in the Sunday Express, Aug. 12, 1923, it may be thought, by anybody so inclined to think, that, in England, in the summer of 1923, an artistic magician was travelling, and exercising his talents.(9) Somebody, or something, was perhaps impressing pictures upon wall and pillars of churches. The first report was that, on the wall of Christ Church, Oxford, had appeared a portrait of the famous Oxford cleric, Dean Liddell, long dead. Other reports came from Bath, Bristol, and Uphill, Somerset. At Bath -- in the old abbey of Bath -- the picture was of a soldier, carrying a pack. The Abbey authorities scraped off this picture, but the portrait, at Oxford, was not touched.

There is a description, in T.P.'s and Cassell's Weekly (London) Sept. 11, 1926, of the portrait on the wall of Christ Church, Oxford, as seen three years later.(10) It is de- [194/195] scribed as "a faithful and unmistakable likeness of the late Dean Liddell, who died in the year 1898." "One does not need to call in play any imaginative faculty to reconstruct the head. It is set perfectly straight upon the wall, as it might have been drawn by the hand of a master artist. Yet it is not etched; neither is it sketched, not sculptured, but it is there plain for all eyes to see."

And it is beginning to look as if, having started somewhat eccentrically with a story of virgins, we are making our way out of the marvellous. Now accept that there is a very ordinary witchcraft, by which, under the name telepathy, pictures can be transferred from one mind to another, and there is reduction of the preposterousness of stories of representations on hailstones, window glass, and other materials. We are conceiving that human beings may have learned an extension of the telepathic process, so as to transfer pictures to various materials. So far as go my own experiences, I do not know that telepathy exists. I think so, according to many notes that I have taken upon vagrant impressions that come and go, when my mind is upon something else. I have often experimented. When I incline to think that there is telepathy, the experiments are convincing that there is. When I think over the same experiments, and incline against them, they indicate that there isn't.

New York Sun, Jan. 16, 1929 -- hundreds of persons standing, or kneeling, at night, before the door of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church, in Keansburg, N.J.(11) They saw, or thought they saw, on the dark, oak door, the figure of a woman, in trailing, white robes, emitting a [195/196] glow. The pastor of the church, the Rev. Thomas A. Kearney, was interviewed. "I don't believe that it is a miracle, or that it has to do with the supernatural. As I see it, it is unquestionably in the outline of a human figure, white-robed and emitting light. It is rather like a very thin motion picture negative that was under-exposed, and in which human outlines and detail are extremely thin. Yet it seems to be there."

Or pictures on hailstones -- and wounds that appeared on the bodies of people. In the name of the everlasting If, which mocks the severity of every theorem in every text book, and is not so very remote from every datum of mine, we can think that, by imaginative means, at present not understood, wounds appeared upon people in Japan, and Germany, and in a turning, off Coventry Street, London, if we can accept that in some such way, pictures have ever appeared upon hailstones, window panes, and other places. And we can think that pictures have appeared upon hailstones, window panes, and other places, if we can think that wounds have appeared upon people in Japan and other places. Ave the earthworm!

It is my method not to try to solve problems -- so far as the solubility-insolubility of problems permits -- in whatever narrow specializations of thought I find them stated: but, if, for instance, I come upon a mystery that the spiritualists have taken over, to have an eye for data that may have bearing, from chemical, zoological, sociological, or entomological sources -- being unable to fail, of course, because the analogue of anything electrical, or planetary, is findable in biological, ethical, [196/197] or political phenomena. We shall travel far, even to unborn infants, to make hailstones reasonable.

I have so many heresies -- along with my almost incredible credulities -- of pseudo-credulities, seeing that I have freed my mind of beliefs -- that, mostly, I can not trace my infidelities, or enlightenments, back to their sources. But I do remember when I first doubted the denial by conventional science of the existence of pre-natal markings. I read Dr. Weismann's book upon this subject, and his arguments against the possibility of pre-natal markings convinced me that they are quite possible.(12) And this conversion cost me something. Before reading Dr. Weismann, I had felt superior to peasants, or the "man in the street", as philosophers call him, whose belief is that pregnant women, if frightened, mark their offsprings with representations of rats, spiders, or whatever; or, if having a longing for strawberries, fruitfully illustrate their progeny, and were at one time of much service to melodrama. I don't know about the rats and strawberries, but Dr. Weismann told of such cases as that of a woman with a remarkable and distinctive disfigurement of an ear, and of her similarly marked offspring. His argument was that thousands of women are disfigured in various ways, and that thousands of offsprings are disfigured, and that it is not strange that in one case the disfigurement of an offspring should correspond to the disfigurement of a parent. But so he argued about other remarkable cases, and left me in a state of mind that has often repeated: and that is with the idea that much mental development is in rising down to the peasants again. [197/198]

If there can be pre-natal markings of bodies, and, as I interpret Dr. Weismann's denials, there can be, and, if they be of mental origin, my mind is open to the idea that other -- and still more profoundly damned stories of strange markings -- may be similarly explained. If a conventional physician is scornful, hearing of a human infant, pre-natally marked, I'd like to hear his opinion of a story I take from the London Daily Express, May 14, 1921.(13) Kitten, born at Nice, France -- white belly distinctly marked with the gray figures, 1921 -- the mother cat had probably been looking at something, such as a calendar, so dated. "Or reading a newspaper?" said scornful doctor would ask, pointing out that, if I think there are talking dogs, it is only a small "extension", as I'd call it, to think of educated cats keeping themselves informed upon current events.

London Sunday News, Aug. 3, 1926 -- "Dorothy Parrot, 4-year-old child of R.S. Parrot, of Winglet Mill, Georgia, was marked by a red spot on her body.(14) Out of this spot formed three letters, R.I.C. Doctors cannot explain."

London Daily Express, Nov. 17, 1913 -- phenomena of a girl, aged 12, of the village of Bussus-Bus-Suel, near Abbeville, France.(15) If asked questions, answers appeared in letterings on her arms, legs, and shoulders. Also, upon her body appeared pictures, such as of a ladder, a dog, a horse."

In September, 1926, a Rumanian girl, Eleonore Zegun, was taken to London, for observation by the National Laboratory for Psychical Research. Countess Wassilko-Serecki, who had taken the girl to London, said in an [198/199] interview (London Evening Standard, Oct. 1, 1926) that she had seen the word Dracu form upon the girl's arm.(16) This word is the Rumanian word for the Devil.

Or the Handwriting on the Wall -- and why don't I come out frankly in favor of all, or anyway a goodly number of, the yarns, or the data, of the Bible? The Defender of Some of the Faith is clearly becoming my title.

In recent years I have noted much that has impressed upon my mind the thought that religionists have taken over many phenomena, as exclusively their own -- have colored and discredited with their emotional explanations -- but that someday some of these occurrences will be rescued from theological interpretations and exploitations, and will be the subject-matter of --

New enlightenments and new dogmas, new progresses, delusions, freedoms, and tyrannies.

I incline to the acceptance of many stories of miracles, but think that these miracles would have occurred, if this earth had been inhabited by atheists.

To me, the Bible is folklore, and therefore is not pure fantasy, but comprises much that will be rehabilitated. But also to me the Bible is non-existent. This is in the sense that, except in my earlier writings, I have drawn a dead-line, for data, at the year 1800. I may, upon rare occasions, dip farther back, but my notes start in the year 1800. I shall probably raise this limit to 1850, or maybe 1900. I take for a principle that our concern is not in marvels. It is in repetitions, or sometimes in almost the commonplace. There is no desirability in going back to [199/200] antiquity for data, because, unless phenomena be appearing now, they are of only historical interest. At present, there is too much history.

Handwriting on walls -- I have several accounts; but, if anybody should be interested enough to look up this phenomenon for himself, he will find the most nearly acceptable record in the case of Esther Cox, of Amherst, Nova Scotia. This case was of wide notoriety, and, of it, it could be said that it was well-investigated, if it can be supposed that there ever has been a case of anything that has been more than glanced at, or more than painstakingly and profoundly studied, simply to confirm somebody's theory.

If I should tell of a woman, who, by mental picturings, not only marked the body of her unborn infant, but transformed herself into the appearance of a tiger, or a lamp post, or became a weretiger, or a were-lamp-post -- or of a magician, who, beginning with depicting forest scenes on window glass, had learned to transform himself into a weredeer, or a weretree -- I'd tell of a kind of sorcery that used to be of somewhat common occurrence.

I have a specimen. It is a Ceylon leaf insect. It is a wereleaf. The leaf insect's likeness to a leaf is too strikingly detailed to permit any explanation of accidental resemblance.

There are butterflies, which, with wings closed, look so much like dried leaves that at a distance of a few feet they are indistinguishable from dried leaves. There are tree hoppers with the appearance of thorns; stick insects, cinder beetles, spiders that look like buds of flowers. In [200/201] all instances these are highly realistic portraitures, such as the writer, who described the portrait of Dean Liddell, on the church wall, would call the handiwork of a master artist.

There have been so many instances of this miracle that I now have a theory that, of themselves, men never did evolve from lower animals: but that, in early and plastic times, a human being from somewhere else appeared upon this earth, and that many kinds of animals took him for a model, and rudely and grotesquely imitated his appearance, so that, today, though the gorillas of the Congo, and of Chicago, are only caricatures, some of the rest of us are somewhat passable imitations of human beings.

The conventional explanation of the leaf insect, for instance, is that once upon a time a species of insects somewhat resembled leaves of trees, and that individuals that most closely approximated to this appearance had the best chance to survive, and that in succeeding generations, still higher approximations were still better protected from their deceived enemies.

An intelligence from somewhere else, not well-acquainted with human beings -- or whatever we are -- but knowing of the picture galleries of this earth, might, in Darwinian terms, just as logically explain the origin of those pictures -- that canvasses that were daubed on, without purpose, appeared; and that the daubs that more clearly represented something recognizable were protected, and that still higher approximations had a still better chance, and that so appeared, finally, highly real- [201/202] istic pictures, though the painters had been purposeless, and with no consciousness of what they were doing --

Which contrasts with anybody's experience with painters, who are not only conscious of what they are doing, but are likely to make everybody else conscious of what they're so conscious of.

It is not merely that hands of artists have painted pictures upon canvas: it is that, upon canvas, artists have realized their imaginings. But, without hands of artists, strikingly realistic pictures and exquisite modellings have appeared. It may be that for crosses on window panes, emblems on hailstones, faces on church walls, pre-natal markings, stigmata, telepathic transferences of pictures, and leaf insects we shall conceive of one expression.

To the clergyman who told the story of the hailstones of Remiremont, the most important circumstance was that, a few days before the occurrence, the Town Council had forbidden a religious procession, and that, at the time of the fall of the hailstones, there was much religious excitement in Remiremont.

English Mechanic, 87-436 -- story told by Abbé Guenoit, of Remiremont:(17)

That, upon the afternoon of the 26th of May, 1907, the Abbé was in his library, aware of a hailstorm, but paying no attention to it, when a woman of his household called to him to see the extraordinary hailstones that were falling. She told him that images of "Our Lady of the Treasures" were printed on them.

"In order to satisfy her, I glanced carelessly at the hailstones, which she held in her hand. But, since I did not [202/203] want to see anything, and moreover could not do so, without my spectacles, I turned to go back to my book. She urged: `I beg of you to put on your glasses.' I did so, and saw very distinctly on the front of the hailstones, which were slightly convex in the center, although the edges were somewhat worn, the bust of a woman, with a robe that was turned up at the bottom, like a priest's cope. I should, perhaps, describe it more exactly by saying that it was like the Virgin of the Hermits. The outline of the images was slightly hollow, as if they had been formed with a punch, but were very boldly drawn. Mlle. André asked me to notice certain details of the costume, but I refused to look at it any longer. I was ashamed of my credulity, feeling sure that the Blessed Virgin would hardly concern herself with instantaneous photographs on hailstones. I said: `But do you not see that these hailstones have fallen on vegetables, and received these impressions? Take them away: they are no good to me.' I returned to my book, without giving further thought to what had happened. But my mind was disturbed by the singular formation of these hailstones. I picked up three in order to weigh them, without looking closely. They weighed between six and seven ounces. One of them was perfectly round, like balls with which children play, and had a seam all around it, as though it had been cast in a mold."

Then the Abbé's conclusions:

"Savants, though you may try your hardest to explain these facts, by natural causes, you will not succeed." He thinks that the artillery of heaven had been directed [203/204] against the impious Town Council. However people with cabbages suffered more than people with impieties.

"What appeared most worthy of notice was that the hailstones, which should have been precipitated to the ground, in accordance with the laws of acceleration of falling bodies, appeared to have fallen from a height of but a few yards." But other, or unmarked hailstones, in this storm, did considerable damage. The Abbé says that many persons had seen the images. He collected the signatures of fifty persons who asserted that they had been witnesses.

I notice several details. One is the matter of a hailstone with a seam around it, as if it had been cast in a mold. This looks as if some hoaxer, or pietist -- who was all prepared, having prophetic knowledge that an extraordinary shower of big hailstones was coming -- had cast printed lumps of ice in a mold. But accounts of big hailstones, ridged and seamed, are common. Another detail is something that I should say the Abbé Gueniot had never before heard of. The detail of slow-falling objects is common in stories of occult occurrences, but, though for more than ten years I have had an eye for such reports, in reading of hundreds, or thousands, of hailstorms, I know of only half a dozen records of slow-falling hailstones.

In the English Mechanic, 87-507, there is more upon this subject.(18) It is said that, according to the newspapers of Remiremont, these "prints" were inside the hailstones, and were found on surfaces of hailstones that had been split: that 107 persons had given testimony to the Bishop [204/205] of Sainte-Dié; and that several scientists, one of whom was M. de Lapparent, the Secretary of the French Academy, had been consulted. The opinion of M. de Lapparent was that lightning might have struck a medal of the Virgin, and might have reproduced its image upon the hailstones.

I have never come upon any other supposition that there can be manifold reproductions of images, or prints, by lightning. The stories of lightning-pictures are mostly unsatisfactory, because most of them are of alleged pictures of leaves of trees, and, when investigated, turn out to be simply forked veinings, not very leaf-like. There is no other record, findable by me, of hailstones said to be pictorially marked by lightning, or by anything else. It would be much of coincidence, if, at a time of religious excitement in Remiremont, lightning should make its only known, or reported, pictures on hailstones, and make those pictures religious emblems. But that religious excitement did have much to do with the religious pictures on hailstones, is thinkable by me. [205]

1. "Very remarkable hailstones!" English Mechanic, 87 (June 12, 1908): 435-6.

2. A.M.H.W. "The mysterious crosses in the Grand Duchy of Baden." Spiritual Magazine, n.s., 7 (1872): 360-6. "Pictures on glass." Religio-philosophical Journal, 14 (n.2; March 29, 1873): p.4 c.3.

3. For an example: "Window pane spectres." Religio-philosophical journal, January 3, 1874, p.6 c.1-2.

4. New York Herald, (August 20, 1870; could not find here).

5. "Mysterious photographs on window panes." Human Nature, 5 (June 1871): 328-9. Chicago Times, n.d.

6. "Ghostly revival." New York Times, January 18, 1871, p.4 c.4-5.

7. J. Eliot Hodgkin. "Rain of blood." Notes and Queries, s.8, 1 (April 2, 1892): 283-4. Joseph Gruenpech. Speculum Naturalis Coelestis. 1508.

8. John Hobson Matthews. "Freaks of nature." Notes and Queries, s.9, 9 (February 8, 1902): 115-6. Correct quote: "A remarkable instance of this lusus naturæ occurred a few days after the death of the late Dean Vaughan, of Llandaff. There suddenly appeared on the wall of Llandaff Cathedral, a large blotch of dampness or some minute fungus, forming a lifelike outline of the dean's head and face."

9. "Face of dead dean." London Daily Express, July 17, 1923, p.1 c.4-6. "Spirit soldier." London Daily Express, July 30, 1923, p.5 c.6. London Sunday Express, (August 12, 1923): (could not find here).

10. T.P.'s and Cassell's Weekly, (September 11, 1926).

11. "Awed by figure on church door." New York Sun, January 16, 1929, p.1 c.5 & p.2 c.6. Correct quote: "...outlines and detail are extremely dim."

12. August Weismann.

13. "Dated kitten." London Daily Express, May 14, 1921, p.1 c.5.

14. "Red-letter mystery of branded girl." Lloyd's Sunday News, August 3, 1924, p.9 c.4.

15. "Girl's mysterious faculty." London Daily Express, November 17, 1913, p.1 c.6. The name of the village is Bussus-Bussuel, France, (not Bussus-Bus-Suel).

16. "Girl with spirit of mischief." London Evening Standard, October 1, 1926, p.12 c.4.

17. "Very remarkable hailstones!" English Mechanic, 87 (June 12, 1908): 435-6. Correct quotes: "...carelessly at two hailstones...without spectacles...with a robe turned up...describe it still more exactly...as though they had been formed...and thus received these impressions? ...without looking at them closely...had a seam around it...cast in a mould." "...which ought to have been violently precipitated...the laws of acceleration of the speed of falling bodies, appeared to have fallen from the height...."

18. "The miraculous hailstones of Remiremont." English Mechanic and world of science, 87 (July 3, 1908): 507.

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