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.
Sources
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.