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Charles Fort

Charles Hoy Fort (August 6, 1874 - May 3, 1932), writer and researcher into anomalous phenomena, was the son of an Albany grocer of Dutch ancestry. According to some sources he was born on August 9.

At the age of 18, Fort left home on a worldwide tour; falling ill in South Africa he returned home and later married Anna Filing, his nurse. He pursued a journalistic career in New York, writing for local papers and wrote a number of humorous short stories, and a novel, The Outcast Manufacturers. His experience as a journalist and a contrarian nature prepared him for his real life work, mocking at the pretensions of scientific positivism and the tendency of journalists and editors of newspapers and scientific journals to rationalize away the scientifically incorrect.

Fort discovered his real vocation in researching anomalous phenomena when he inherited a small fortune from an uncle at the age of 42. He dedicated the rest of his life to the compilation of data about unexplained and anomalous phenomena. In the New York Public Library and the Reading Room of the British Museum Library, Fort assiduously, almost obsessively collected notes on phenomena that orthodoxy could not or would not explain.

He is said to have compiled as many as 40,000 notes, which he keep on cards in shoeboxes. More than once, depressed and discouraged, he destroyed his work, but began again. The thousands of notes which survive are in the process of being published, little by little, by the Fortean Society, a British society dedicated to the work and memory of Fort.

The Fortean Society, founded in Fort's lifetime by his friends -- half in earnest and half in jest, like the work of Fort himself -- has been joined by a number of other societies dedicated to carrying on research in the spirit of Fort.

There is also a magazine, The Fortean Times, which is a worthy proponent of Fortean journalism, combining humour, skepticism, and serious research into subjects which scientists and other respectable authorities disdain.

The product of Fort's research was four remarkable books: The Book of the Damned (1919); Lo!; New Lands; and Wild Talents. In these Fort proposes mad, bad theories which have to be seen to be believed. These were more works of satire than scholarship or scientific enquiry, but they are sometimes compelling. It is almost impossible to say at times whether Fort is joking or serious, or seriously joking. Despite their broad humour and satiric approach, Charles Fort was a remarkably perceptive and intelligent critic, and many of his points are well-taken by open-minded and responsible scientists.

There are many phenomena in Fort's works which have now been partially or entirely "recuperated" by mainstream science, but many of Fort's ideas are on the very borderlines of science, or beyond, in the fields of paranormalism and the bizarre. Fort resolutely refused to abandon the territory between science and the absurd. Among Fort's contributions to the thought of the Twentieth Century was the invention of the word "teleportation" to denote the strange disappearances and appearances of anomalies, which tongue-in-cheek, he suggested may be connected. He also is perhaps the first person to explain strange human teleportations by the hypothesis of alien abduction.

Fort's great contribution is to the humour of science, for although many of the phenomena which science rejected in his day have since been proven to be objective phenomena, and although Fort was prescient in his collection and preservation of these data despite the scorn they received from his contemporaries, Fort was more of a parodist and a humorist than a scientist.

Nonetheless, he is considered by many as the Father of Modern Paranormalism, not only because of his interest in strange phenomena, but because of his "modern" attitude towards religion, nineteenth century spiritualism, and scientific dogma.

Fort's Collected Works are published by Dover Books and individual volumes are available in recent editions. Almost all of Fort's works are available online thanks to the efforts of Mr. X, Consulting Resologist.

Fort's work of compilation and commentary on anomalous phenomena reported in scientific journals and press has been carried on very creditably by William R. Corliss, whose self-published books and notes bring Fort's collections up-to-date with a Fortean combination of humour, seriousness and open-mindedness. Mr. Corliss' notes rival those of Fort in volume, while being significantly less cryptic and abbreviated.

Fort may be said to be a great original, a "genius" in the original sense of a place and spirit of origin, in tune with the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth and Twenty-First centuries, a humorist and researcher much ahead of his time.

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"Now there are so many scientists who believe in dowsing, that the suspicion comes to me that it may be only a myth after all." - Charles Fort