One week until Funkadelic Day. Next one not 'til 2020.
A forgotten Fortean, and an . . . important is the wrong word: emblematic one, I guess . . . not so much for what he did but because he was a node in so many Fortean networks. It is possible to tell much of Forteanism’s middle history—from the 1940s to the 1950s—through him.
I’ve written about George Leite before, years ago, but more information has come to light (pun unintended, but apposite), or I’ve done been research, or something, but the story is more complicated and interesting than my earlier version had. Richer, at the very least. And—be warned—much, much (much) longer.
George Thurston Leite was born 20 December 1920 in Rhode Island to Joaquin and Margaret Thurston, making him among the younger of the early Forteans. By the time he was born, Fort’s first book had already been published, and his entire corpus would be finished—and Fort dead—before Leite turned twelve. Joaquin, born in 1880, was from Portugal, immigrating to the States in 1912; Margaret was from Massachusetts. George was their only son. They were married around 1917. Joaquin was a preacher in Fall River, Massachusetts, for the Baptist Convention. He was also a mason.
An adventurous Fortean—on the lookout for monsters of mountainous caves.
Paul Alfred Doerr, Jr., was born 1 April 1927—and that apparently wasn’t a joke—to Paul and Mary Doerr. They lived in Sharon, Pennsylvania, where Paul senior worked in a steel mill. Paul and Mary wed sometime around 1925. By 1930, they were living in a rented house (sans radio) along with Paul senior’s mother, also named Mary. (Conversations had to be confusing, or there must have been nicknames.) Another family was living with them, too, relatives, Vance S. and Anna J. Bowen. Vance worked in a grocery store.
In February 1936, Mary Doerr, the younger, divorced Paul on the grounds of “indignities to the person,” which roughly is equivalent to the mental cruelty of today. The divorce made the papers (though the city directory listed them as married for a few more years). Paul moved out, and his mother became head of the household. The 1940 census had her at home, along with her own daughter, Alice, her daughter-in-law, Mary, and Paul. The two sisters-in-law worked at a bakery, Alice as a clerk, Mary as a baker; Paul was in school. Much later, he would remember his childhood fondly—it was when he started learning the survivalist techniques he would refine throughout his life. He wrote,
“When a kid, we would go out for weeks with only what we could carry: a bottle of water, a bag of ground grains, maybe salt, a blanket, a knife & digger, a pan or pot, and a gun or bow. We could eat only what we got that day. I also had a small seine since minnows are handier than bigger fish. The blanket had a slit in the center and was blanket, serape, carry-pack, etc.”
A Verne enthusiast and Fortean who found solace in that old time religion.
Idrisyn Oliver Evans was born 11 November 1894, in the Orange Free State, now part of South Africa. Idrysin—or I. O., as he would go by for most of his adult life—was the son of Harry and Sara Winifred (Sutton). There’s only a little bit of biographical information on his life, most of it not from official sources, but recollections in various compilations of brief author biographies and especially from an extensive correspondence with the science fiction writer (and Fortean) Eric Frank Russell—all of what remains from this relationship is one-sided, only Evans’s letters surviving.
With British understatement, he recalled that his childhood was “not over-happy” and he escaped into books. His father’s collection included Verne, as did a small, mostly religious village library after his parents relocated to England, when Idrisyn was just a child, and he fell in love with the French writer. Evans read A Journey to the Centre of the Earth so many times as to commit much of it to memory. In the course of his education, he learned English and French, and moved on to other writers of the marvelous, Wells and Poe and Kayyam. He was a boy scout. In 1912, finished with school—he did not attend university—Evans joined the civil service.
Almost unknown, he was yet one of the most important of the Fortean Society founders.
Aaron Sussman was born in Russia, 10 December 1903 (or maybe 25 December—the confusion may reflect that Russia was still using the Julian calendar when Aaron was born), making him just a few months younger than Tiffany Thayer, and a full generation behind Charles Fort. His parents were Saul and Adele; they had arrived in New York City on 25 August 1906. Their native language was Yiddish, but by 1920 Saul and Adele could both speak English. The Sussmans had five children; Arron—also styled Aren—was the eldest; three of them had been born in the United States. Saul supported the family as a sign painter. In 1920, the seventeen-year old Aaron was in school, too young to have served in World War I. He attended college at some point in his life, but never finished.
Five years later, before he turned 22, Aaron married the former Carolyn Wallach. It was 14 May 1925. I don’t have reliable information on Carolyn, but it is possible she was a few years younger than Aaron, born sometime between 1904 and 1908, to Austrian immigrants. If that’s correct, Carolyn—or Caroline, or even Corolina—may have left her family early, a lodger according to the 1915 New York census, when she was about ten, and a private nurse working for a family according to the 1920 census, when she was about 16. The 1930 census had the renting a place on 48th Street in Queens. They had a radio, and Aaron was now naturalized. (Saul, his father, had applied for naturalization in 1922, which likely conferred citizenship upon Aaron.) Aaron was working as a publisher for a book concern—and books would be at the center of the rest of his life. In particular, selling books.
Dilettante, apostate, mystic, apologist for the British empire—and important to understanding the career of Forteanism, in its earlier incarnations, even as he was kept at arm’s length by the Society that bore Fort’s name.
Norman Vincent Dagg was born 19 December 1897 in Houghton-le-Spring, Druham, England, making him younger than most of the first generation of Forteans—the Founders and their contemporaries—but older than Thayer. There’s a German reference to him as “Nell” and some science fiction studies reference him as William: this seems to be a misinterpretation of his signature, the N. V. looking like Wm., for William. Professionally, he was known as N. V. (I’m not sure if he recognized the initials as a homonym.) His father, Thomas, was a coal miner, according to the 1901 Census of England. His mother was Florence Charlton. He had four siblings, Dora, William, John, and Thomas, all younger. By 1911, Thomas (then 38) had moved into management and was an Assistant Superintendent of Assurance, which presumably meant he had moved into the insurance business.
I have no information on Dagg’s childhood, and the access to England’s records from where I live are marginal. So I have no idea where he went to school, or what his life might have been like. His parents were religious, at least officiously, having baptized him in January of 1898; Anglican, I assume. He joined World War as part of the Royal Scots (Lothian Division), 9th Battalion—the Highlanders. They were in France by February 1915 and were part of the horrible trench warfare there, involved in the various battles of the Somme as well as other parts of the war that ground men into meat. A private, he received two metals. I am not sure which parts of the war Dagg fought in, exactly, or how long he served. But likely it wasn’t pleasant.
Further on the Tangle of Fortean Carlsons: Evans Fordyce Carlson, K. Martin Carlson, and D. Carlson as Forteans
As noted in the earlier post on a Fortean Carlson—Anton J. Carlson—Thayer bragged that there were three Carlsons in the Society as of March 1948. Of those, he named two: Ajax and Evans Fordyce Carlson (his biographer, as well, was supposed to be a Fortean). But the name Carlson appeared in Doubt many times, usually not attributable to either of these Forteans. The name is attached to a clipping as early as Doubt 15 (Summer 1946) and persists in the magazine through the announcement of Ajax Carlson’s death in Doubt 53 (February 1957), 22 mentions altogether. Sixteen of those mentions are not attributable to either Evans Fordyce or Ajax. For the most part, they are credits tagged with the name Carlson or D. Carlson—which suggests that there may in fact have been as many as four Forteans with that surname. To make matters more confusing, there’s another Carlson with Fortean inclinations who isn’t name-checked in Doubt, but might as well be discussed here: that’s K. Martin Carlson.
The easiest Carlson to dispense with is Evans Fordyce Carlson, who appears to belong to that class of Society members who were Forteans in name only. There’s but a single mention of him, and that’s in the article announcing Ajax’s joining. At that time, Evans Fordyce had retired from the military and was a well-known war hero, having had a biography written. He had served in the military for most of his life, having dropped out of high school and lied about his age to join the army. In the 1920s and 1930s he investigated the Chinese communist troops and was impressed by their dedication and organization. Taking a hiatus from the military, he wrote a book on his experiences; later, with the advent of World War II, he imported their more democratic organization into the structure of military brigades and pioneered what would later be known as special forces brand of combat—think Green Berets or Navy Seals. Thayer admirably compressed all these facts into a brief squib, the only mention of E. F. Carlson as a Fortean:
“Dr. [Anton J.] Carlson is the third of his family to join us. The first was the late Evans Fordyce Carlson, one-time General in the U.S. Marines. Despite the Fortean objections to World Fraud II, and to all such armed frauds, it was probably inevitable that we should have a ‘war’ hero. Since it was practically unavoidable, we are glad it was Carlson. He had resigned his commission to write what he wished (and knew) about Red China. He pulled as much as much democracy as possible into his contingent of Marines, enough to turn every brass hat in Washington against him ... Have your bookseller get you Twin Stars of China, by Carlson, Dodd, Mead, 1940, and The Big Yankee, a biography of Carlson, by MFS Michael Blankfort, Little Brown, 1947. The Society does NOT supply these books.”
It seems doubtful that E. F. Carlson knew anything about Fort or cared about the Fortean Society. Perhaps Blankfort got him to sign up. Perhaps Thayer approached him just to get a military man on-board and he accepted. Unless further evidence appears, it seems that E. F. Carlson’s Fortean career was short—and nominal.
More intriguing are Carlson and D. Carlson, if they are indeed different people. But the intrigue they evoke is the standard kind in my research on Forteans. There have been many names mentioned in Doubt, many members given credit for sending in material, but the reference is so scanty, usually just a (common) last name, that I’ve been unable to do anything with them. They have stayed unwritten, their stories untold. If it wasn’t for all the confusion surrounding this name—Carlson—these references would likely also be lumped into the category unknown. (Or, as I mark it, ????).
Carlson _qua_ Carlson appeared in issue 15, 17 (ca. March 1947), 18 (July 1947), and 21 (June 1948). Of these, the first could, maybe, conceivably, be from Ajax—it’s a clipping from a Chicago paper about the army classifying a whole assortment of G.I. baby death’s as from pneuma enteritis, a disease which heretofore had not been reported in the U.S. The themes attach to Ajax—public health, popular misconceptions—but it’s striking that Thayer did not call out Ajax in person at this time, but waited a year. The other citations attributed only to “Carlson” are conventional Forteana: a Midwestern monster that clawed dogs (Doubt 17); a possible photo of the Madrona Monster in Lake Washington (Doubt 18); and “woe water” in London—a river that ran only during times of great duress (Doubt 21). There are no other attributes of this Carlson, and it may be any of a number of people, but it may also be K. Martin Carlson, as we’ll see.
In Doubt 23 (December 1948), Thayer begins citing only a “D. Carlson”—with one intriguing exception—beyond his explicit references to Ajax. In this issue, D. Carlson receives three separate citations—one for material on that Fortean classic, Wonet; one a generic citation for something on flying saucers (Thayer would eventually lump all his thanks for citations into long paragraphs, but he started the habit in regard to flying saucers, a subject he hated.) The third dealt with the fall of frogs from the sky in Turkey. D. Carlson re-appeared in Doubt 29 (July 1950)—making him (or her) one of the Forteans to cross the divide from the 1940s to the 1950s—with a generic reference. A spare reference to the barebones “Carlson” appears in Doubt 30 (October 1950) regarding flying saucers in some respect. That may be a re-appearance of the original Carlson, or simply Thayer being conservative with his references. At any rate, there’s no D here. The D does come back, in Doubt 33, with a generic reference, and three more of those ilk in the following issue; 34; and 43 (February 1954).
There’s one other reference that comes in the middle of these, and that’s the suggestive exception: in Doubt 38 (October 1952), appears the name “Martin D. Carlson” in a list of people who have sent in clippings. More than likely, it’s a typographical mistake, the dropping of a comma between “Martin” and “D. Carlson.” Possibly, there’s yet another Carlson, different from all the rest, who has contributed to the Fortean Society, not Ajax or E. F. or D. or just plain Carlson. But it may also be the garbling of someone who did have Fortean leanings even if I cannot find him definitively in Doubt. It may also suggest who that original, unadorned, Carlson was.
At this point, we’ve moved to K. Martin Carlson—see, there’s the Martin that may have gotten garbled in that reference from October 1952. Given the material that I’ve collected (and otherwise seen), it is too early to call this Carlson a true Fortean, or anything beyond mildly interested in the matter at all. Further research would seem to be needed. So I won’t rehearse his life in long-form as with others more definitively connected to the Fortean Society or Forteanism.
K. Martin Carlson was also known as Martin Kaymar Carlson—there’s the Martin as Christian name. He was born in Sweden, apparently on 14 May 1904, and, at some point, migrated to Minnesota. Among the early fans of science fiction, he contributed to fanzines as early as 1946, eventually publishing his own. He was also actively involved with the N3F—The National Fantasy Fan Federation, which was an organization of science fiction and fantasy fans. He started publishing the “Kay-Mar Trader” (which I have not seen) in 1946, and was connected with Donn Brazier, of Wisconsin, who published a Fortean fanzine “Frontiers.” That is where I have gotten all of my information on K. Martin Carlson’s Forteanism.
At the time, it seems to have been interleaved with Shaverism, not unlike Vincent Gaddis. The first mention I have of him in primary documents is sending in material on Deros to Brazier’s early fanzine “Ember.” (He was on the priority list of those who received the fanzine, indicating a close connection.) Later that year, after Brazier had filled Ember with material on the abominable snowman, the Oregon vortex, and falling frogs, Carlson is quoted saying, “I think it is a swell idea to come out with strange facts and ideas. Many of the fen do not hear of these things.” He also thought that Raymond Palmer—that Shaver-Fortean aficionado—should be alerted to the new research on the abominable snowman, presumably because it may cast some light on the Shaver mystery: the beast was being found in the Himalayas, near Tibet, and may have something to do with the Deros.
Presumably, Carlson’s own fanzine, which ran through the 1950s, might clarify his Forteanism—if Forteanism it was. But I have not seen those, and so, this Carlson, like the others of that name, remains only ambiguously connected to Fort, the Fortean Society, and Forteanism.
A mysterious disappointment over a Fortean figurehead.
Anton J Carlson, a long-time physiologist at the University of Chicago is well-known in scientific circles, his life well-documented. Most assuredly less known in standard biographies is his association with the Fortean Society—I have not seen a single reference—and still more mysterious is why Tiffany Thayer felt disappointed in his activities, especially given that Carlson was mostly a figurehead for the Society, a trophy, whose contributions seem to extend only to including the Society among those to whom he sent reprints of his articles. Oh, and paying dues, for a while.
First, though, before a quick overview of Carlson’s life, let’s clear up another bit of possible confusion. Thayer announced that Carlson had joined the Society in Doubt 20 (March 1948); in the course of that announcement, he mentioned that there were two other by that name connected to the Society, of which he only named one, the former Marine Evans Fordyce Carlson. Before this issue, as early as 1946, Thayer mentioned a member named Carlson, with no other identifying information. Later, almost—but not all—the clippings were attributed to a “D. Carlson.” It seems likely that neither Anton J. (“Ajax”) or Evans Fordyce contributed clippings to the Society. More on those other Carlsons in later entries.
A Fortean bigger than the Fortean Society. He was one of several authors—along with R. DeWitt Miller, previously discussed—who made a career of ploughing fields that Fort defined. I have been reluctant to write him up, even though his name appears early in the pages of Doubt because in some ways he always represents the end of Forteanism—or a kind of Forteanism: I’m not sure, which is a large part of the problem. I have a feeling that there was some kind of change in Forteanism in the late 1960s and especially the early 1970s. There was a renewal in the field, but also a curdling of the earlier form, a loss of vitality which I see as represented by him. But again, I’m not sure. It doesn’t help the confusion that an important period of his life is historically opaque. With all those caveats in place, let’s see where the story takes us. This’ll be a long and meandering story, even mores than usual. Huge, even, at over 13,000 words. I can’t even say the stories are really entertaining: there’s just a lot of information to process.
Vincent Hayes Gaddis was born 28 December 1913 in Cincinnati Ohio. That made him about a decade younger than Thayer, and younger than the founding Forteans. He would have just turned seven when Fort’s first book appeared, and twenty nine when the last of them did. Vincent was the oldest of six children, followed by Alfred (born ca. 1917), Ruth (born ca. 1920), Naomi (born circa 1922), Paul (born circa 1924), and Wilma (born circa 1930. His mother, Alice, died in 1933 around the time that Gaddis turned 20. She was young, not yet forty, having been born in 1895. She died in childbirth.
An apocalyptic Fortean.
Earl Wing Anderson was born 4 March 1890 in Bloomington, Illinois. His parents, also both from the Midwest, had married around 1886, when Charles was about 24 and Margaret 25. In November of that year, Margaret gave birth to Russell. Charles was a commercial traveler, selling paper. It seems to have been a lucrative enough job. By 1910, they were in Champaign and had mortgage out on a house. Both boys—aged 23 and 20—were at school; neither working. Likely, Earl attended the University of Illinois: I saw a brief reference in one yearbook to someone who could have been him. I don’t know his major, but he was associated with a Masonic group on campus.
I am a father, husband, and independent scholar living in Folsom California. I can be reached at joshuabbuhs_at_gmail_dot_com.