Sacred Texts  Fortean  ESP  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Wild Talents, by Charles Fort, [1933], at

p. 981


I looked at a picture, and it fell from a wall.

The diabolical thought of Usefulness rises in my mind. If ever I can make up my mind to declare myself the enemy of all mankind, then shall I turn altruist, and devote my life to being of use and of benefit to my fellow-beings.

Everything that is of slavery, ancient and modern, is a phenomenon of usefulness. The prisons are filled with unconventional interpreters of uses. If it were not for uses, we'd be free of lawyers. Give up the idea of improvements, and that is an escape from politicians.

Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you, and you may make the litter of their circumstances that you have made of your own. The good Samaritan binds up wounds with poison ivy. If I give anybody a coin, I hand him good and evil, just as truly as I hand him head and tail. Whoever discovered the uses of coal was a benefactor of all mankind, and most damnably something else. Automobiles, and their seemingly indispensable services—but automobiles and crime and a million exasperations. There are persons who think they see clear advantages in the use of a telephone—then the telephone rings.

If, by looking at it, a picture can be taken down from a wall, why could not a house be pulled down, by still more intently staring at it?

If, occultly, mentally, physically, however, a house could be pulled down, why could not a house be put up, by concentrating upon its materials?

Now visions of the Era of Witchcraft—miracles of invisible bricklaying, and marvels of masonry without masons—subtle uses and advantages that will merge both A. D. and B. C. into one period of barbarism, known as B. W.

But the factories and labors and laborers—everything else that is

p. 982

now employed in our primitive ways of buildings houses. Unemployment and starvation and charity—political disturbances—the outcry against putting the machines out of work. There is no understanding any messiah, inventor, discoverer, or anybody else who is working for betterment, except by recognizing him as partly a fiend.

And yet, in one respect, I am suspicious of all this wisdom. The only reason that it is not conventional mechanistic philosophy is that the conventionalist is more subdued. But, if to every action there is a reaction that is equal and opposite, there is to every advantage, or betterment, an equal disadvantage, or worsement. This view—except as quantitatively expressed—seems to me to be in full agreement with my experiences with advantages and uses and betterments: but, as quantitatively expressed, it is without authority to me, because I cannot accept that ever has any action-reaction been cut in two, its parts separated, and isolated, so that it could be determined what either part was equal to.

I looked at a picture, and it fell from a wall.

Once upon a time, Dr. Gilbert waved a wand that he had rubbed with the skin of a cat, and bits of paper rose from a table. This was in the year 1, of Our Lord, Electricity, who was born as a parlor-stunt.

And yet there are many persons, who have read widely, who think that witchcraft, or the idea of witchcraft, has passed away.

They have not read widely enough. They have not thought widely enough. What idea has ever passed away? Witchcraft, instead of being a "superstition of the past," is of common report. I look over my data for the year 1924, for instance, and note the number of cases, most of them called "poltergeist disturbances," that were reported in England. Probably in the United States more numerously were cases reported, but, because of library facilities, I have especially noted phenomena in England. Cases of witchcraft and other uncanny occurrences, in England, in the year 1924, were reported from East Barnet, Monkton, Lymm, Bradford, Chiswick, Mount-sorrel, Dudley, Hayes, Maidstone, Minster Thanet, Epping, Grimsby, Keighley, and Clyst St. Lawrence.

New York newspapers reported three cases, close together, in the

p. 983

year 1927. New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 12, 1927—Fred Koett and his wife compelled to move from their home, near Ellenwood, Kansas. For months this house had been bewitched—pictures turned to the wall—other objects moving about—their pet dog stabbed with a pitch fork, by an invisible. New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 12, 1927—Frank Decker's barn, near Fredon, N. J., destroyed by fire. For five years there had been unaccountable noises, opening and shutting doors, and pictures on walls swinging back and forth. Home News (Bronx), Nov. 27, 1927—belief of William Blair, County Tyrone, Ireland, that his cattle were bewitched. He accused a neighbor, Isabella Hazelton, of being a witch—"witch" sued him for slander—£5 and costs.

My general expression is against the existence of poltergeists as spirits—but that the doings are the phenomena of undeveloped magicians, mostly youngsters, who have no awareness of their powers as their own—or, in the cases of mischievous, or malicious, persecutions, are more or less consciously directed influences by enemies—or that, in this aspect, "poltergeist disturbances" are witchcraft under a new name. The change of name came about probably for two reasons: such a reaction against the atrocities of witchcraft-trials that the existence of witches was sweepingly denied, so that continuing phenomena had to be called something else; and the endeavor by the spiritualists to take over witchcraft, as evidence of the existence of "spirits of the departed."

If witches there be, there must of course be some humorous witches. The trail of the joke crosses our accounts of the most deadly occurrences. In many accounts of poltergeist disturbances, the look is more of mischief than of hate for victims. The London Daily Mail, May 1, 1907, is responsible for what is coming now:

An elderly woman, Mme. Blerotti, had called upon the Magistrate of the Ste. Marguerite district of Paris, and had told him that, at the risk of being thought a madwoman, she had a complaint to make against somebody unknown. She lived in a flat, in the Rue Montreuil, with her son and her brother. Every time she entered the flat, she was compelled by some unseen force to walk on her hands, with her legs in the air. The woman was detained by the magistrate, who sent a policeman to the address given. The policeman

p. 984

returned with Mme. Blerotti's son, a clerk, aged 27. "What my mother has told you, is true," he said. "I do not pretend to explain it. I only know that when my mother, my uncle, and myself enter the flat, we are immediately impelled to walk on our hands." M. Paul Reiss, aged fifty, the third occupant of the flat, was sent for. "It is perfectly true," he said. "Everytime I go in, I am irresistibly impelled to walk around on my hands." The concierge of the house was brought to the magistrate. "To tell the truth," he said, "I thought that my tenants had gone mad, but as soon as I entered the rooms occupied by them, I found myself on all fours, endeavoring to throw my feet in the air."

The magistrate concluded that here was an unknown malady. He ordered that the apartments should be disinfected.

There used to be a newspaper story of the "traveling needle." People perhaps sat on needles, though they thought it more dignified to report that needles had entered their bodies by way of their elbows. Then, five, ten, twenty, years later, the needles came out by way of distant parts. We seldom hear of the "traveling needle," nowadays: so I think that most—not all—of these old stories were newspaper yarns. I was interested in these stories, as told back in the eighteen-eighties and nineties, but never came upon one that seemed to me to be authentic, or to offer material much to speculate upon. I took suggestion from the method of "black magic," of piercing, with a needle, the heart, or some other part, of an image of a proposed victim, and, according to beliefs, succeeded in affecting a corresponding part of a human being

An inquest, in the Shoreditch (London) Coroner's court, Nov. 14, 1919—a child, Rosina Newton, aged thirteen months, had died. A needle was found in her heart. "There was no skin-wound to show where it had entered the body." It was the short life of this child that attracted my attention. The parents had no remembrance of any injury to her, such as that of a needle entering her body.

It seems unlikely that anybody so intensely hated this infant as to concentrate upon a desire for her death: but I have stories that may indicate the doing of harm to children as vengeance upon parents.

And in the annals of "black magic" often appears the sorcerer,

p. 985

who obtains something of the belongings, or of the body, of a victim, to secure a contact, or a sense of contact. Parings of fingernails are recommended, but the procuring of a lock of the victim's hair is supposed to be most effective. There may be psychic hounds, who, from a belonging, pick up a scent, and then maintain, and operate along, a path, or a current, between themselves and their victims. In such terms, of harm, or of possession, may be understandable the hair-clippers of our records.

There is a strange story, in the Times of India (Bombay), Aug. 30, 1928. A part of this story that does not seem so very strange to me is that three times a new-born infant of a Muslim woman, of Bhonghir, had been "mysteriously and supernaturally" snatched away from her. The strange part is that the police, though they had explained that these disappearances were only ordinary, or "natural," kidnapings, had gone to the trouble of taking this woman, who for the fourth time was in a state of expectation, to the Victoria Zenana Hospital, at Secunderabad; and that the hospital authorities had gone to the trouble and expense of assigning her to a special ward, where special nurses watched her, night and day. The fourth infant arrived, and this one, so surrounded by test-conditions, did not mysteriously vanish: so it was supposed to be demonstrated that the three disappearances were ordinary kidnapings. The explanation that occurs to one is that, though it was not mentioned in the Times of India, there was probably a scare, at Bhonghir, and that this demonstration was made to allay it.

Just how, by ordinary, or "natural," means, anybody could, time after time, without being seen, snatch a new-born infant from a woman, was not inquired into. All such "demonstrations" start with the implied assumption that there is not witchcraft, and then show that there is not witchcraft. That is, there is no consideration for the thought that a witch might exist and might fear to practice so publicly as in a hospital ward. The "demonstration" was that there was not witchcraft in a hospital ward, and that therefore there is not witchcraft. Many of our data are of most public, or daring, or defiant occurrences: but it is notable that they stop—mostly, though not invariably—when public attention is aroused. Sometimes they stop, and then renew periodically.

p. 986

About the first of May, 1922, Pauline Picard, a Breton child, aged 12, disappeared from her home on a farm, near Brest, France. I take this account from various issues of the Journal des Debats (Paris), May and June, 1922. Upon May 26th, a cyclist, passing Picard's farm, saw something in a field, not far from the road. He investigated. He came upon Pauline's naked and headless body. At the roadside were found her clothes. It was noted that they were "neatly folded."

The body was decomposed. Hands and feet, as well as head, were missing. This body, visible from the road, was found at a point half a mile from the Picard farmhouse.

It seems most likely that, if it was seen by a passing cyclist, it could not long have been lying so conspicuous, but unseen, by members of the Picard family. Nevertheless, that it had so lain was the opinion that was accepted at the inquest. It was said that the child must have wandered from home, and, returning, must have died of exhaustion; and that the body had been defaced by rats and foxes. This story of the wandering child, dying of exhaustion, half a mile from her home, was given plausibility by the circumstances that once before Pauline had wandered far, and that she had been affected mentally. At least, she had disappeared, and had been found far away.

Upon April 6th, of this year 1922, Pauline disappeared. Several days later, a child was found wandering in the streets of Cherbourg. The Picards were notified, and, going to Cherbourg, identified this child as Pauline, who, however, did not recognize them, being in a state of lapsed consciousness, or amnesia. If Pauline Picard, aged 12, had made this journey afoot, or by means that are called "natural," between a farm near Brest and Cherbourg, in a state of amnesia, which it seems would somewhere be noted, but had not been reported, she had gone, unreported, a distance by land of about 230 miles.

Twice Pauline Picard disappeared. The first disappearance was not an ordinary runaway, or was not an ordinary kidnaping, because something had profoundly affected this child mentally. I have notes upon more than a few cases of persons who have appeared, as if they had been occultly transported, or at any rate have

p. 987

appeared in places so far from their homes that they were untraceable, and were amnesiatics. An expression for which I should like to find material is that, three times, in distant parts of India, "wolf children" were reported, after the times of disappearance of the infants of Bhonghir. The official explanation of the second disappearance and the death of Pauline Picard bears the marks of dictation by Taboo. If the body of this child had been also otherwise mutilated, the explanation of defacement by rats and foxes would be more nearly convincing: but something, or somebody, had, as if to prevent identification, removed, without other mutilations, hands and feet and head—and also, contradictorily, had placed the body in a conspicuous position, as if planning to have it found. The verdict at the inquest required belief that this decomposed body had lain, conspicuous, but unseen, for several weeks, in this field. There is a small particular that adds to the improbability. It seems that the clothes—also conspicuous by the roadside—had not been lying there, for several weeks, subject to the disturbing effects of rains and wind. They were "neatly folded."

It is as if somebody had removed head, hands, and feet from this body, and had stripped the clothes from it, so that it could not be identified; and had placed the clothes near by, so that it could be identified.

A field—the dismembered body of a child—a farmhouse near by. But I can pick up no knowledge of relations with environment. Friendly neighbors—or a neighbor with a grudge—all around is vacancy. A case that was called "unparalleled" was told of, in the New York newspapers, April 30, 1931. Here, too, the surroundings are blankness: in the usual way the story was told, as an unrelated thing. Perhaps, somewhere near by, brooding over a crystal globe, or some other concentration-device, was the origin of a series of misfortunes.

Early in April, 1931, Valentine Minder, of Happauge, Long Island, N. Y., was suffering with what was said to be mastoiditis. His eight children were stricken with what was said to be measles, and then, one after another, in a period of eight days, the eight children were taken ill with mastoiditis, and were removed to a hospital. The

p. 988

circumstance, because of which these cases were called "unparalleled," is that mastoiditis was supposed to be not contagious.

These cases, which, if "unparalleled," were mysterious, were a culmination of a series of misfortunes. About two years before, Minder's home had burned down. Then came his illness, a loss of vitality, the loss of his job, and a state of destitution. Toward the end of 1930, Mrs. Minder was stricken with an indefinable illness, and became an invalid.

So far as was known, mastoiditis is not contagious. Out of many cases of family maladies, misfortunes, and fatalities, I pick one in which it seems that even more decidedly there is no place for the idea of contagion. Of course there is a place for the idea of coincidence. That is one square peg that fits into round holes and octagonal holes; dodecagonal holes, cracks, slits, gaps—or seems to, so long as whether it does or doesn't is not enquired into. London Daily Chronicle, Nov. 3, 1926—that Mr. A. C. Peckover, the well-known violinist, one of the examiners to the Royal College of Music, had at the home of his sister, in Skipton, awakened one morning, to find himself blind. He was taken to the Bradford Eye and Ear Hospital. Here was his father, who, almost simultaneously, had been stricken with blindness.

In the matter of the deaths that followed the opening of Tut-Ankh-Amen's tomb, it is my notion that, if "curses" there be, they lose their vitality, anyway after several thousand years—

Or that a tomb was violated, and that funerals followed—by the deadly magic of no mummy, but of a living Egyptian—that, somewhere in Egypt, a sense of desecration became an obsession, from which came "rays," or a more personal and searching vengeance.

I wonder why the "wealthy farmer" appears in so many records of more or less uncanny doings. Perhaps any farmer who becomes wealthy, so becomes by sharp practices, and has enemies, whose malices against him demonstrate. In November, 1890, the household of Stephen Haven, a wealthy farmer, living near Fowlerville, Michigan, was startled by cries, one night. Haven was found at the bottom of a deep well. He had walked in his sleep. Two months later, he was again missing from his bedroom, was searched for,

p. 989

and was found, standing, with the water up to his neck, in Silver Lake. Other members of the family were alarmed and alert. They heard slight sounds, one night—Haven was found, fast asleep, trying to set the house afire. Another time—and a thud was heard. The man, asleep, had tried to hang himself. According to the story, as told in the Brooklyn Eagle, Nov. 18, 1892, Haven had finally been found dead at night. He had fallen from the upper-story doorway of his barn.

See back to occurrences in Sing Sing Prison, in December, 1930. New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 18, 1932—"Warden Lewis E. Lawes fell this evening on the sleet-covered steps of his home, at the prison, and his right arm was broken in three places."

In matters of witchcraft, my general expression—as I say, to signify that neither as to anything in this book, nor anywhere else, have I beliefs—my general expression upon poltergeist girls is not that they are mediums, controlled by spirits, but that effects in their presence are phenomena of their own powers, or talents, or whatever: but that there are cases in which it seems to me that youngsters were mediums, or factors, not to spirits, but to living human beings, who had become witches, or wizards, by their hates—or that, in some cases, sorcery, unless so involuntarily accompliced, cannot operate. See back to the Dagg case—here there seemed to be a girl's own phenomena, and also the presence of another being, who was invisible. The story was probably largely a distortion. The story was that there was a feud—that a "voice" accused a neighbor, Mrs. Wallace, of having sent it into the Dagg home. If this woman could invisibly transport herself into somebody else's home, for purposes of malice and persecution, we'd not expect her to accuse herself—but there is such an element in a hate, as a sense of dissatisfaction with injuring an enemy, unless the victim knows who's doing it. Also the accusation was soon confused into an acquittal.

I have noted a case of occurrences in a shop, in London, which I tell of, mostly because it has highly the look of authenticity. Not a girl but a boy was present. I'd think that the doings were his own phenomena, were it not for the circumstance of "timing." By "timing," in this case, I mean the occurrence of phenomena upon the same days of weeks. The phenomenon of "timing," or the occurrences

p. 990

of doings, about the same time each day, appears in many accounts of persecutions by invisibles, for which I have found no room, in this book.

London Weekly Dispatch, Aug. 18, 1907—disturbances in the stationery shop of Arthur Herbert George, 20 Butte Street, South Kensington, London, according to Mr. George's sworn statement, before the Commissioner for Oathes, at 85 Gloucester-road, South Kensington. George and his assistant, a boy, or a young man, aged 17, saw books and piles of stationery slide unaccountably from shelves. Everything that they replaced fell again, so that they could make no progress, trying to restore order. No vibration, no force of any kind, was felt. Two electric lamps in the window toppled over. Then there was livelier action: packages of note paper flew around, striking George and his assistant several times. George shut the door, so that customers should not come in and be injured. The next day boxes of stationery and bottles of ink were flying around, and four persons were struck. To this statement was appended an affidavit by an antique dealer, Sidney Guy Adams, 23 Butte Street, testifying that he had seen heavy packages of note paper flying around, and that he had been struck by one of them. In the Weekly Dispatch, September 1, it was said that there had been a repetition of the disturbances, upon the same days of the week (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) as the days of former phenomena. The damage to goods amounted to about £10.

Upon May 31, 1905, Englishmen—in a land where reported witchcraft is of common occurrence—were startled. This tabooed subject had been brought up in Parliament. A member of the House of Commons had told of a case of witchcraft, and had asked for an investigation.

See back to "mysterious thefts." Accept data and implications of almost any of the succeeding groups of stories, and "cat burglars," and other larcenous practitioners, become thinkable as adepts in skills that are not describable as "physical."

Dean Forest Mercury, May 26, 1905—that £50 had been stolen from a drawer in the home of John Markey near Blakeney (Dean Forest). The disappearance of this money was considered unaccountable. Just why, I could not find out, because the influence of

p. 991

[paragraph continues] Taboo smothered much, in this case. The members of this household could not explain how this money could have vanished, and brooding over the mystery made them "superstitious." They asked a woman, who, according to her reputation, had much knowledge of witchcraft, to investigate. Then came occurrences that made them extremely, hysterically, insanely "superstitious." It was as if an invisible resented the interference. Soon after the arrival of this woman—Ellen Haywood—something went through this house, smashing windows, crockery, and other breakables.

That is about all that I can pick up from the local newspaper, and from other newspapers published in the neighborhood.

Markey's daughter broke down, with terror. There is only this record: no particulars of her experiences. Without detail, or comment, it is told that Markey's granddaughter became insane. Both women were removed, one to a hospital, and the other to an asylum. Markey's wife ran screaming from the house, and hid in the forest. A Police Inspector came from Gloucester, and organized a search for her; but she was not found. For three days, without food or shelter, she hid. Then she returned, telling that she had seen the searchers, but had been in such a state of terror—by whatever was censored out of the records—that she had been afraid to come out of hiding. Markey's son became violently insane, smashing furniture, and seriously injuring himself, crying out that the whole family was bewitched. He, too, was taken to an asylum.

There was a demand for an inquiry into this case, and it was voiced in the House of Commons. It was voiced against Taboo. There is no more to tell.

I have notes upon another case that looks like resentment against an intrusion—if a woman died, but not in an epileptic fit, as alleged. There were accounts in the London newspapers, but I take from a local newspaper, the Wisbech Advertiser, Feb. 27, 1923, home of Mr. Scrimshaw, at Gorefield, near Wisbech. Other members of Scrimshaw's household were his mother, aged 82, and his daughter, Olive, aged 16. The phenomena were in the presence of this girl. First, Mrs. Scrimshaw's lace cap rose from her head. Then a washstand crashed to the floor. Objects, such as books, dishes, a water filter, fell to the floor. There was much smashing of furniture

p. 992

and crockery. Names of neighbors, who witnessed these unconventionalities, are John Fennelow, T. Marrick, W. Maxey, and G. T. Ward. A piano that weighed 400 pounds moved from place to place. Police-constable Hudson was a witness of some of the phenomena. As to a suggestion that, for any reason of notoriety, or hoaxing, Scrimshaw could be implicated, it was noted that the damage to furniture amounted to about £140.

A woman—Mrs. J. T. Holmes—who, sometime before, had been accused of witchcraft, went to this house, and practiced various incantations to exorcise the witch, or the evil spirit, or whatever. She died suddenly. It was said that she was subject to fits, and had died in one of her convulsions. Whether his decision related to Taboo, or not, the coroner decided not to hold an inquest.

Upon Dec. 12, 1930—see the Home News (Bronx), Dec. 22, 1930—a resident of the Bronx, Elisha Shamray—who had changed his name from Rayevsky—opened a pharmaceutical laboratory, in Jackson Street, lower East Side, New York. During the night he died. His brother, Dr. Charles Rayevsky, came from Liberty, N. Y., to arrange for the funeral. He died a week later. The next night, the third of these brothers, Michael Shamray, Tremont Ave., Bronx, was on his way to arrange for the second funeral. He was struck by an automobile, and was killed.

In August, 1927, Wayne B. Wheeler was the general counsel of the Anti-saloon League of America. Upon August 13th, an oil stove exploded, in his home, and his wife was killed. Later, his father dropped dead. Upon the 5th of September, Wheeler died.

New York Sun, Feb. 3, 1932—Mount Vernon, Ohio, February 3—"Fear that the mysterious illness which has killed three young brothers may strike again in the same family gripped surviving members of the household, today."

Upon the 24th of January, Stanley Paazig, aged 9, died in the home of his parents, on a farm, near Mount Vernon. Upon the 31st, Raymond, aged 8, died. Marion, aged 6, died, February 2nd.

The State Health Department had been unable to identify the malady. "Chemists spent twenty-four hours making tests of the youngest victim's blood, without finding a trace of poison."

Next: 22