- Sep 5, 2003
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Nice little history of Charles Fort and Fortean Times that I had forgotten about in January's edition of Saucer Smear
I expect there must be old issues of "Doubt" still surviving. Anyone here care to own up?One very rarely hears the name of Charles Fort in urological circles, and this is indeed a shame, as he was the modern founder of the study of anomalies, including what we now call flying saucers. Fort, an American who lived from 1874 to 1932, literally went nearly blind as a collector of oddities from newspapers, magazines, scientific journals, etc., spending most of his time in the New York Public Library and the British Museum Library. He published four books crammed with these oddities plus his own philosophical thoughts - and these appeared from 1919 to 1932. Unlike most saucerers, he held no dogmatic views, but merely enjoyed pointing out things that science could not explain. Said he: "I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for awhile."
Fort had friends who were major writers of his generation, and some of these formed an early version of the Fortean Society. We understand that Charles Fort himself gave little or no encouragement to this effort to keep his legacy alive. Tiffany Thayer, one of these well-known writers from the 1920s, became secretary of the Fortean Society around the time of his mentor's demise, and edited a slick little magazine called "Doubt" - a very appropriate title. We used to have quite a few issues of "Doubt", which we exchanged in the 1950s for our zine "Saucer News". Thayer had no use for flying saucers, recognizing correctly that the field was more of a cult than a serious inquiry. We corresponded with Thayer a bit, and once asked him to send back a printable comment about "Saucer News". He answered to the effect that since he could say nothing good about it, he would be kind enough to say nothing bad!
After Thayer's death in the late 1950s, the original Fortean Society folded, but there were several attempts to revive it in subsequent years. The (then) well-known naturalist Ivan Sanderson formed an organization called SITU (Society for the Investigation of the Unknown), which for many years published a slick magazine named "Pursuit". This struggled on after Sanderson's death, and then went out of business. Another Fortean organization has its home base in Maryland, and still exists, in that it sponsors annual conventions there. And then there was a short-lived attempt by the notorious John A. Keel to run a Fortean Society in New York City in the 1970s. Such a group should, by definition, have the same sort of openminded skepticism as did Fort himself, but Keel's highly opinionated beliefs may well have contributed to the death of this particular group. Also lack of funds, as often happens.
In 1973 the British newsstand magazine "Fortean Times" was founded by Bob Rickard, who was later joined by two other gentlemen. This zine is a force to be taken seriously. Currently it is a very professionally-done monthly production of about 80 pages, sold on some newsstands on both sides of the Atlantic, and available by subscription for the hefty price of $59.40 per year. Getting in touch with them may be somewhat difficult, but the subscription address appears to be: Fortean Times, Cary Court, Bancombe Road Trading Estate, TAll 6TB, United Kingdom (UK). Here you have in-depth articles on an endless array of interesting off-beat subjects, written by professional writers rather than amateur hacks. Karl Pflock and Jim Moseley have contributed a few times, and your humble "Smear" editor has crossed the Pond twice, in 1997 and 2002, to speak at their annual "UnConventions" in London.
For devotees of "Fortean Times", UFOs are only one topic out of many, and we have noticed, in our two convention appearances, that the interplanetary hypothesis, even among those drawn to the topic of saucers, is far less prevalent over there than it is here in America. Charles Fort reported on countless mysterious lights in the sky, on the Moon, etc. - seen through telescopes or by the unaided eyeball - and he facetiously suggested that these might be spaceships from other planets. But he most definitely did not make a quasi-religion out of it!
Our gratitude to "Fortean Times" is not only for the honor of having been invited to two of their "UnConventions" in London, but for the remarkable tolerence they have shown for the fact that we "borrow" material from them (mostly in the form of little printed vignettes) in almost every issue of "Saucer Smear". We doubt that the present "plug" in our magazine will do much to increase their circulation, but we do want to express our thanks for the intellectual enlightenment we have received from them, over the years. We wish a very long life indeed to Bob Rickard and his literary efforts!