1872, The Low Countries, Belgium and Brussels imparticular; over this city late one August evening rises a star like object. In December of the same year at a railway station in Bristol, England, Thomas B. Cumpston and his wife are arrested and charged with disorderly conduct; both of them attired only in their nightclothes. An ocean away in Albany, New York a couple take off their nightclothes and conceive a child.
Precedents, precursers and portents.
Harsh winter months and a wild beast runs amok in Ireland. In County Cavan, (perhaps like cave, crave and craven - bestial and unholy dark words), a killer kills, its appetite unquenched it rips out throats and sucks the blood of thirty sheep in a single night. April 10, a luminous object appears over Kuttenburg, Bohemia as bright as sunlight, as dazzling as any star. A single instant, in terrifying flash it explodes accompanied by a rumble that rumbles-on-and-on-and-on-and-on..... The following day detonations of rifle barrels resound at Limorville, Ireland as a large dog is shot, predations are halted! Hurrah! April 17, near Limerick in that same fair Kingdom "a wolf or something like it" is killing sheep! April 24, a dazzling white object slowly traverses the moons bone coloured disc. Professor Schafarik of Prague writes of "an object of so peculiar a nature that I do not know what to make of it." I make of it a stork carry its bundle ever-so slowly, ever-so carefully towards Albany, New York. Over Barisal in Bengal the stork (or perhaps a garudah) descends into the earths atmosphere, unseen but not unheard, aerial explosions resound; perhaps the beat of its wings. On June 9, fell hail in which was said to be carbonate of soda. A fall of ants in Cambridge, England, some of which were wingless. At Toulous, France, July 28 fell vegetable debris frozen to the surface of large hailstones. August 6, in Albany, New York, an ocean away, a stork completes its journey and delivers a child to Charles and Agnes Fort.
Krakatoa rebels - Fort rebels.
A miracle occurred, water became cleansing, water became special and water became holy when the infant was christened Charles Hoy Fort. The boy was born to dutch stock, to a family of wealth and influence, a family who owned a wholesale grocery business. Two brothers were born in succession, Clarence the 'little kid' and Raymond, the 'other kid'. Agnes, the mother of the three boys died soon after the birth of Raymond and Charles' father would remarry. The wild beast that stalked the fields of Ireland are a portent of the young Charles's wild youth, a youth in which he could not bear to do what he was told. A youth of battles, adventures and discoveries. The beasts violence at home, a home ruled by a tyrannical father. 1883 and mighty Krakatoa blows its top, the surrounding mountains doff their peaks at its magnificence, a magnificence that would echo around the world for years to come. Aged 15 Fort writes to Jules Verne for his autograph, his high school ambition of becoming a writer was already becoming fulfilled as his material was being published in national magazines. Fort rebels, developing theories in the back rooms of a grocery store; a theory where apricots are simply little peaches which are virtually plums which are akin to cherries and so too string beans and succotash.
Fort works for the local paper, 'The Albany Democrat'. 1892, near Birmingham, England, small, almost white frogs fall from the sky to the ground - the cause, a whirlwind? A whirlwind of activity in the Fort household as Charles flees the battles between himself and his stepmother and the tyranny of his father. He lives first with his maternal grandfather and then moves to New York to work upon 'The Brooklyn World'. A year of work follows before Charles quits to travel, "to put some capital into the bank of experience", hitch-hiking 30,000 miles around the world. July 13, 1896 and for over an hour a luminous object moves near Saturn, Fort is in South Africa fist-fighting a duel with a Frenchman. Eighteen days later and a round object passes slowly, horizontally across the moon. South Africa again and Fort succumbs to malaria and returns to New York where he is nursed back to health by Anna Filan (or Filing) a former servant in his fathers house. In a local August sky above California two luminous objects are witnessed by Professor Swift. Perplexed and puzzled! Upon the 26 October 1896 Charles Fort married his nurse Anna, a sincere union perhaps, but perhaps it is an act of rebellion against the authority of his father. 30 November of the same year, two cyclists discover a huge mass of rotting flesh, half buried in the sand of a Florida beach. A whale, probably; a giant octopus, unlikely; former luminous object, ridiculous!
Near starvation and always under threat of eviction the Fort's rent a succession of tiny apartments in the Bronx and Hells Kitchen areas of New York. An odd couple, Fort was well over six feet tall and nearly as wide. Anna, more petite would barely reach his shoulder. Together with a few friend they lived a breadline existence surrounded only by Charles's notes kept in cardboard boxes and a few parakeets kept by Anna. Fort earns a little from writing and supplements that by doing odd jobs. They are however never far from desperation and are at times forced to break up what furniture they had for firewood.(Fuel is coal, coal were trees, trees are wood, wood is furniture therefore furniture is fuel - a Fortean thought!) Ten novels and twenty-five thousand notes suffer the same fiery demise as his furniture, a few remnants of his autobiography, Many Parts, completed when he was twenty-six survive. The great black dog of depression and self doubt, the phantom hounds of Cavan, seemingly haunt Fort throughout his life.
Whilst attempting to sell his work Fort is befriended by Theodore Drieser, editor of 'Smith's Magazine'. Encouraging and guiding Drieser gives Fort direction. Fort, a hermit in the Bronx, switches time between home and the public library; visits by Drieser and the occasional trips to the cinema encouraged by Anna are his only social diversions. Notes are made and notes are burnt. 'X' is written, a book in which events on earth are being controlled from Mars; it is unpublished and burnt. 'Y' is written, earthly events controlled by a yet unknown civilisation in Antarctica; it too remains unpublished and is sacrificed upon a funeral pyre. Drieser's faith however is without limit, his encouragement unbound. Just as steam-engine time must wait until steam-engine time, Forts' books must wait until Forts' books time. Under Drieser's guidance Fort begins to write The Book of the Damned. In 1916 Charles's uncle Peter V. Fort dies leaving him a small inheritance. September 26, and a thunderstone falls upon Cardiff, Wales. The following month in the same local sky above the city are reported twenty-five rapid bright flashes. The inheritance allows Fort to write full time
"If the Time Has Come."
1919, The Book of the Damned is published by Horace Liveright of New York, Theodore Drieser's own publisher. Black dogs snap at poor Fort's heels and in the following year he burns over forty-thousand notes exclaiming that they were not what he wanted! The couple with Fort wanting to pursue his research at the British Museum cross the Atlantic to live in London, England, December 1921. Charles and Anna set up home at 39A Marchmont Street spending eight happy and productive years there. New Lands, his second great book is published in 1923 by Boni and Liveright of New York with a forward by Booth Tarkington, twice a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist for 'The Magnificent Ambersons' (1918) and 'Alice Adams' (1921). Following New Lands publication Fort strikes up a correspondence with Tiffany Thayer, then a young novelist. Whilst in London and for his own amusement Fort spends time at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park often speaking himself - an important aside to Fort's character, although reclusive in nature and with few friends he does not appear to have been a shy man!
Charles and Anna return to New York, 1929. They establish a home once again in the Bronx district of the city.
Lo! Between ten o'clock and noon on the sixth day of January 1931 above Porto Rico a strange star is seen in the western sky - Venus? Perhaps! In February of the same year Fort's third book is published by Claude Kendall of New York. Fort had planned for the book to be called "God and the Fishmonger," as a reference to the famous/infamous fall of perriwinkles at Worcester, England in 1881. Aaron Sussman put forward "If the Time Has Come" in reference to Forts idea that, say, steam-engines can only come into being when the time is right, despite the fact that for many years earlier the same basic principles of water being boiled had been observed. However it was Tiffany Thayer who picked upon another of Fort's themes suggesting simply Lo! after the astronomers who calculate the appearances of new stars, point and proclaim "Lo!" only to find themselves pointing at nothing whatsoever. Thayer noted that: "Fort agreed to 'Lo!' at first hearing". June 14, in Mount Morris Park, New York, upon a bench a man lies dead, soon afterwards and upon another bench nearby another man is found dead.
A 'Wild Talent'
In Bogota, Columbia, forty-five persons are hospitalised with stab wounds, the police, baffled, are unable to catch the assailant. Fort is assailed, sickness grows within him. December 4, upon a train in Venice, Florida, Ann Warding accompanied by her secretary is assaulted by an unheard, unseen, untouched, unsmelt and untasted assailant - a sharp sudden pain in her left shoulder, her shoulder dislocated! Three days later and the steamship Srechsre arrives at port in Jutland, a sailor has been unaccountably assaulted by something unseen, struck about the head by and invisible ... something! A new year, Fort wrestles with his illness, fighting his failing eyesight he strives to completes his fourth book. In February a figure of Christ appears in the variegation of the sepia-toned marble of the sanctuary wall of Saint Bartholomew's Church in New York. The Reverend Dr. Robert Norwood: "...I consider it a curious and beautiful happening, I have a weird theory that the force of thought, a dominant thought, may be strong enough to be somehow transferred to stone in its receptive state."
Wild Talents is complete and published by Claude Kendall of New York. Fort is admitted to the Royal Hospital, New York where upon May 3 he died of an 'unspecified weakness', probably leukaemia.
In the years that followed Charles's death, Anna interviewed by Drieser related a strange experience: "One afternoon [...] his Aunt came over and she annoyed me terribly about his money. She said I had no right to it, I went to bed crying and in the night I thought I was sitting on a little bench or couch [...] He said: 'hello momma,' and I was never so glad to see anybody in my whole life."
Anna Fort died in 1937.