Lo!, by Charles Fort, , at sacred-texts.com
That, in the summer of 1880, some other world, or whatever we'll call it, after a period of hard luck, cheered up—and cast off its despairs—which came to this earth, where there is always room for still more melancholy—in long, black, funereal processions.
Aug. 18, 1880—people, near the waterfront of Havre, France, saw the arrival of a gloom. Sails, in the harbor of Havre, suddenly turned black. But, like every other gloom, this one alternated with alleviations. The sails flapped white. There was a flutter of black and white. Then enormous numbers of the units of these emotions were falling into the streets of Havre. They were long, black flies.
In an editorial, in the London Daily Telegraph, August 21st, it is said that this appearance of flies, at Havre, was a "puzzle of the most mysterious kind." These flies had come down from a point over the English Channel. They had not come from England. I have searched widely in Continental publications, and there is no findable record of any observation upon this vast swarm of flies, until it came down from the sky, over the English Channel. Pilot boats, returning to Havre, came in black with them. See the Journal des Debats (Paris) August 20—that they were exhausted flies, which fell, when touched, and could not move, when picked up. Or they may have been chilled into torpidity. Presumably there were survivors, but most of these helpless flies fell into the water, and the swarm, as a swarm, perished. If this is a puzzle of the
[paragraph continues] "most mysterious kind," I am going to be baffled for a description, as we go along. I don't know what comes after the superlative. Three days later, another vast swarm of long, black flies appeared somewhere else. Just how much we're going to be puzzled by more than the most mysterious depends upon how far this other place was from Havre. See the New York Times, September 8—that, upon August 21st, a cloud of long, black flies, occupying twenty minutes in passing, had appeared at East Pictou, Nova Scotia. Halifax Citizen, August 21—that they had passed Lismore, flying low, some of them appearing to fall into the water.
Upon the 2nd of September, another swarm came down from the sky. It appeared suddenly, at one place, and there is no findable record that it was seen anywhere else, over land or water of this earth. It is told of, in the Entomologists’ Monthly Magazine, November, 1880—off the coast of Norfolk, England—an avalanche that overwhelmed a schooner—"millions and millions of flies." The sailors were forced to take shelter, and it was five hours before they could return to the decks. "The air became clear, about 4 P.M., when the flies were thrown overboard by shovelfuls, and the remainder were washed off the decks by buckets of water and brooms." It was another appearance of exhausted, or torpid, flies.
Scientific American, 43-193—"On the afternoon of Saturday, September 4th, the steamboat Martin encountered, on the Hudson River, between New Hamburg and Newburgh, a vast cloud of flies. It reached southward, from shore to shore, as far as the eye could reach, and resembled a drift of black snow. The insects were flying northward, as thick as snowflakes driven by a strong wind." They were long, black flies. Halifax Citizen, September 7—that, upon the 5th of September, a compact cloud of flies, occupying half an hour in passing, had appeared at Guysboro, Nova Scotia, hosts of them falling into the water.
I think that this crowd of flies was not the same as the Hudson River crowd, even though that was flying northward. So I think, because the flies of Guysboro, like the flies of Havre, came as if from a point over the ocean. "They came from the east" (Brooklyn Eagle, September 7).
The look of the data is that, with an ocean between appearing-points,
a bulk of flies, of the size of a minor planet, dividing into swarms, somewhere in outer space, came to this earth from somewhere else. It is simply a matter of thinking of one origin, and then thinking that that origin could not have been in either North America or Europe.
If we can think that these flies came to this earth from the moon, or Mars, or from a fertile region in the concave land of the stars, that is interesting; but by this time we have passed out of the kindergarten of our notions, and are ready to take up not merely mysterious appearances, but mysterious appearances that will be data for our organic expressions. In data upon insect-swarms of the summer of 1921, there is suggestion not only of conventionally unaccountable appearances of insect-swarms, but of appearances in response to need. If one has no very active awareness for any need for insects, that is because one is not thinking far enough back into interrelations of bugs and all other things.
In the summer of 1921, England was bereft of insects. The destruction of insects, in England, by the drought of 1921, was, very likely, unequaled at any other time, anyway for a century or more. The story of dwindling and disappearing is told, in Garden Life, for instance—aphides becoming fewer and fewer—absence of mosquitoes, because of the drying of the ponds—not one dragon fly all summer—scarcity of ants—midges almost entirely absent—stricken fields in which not a butterfly was seen—ordinary flies uncommon, and bluebottles exterminated. See the Field and the Entomologists’ Record for similar accounts.
Then came clouds of insects and plagues of insects: foreign insects, and unknown insects. Anybody can find the data in various English publications. I note here that one of the swarms of exotic insects was of large fireflies that appeared in Wales (Cardiff Western Mail, July 12). Locusts appeared (London Weekly Dispatch, July 6). I suppose that almost any conventional entomologist will question my statement that vast swarms of unknown insects appeared at this time, in England: nevertheless, in the London Daily Express, September 24, Prof. Le Froy is quoted as saying, of a species of stinging insects, that it was unknown to him.
Destructions that were approaching extermination—and then multitudinous
replenishments. I have searched without finding one datum for thinking that one of these replenishments was seen crossing the Channel. Three of them were of foreign insects.
Once upon a time, according to ancient history, Somebody so loved this world that he gave to it his only begotten son. In this year 1921, according to more recent records, Something gave to the streets of London its many forgotten women. To starving humans it gave a dole. But, when its insects dwindled away, it bestowed profusions of bugs.
All our expressions are in terms of relative importance.
In the summer of 1869, in many parts of England, there was a scarcity of insects that was in some ways more remarkable than that of 1921. This scarcity was discussed in all entomological magazines of the time, and was mentioned in newspapers and other publications. For one of the discussions, see the Field, July 31 and Aug. 14, 1869. Most widely noticed was the absence of one of the commonest of insects, the small, white butterfly, Pieris rapae. Some of the other ordinarily plentiful species were scarcely findable.
In the London Times, July 17, a correspondent, in Ashford, Kent, writes that a tropical, or sub-tropical insect, a firefly (Lampyris Italia) had been caught in his garden. In the Times, of the 10th, the presence of this insect in England is seemingly explained. Someone else writes that, upon June 29th, at Dover, only fifteen miles from Ashford, he had released twelve fireflies, which he had brought in a bottle from Coblenz. But in the same issue of this newspaper, a third correspondent writes that, at Catherham, Surrey, had appeared many fireflies. Weekly Dispatch (London)—"They were so numerous that people called them a nuisance." Even a firefly can't fly its fire, without a man with a bottle appearing and saying that he had let it go. There will be accounts of other swarms. Only Titans, who had uncorked Mammoth Caves, in mountains of glass, could put in claims for letting them go from bottles.
The coast of Lincolnshire—and a riddance long and wide. The coast of Norfolk—several miles of tragedy. In the Zoologist, 1869-1839, someone reports belts of water, some a few yards wide, and some hundreds of yards wide, "of a thick, pea-soup appearance," so colored by drowned aphides, off the coast of Lincolnshire;
and, off the coast of Norfolk, a band of drowned ladybirds, about ten feet wide, and two or three miles long. Wherever this little dead comet came from, there is no findable record that it had been seen alive anywhere in Europe.
Upon the 26th of July, columns of aphides came down from the sky, at Bury St. Edmunds, about 60 miles south of the coast of Lincolnshire massed so that they gave off a rank odor, and so dense that, for anybody surrounded by them, it was difficult to breathe. Upon the same day, at Chelmsford, about 40 miles south of Bury St. Edmunds, appeared masses of these insects equally vast. See Gardeners’ Chronicle, July 31, August 7.
Aphides had streaked the ocean. Columns of others had come down, like vast, green stems, from their fern-like clouds. Less decoratively, others darkened the sky. A new enormity appeared upon the coast of Essex, about the first of August. According to correspondence, in the Maidstone Journal, August 23, fogs of aphides had shut off sunlight. They appeared in other parts of southeastern England. "They swarmed to such an extent as to darken the air for days together, and to render it almost dangerous to the sight of men and animals to be out of doors."
The 9th of August—the first of the ladybirds that reached England alive were reported at Ramsgate. Three days later, between Margate and Nore Light, near the mouth of the Thames, thousands of ladybirds speckled a vessel. This diseased appearance took on a more serious look, with blotches of small, yellow, black-marked flies. Then spread a cosmetic of butterflies.
These were van-swarms. Upon the 13th, an invasion was on. I quote chiefly from the London Times.
A cloud was seen over the Channel, not far from land, moving as if from Calais, reaching Ramsgate, discharging ladybirds upon the town. They drifted into piles in the streets. The town turned yellow. These were not red ladybirds. There would be less mystery, if they were. People in the town were alarmed by the drifting piles in the streets, and a new job, worth the attention of anybody who collects notes upon odd employments, appeared. Ladybird shovelers were hired to throw the drifts into sewers.
Clouds streaked counties. They moved northward, reaching London,
upon the 14th, pelting into the streets, and filling gutters. Children scooped them up, filling bags and pails with them, and "played store" with them. Multitudes went on as far as Worcester.
Upon the 14th, "a countless multitude" of other ladybirds arrived upon the coasts of Kent and Surrey, and these clouds, too, seemed to have come from France. They rattled, like colored hail, against windows. They were "yellow perils," and the inhabitants were alarmed, fearing a pestilence from accumulations of bodies. Fires were built, to burn millions of them, and people who had never shoveled ladybirds before took up the new employment.
The next day, "an enormous multitude" of new arrivals appeared at Dover, coming as if from France. The people who were out in this storm carried umbrellas, which soon looked like huge sunflowers. People, stopping to discuss the phenomenon, gathered into bouquets. The storm abated, and umbrellas were closed. All blossomed again. Another cloud rolled in from no place or origin that has ever been found out. These living gushes from the unknown moved on toward London, and in accounts of them, in Land and Water, are amusing descriptions of the astonishment they caused. There is a story of five hypnotized cats. A multitude alighted upon a lawn. Five cats sat around, motionless, gazing at the insects. A woman tells of her bewilderment, when, looking out at her lines of wash, which had been spotless, she saw garments hanging blotched and heavy. At Shoeburyness, the ladybirds pelted so that men in brickyards were driven from their work. Unless from celestial nozzles living fountains were playing down upon this earth, I cannot conceive of the origin of these deluges.
Some entomologists tried to explain that the insects must have gathered in other parts of England, having flown toward France, having been borne back by winds to the southeastern coast of England.
If anybody accepts, with me, that these insects were not English ladybirds, and that they did not come from France, and did not keep on coming, day after day, to one point, from Holland, Sweden, Spain, Africa—and here consider the feeble flight of ladybirds—but if anybody accepts with me that these ladybirds did not fly from any part of this earth to their appearing-point, I suppose that he
will go on thinking that they must so have flown, just the same. That there are data for thinking that these insects were not English ladybirds:
In the London Standard, August 20, there is a description of them. "They all seemed to be much larger than the common ladybirds, of a paler color, with more spots." In the Field, August 28, someone writes that all the insects, except a few, were yellow. So far as he knew, he had never before seen specimens of this species. The Editor of the Field writes: "The red is paler, and there are divers slight differences that rather indicate a foreign origin." He says that, in the opinion of Mr. Jenner Weir, the naturalist, these ladybirds were different from ordinary English specimens.
But these millions must have been very ordinary somewhere. That there are data for thinking that these insects came from neither France nor Belgium:
Such as hosts of observations upon the swarms, within a mile or two of the English coast, and no findable record of an observation farther away, or nearer France. There is, in newspapers of Paris, no mention of appearances of ladybirds anywhere upon the continent of Europe. There is no mention in publications of entomological societies of France and Belgium. But any of these enormous clouds leaving a coast of France or Belgium would have attracted as much attention as did an arrival in England. Other scientific publications in which I have searched, without finding mention of observations upon ladybirds in France, or any other part of the Continent, are Comptes Rendus, Cosmos, Petites Nouvelles Entomologiques, Rev. et Mag. de Zoologie, La Science Pour Tous, L’Abeille, Bib. Universelle, and Rev. Cours. Sci. In Galignani's Messenger (Paris) considerable space is given to accounts of the invasions of England by ladybirds, but there is no mention of observations anywhere, except in England, or within a mile or so of the English coast.
This is the way an invasion began. A great deal was written about conditions in the invaded land. Probably the scarcity of insects in England was unprecedented. There was no drought. It is simply that the insects had died out. And billions were coming from somewhere else.
In the Field, August 28, a correspondent writes: "On Wednesday (25th) I went to Ramsgate by steamboat, and, as we approached within five or six miles of Margate, complaints of wasps began to be heard. I soon ascertained that they were not wasps, but a bee-like fly. As we neared Margate, they increased to millions, and at Margate they were almost unendurable." Some specimens were sent to the Editor of the Field, and he identified them as Syrphi. There had been a similar multitude at Walton, on the coast, about 30 miles north of Margate, the day before.
The little band of scouts, at Ashford—they carried lanterns. Then green processions—yellow multitudes—the military-looking Syrphi, costumed like hussars—
A pilgrimage was on.
"Thunder bugs" appeared between Wingham and Adisham. The tormented people of the region said that they had never seen anything of the kind before (Field, August 21). Wasps and flies "in overwhelming numbers" besieging Southampton (Gardeners’ Chronicle, September 18). London an arriving point—the descent of crane flies upon London—doorsteps and pavements looking muddy with them—people turning out with buckets of boiling water, destroying multitudes of them (Illustrated London News, September 18). This is one of the ways of treating tourists.
I think that there is a crowd-psychology of insects, as well as of men, or an enjoyment of communicated importance from a crowd of millions to one of the bugs. They were humming to England, not merely with bands playing, but each of them blowing some kind of a horn of his own. There are persons who would be good, if they thought that they could go to heaven, or so swarm in the sky, with millions of others, all tooting saxophones.
Pilgrims, or expeditionaries, or crusaders—it was more like a crusade, with nation after nation, or species after species, pouring into England, to restore something that had been lost.
In Sci. Op., 3-261, is an account of a new insect that appeared in England, in July of this year, 1869. For accounts of other unknown insects that appeared in England, in this summer, see the Naturalists’ Note Book, 1869-318; Sci. Gos., 1870-141; Ent. Mo. Mag.,
[paragraph continues] 1869-86, and February, 1870; Sci. Op., 2-359. It was a time of "mysterious strangers."
In the Times, August 21, someone noted the absence of small, white butterflies, and wondered how to account for it. In the Entomologist, Newman wrote that, up to July 12th, he had seen, of this ordinarily abundant insect, only three specimens. Upon pages 313-315, half a dozen correspondents discussed this remarkable scarcity. In the Field, September 4, someone told of the astonishing scarcity of house flies: in more than six weeks, at Axminster, he had seen only four flies. London Standard, August 20—that, at St. Leonard's-on-Sea, all insects, except ladybirds and black ants, were "few and far between." In Symons’ Met. Mag., August, 1869, it is said that, at Shiffnal, scarcely a white butterfly had been seen, and that, up to July 21st, only one wasps’ nest had been found. Correspondents, in the Entomologist, September and October, mentioned the scarcity of three species of white butterflies, and noted the unprecedented fewness of beetles, bees, wasps, and moths. Absence of hornets is commented upon, in the Field, July 24.
They were pouring into England.
An army of beetles appeared in the sky. At Ullswater, this appearance was a military display. Regiment after regiment, for half an hour, passed over the town (Land and Water, September 4).
The spiders were coming.
Countless spiders came down from the sky into the city of Carlisle, and, at Kendal, thirty-five miles away, webs fell enormously (Carlisle Journal, October 5). About the 12th of October, "a vast number" of streamers of spiders' web and spiders came down from the sky, at Tiverton, Devonshire, 280 miles south of Carlisle. See the English Mechanic, November 19, and the Tiverton Times, October 12. As if in one persisting current, there was a repetition. Upon the morning of the 15th, webs, "like pieces of cotton," fell from the sky, at South Molton, near Tiverton. Then fell "wondrous quantities," and all afternoon the fall continued, "covering fields, houses, and persons." It was no place for flies, but to this webby place flies did come.
Species after species—it was like the internationalism of the better-known crusades—
The locusts were coming.
Upon the 4th of September, a locust was caught in Yorkshire (Entomologist, 1870-58). There are no locusts indigenous to England. At least up to May, 1895, no finding of a locust in its immature state had ever been recorded in Great Britain (Sci. Gos., 189583). Upon the 8th and 9th of October, locusts appeared in large numbers, in some places, in Pembrokeshire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, and Cornwall. They had the mystery of the ladybirds. They were of a species that, according to records, had never before appeared in England. An entomologist, writing in the Journal of the Plymouth Institute, 4-15, says that he had never heard of a previous visit to England by this insect (Acridium peregrinum). It seems that in all Europe this species had not been seen before. In the Ent. Mo. Mag., 7-1, it is said that these locusts were new to European fauna, and were mentioned in no work upon European Orthoptera.
At the meeting of the Entomological Society of London, Nov. 15, 1869, it was decided, after a discussion, that the ladybirds had not come from France, but had flown from places in England, and had been carried back, by winds to other parts of England. There was no recorded observation to this effect. It was the commonplace ending of a mystery.
I add several descriptions that indicate that, in spite of London's most eminent bugmen, the ladybirds were not English ladybirds. Inverness Courier, September 2—"That they are foreigners, nobody doubts. They are nearly twice the size of the common English lady birds, and are of a paler color." See the Student, 4-160—"the majority were of a large size, and of a dull, yellow hue." In the London Standard, August 23, it is said that some of the insects were almost half an inch long.
That the locusts were foreigners was, by the Entomological Society of London, not discussed. Nothing else was discussed. Crane flies and Syrphi and spiders and all the rest of them—not a mention. I know of no scientist who tried to explain the ladybirds, and mentioned locusts. I know of no scientist who tried to explain the locusts and mentioned ladybirds—no scientist who wrote upon a scarcity of insects, and mentioned the swarms—no scientist who told of swarms, and mentioned scarcity.
The spiders, in a localized fall that lasted for hours, arrived as if from a persisting appearing-point over a town, and the ladybirds repeatedly arrived, as if from an appearing-point a few miles from a coast. The locusts came, not in one migration, but as if successively along a persisting path, or current, because several had been caught more than a month before large numbers appeared (Field, October 23).
A mob from the sky, at Burntisland, Scotland—"spinning jennys" that were making streets fuzzy with their gatherings on cornices and window sills (Inverness Courier, September 9). An invasion at Beccles was "an experience without precedent." A war correspondent tells of it, in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, September 18. The invaders were gnats—correspondent trying to write about them, from an ink pot filled with drowned gnats—people breathing and eating gnats. Near Reading, "clouded yellow butterflies," insects that had never before been recorded in Berkshire, appeared (Sci. Gos., 1869-210). At Hardwicke, many bees of a species that was unknown to the observer, were seen (Nature, 2-98). Field, August 21 and November 20—swarms of hummingbird hawkmoths. As described in Science Gossip, 1869-273, there was, at Conway, "a wonderful sight"—a flock of hummingbird hawkmoths and several species of butterflies. Clouds of insects appeared in Battersea Park, London, hovering over trees, in volumes so thick that people thought the trees had been set afire (Field, June 4, 1870). An invasion at Tiverton, seemingly coming with the spiders, "a marvelous swarm of black flies" made its headquarters upon the Town Hall, covering the building, turning it dark inside, by settling upon the window glass (Tiverton Times, October 12). At Maidstone, as if having arrived with the lady birds, a large flight of winged ants was seen (Maidstone Journal, August 23). Midges were arriving at Inverness, August 18th. "At some points the cloud was so dense that people had to hold their breath and run through (Inverness Courier, August 19). Thrips suddenly appeared at Scarborough, August 25th (Sci. Op., 2-292). At Long Benton, clouds of Thrips descended upon the town, wafting into houses, where they were dusted from walls, and swept from floors (Ent. Mo. Mag., 1869-171). Also, at Long Benton appeared an immense flight of the white butterflies that were so scarce
everywhere else, gardeners killing thousands of them (Ent. Mo. Mag., December, 1869). At Stonefield, Lincolnshire, appeared beetles of a species that had never been seen there before (Field, October 16).
It was more than a deluge of bugs. It was a pour of species. It was more than that. It was a pour on a want.
Entomologists’ Record, 1870—that, in this summer of 1869, in England, there had been such an "insect famine" that swallows had starved to death.