Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Nineteen



THE ASTRONOMERS are issuing pronouncements upon what can't be seen with telescopes. The physicists are announcing discoveries that can't be seen with microscopes. I wonder whether anybody can see any meaning in an accusation that my stories are about invisibles.

I am a sensationalist.

And it is supposed that modern science, which is supposed to be my chief opposition, is remote from me and my methods.

In December, 1931, Dr. Humason, of the Mount Wilson Observatory, announced his discovery of two nebulae that are speeding away from this earth, at a rate of 15,000 miles a second. There was a race. Prof. Hubble started it in the year 1930, with announced discoveries of nebulae rushing away at--oh, a mere two or three thousand miles a second. In March, 1931, somebody held the record with an 8,000-mile-a-second nebula. At this time of writing, Dr. Humason is ahead.

When a tabloid newspaper reporter announces speedy [206/207] doings by more or less nebulous citizens, as "ascertained" by him, by methods that did not necessarily indicate anything of the kind, his performance is called sensationalism.

It is my statement that Dr. Hubble and Dr. Humason are making their announcements, as inferences from a method that does not necessarily indicate anything of the kind.

In the New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 6, 1932, Dr. Charles B. Davenport, of the department of genetics, in Carnegie Institution, received only four inches of space for one of those scares that used to be spread-headed -- unknown disease that may wipe out humanity.(1) "Sometime in the future our boasted skyscrapers may become inhabited by bats, and the safe deposit vaults of our cities become the caves of wild animals." The unknown disease is antiquated sensationalism. I look back at my own notion of the appearance of were-things in the streets of New York --

I now have a little story that pleases me, not so much because I think that I at least hold my own with my professorial rivals, but because, with it, I exercise some of those detective abilities that all of us, even professional detectives, possibly, are so sure we have. I reconstruct, according to my abilities, an incident that occurred somewhere near Wolverhampton, England, about the first of December, 1890. The part of the story of which I have no record -- that is the hypothetical part -- is that, at this time, somewhere near Wolverhampton, lived a tormented young man. He was a good young man. [207/208] Not really, of course, if nothing's real. But he approximated. Though for months he had not gone travelling, he was obsessed with a vividly detailed scene of himself, behaving in an unseemly manner to a female, in a railway compartment. There was another mystery. Somebody had asked him to account for his absence, somewhere, about the first of December, whereas he was convinced that he had not been absent -- and yet -- but he could make nothing of these two mysteries.

Upon the Thursday before the 6th of December, 1890 -- see the Birmingham Daily Post, Dec. 6 -- a woman was travelling alone, in a compartment of a train from Wolverhampton to Snow Hill.(2) According to my reconstruction, she began to think of stories of reprehensible conduct by predatory males to females travelling alone in railway compartments.

The part of the story that I take from the Birmingham Post is that when a train went past Soho Station, a woman fell from it. She gave her name as Matilda Crawford, and said that a young man had insulted her. An odd detail is that it was not her statement that she had leaped from the train, but that the insulting young man had pushed her through a window.

In the next compartment had sat a detective. At an inquiry, he testified that -- at least so far as went his observations upon visible entrances and exits -- there had been nobody but this woman in this compartment.

In the New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 23, 1932, was published an explanation, by Dr. Frederick B. Robinson, [208/209] president of New York City College, of some of us sensationalists:(3)

"`Professors have not scored so well in making good appearances from the publicity standpoint', Dr. Robinson said. `Living sheltered lives', he added, `they yearn for public notice and sometimes get it at the expense of their college. Surely a great New England institution was not elevated in public esteem when one of its professors of English engaged in a series of publicity-stunts, the first of which was to give solemn advice to young men to be snobs.'"

At a meeting of the American Chemical Society, at Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 3, 1931, Dr. William Engleback told of cases in which, by use of glandular extracts, the height of dwarfed children had been increased an inch or two. For the announcement of this mild little miracle, he received several inches of newspaper space. New York Times, Dec. 16, 1931 -- meeting of the Institute of Advanced Education, at the Roerich Museum, New York -- something more like a miracle.(4) I measured. Dr. Louis Berman got eleven inches of newspaper space. Dr. Berman's announcement was that sorcerers of his cult -- the endocrinologists -- would breed human beings sixteen feet high.

Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in New Orleans, December, 1931 -- report upon the work of Dr. Richard P. Strong, of the Harvard Medical School, in the matter of filaria worms that infest human bodies -- and an attempt to make it more interesting. That an ancient mystery had [209/210] been solved -- Biblical story of the fiery serpents at last explained. There's no more resemblance between these tiny worms and the big fiery things that -- we are told -- grabbed people, than between any caterpillar and a red-hot elephant. But that the filaria worms had been "identified" as the fiery monsters of antiquity was considered a good story, and was given much space in the newspapers. However, see an editorial, not altogether admiring, in the New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 5, 1932.(5)

Still, I do, after a fashion, hold my own. New York Sun, Oct. 9, 1931 -- that, shortly after the Civil War, Captain Neil Curry sailed from Liverpool to San Francisco.(6) The vessel caught fire, about 1500 miles off the west coast of Mexico. The Captain, his wife, and two children, and thirty-two members of the crew took to three small boats, and headed for the mainland. Then details of suffering for water.

"Talk of miracles!" In the midst of the ocean, they found themselves in a volume of fresh water.

I note the statement that Capt. Curry discovered fresh water around the boats, not by disturbance of any kind, but because of the green color of it, contrasting with the blue of the salt water.

I wrote to Capt. Curry, who at the time of my writing was living in Emporia, Kansas, and received an answer from him, dated Oct. 21, 1931, saying that the story in the Sun was accurate except as to the time; that the occurrence had been in the year 1881.

Here is something, both very different and strikingly similar, which I take from Dr. Richardson's Journal, as [210/211] quoted by Sir John Franklin, in his Narrative of a Journey to the Polar Sea, p. 157 -- a story of a young Chipewyan Indian.(7) His wife had died, and he was trying to save his new-born child. "To still its cries, he applied it to his breast, praying earnestly to the great Master of Life, to assist him. The force of the powerful passion by which he was actuated produced the same effect in his case, as it has done in some others, which are recorded: a flow of milk actually took place from his breast."(8)

Intensest of need of water -- and it may be that, to persons so suffering, water has been responsively transported. But there have been cases of extremest need for water to die by. One can think of situations in which more frenziedly have there been prayers for water, for death, than ever for water to live by.

New York Sun, Feb. 4, 1892 -- that, after the burial of Frances Burke, of Dunkirk, N.Y., her relatives, suspecting that she had been in a trance, had her body exhumed.(9) The girl was found dead in a coffin that was full of water. It was the coroner's opinion that she had been buried alive, and had been drowned in her coffin. No opinion at to the origin of the water was published. [211]

1. "Fears race will perish of disease now unknown." New York Herald Tribune, January 6, 1932, p.10 c.5. Correct quote: "...skyscrapers might become inhabited...."

2. Birmingham Daily Post, (December 6, 1890.)

3. "University news reports decried by Dr. Robinson." New York Herald Tribune, January 23, 1932, p.9 c.5. Robinson was president of the College of the City of New York.

4. "16-foot men held a gland possibility." New York Times, December 16, 1931, p. 36 c. 7. Berman also suggested the need of sleep could be reduced to an hour, geniuses could be created, and crime and insanity eliminated, by glandular stimulation. However, there was only nine inches of a column provided in this article, (not eleven).

5. "Fiery flying serpents." New York Herald Tribune, January 5, 1932, p.14 c.1-2.

6. "Fresh water in the Pacific Ocean." New York Sun, October 9, 1931, p.36 c.1.

7. John Franklin. Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of a Polar Sea. 157.

8. For a similar account concerning a Frenchman: "A letter from the Right Rev'd Father in God Robert Lord Bishop of Corke, to the Right Hon'ble John Earl of Egmont, F.R.S. concerning an extraordinary skeleton, and of a man who gave suck to a child." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 41 (no. 461; Aug.-Dec., 1741): 810-4, at 813-4.

9. "Was she buried alive?" New York Sun, February 4, 1892, p.1 c.6.

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