Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Twenty-Two



BELIEF IN God -- in Nothing -- in Einstein -- a matter of fashion --

Or that college professors are mannequins, who doll up in the latest proper things to believe, and guide their young customers modishly.

Fashions often revert, but to be popular they modify. It could be that a re-dressed doctrine of witchcraft will be the proper acceptance. Come unto me, and maybe I'll make you stylish. It is quite possible to touch up beliefs that are now considered dowdy, and restore them to fashionableness. I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.

"Typhoid Mary" -- I doubt her germs -- or I suspect that she was more malicious than germy. But nobody else -- at least so far as go the published accounts -- which could not be expected to go very far back in the years 1906-14 -- thought of ignoring her germs, and of bottling her "rays." For my own suspicion that this was a [240/241] case of witchcraft, I shall, for a while, probably be persecuted, by an amused tolerance, but, if back in the year 1906, anybody had given his opinion that "Typhoid Mary" was a witch, he'd have been laughed at outright.

Nobody accused "Typhoid Mary", except properly. According to the demonology of her era, she was distributing billions of little devils. Her case is framed with the unrecorded. As to her relations with her victims, I have nothing upon which to speculate.

The homes of dying men and women have been bombarded with stones of undetectable origin. Nobody was accused. We have had data of unexplained explosions, and data of seeming effects of "rays", not physical, upon motors. To me it is thinkable that a distant enemy could, invisibly, make an oil stove explode, and kill a woman, and then -- if by means other than any known radioactivity, aeroplanes ever have been picked from the sky -- pick from existence other members of her family. The explosion of the oil stove is simply a bang, such as cartoonists sometimes draw, with a margin of vacancy.

But there have been cases of persons who were accused of witchcraft.

This statement -- like every other statement, issuing from the Supreme Court of the United States of America, from a nursery, from a meeting of the Amer. Assoc. Ad. Sci., or from the gossip of imbeciles -- means whatever anybody wants it to mean. One interpretation is that superstitious people have attributed various misfortunes, which were probably due to their own ignorance and incompetence, to the malice of neighbors. At any [241/242] rate, these cases are sketches of relations with environment, and so far we have been in a garden of evil, in which blossomed deaths and destructions, without visible stems, and without signs of the existence of roots.

New York Evening World, Sept. 14, 1928 -- Michael Drouse, a farmer, living near Bruce, Wisconsin, who shot and fatally wounded John Wierzba, forty-four, told Sheriff Dobson that he did it because Wierzba had bewitched his cows.(1) New York Times, Sept. 8, 1929 -- action by the Rye (N.Y.) National Bank against Leland Waterbury, of Poundridge, for recovery of properties, which the bank alleged had been taken from its client, Howard I. Saires, by "evil eye" methods.(2) "The case has come to be known as the `Westchester witchcraft case.'" New York Times, Oct. 9, 1930 -- charges of sorcery brought against Henry Dorn, of Janesville, Wisconsin.(3) "After a member of the State Board of Medical Examiners listened to the charges of sorcery, he said that he was convinced that they were unfounded." Dorn's sister had accused him of "casting spells of sickness" upon members of her household.

So that case was disposed of.

I am not given to fortune-telling. I dislike the idea of fortune-telling, so called, or termed more pretentiously. But I do think that anybody could tell the fortune of any member of any State Board of Medical Examiners, who would say, of any charge of sorcery, that he was convinced that it was well-founded.

There were other charges against Dorn. They remind one of accusations in old-time witchcraft trials -- [242/243]

That Dorn had caused apples to rot on trees, cows to go dry, and hens to cease laying.

Opponents to the idea of witchcraft are much influenced by their inability to conceive how anybody could make apples rot; inability to visualize the process of drying a cow, or entering into the organism of a hen, and stopping her productions. And science does not tell them how this could be done. So.

And they can not conceive how something makes apples grow, or why they don't rot on trees; how the milk of a cow is secreted, or why she shouldn't be dry; how the egg of a hen develops. And science does not tell them.

It's every man for himself, and save who can -- and damnation is in accepting any messiah's offers of salvation. We're told too much, and we're told too little. We rely. And for two pins -- having had experiences by which I am pretty well assured that nobody ever has two pins, when they're called for -- I'd finish this book, as a personal philosophy, or for myself, alone, and then burn it. It's everybody for himself, or he isn't anybody.

It's every thinker for himself. He can be told of nothing but surfaces. Theological fundamentalists say, rootily, they think, that all things have makers -- that God made all things. Then what made God? even little boys ask. Space is curved, and behind space, or space-time, there is nothing, says Prof. Einstein. Also may he be construed as saying that it is only relatively to something to something else that anything can be curved.

Throughout this book there is a permeation that may be interpreted as helplessness and hopelessness -- absence of [243/244] anything in science more than approximately to rely on -- solaces and reassurances of religion, but any other religion would do as well -- all progresses returning to their points of origin -- philosophies only intellectual dress-making --

But, if it's every man for himself, it is my expression that out of his illusion that he has a self, he may develop one.

In records of witchcraft trials, often appears the statement that the accused person was seen, at the time of the doings, in a partly visible, or semi-substantial state. In June, 1880, at High Easter, Essex, England (London Times, June 24, 1880) there were poltergeist disturbances in the home of a family named Brewster.(4) Furniture wandered. A bed rocked. Brewster saw, or thought he saw, a shadowy shape, which he recognized as that of his neighbor, Susan Sharpe. He and his son went to the home of the woman, and dragged her to a pond. They threw her into the pond, to see whether she would sink or float. But, though once upon a time, this was the scientific thing to do, fashions in science had changed. Brewster and his son were arrested, and were bound over to keep the peace -- just as should be any woman, who, during rush hours in the subway, should appear in a hoop skirt.

A case that was a blend of ancient accusations and modern explanation was reported in the London Evening News, July 14, 1921 -- that is, "mysterious illnesses" attributed to the doings of an enemy, but an attempt to explain materialistically.(5) Residents of a house in Putney had, in the London South Western Court, accused their neighbor, Frank Gordon Hatton, of "administering poisonous fumes [244/245] down their chimney." Saying that the complainants had failed to prove their case, the magistrate dismissed the charge.

If anybody could have a sane idea as to what he means by insanity, he might know what he is thinking about, by bringing in this convenient way of explaining unconventional human conduct. Whatever insanity is supposed to be, it can not so satisfactorily be applied as the explanation of two persons' beliefs relatively to one set of circumstances. According to newspaper accounts of a murder, in July 1929, Eugene Burgess, and his wife, Pearl, went insane together, upon the same subject. It was their belief that, when Burgess's mother died, in the year 1927, she had been willed to death by a neighbor, Mrs. Etta Fairchild. It was their belief that this woman had cast illness upon their daughter. They killed Mrs. Fairchild. In an account, in the New York Sun, Oct. 16, 1929, Mrs. Burgess is described: "Belying the comparison to the ignorant peasant women who have stood trial for similar crimes for hundreds of years, Mrs. Burgess looks like a prosperous clubwoman."(6)

There are accounts of accusations of witchcraft, by persons, against other persons, according to their superstitions, or perceptions. Now there will be accounts of cases in which there are suggestions of witchcraft to me, according to my ignorance, or enlightenment.

Chicago Tribune, Oct. 14, 1892 -- marvellous -- though not at all extraordinary -- doings in the home of Jerry Meyers, a farmer, living near Hazelwood, Ohio.(7) Meyers had been absent from his home, driving his wife to the [245/246] railroad station. When he returned, he heard a hysterical story from his niece, Ann Avery, of Middletown, Ohio, who was visiting him. Soon after he and Mrs. Meyers had left the house stones were thrown at her, or fell around her. Objects in the house moved toward her. Mr. Meyers was probably astonished to hear this, but what he wanted was his dinner. The girl went to the barn to gather eggs. On her way back, stones fell around her. Whether Meyers got his dinner, or not, he got a gun. Neighbors had heard of the doings. Stationed around the house were men with shot guns: but stones of unknown origin continued to bombard the house. Ann Avery fled back to her home in Middletown. Phenomena stopped.

In this case of the girl who was driven from her uncle's home, the circumstance that I pick out as significant is that assailments by stones began soon after Mrs. Meyers left the house. It was said that she had gone to visit friends, in the village of Lockland. Of course hospitalities are queer, but there is a good deal of queerness in the hospitality of somebody who would go visiting somewhere else, while her husband's niece was visiting in her home.

About the last of November, 1892, in the town of Hamilton, Ontario, a man was on his way to a railroad station. In a cell, in a prison, in Fall River, Massachusetts, sat a woman.

Henry G. Trickey was, in Hamilton, on his way to a railroad station. In the Fall River jail was Lizzie Borden, who was accused of having murdered her parents.

In August, 1892, Trickey, a reporter of the Boston [246/247] Globe, had written what was described as a "scandalous article" about Lizzie Borden. The Globe learned that the story was false, and apologized. Trickey was indicted.

He went to Canada. This looks as if he fled from prosecution.

Lizzie Borden sat in her cell. There may have been something more deadly than an indictment, from which there was no escape for Trickey. While boarding a train, at Hamilton, he fell, and was killed.

In the town of Eastbourne, Sussex, England, in April, 1922, John Blackman, a well-known labor leader, was committed to prison, under a maintenance order, for arrears due to his wife. The judge who committed him died suddenly. When Blackman was released, he still refused to pay so back he went to prison. The judge who sent him back "died suddenly." He continued to refuse to pay, and twice again was re-committed to prison, and each time the judge in his case "died suddenly." See Lloyd's Sunday News (London) Oct. 14, 1923.(8)

Upon November 29, 1931, there was an amateur theatrical performance in the home of Miss Phoebe Bradshaw, 106 Bedford Street, New York City. Villain -- Clarence Hitchcock, 23 Grove Street, New York. Wronged husband -- John L. Tilker, 1976 Belmont Avenue, Bronx. Tilker was given a cap pistol. Also he carried a loaded revolver of his own, for which he had a permit. When the time came, Tilker, with his own revolver, fired at Hitchcock, shooting him in the neck. "He was apparently new at play-acting, and in his excitement fired his own revolver, instead of the dummy." [247/248]

Hitchcock lay dying in St. Vincent's Hospital. Soon something occurred to Tilker. He was taken to the Willard Parker Hospital, suffering from what was said to be scarlet fever. Hitchcock died, Jan. 17, 1932. See the New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 18, 1932.(9)

New York Evening Journal, Feb. 6, 1930 -- "Two bitter women enemies are teetering on the verge of death, today, one of them `doing satisfactorily', while the other is weaker, and in a highly critical condition. Both are sufferers from cancer. They are Mrs. Frances Stevens Hall and her most hated opponent, in the famed Hall-Mills trial, Jane Gibson, whose testimony was used in an effort to send Mrs. Hall to the electric chair."(10)

Upon the 8th of February, Jane Gibson died.

In the Fall of 1922, Mrs. Jane Gibson was a sturdy woman-farmer. It was her accusation that, upon the night of the murder of Dr. Edward Hall and Elinor Mills, Sept. 14, 1922, she had seen Mrs. Hall bending over the bodies. So she testified. She returned to her home, and soon afterward was stricken. At the re-trail, in November, 1926, she repeated the accusation, though she had to be carried on a cot into the court room. "Most of her days since that time were spent in the hospital."(11) [248]

1. "Shades of Salem! Kills neighbor who bewitched his cows." New York Evening World, September 14, 1928, p.1 c.3.

2. "Evil eye hearing set." New York Times, September 8, 1929, s. 1 p. 20 c. 2. The correct name is Howard I. Salres, (not Saires).

3. "Hear witchcraft charges against Wisconsin farmer." New York Times, October 9, 1930, p.12 c.3. Correct quote: "...listened today to the charges of sorcery against Henry Dorn, a 64-year-old farmer, he said he was convinced...."

4. "Superstition in Essex." London Times, June 24, 1880, p.8 c.2.

5. "Poisonous fumes." London Evening News, July 14, 1921, p.5 c.2.

6. "Girl testifies in Burgess case." New York Sun, October 16, 1929, p.10 c.1. Correct quote: "...Mrs. Burgess looked like...."

7. "Ghost or goblin." Chicago Daily Tribune, October 23, 1892, p.38 c.1. Jerry Meyers' wife had left to visit friends for two days in Lockland, on Thursday (October 6); and, Minnie Hendrickson was visiting for a week with Anna Avey, (not Ann Avery), whose family lived in Middletown and who was living with her aunt and uncle for several months. While Anna was doing kitchen chores and Mamie was playing the piano in the front room, on Sunday (October 9), doors were opened and shut, and furniture was heard to move. Fearing an intruder, men were called in to search but found no one. Phenomena affecting the two girls included objects and stones being thrown at them inside of the house and when Anna went to do the milking, (not the gathering of eggs). Assaults by stones continued during the next day and night, even though armed men sought the assailant; and, both girls left to Middletown by train soon after.

8. "Uncanny series of death coincidences." Lloyd's Sunday News, October 14, 1923, p.3 c.3.

9. New York Herald Tribune, (January 18, 1932): (Could not find here.)

10. "Two Hall case women dying." New York Evening Journal, February 6, 1930, pp.3, 17.

11. "Mrs. Jane Gibson dies from cancer." New York Times, February 8, 1930, p.15 c.4. "Heard Hall slayer called by his name, swears Mrs. Gibson." New York Times, October 25, 1922, p.1 c.8 & p.2 c.1-2. "Can identify slayer of Hall and woman Mrs. Gibson insists." New York Times, October 26, 1922, p.1 c.3 & p.3 c.2-5. "Waiting to clinch Hall murder case, Attorney Mott says." New York Times, October 27, 1922, p.1 c.8 & p.2 c.1-4.

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