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“People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels.”

Charles Hoy Fort, a writer and researcher born in Albany, New York in August 6, 1874 was intrigued by anomalous phenomena - or what us normal people might describe as the weird. If it walked through walls, levitated, spontaneously burst into flames or was dish shaped and flew across the sky at great speed Mr Fort would be there on the scene. He was generally sceptical of most offered explanations, whether it came from the most eminent scientist or a man on the street. Fort believed that probably the best way to investigate anything that challenged the boundaries of accepted scientific knowledge was to gather as much information on the subject as possible in the hope that eventually out of it all a rational and reasonable enlightenment might appear.

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At a time when there was a fascination for the unfathomable - spiritualism, ghosts, fairies, witches and warlocks and things that went bump in the night - Charles Fort built up a huge collection of newspaper clippings, pamphlets, tracts, personal accounts, books and magazines documenting the inexplicable - UFOs, Spontaneous Human Combustion, weeping Virgin Marys, Ball Lightning, Levitation, Pixies, Teleportation and Time Travel… Some of these scientific anomalies he later published in a series of books:- The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923). Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932), some of which contain reports from our own neighbourhood.

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  • RICHMOND August 2nd 1879 Lumps of ice 4 ½ inches long fell to earth.
  • CHISWICK Sept 16th 1841 Windows were broken in Sutton Lane, Chiswick “by some unseen agent” although the house was surrounded by a high brick wall. Two constables assisted by members of the public arrived to guard the house but windows continued to be broken “both in front and behind!”
  • TWICKENHAM In the “Occult Review” a correspondent reports that while walking in Twickenham he saw a man coming towards him “a figure of a man”. The figure suddenly turned and “disappeared though a brick wall”. At the same time a murder had been committed in the neighbourhood.
  • UXBRIDGE December 10th 1922 A woman walking in Uxbridge found that unknowingly her braid had been cut off. Similar reports spoke of women terrorised by “a vanishing man who disappeared as if by magic”. The following week a man cut off the braid of 17-year-old Dorris Whiting in Orpington. Her father and brother chased the attacker but “the clipper was unfindable.” On the same day a young maid in the same area suffered a similar fate.
  • HAYES AND CHISWICK In 1924 cases of “witchcraft and other uncanny occurrences” were reported in these districts including “poltergeist disturbances”.

Fort’s books sold well and are still in print. “Four of the most audacious, astounding, outrageous, prophetic books of our time. To read Charles Fort is to ride on a comet” reviewed a critic. The books also inspired many admirers, who refer to themselves as “Forteans” They in turn have added to the vast collection of anomalous phenomena in Charles Fort’s files. If asked for an explanation for any of these strange phenomena a Fortean will probably answer “I have no opinion.”

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The Fortean Times, founded as The News in 1973 and renamed in 1976, investigates such phenomena. It is still published monthly.

On the 29th January 1997 Channel 4 transmitted the first episode of “Fortean TV” presented by committed Fortean Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe. It ran for 3 series and ended on 6th March 1998. For your curiosity and latent forteanism here some clips from early programmes.

After he collapsed on May 3, 1932, Fort was rushed to Royal Hospital in The Bronx where he died hours afterward, probably of leukaemia. His more than 60,000 notes were donated to the New York Public Library. I don’t think that he has made any unexpected Fortean reappearances since that time.

– from Martyn Day