Fort, Charles (Hoy) (1874-1932)
Fort, Charles (Hoy) (1874-1932)
American journalist, writer, and explorer of scientific anomalies. He was the archenemy of dogmatic science. Fort was born on August 9, 1874, in Albany, New York. As a boy he wanted to be a naturalist. Instead he became a journalist at age 17. Two years later he decided to see the world and spent two years traveling, from New York to New Orleans, Nova Scotia, England, Scotland, Wales, and South Africa. His vast store of travel impressions over 30,000 miles laid the foundation for his later preoccupation with accumulating and analyzing data.
Back in New York he married an English woman named Anna Filing on October 26, 1896. They lived in poverty while Fort took various nondescript jobs and worked on his writing. He sold feature stories to the New York press, then began to write humorous short stories. He also started a number of large-scale novels, only one of which was ever published, The Outcast Manufacturers (1909). He read widely, took thousands of notes on a myriad of subjects that he discovered in encyclopedias and scientific materials while frequenting the New York Public Library, trying to hammer out a personal philosophy. He decided that science consisted of believers and cranks, and out of his skepticism he said whimsically that he would be a crank.
In 1916 Fort inherited a share of his grandfather's estate, and the following year, after his brother's death, he inherited that share. Freed from the financial problems that had dominated his adult life, he was able to devote his time to what had become a growing obsession: to explain the unexplained. He had collected many notes on odd phenomena that had been reported but remained outside the explanation of science as it existed in his day, such as flying saucers and spontaneous human combustion. With the help of his friend novelist Theodore Dreiser, Fort was able to publish the result of his early research called, The Book of the Damned (1919). The "damned" were the data rejected or explained away by mainstream science. He relentlessly chronicled strange falls from the sky, mysterious disappearances and reappearances, strange synchronicities, enigmatic artifacts, and astronomical ambiguities.
When the book was first published in 1919 it attracted favorable comments from Booth Tarkington, John Cooper Powys, Ben Hecht, and other notable persons. It was followed by New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932). By the time the last book was published Fort's health was failing. He died on May 3, 1932. His wife died five years later.
Shortly before Fort's death Tiffany Thayer organized the Fortean Society to promote the study of his books and continue the work of gathering "Fortean data." Thayer urged the one-volume reprinting of Fort's books a decade later and wrote the introduction to The Books of Charles Fort (1941). After Thayer's death in 1959 the society essentially ceased to exist, but a new group, the International Fortean Organization, was founded in 1965.
Charles Fort was the first individual to gather and make a systematic study of many unusual physical phenomena. He studied UFOs long before the modern UFO era, which began in 1947. He called attention to many unusual phenomena and the extent of their occurrence. Among many topics now studied as "Fortean phenomena" are falls of frogs, stones, blood, or ice from the sky, mysterious fires, stigmata, invisible assassins, UFOs, poltergeists, ancient technologies, levitation, teleportation, monsters, fireballs, meteors, and ancient artifacts. Until Fort began to write, no one realized how many strange events were occurring and how weak "scientific" explanations of them were. In the years since, many of the mysteries he addressed have been examined and brought into the body of scientific knowledge. Many remain unexplained, however, and new ones are continually being added to the list.
Fort, Charles. The Complete Books of Charles Fort. New York: Henry Holt, 1941. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1974.
——. The Outcast Manufacturers. B. W. Dodge, 1909.
Gross, Loren E. Charles Fort, the Fortean Society, and Unidentified Flying Objects. Fremont, Calif.: The Author, 1976.
Knight, Damon. Charles Fort, Prophet of the Unexplained. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.
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