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Vindication For The Damned: Why Fort’s Strange Philosophy Has Endured

Comfortably Numb

Aug 7, 2018
Just finished reading the following article and if not seen previously, wondered if it may be of interest. I thought it was an excellent read.

Vindication for the Damned: Why Fort’s Strange Philosophy Has Endured

Source: mysteriousuniverse.org
Date: 13 November, 2019

"VAST AND BLACK. The thing that was poised, like a crow over the moon".

"Round and smooth. Cannon balls. Things that have fallen from the sky to this earth".

"Our slippery brains".

The unusually-worded passages above, at once both eerie and oddly poetic—are from the beginning of the second-to-last chapter in Charles Fort’s 1919 magnum opus, The Book of the Damned. At the time of its publication, the book was met with mixed reviews; Ben Hecht, writing for the prestigious Wednesday Book Page, wrote that “Charles Fort has made a terrible onslaught upon the accumulated lunacy of fifty centuries. The onslaught will perish. The lunacy will survive, intrenching itself being the derisive laughter of all good citizens.”

Fort’s strange philosophy—one which espoused that there is more to the world around us than scientific dogma recognizes—would indeed live on, albeit somewhat underground (as Hecht, despite his dismissive tone, had predicted). Within years of the publication of The Book of the Damned, a group of friends and devotees of his work had founded The Fortean Society, and Fort himself published several more books that catalogued various anomalies he had recovered from science publications, periodicals, and other publications.


As charming as ideas of “super dragons” and other humorously odd explanations for the world’s mysteries may have been, few would take them seriously today. The question remains, then, as to what it is about Fort’s contributions that have caused his ideas to endure for so long?

More than anything, it was Fort's philosophy, rather than any specific ideas themselves, that many found so attractive. Flawed though Fort’s reasoning might have been at times (admittedly, it is difficult to imagine that he had been entirely serious about his “super” entities all the time), the general premise that there is more to nature than that which can be reliably observed or easily determined struck a chord with many like-minded heretics of his day.


It might be a stretch to say Fort “invented” the supernatural, but no one can debate the profound impact he had on the way people would pursue and study it for decades to come; in fact, it is a tradition that continues today.

I think Forteanism is very interesting from a philosophical perspective. Dare I say, it prefigures a lot of the post-modern- and post-truthisms that plague our reality these days.
I think this interesting take on fort complements the above article.

Epistemological anarchism can come perilously close to epistemological nihilism. But there is something of worth in Fort’s pose as well, a philosophy of science that humbly acknowledges that the “fate of all explanation is to close one door only to have another fly wide open.” This isn’t anti-science so much as it is anti-positivism; that’s to say that Fort doesn’t reject empiricism per se, rather he (rightly) discounts truth as only being in the domain of science. He’s a pulp version of philosophers of science like Karl Popper in his 1959 The Logic of Scientific Discoveries and Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

In Praise of the Paranormal Curiosity of Charles Fort, Patron Saint of Cranks​

Ed Simon on the Porous, Ever-Shifting Boundaries Between Science and Speculation​

June 10, 2024

A strange precipitate fell July 12, 1873 across the streets and brick alleyways of Kansas City, over her stockyards and rail depots. Scientific American would report that there rained a “shower of frogs which darkened the air and covered the ground for a long distance.” A summer deluge of Dryophytes versicolor blanketing the Missouri city, coming down as if snow onto the Kaw River and the tony homes of Quality Hill, on Main Street and the City Market.

Not that this was a singular amphibious meteorological event—biblical rains of frogs were recorded in Toulouse, France in 1804, London in 1838, and in Birmingham, England in 1892, to choose just three examples. And, not just downpours of frogs, but spiders (Pakroff, Russia—1827), ants (Cambridge, England—1874), snakes (Memphis—1877), mussels (Paderborn, Germany—1892), turtles (Vicksburg, Mississippi—1894) and fish (Futtepoor, India—1918) as well. So copious are these animal rains that the London Times of 1859 quotes one confused vicar who was a witness to a blizzard of fish carcasses that the “roofs of some houses were covered with them.” That’s not to mention the storms of lead and diamonds, rains of water that were both black and red, and in one memorable instance the so-called 1876 “Kentucky Meat Shower,” which saw a downpour of bloody fleck-sized carrion that observers reported (but of course) tasted as if venison.

As much as an epistemological perspective, the paranormal is a prose style, a way of thinking about and explaining that which is inexplicable.
By the time a portly, mustachioed, failed novelist and hack journalist from the Bronx named Charles Fort recorded several instances of these events in his 1919 compendium The Book of the Damned he’d found an astounding sixty-thousand reports of such anomalous rain during research stints that took him to the 42nd Street Library where he had combed newspapers and almanacs, scientific journals and town records.

A modest inheritance from a wealthy uncle allowed Fort to quit his freelance stringing and to devote his attention entirely to the compilation of mysterious phenomena which he thought disrupted scientific consensus. “A procession of the damned,” Fort wrote, “By the damned, I mean the excluded.” To which, among other sundry subjects, he included telekinesis and teleportation, the Bermuda Triangle and animal cryptids, strange disappearances and ominous colors in the sky. Always presenting his archival discoveries—whether the disappearance of all the crewmembers on the Mary Celeste or accounts of triangle-shaped spacecraft—in a tone of wry, ironic detachment, Fort promised that the “outrageous is the reasonable, if presented politely.”

Fort developed an entirely new category, distinct from the occult. Unlike belief in magic and miracles, Fort’s interest in so-called anomalies depended on the authority of science, that which he was ostensibly often in conflict with. What he posited wasn’t the ability to divinely alter reality through incantation and conjuration, but rather of something scientifically discernable beyond the normal, beyond the natural. In four odd volumes including The Book of the Damned, New Lands in 1925, Lo! In 1931, and Wild Talents in 1932, Fort would invent that mode of thinking that goes beyond the normal and the natural, which is to say that this jocular New York journalist is the father of the paranormal and the supernatural. ...