Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Thirty-Two



IT'S THE old controversy -- the action of mind upon matter. But, in the philosophy of the hyphen, an uncrossable gap is disposed of, and the problem is rendered into thinkable terms, by asking whether mind-matter can act upon matter-mind.

I am beginning to see whence all my specialization, not much short of hypnotization, upon magic, as the job. Just why am I so bent upon cooping people into multicellular formations, and setting batteries of disciplined sorcerers at work, bewitching into useful revolutions all the motors of the world?

As to the job, and anything that is supposed to be not a job, there is only the state of job-recreation, or recreation-job. I have cut out of my own affairs very much of so-called recreation, simply because I feel that I can not give to so-called enjoyments the labors that they exact. I'd often like to be happy, but I don't want to go through the equivalence of digging a ditch, or of breaking of stones, to enjoy myself. I have seen, by other persons, very labored [333/334] and painful efforts to be happy. So then I am so much concerned with the job, because, though it hyphenates, there isn't anything else.

Probably it will be some time before any college professor, of whatever we think we mean by importance, will admit that, by witchcraft, or by the development of what are now only wild talents, all the motors of this earth may be set going and kept at work. But "highest authority" no longer unitedly opposes the more or less remote possibility of such operations. See an interview, with Dr. Arthur H. Compton, Professor of Physics, at the University of Chicago, published in the New York Times, Jan. 3, 1932.(1) Said Dr. Compton: "The new physics does not suggest a solution of the old question of how mind acts on matter. It does definitely, however, admit the possibility of such action, and suggests where the action may take effect."

I don't know that I am much more of a heretic, myself. In my stories, I have admitted possibilities, and I have made suggestions.

But the difference is that the professors will not be concrete, and I give instances. Dr. Compton's views are ripe with the interpretation that transportation systems, and the lighting of cities, and the operation of factories may someday be the outcome of what he calls the "action of mind on matter", or what I'd call mechanical witchcraft. But toyers with abstractions falter, the moment one says -- "For instance?"

The fuel-less motor, which is by most persons considered a dream, or a swindle, associates most with the name [334/335] John Worrell Keely, though there have been other experimenters, or impostors, or magicians. The earliest fuel-less motor "crank" of whom I have record is John Murray Spear, back in the period 1855, though of course various "cranks" of all ages can be linked with this swindle, dream, or most practical project. The latest, at this writing, is a young man, Lester J. Hendershot, of Pittsburgh, Pa. I take data from the New York Herald Tribune, Feb. 27-March 10, 1928.(2) It was Henderson's statement that he had invented a motor that operated by deriving force from "this earth's magnetic field." Nobody knows what that means. But Hendershot was backed by Major Thomas Lanphier, U.S. Army, commandant of Selfridge Field, Detroit. It was said that at tests of Selfridge Field, a model of the "miracle motor" had invisibly generated power enough to light two 110-volt lamps, and that another had run a small sewing machine. Major Lanphier stated that he had helped to make one of these models, which were of simple construction, and that he was sure that there was nothing fraudulent about it.

This espousal by Major Lanphier may, considering that to orthodox scientists it was the equivalence of belief in miracles, seem extraordinary: but it seems to me that the attacks that were made upon Hendershot were more extraordinary -- or significant. It would seem that, if a simple, little contrivance, weighing less than ten pounds, were a fraud, the mechanics of Selfridge Field, or anywhere else, could determine that in about a minute, especially if they had themselves made it, under directions. If the thing were a fraud, it would seem that it would have to be obviously [335/336] a fraud. Who'd bother? But Dr. Frederich Hochstetter, head of the Hochstetter Research Laboratory, of Pittsburgh, went to New York about it. He hired a lecture room, or a "salon", of a New York hotel, telling reporters that he had come to expose a fraud, which would be capable of destroying faith in science for 1,000 years.(3) If so, even to me this would not be desirable. I should like to see faith in science destroyed for 20 years, and then be restored for a while, and then be knocked flat again, and then revive -- and so on, in a healthy alternation. Dr. Hochstetter exhibited models of the motor. They couldn't generate the light of a 1-volt firefly. They couldn't stitch a fairy's breeches. Dr. Hochstetter lectured upon what he called a fraud. But the motive for all this? Dr. Hochstetter explained that his only motive was that "pure science might shine forth untarnished."

It was travelling far, going to trouble and expense to maintain the shine of a purity, the polish of which was threatened by no more than a youngster, of whom most of the world had never heard before. What I pick up is that there must have been an alarm that was no ordinary alarm, somewhere. I pick up that at tests, in Detroit, in Hendershot's presence, his motors worked; that, in New York, not in his presence, his motors did not work.

Then came the denouement, by which most stories of exposed impostors end up, or are said to end up. Said Dr. Hochstetter -- dramatically, I suppose, inasmuch as he was much worked up over all this -- he had discovered that concealed in one of the motors was a carbon pencil battery. [336/337]

Just about so, in the literature of Taboo, end almost all stories of doings that are "alarming." There is no chance of a come-back from the "exposed imposter." He is shown sneaking off-stage, in confusion and defeat. But some readers are having a glimmer of what I mean by taking so much material from the newspapers. They get statements from "exposed impostors." They ridicule and belittle, and publish much that is one-sided, but they do not give the chance for the come-back.

Came back Hendershot:

That Dr. Hochstetter was quite right in his accusation, but only insofar as it applied to an incident of several years before. In his early experiments Hendershot, having no assurance of the good faith of visitors, had stuck into his motor various devices "to lead them away from the real idea I was working on." But, in the tests at Selfridge Field there had been no such "leads," and there had been no means of concealments in motors that mechanics employed by Major Lanphier had made.

Two weeks later, Hendershot dropped out of the newspapers. Perhaps a manufacturer of ordinary motors bought him off. But he dropped out by way of a strange story. It is strange to me, because I recall the small claims that were made for the motor -- alleged power not sufficient to harm anybody -- only enough to run a sewing machine, or to light lamps with 220 volts. New York Herald Tribune, March 10, 1928 -- that Lester J. Hendershot, the Pittsburgh inventor of the "miracle motor," was a patient in the Emergency Hospital, Washington, D.C. It is said that, in the office of a patent attorney, he was dem- [337/338] onstrating his "fuel-less motor," when a bolt estimated at 2,000 volts shot from it, and temporarily paralyzed him.

It was Hendershot's statement that his motor derived force from "this earth's magnetic field." It is probable that, if the motor was driven by his own magic, he would, even if he knew this, attribute it to something else. It is likely that spiritualistic mediums -- or a few of them -- have occult powers of their own: but they attribute them to spirits. Probably some stage magicians have occult powers: but, in a traditional fear of prosecutions of witchcraft, they feel that it is safer to say that the hand is quicker than they eye. "Divine healers" and founders of religions have been careful to explain that their talents were not their own.

In November, 1874, John Worrell Keely exhibited, to a dozen well-known Philadelphians, his motor. They were hard-headed business men -- as far as hard heads go -- which isn't very far -- but they were not dupes and gulls of the most plastic degree. They saw, or thought they saw, this motor operate, though connected in no way with any conventionally recognized source of power. Some of these witnesses considered the motor worth backing. Keely, too, explained that something outside himself was the moving force, but nobody has ever been able to explain his explanations. Unlike Hendershot's simple contrivance, Keely's motor was a large and complicated structure. The name of it was formidable. When spoken of familiarly, it was a vibratory generator, but the full name of the monster was the Hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacue-engine. A com- [338/339] pany was organized, and, after that, everything was very unsatisfactory, except to Keely. There was something human about this engine -- just as any monist, of course thinks there is to everything -- such as rats and trees and people. It was like so many promising young men, who arrive at middle age, still promising, and go to their graves, having, just before dying, promised something or another. It can't be said that the engine worked. The human-like thing had talents, and was capable of sensational stunts, but it couldn't earn a dollar. That is, at an honest day's toil, it could not, but with its promises it brought ten of thousands of dollars to Keely. It is said that, though he lived well, he spent much of this money in experiments.

Here, too, just what I suspect -- though don't have it that I think I'm the only one who has had this idea -- was just what was not asserted. That his motor moved responsively to a wizardry of his own, was just what Keely never said. It could be that it was a motivation of his own, but that he did not know it. Mesmer, in his earlier phases, believed that he wrought cures with magnets, and he elaborated very terminological theories, in terms of magnets, until he either conceived, or admitted, that his effects were wrought by his own magic.

I should like to have an opinion upon fuel-less engines, from an official of General Motors, to compare with what the doctors of Vienna and Paris thought of Mesmer.

For eight years there was faith: but then (December, 1882), there was a meeting of disappointed stockholders of the Keely Motor Co. In the midst of protests and accu- [339/340] sations, Keely announced that, though he would not publicly divulge the secret of his motor, he would tell everything to any representative of the dissatisfied ones. A stockholder named Boekel was agreed upon. Boekel's report was that it would be improper to describe the principle of the mechanism, but that "Mr. Keely had discovered all that he had claimed." There is no way of inquiring into how Mr. Boekel was convinced. Considering the billions of human beings who have been "convinced" by bombardments of words and phrases beyond their comprehension, I think that Mr. Boekel was reduced to a state of mental helplessness by flows of a hydro-pneumatic-pulsating-vacue terminology; and that faithfully he kept his promise not to explain, because he had not more than the slightest comprehension of what it was that had convinced him.

But I do not think that any character of Mr. Keely's general abilities has ever practiced successfully without the aid of religion. Be good for a little while, and you shall have everlasting reward. Keely was religious in preaching his doctrine of goodness: benefits to mankind, releases from enslavement, spare time for the cultivation of the best that is in everybody, promised by his motor -- and in six months the stock will be quoted at several times its present value. I haven't a notion that John Worrell Keely, with a need for business, and a throb for suffering humanity, was any less sincere than was General Booth, for instance.

In November, 1898, Keely died. Clarence B. Moore, son of his patron, Mrs. Bloomfield Moore -- short tens of thou- [340/341] sands of dollars in his inheritance, because of Keely and his promises -- rented Keely's house, and investigated. According to his findings, Keely was "an unadulterated rascal."

This is too definite to suit my notions of us phenomena. The unadulterated, whether of food we eat, or the air we breathe, or of idealism, or of villainy, is unfindable. Even adultery is adulterated. There are qualms and other mixtures.

Moore said that he had found the evidences of rascality. The motor was not the isolated mechanism that, according to him, the stockholders of the Keely Motor Co. had been deceived into thinking it was: he had found an iron pipe and other tubes, and wires that led from the motor to the cellar. Here was a large, spherical, metallic object. There were ashes.

Imposture exposed -- the motor had been run by a compressed air engine, in the cellar.

Anybody who has ever tried to keep a secret twenty-four hours, will marvel at this story of an impostor who, against all the forces of revelation, such as gas men, and coal men, and other persons who get into cellars -- against inquisitive neighbors, and, if possible, even more inquisitive newspaper men -- against disappointed stockholders and outraged conventionalists -- kept secret, for twenty-four years, his engine in the cellar.

It made no difference what else came out. Taboo had, or pretended it had, something to base on. Almost all people of all eras are hypnotics. Their beliefs are induced [341/342] beliefs. The proper authorities saw to it that the proper belief should be induced, and people believed properly.

Stockholders said that they know of the spherical object, or the alleged compressed air engine in the cellar, because Keely had made no secret of it. Nobody demonstrated that by means of this object, the motor could be run. But beliefs can run. So meaningless, in any sense of organization, were the wires and tubes, that I think of Hendershot's statement that he had complicated his motor with "leads", as he called them.

Stones that have fallen in houses where people were dying -- the rambles of a pan of soft soap -- chairs that have moved about in the presence of poltergeist girls --

But, in the presence of John Worrell Keely, there were disciplined motions of a motor. For twenty-four years there were demonstrations, and though there was much of a stir-up of accusations, never was Keely caught helping out a little. There was no red light, nor semi-darkness. The motor stood in no cabinet. Keely's stockholders were of a superior intelligence, as stockholders go, inasmuch as many of them investigated, somewhat, before speculating. They saw this solemn, big contrivance go around and around. Sometimes they saw sensational stunts. The thing tore thick ropes apart, broke iron bars, and shot bullets through a twelve-inch plank. I conceive that the motivation of this thing was a wild talent -- an uncultivated, rude, and unreliable power, such as is all genius in its infancy --

That Keely operated his motor by a development of mere "willing", or visualizing, whether consciously, or not [342/343] knowing how he got his effects -- succeeding spasmodically sometimes, failing often, according to the experience of all pioneers -- impostor and messiah --

Justifying himself, in the midst of promises that came to nothing, because he could say to himself something that Galileo should have said, but did not say -- "Nevertheless it does move!"(4) [343]

1. "Compton will hunt secret of cosmic ray in worldwide study from lofty mountain." New York Times, January 3, 1932, s.1 p.1 c.4-5 and p.29 c.1-2. Correct quote: "...possibility of such an action...."

2. "Fuelless motor is described by Major Lanphier." New York Herald Tribune, February 27, 1928, p. 1 c.5 & p. 5 c. 3-4. "Pittsburgh engineer here attacks fuelless motor." New York Herald Tribune, March 1, 1928, p. 13 c. 1. "Lanphier to quit Army to aid fuelless motor." New York Herald Tribune, March 8, 1928, p. 3 c. 6. New York Herald Tribune, (March 10, 1928).

3. Frederick Hochstetter, (not Frederich), was the "head" of the Hochstetter Research Laboratories, (not Laboratory). "Scientist here to expose new fuelless motor." New York Herald Tribune, March 2, 1928, p.13 c.6-7.

4. In making his abjuration of the Copernican doctrine before the Inquisition, which upheld an Aristolean belief in a stationary earth, Galileo was alleged to have shown his defiance to the religious authorities by uttering or adding "Eppur si muove" to his written statement. However, these words do not appear in this document nor in any contemporary writings. These words were first noticed upon a portrait of an imprisoned Galileo, which had been painted in Madrid, about 1640; and, the first written reference to these words and incident were provided by Irailh, who claimed he said: "Cependant elle remue," or, "E pur si move." Augustin Simon Irailh. Querelles Littéraires. Paris: Durand, 1761, v.3, 49. J.J. Fahie. Galileo: His Life and Work. London: John Murray, 1903, 324-5. Colin A. Ronan. Galileo. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974, 220.

Previous Chapter

Or, go to:


Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Return to Mr. X's Fortean Web-Site

Communications, (preferably in English), may be sent to Mr. X by electronic mail at fortean@resologist.net or by letters to: Box 1598, Kingston, Ontario K7L 5C8 CANADA.

Copyright X, 1998, 1999