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.
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.
There’s a fair amount of misinformation around Robert Spencer Carr, a writer of promise who worked against his talents and went through several different incarnations, one of them as a Fortean.
Ironically, I am responsible for some of the misinformation. In an earlier version of this bio, I wrote:
“Robert Spencer Carr was born in 1909. That much seems reliable. And we can say it was on 26 March. Some sources—such as Bleiler’s Science Fiction, The Early Years and Disch’s The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of—have him as the brother of novelist John Dickson Carr, but this is not the case. Usually, his birth place is given as Washington, D.C., but the earliest sources indicate he was actually born in West Virginia. His parents were Frederick N. Carr (also from West Virginia) and Agnes M. Carr (from Indiana), a lawyer and homemaker. According to the 1910 census, the Carrs were living in West Virginia with his paternal grandparents and a cousin. The family had relocated to DC by the time of the next census. I know nothing about Carr’s childhood, whether it was happy or sad, enchanted or troubled.”
Since that time, I have been contacted by Carr’s son, Timothy Spencer, who noted that I got Robert’s parentage very wrong. According to Timothy, Robert was the son of Ceylon Spencer Carr and Ida Angeline (Carr). In opening up my research again, I see that I missed a supplement to Who’s Who, which did include Robert Spencer Carr, and did give his parents at Ceylon and Ida. This new information gives a bit more insight into Robert’s childhood, as does additional information provided by Timothy. A look at the census records reveals that at the time of Robert’s birth, Ceylon was in his late 50s and Ida in her early 50s. According to Timothy’s research, this unusual fact can be accounted for: Ceylon knocked up a young mistress, then had her married off and spirited out of town. After she gave birth to a child named Theodore Bonifield, the Carrs adopted the boy and re-named him Robert Spencer. This complicated history may account for the various birthplaces he is given: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Timothy says he has Robert’s birth certificate (or Theodore’s, as it was), and he was born in Washington D.C.
Ceylon was an interesting fellow. Born in 1850, he was in the first graduating class of the Homeopathic College in Chicago (1877). He became a writer and lecturer, and in 1889 became attached to the Peruna Drug Company in Columbus, Ohio, in the advertising department. Perinea was the name of a patent medicine pedaled by the company and its owner, Samuel Hartman, which supposedly could cure just about any illness. Hartman’s company was among those featured in an exposé by “Collier’s” Magazine that helped lead to the passage of the 1906 Food and Drug Act. At one time a pastor, Ceylon’s religiosity ran toward New Thought and the more liberal strains that accommodated the idea of evolution and acknowledged Christ as a great figure, but not necessarily divine. His medical thought ran along lines common in this group. He advised against coffee, despised vaccinations, and was a vegetarian who hoped his medical interventions would allow him to live to be 100 years old. In 1908, he took over the Columbus Medical Journal, and revamped it to fit his views.
He did not live to be 100, though. He died in 1915. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association the cause of death was a nervous breakdown. Ida took over the family, then, and in the 1920 census she was listed as working for a wholesale drug company. (Likely Peruna, which continued to limp along for a few years after the FDA was passed.) Robert was still at home, the only one of her children living with her. A married couple, unrelated, were lodgers, which would have provided some additional funds.
By 1925, Robert was making headlines Columbus newspapers for becoming a published author while still in high school. His first known sale was to Weird Tales, which published his “The Composite Brain” in the March 1925 issue. He turned 16 that very month. Weird Tales continued to publish him, “The Flying Halfback” appearing in the September issue of that year, “Spider-Bite” in the June 1926 issue, and his poem “The Caves of Kooli-Kan” in November 1926. But Carr had grander ambitions. He was working on a novel, too, and relocated himself to Chicago, where he could be close to Weird Tales’ editor, Farnsworth Wright, whom he convinced to help edit the manuscript. Life was hard here. He was living in a crime-ridden part of the city, subsisting entirely upon canned milk and potatoes boiled over a gas flame.
Wright took Carr under his wing, although he did not know the degree of his destitution. At the time, a number of writers and artists associated with Weird Tales lived in the area, and Wright introduced Carr to their cycle of parties, hosted under the aegis of a club called “The Varnished Vultures”—after a dish made by writer E. Hoffman Price. The parties were held at different homes throughout Chicago and northern Indiana as time and money permitted. Chunky, round-faced, with horn-rimmed glasses, Carr impressed as spiritually enlightened, meditative. He carried a notebook around with him and jotted down bits of dialogue he heard, for later use in his writing.
Carr fell in love with the group, and their high-falutin’ discussions—about travel and the military and abstruse calculus: he had a religious imagination and no lack of self-regard. Carr saw himself as “The Apostle of the Younger Generation. Price described the Vultures as a limited liability group—liability limited only by how much one could eat or drink—an un-organization without dues, by-laws, or constitution. “No God, no Law, no Order,” either Carr added. His writing continued to appear in Weird Tales: two stories and two poems in 1927, another two stories and a poem in 1928. But he was cashing in on his ambition, too.
In 1927, he sold his novel to The Smart Set, where it was serialized, before being published in book form, translated into German, and made into a movie. The novel was called The Rampant Age and was a diagnosis of the era’s young people. Harry R. Warfel’s American Novelists of Today describes it thusly:
“Rampant Age (1928), his first novel, tells the causes and cure of juvenile delinquency in the jazz age of 1920 in the story of Paul Benton, who moves from the country to a city, attends high school, and joins the fast set. Drinking, petting, and speeding reflect, the author indicates, the parents’ extravagance.”
Other stories of his started to appear in romance magazines, a branching out from the constraints of Weird Tales.
With a huge paycheck, Carr upgraded his lifestyle. He invited to Vultures to a book release party at the Steven’s Hotel, with unlimited food and drink. He took up with the Bohemian Dill Pickle Club—which hosted other future Forteans including Kenneth Rexroth, Ben Hecht, Sherwood Anderson, and Theodore Dreiser. He moved to a ritzier apartment—but reality hedged him, too. The apartment was too much, and he needed to break the lease. The manager dismissed the idea out of hand—until Wright swooped in and saved him (again), making the manager believe that Carr (young, brash, curly-haired) was mentally unstable. He thought himself a novelist! Took notes on what people said! Sometime in 1928, Carr accepted an offer from Hollywood and moved west to write for the movies.
Carr continued his vagabonding, repeatedly re-inventing himself over the next four years. According to Price, he married in California and had a daughter. Timothy is doubtful, because Robert never mentioned it. There is some evidence to substantiate the claim, though. The 1930 census has a Robert S Carr, short story writer, living with Frances Carr, owner of a beauty parlor, in Los Angeles. In November 1935, an Illinois newspaper reported that Frances Carr was divorced her husband and gained custody of their four-year-old daughter on the grounds that he had left her for Russia, where he had divorced her. She had no support from him since 1931. A few days after the divorce, Frances married Robert Strauss—in New York—and they then moved to San Diego. The 1940 census has the Strausses with a daughter, Nancy—other records suggest she was born 29 July 1931—and a newborn baby, Deborah.
Price remembered that Carr lit out of Hollywood shortly after arriving there; Carr settled with Price in New Orleans for a bit, struggling along on what he made from the sale of rights to his book. There he was involved in a couple of messy love affairs. He also maintained his dramatic flair, announcing his arrival in the Crescent City by hiring a one-man band to stand on his car’s running boards. He returned to Hollywood, then left it again, mostly giving up on writing for odd jobs: working on newspapers, in factories, as secretary to a psychoanalyst, in employment agencies and travel bureaus, and as a truck driver.
He became a devoted communist—may have been one, in fact, since The Dill Pickle Club was associated with radical economic sentiment. At any rate, in the early 1930s, as the Great Depression settled over the country, he put his ideals into action, moving to New York, where he worked for the Soviet Union’s Intourist agency, founded in 1929 by Joseph Stalin to promote tourism to the USSR. In the autumn of 1932, he left for Russia, where he taught English, edited guide books, and was a consultant for movies. Presumably, this is where he filed for divorce from Frances. He traveled the country, learned the language, and went to college there. He worked with documentary filmmaker Julien Bryan. In 1937, he left the country, via Finland, returning to the US aboard the “Ile de France” on 27 October.
Carr settled—for a time—in New York, where he became involved with another film company. That one eventually went bust, amid much recriminations, according to Price. He married for a second time, this one to last. In November 1939, he reported to Price that he was going to work for Disney: “the only studio where human dignity is recognized, and Time for me has meaning again.” “This makes at least the third surprise appearance of Vishnu on a snow white charger. … I hope to arrive in Hollywood in a week or so, and want to see you in my latest—and, I believe, relatively final—incarnation.” The incarnation lasted for several years. He became plump—though remained athletic; Katherine gave birth to a son, Timothy Spencer, on 17 August 1940. Even when he switched jobs, as he did in late 1943, he stayed in town, simply moving to 20th Century Fox. He found his way back to writing. He told Price, “Apparently I’m back on the beam, as far as turning out slick paper copy is concerned, but I have a great deal of trouble with pointless themes, lack of conflict, badly engineered story mechanics, and plots that do not even creak—they stall and sit there.” Price, though, refused to help Carr, and Carr doesn’t seem to have needed it. In August 1943, he sold his firs piece to The Saturday Evening Post. (It appeared in the 20 November issue, under the title “Border Incident.”) And wrote a novel for Appleton-Century, The Bells of St. Ivan’s, drawing on his experiences in Russia. The book pleased the publisher enough he received an advance for two more books. He also published “Lie Detector” in Liberty Magazine.
He was close friends with the writer Odo B. Stade and Price, an avid automobilist, lived only a few hundred miles away, in the Bay Area, so they frequently camped and hiked and fished together. Carr developed a fondness for the dessert tortoise, which he tried to push onto his comrades—“The Eternal Teacher and Guru,” Price said. The three also became Forteans—with Thayer calling out Carr’s accomplishments in an article on the connection between Forteanism and science fiction in June 1943—even as Price chafed at Thayer’s dogmatic ignorance. Carr admitted the Society’s limitations, but still hoped it might do the world some good. By this point, it seems, he had come to terms with the limits of ideological systems, including communism. Price reports that Carr considered logic and words as “mental and verbal masturbation.” He seems to have been reaching for something more ineffable: another incarnation.
But first, there was the need to see more of the world. In May 1944, he joined the U.S. Army as a private. Carr was relatively old for service at 36, although still eligible for the draft. He may also have been influenced to join by Hoffman, who had been a professional soldier for many years, and Stade, who had traveled around the world. At any rate, he stayed in the army for two years, and in New York, where he was teaming up with Julien Bryan again. His mind was elsewhere, though. He was imagining a lamasery in Glorieta, New Mexico. Price remembered:
“Bob visualized a retreat for study, contemplation, getting away from it all. He would have a staff of counsellors to whom he referred variously and vaguely as sages, gurus, and, whimsically, as mahatmas. The more we discussed this Center in an area we called Midway Between Heaven and Earth, the further the International Film Foundation submerged and appeared forgotten.”
The Provisional Lamasery was to house “The Order of the Rainbow.” Given what is now known of Carr’s upraising, thanks to information from his son, this questing and acceptance of what New Thought was not so different fro, his father’s own different incarnations and embracing of New Thought and liberal religiosity.
Why New Mexico? Maybe he had been impressed with it when he traveled from Los Angeles to Hollywood? Maybe he’d been influenced by neighbors—in 1940 he and Katherine lived next to Robert and Constance McKnight, who had lived in Taos. Maybe some other reason. Whatever the cause, Carr saw New Mexico as America’s answer to Tibet, a mountainous region where the veil between this world and the spiritual one was particularly thin. Carr also seems to have been inspired by Maurice Doreal, an Oklahoman who founded the occult fraternity “Brotherhood of the White Temple” in Sedalia, Colorado around the same time. Doreal—ne Claude Doggins—had also come to the occult through fantastic literature, and Carr had been following his teachings from afar for many years, and was hoping to achieve as an Avatar. Tiffany Thayer thought it a competition. He rubbed his hands: “Wait until Doreal reads about our Llamasary in New Mexico, now building, by Robert Spencer Carr . . . We’ve got wrinkles nobody ever thought of before.”
If it was a competition, Doreal won. The material world continued to hedge Carr’s growth. He had to chuck the idea for the lamasery when Appleton-Century asked for another book—one presumes it may have been difficult finding subscribers, as well—and left Glorieta for Santa Fe, where he went to work for The Northern New Mexico Resort Association as advertising manager. He quipped, “The stationery and title mean nothing except that when I am not writing low-grade fiction I help our local dude ranch owners lure the tourists away from Colorado, a truly Fortean pastime.”
Carr, though, was reaching for something more than low-grade fiction. He wanted to write in the popular vein—he continued to send stories to Saturday Evening Post—that took off from unusual events to explore spirituality. He belonged to the class of Forteans who saw the anomalous as a key to metaphysics—not a new era of the hyphen, of indeterminancy, but evidence for a new spiritual view that—in the great Theosophical tradition—alloyed the spiritual and the material, faith and reason. He was pouring these ideas into his fiction, short stories, novellas, and his final novel The Room Beyond.
As Carr himself admitted, his fiction could be lifeless, descriptive, with interesting turns of phrase, but lacking plot. Nonetheless, in the 1940s he broke into the slicks:
“Border Incident,” The Saturday Evening Post, 20 Nov. 1943
“Lie Detector,” Liberty 4 March 1944.
The Bells of St. Ivan’s, 1944
“Morning Star,” The Saturday Evening Post, 6 Dec. 1947 (later collected in Beyond Infinity).
The Room Beyond, 1948
“Nightmare at Dawn.” The Saturday Evening Post, 24 Sept 1949 (later renamed “Those Men from Mars” and collected in Beyond Infinity).
“The Laughter of the Stars,” The Blue Book, August 1950 (later renamed “Beyond Infinity, and collected in Beyond Infinity).
“Murder in Moscow,” The Blue Book Jan 1951
Beyond Infinity, 1951, which included the new story “Mutation.”
“The Dictator’s Double,” The Saturday Evening Post 1 November 1952
“The Coming of the Little People,” The Blue Book, Nov. 1952
The stories concerned either war, science fiction—or some combination of those. “Border Incident” told of a groups of American soldiers who accidentally landed in Russia during World War II and killed some invading Japanese—which was a diplomatic problem considering Russia and Japan were not then at war. “The Dictator’s Double,” written after Russia had become America’s antagonist, concerned a Stalin look-alike who badly wanted out of his job as a double for the tyrant, and finally got relief from a botched assassination attempt that left him disfigured. “The Lie Detector” was about a woman who sussed out her boyfriend’s job as a German spy by listening to his heartbeat. None of the stories have much—or any—action—and they all tend toward the propagandistic, but the first two, at least, draw upon Carr’s knowledge of Russia and so have a certain authenticity. The first two also revel in the ironies of war and tyranny. It is interesting that we have come to forget the fatalism associated with World War II fiction—think of the dark humor of Catch-22—as we have ben inundated with all the talk of “The Greatest Generation.”
(Note, I have not seen “Murder in Moscow.”)
“Morning Star” is juvenile science fiction that nonetheless made its way into The Saturday Evening Post. It concerns a conference of the big four scientific brains—presumably a play on the Big Four in international politics—and their visit by a strange woman. She turns out to be from Venus and convinces the scientists that rather than direct the first interplanetary rocket at Mars, it should be shot to Venus. Because Venus has evolved in such a way that the males of the species are little more than tiny parasites, while the females are beautiful humans. And they want to have sex with earthmen. The story ends with the first astronauts returning from Venus and recruiting more men for the next trip.
“Nightmare at Dawn” (aka “Those Men from Mars”) is Carr’s second best story, for it sustains a certain amount of drama through the end. The tale concerns two Martian crafts that have landed on earth, one in front of the White House, one near the Kremlin. The Martians are a dying race, troubled by a lack of resources; but they are also very advanced, having given up war and also made astounding technical discoveries. The humans, understandably, want to gain this technology—and figure that whichever country first does so will be able to conquer the world. In the course of talking with the humans, the Martians are confronted with very different political ideals, which they soon adopt, the Martian craft in America persuaded by American ideals, the one in Russia by Soviet ideals. The two craft then battle; one is destroyed, the other takes off for Mars to recruit the rest of its race to earth. The humans, though, do not know which is which, and so are left in suspense, awaiting the return of the Martians—aliens that will either side with the Americans or the Russians.
The story is a potent metaphor for the tension of the Cold War. Unfortunately, it is marred by Carr’s ridiculous notions of domesticity and gender as well as his nostalgia, which is lit up anew by Timothy’s stories about Carr’s early life One of the tales two protagonists is a reporter . . . named Theodore Bonifield, which, according to Carr’s son, was Carr’s original birth name: so he is a stand-in for the author. The other protagonists a beautiful secretary, and as the world’s fate hangs in a balance, Bonifield and his ladylove only worry about how they might get married and find a small weekly paper to run. And they do, in Carr’s hometown of Ashley, Ohio. The secretary, who had been the only American able to communicate with the Martians, gladly gives up her life in DC to become a homemaker. Against the battle for the fate of the planet, this all seems small potatoes.
“The Laughter of the Stars” (aka “Beyond Infinity”) suffers from the same problem—domesticity and conventional notions of gender undermining the science fiction premise, which, in this case, is not as developed and remains static. Carr starts with interesting premises, and the language is precise. "Beyond Infinity" is about a detective who only searches for missing people--murder was too commonplace, while disappearances had something uncanny about them. The tone is knowing, subtly or not telling the story from some future, which the writer assumes the reader shares. This early precision of language and intensity of story, though, soon peters out. There is a setting, excitement--then mostly talk, talk, talk. The detective finds the missing couple all too easily, and then awaits as they are sent into space--against the law!--only to return seventeen minutes later but, thanks to relativity--younger than when they left though they had seen much of the solar system. (There is a limp gesture at the end that they had not seen enough, that it might still be some kind of hoax). And even as the perfect couple launches into space--they seem to be a kind of Martin and Osa Johnson--the detective falls in love with the daughter of the man who hired him, and that becomes the main concern of the story. The love affair, though, is completely unbelievable, built upon ridiculous flirting and nothing else.
The problems are at their greatest in his novel “The Room Beyond.” Ostensibly, this is a bildungsroman, the story of Dan Bryce’s education. Born into a well-to-do but declining family, Bryce is the object of affection for the neighborhood girl—we meet him when she is promising to lose her virginity to him the next night, though the discussion is oblique—but he falls in love with Christine, a Spanish nurse who works in the worst part of town. Christine is of an indeterminate age, and Dan only in his teens, but he instantly falls in love with her. To the chagrin of the girl next door, his guardian, and his spiritual adviser, he spends all summer with her, ministering to the less fortunate. To the chagrin of all the men who know Christine—and love her—this results in her being driven from town.
Bryce then goes to New Mexico for education—for Christine is from Mexico—before returning to Wendra, the girl next door. She loves him still, and he hates her for loving him, so is cruel to her, and rough when they (inevitably) have sex, which, ahem, just makes her love him more. (By this point, we’ve heard quite a bit about how Dan could have sex with most any woman he wanted, but he’s mostly reserving himself for Christine.) She agrees to keep him as a lover in New Orleans, but it is there that Bryce again happens on Christine’s trail. He finds her serving as a lay nurse in a convent. Again, he proposes to her, and again, she slips away—in a purposefully confused chronicle of events.
Abandoned once more, Dan decides to become a doctor—something Christine has always wanted to do, though she’s been prevented by her gender. He then goes off to France in WWI, where he has more sexual adventures, before finding his way back to Wendra—whom he yet again treats to cruel sex that makes her beg for more—and then slips away to Christine’s home town in New Mexico.
The New Mexico set piece is odd. Carr was living there when he wrote this book, and so could speak authoritatively of the landscape. But it’s the culture that’s bizarre: Dan arrives on Good Friday when a local cult is recreating the crucifixion. Dan is almost crucified, but instead put into a cave—blocked by a boulder—for three days. Of course, Christine somehow comes to him there and they engage in an interminable dialogue, with him professing his love, her refusing his advances.
This is only one of many interminable dialogues—the book could have been shortened by a third if people merely said what they needed to say once, rather than three or four or five times. Just before is a long, portentous discussion between Dan and a priest about the meaning of saints and miracles. (In a sign that Carr was forcing the symbolism, he had to switch perspectives just for this section, after 283 pages of living in Dan’s mind; it was a jolt, but also a relief: a break from the narcissism.)
Christine leaves—again!—but promises to return if Dan does not look for her. By this point, we realize that she is nearly immortal, her birth hundreds of years before, her body never aging. Dan agrees, and settles himself in New Mexico to minister to the small town where Christine was born. His work eventually wins him a prestigious award which, conveniently, is presented to him in his own hometown, where he first met Christine, and where all the original characters—with the exception of his guardian and minister—still live, awaiting him—thankful to him for making them all friends. As readers, we get to catch up on their lives, but since they were never really characters—just signposts on Dan’s own path—it doesn’t really add up to much.
There is some melodrama, of course. Dan meets Christine, who has been living here for some time, unrecognized because she has not aged (except by the atheistic doctor, who refuses to credit his own senses). Wendra finds them together, tries to kill Christine—impossible—and kills herself. By this point she is the curdled symbol of materialism.
Christine finally explains everything to Dan. She is able to enter and exit the afterlife—the so-called room beyond—and appear whenever she wants in time: for time is an illusion. Christine is tired, and winks out to wait there for Dan, which will be no wait at all, since there is no time. Dan is a doctor in town, with a beatific understanding of life, unafraid of death because he knows all time is an illusion, and that the vast part of the universe is unseen to humans until after they die. He is unconcerned by world events because he knows not everyone can be beatific and, indeed, some are controlled by forces to bring about the apocalypse.
The book seems to owe a lot to Carr’s earlier friendship with E. Hoffman Price: the descriptions of food, of New Orleans, of soldiering in Europe, and whoring there, too. Oddly, there’s very little of Carr’s communism or time in Russia (That was another book, I guess). The only seeming reference is to one communist in the story who does not see—as Dan sees—that beyond class warfare is the warfare that occurs in the individual to reach the mystical state that he eventually achieves.
Never, though, has Nirvana seem so self-absorbed.
“Mutation” is weak science fiction—more of a Theosophical fairy tale, about the coming of the next great race. Presumably there is action—even a double killing—but these barely register against all the talk.
Carr’s best story is his last, “The Coming of the Little People,” his inability to plot helping the story rather than dragging it down. The story is told from several perspectives and the descriptions do the work of carrying the story along. The novella concerns the sudden arrival of weird beings at inaccessible mountain tops throughout the U.S. At first, there is confusion about whether the beings are aliens or some form of biological weapon launched by the Russians or Chinese. At the end, we find out they are actually fairies—all the little people of legend—who have come out of hiding to stop mankind from destroying the world through atomic war. The story is at turns funny and charming and insightful.
So given all this on Carr, his biography, his fiction, what are we to make of him as a Fortean?
In a word: it was an incarnation. One of his many. He adopted Forteanism in the late 1940s and early 1950s in the same way he had adopted Bohemianism in the late 1920s and early 1930s. That’s not to say it was all posing, stripped of real emotion. If there’s one thing we can say about Carr’s early life, it is that he acted out his beliefs: he became a writer, became a Bohemian, became a Communist who travelled to Russia, and became a Fortean.
He joined the Fortean Society in the 1940s, likely after the publication of Fort’s omnibus edition in 1941. Thayer referenced him in 1943, and his friend E. Hoffman Price was contributing to Doubt in 1945 and 1946. But Carr did not start to put his Forteanism into action until 1946, when he moved to New Mexico and attempted to set up a lamasery somewhat like the New Age mecca established by M. Doreal in Colorado. The lamasery was based in an old tavern in Gloriette, New Mexico, “on a dead-end road in a dying forest beyond a ghost town beside an abandoned cemetery,” he said. Carr quoted Robinson Jeffers: “I have found my rock.”
The lamasery failed, but Carr continued his Forteanism in his writing. The first example is “Morning Star,” which was published 6 December 1947 in The Saturday Evening Post. (This was the same year that Robert Heinlein famously broke into the slicks by having four stories published in The Saturday Evening Post.) Carr himself crowed, it was the “first Fortean novelette the staid Satevepost ever printed (and all unwittingly, be sure)” while Thayer announced in Doubt 20 (March 1948), “The Saturday Evening Post has taken up Fort! In the issue of December 6, old style, MFS Carr had the feature spot with his tradition-shattering novelette, Morning Star, conceived in Forteanism and dedicated to the proposition that thinking can be made painless, even thrilling: and in the column, Keeping Posted, our Worshipful Lama to the Fortean Tibet did a bit of missionary work.”
It’s not clear, exactly, what makes the story Fortean—and it is very clear that the Post recognized Carr’s Forteanism. As Thayer suggested, it was a focus of the biography on Carr published to accompany the story. It read, in part:
“Can It Rain Blondes?
“The author of the Carr Theory that Venus is inhabited exclusively by thousands of beautiful, love-hungry women, Robert Spencer Carr, is a devoted follower of the late Charles Fort, and a member of the Fortean Society. To the Forteans, Carr’s novelette, Morning Star, on Page 18, will not seem curious in the least. The Forteans, like their founder, enjoy speculating on such wonders as rains of frogs, visitations of mice and strange lights in the skies. It was Fort’s belief that in laying down its solemn rules, science has turned a determined back on a great many things that don’t fit the rules. Fort seemed to feel that the same forces causing a rain of frogs in London, or a rain of fishes in Seymour, Indiana, might someday cause a rain of Swedes on the star Vegas or a rain of Poles on Pluto. Carr’s beautiful traveler from Venus arrives in pretty sedate fashion, by those standards. Carr could have had a rain of beautiful girls and still have stayed well within Fortean possibilities.
His pretty traveler would not have made much of a trip, either, is another of Fort’s speculations is correct. Fort thought it entirely possible that this is a stationary world, as stationary as a white-collar worker’s pay, and in a rather small shell, so that the stars are nowhere so far as generally supposed. Along about 1950, he thought, interplanetary travel might become commonplace, and the night sky full of neon advertising signs.
Shortly after Carr’s novelette reached this office, the author was pleased to read in The New York Times a quotation from an associate professor of astrophysics at Yale. That learned gentleman said it is possible that men from Mars—if not babes from Venus—already have visited the earth. He seemed to think that just because they didn’t stay is no proof they weren’t here; they may not have liked the joint. “Unless they spent some time in a large city,” he said, “or landed sufficiently recently to be photographed, we would have no record of their having been here. Any few men who had seen them probably would not be believed.
We think the learned doctor is off the beam in thinking the Martians would be noticed more readily in a large city. On the contrary, a few Martians more or less wouldn’t make any stir at all. “Well, drop dead,” the visitor says, “I’m a man from Mars Three hours late passing the moon, but we made it up. Get excited.” Three out of five would take it as a publicity stunt for a forthcoming movie, the fourth would put the Martian down as just another big-city crackpot, and the fifth would walk on muttering about those People Will Do Anything radio shows.”
The biographical bit doesn’t really explain the Forteanism of the story, either, except to the degree that any speculative science story is Fortean. Adam Roberts, the science fiction writer and historian, makes a similar kind of argument in his history of the genre, but this seems an especially generous understanding for Forteanism. And, if true, Heinlein’s would have been the first Fortean story in the Post.
It was while Carr was in New Mexico that he worked on his novel The Room Beyond, which seems to have been especially important to him (as well as to his friend E. Hoffman Price, who said he read it every couple of years.) And here we get a sense of what Forteanism meant to Carr—not just anything speculative, but a bridge between science and mysticism. The book was an attempt to solve certain metaphysical problems that bothered Carr, especially the nature of life after death. Carr belonged to that group of Forteans who saw Fort in spiritual terms. At least in the 1940s and 1950s. Science fiction, he said, was “the Passion Plays of the Atomic Age”: “Modern science is transforming today into tomorrow at such amazing speed that who dares say where fact leaves off and fantasy begins. At this moment, your tax money and mine is being spent by Government scientists on rocket projects aimed in the direction of” those stories.
And that is most clear from his best story, and also his most Fortean, “The Coming of the Little People,” published November 1952 in Blue Book. It was also the last of his short stories—the last of any of his published stories—though perhaps not his last story. “The Coming of the Little People” concerns a series of Fortean events that occur on high mountain tops. Carr explicitly connects these to the idea of Fortean phenomena, mentioning rains of frogs and such. But in this case, the Fortean phenomena have a spiritual explanation: they are caused by the little people—the fairies, the incarnate life forces of the earth—rebelling against humanity’s mad dash toward atomic death. Fortean events, then, were the spiritual world speaking to us—whether in terms of a women who seemed immortal, or fairies bringing about world peace—or even a Venusian goddess who wants to bring sexual pleasure to earth men.
Thayer had a more dyspeptic view of Carr’s work. He announced The Room Beyond in Doubt but saw it as rooted in pulp traditions:
“MFS Robert Spencer Carr, author of Morning Star, which many read in the Saturday Evening Post, has a new book for your Fortean shelf. It is a streamlined approach to the theme of Rider Haggard’s She. From the Society, $3.00”
And when Sputnik was launched, and the world shocked by the first orbiting satellite, Thayer argued it was all a hoax—and that Carr may have been one of those who helped propagate the hoax: or at least ready the world for it. In a rambling screed for Doubt all about “Sputs”—and the hoax that was conning the world—Thayer attacked Carr, among others:
“One of these days the conscience of some key figure in Washington will force him to confess all, or Forrestal out a window, and then perhaps we shall know whether Walt Disney has been cooperating with Washington or merely making another million with his space-travel cartoons, whether MFS Kenneth Arnold was cooperating with Washington or merely liked to see his picture in the papers, whether MFS Carr and the Saturday Evening Post were cooperating with Washington or merely catering to a new public when Carr’s lady from Venus landed in those sacred pages and made science fiction respectable at last, whether Major Kehoe had the the blessing of his superiors or was valiantly daring them to jerk his braid, whether David Dietz and all his coterie of syndicated science writers were cooperating with Washington or merely filling their columns.
“It will be interesting to read the answers to all those questions eventually, but we do not point the finger. The statement is merely that science fiction, the saucer data and the professional press-agents for Science have been the major conditioners, battering our brains out.”
By this time, though, Carr had left Forteanism behind, moved to Florida, and became a teacher. But he did have one last Fortean trick up his sleeve; one last story to tell.
Anyone know what happened on 8 July 1947? Walter Haut, public information officer for Roswell (New Mexico) Army Air Field, announced that a flying disk had been recovered. The report made the news, but was later discredited by another military announcement: that only the remains of a weather balloon had been recovered. Carr was living in New Mexico at the time, about two hundred miles away. He most likely heard about it, but if he wrote about it nothing has come to light since then. We do know, though, that he was intrigued by an article in the 22 June 1947 New York Times which quoted Yale astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer saying that it was possible Martians had already visited Earth.
And it wasn’t only Carr’s writings—if such existed—that were forgotten. The entire Roswell, New Mexico, incident dropped out of the public conscious, including among ufologists and flying saucer enthusiasts. Well, that’s probably not exactly a fair assessment. There did continue to be comments related to the incident. But there is no doubt it was not the cause célèbre, it would one day become. In 1974, Carr started speaking publicly about a flying saucer crash that had occurred in New Mexico in 1947 or 1948. His story was similar to one told by Frank Scully in his 1950 book Behind the Flying Saucers. But Carr added the detail that alien bodies had been recovered and necropsied.
Carr’s statements were one of the events that relaunched interest in Roswell—not the only one, maybe not even the most important reason, but certainly an important one. And so his Fortean interest in flying saucers and visitors from other planets became a foundational part of current flying saucer culture.
Redux of an earlier series of postings. Some day may be an article.
Toward the middle of Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch, while complaining about all the mail he receives, Henry Miller says, “Perhaps I attract people who are given to experimentation. Perhaps I attract individuals who are struggling manfully to pierce the hocus-pocus which envelops and obstructs our march through life. People are constantly supplying me with startling facts, amazing events, incredible experiences—as if I were another Charles Fort. They struggle, they rebel, they experiment, they get glimpses of truth, they are raised up by spasmodic gusts of self-confidence—and yet they are hopelessly enmeshed.” He tosses out Fort’s name lightly, and never returns to it—even as he spends the last chapter complaining, again, about the abundance of his mail. No scholar has ever worried over this reference. Perhaps it seems a passing fad, or of a piece with Miller’s inclination toward occultism and kooks. Kenneth Rexroth noted in his introduction to Nights of Love and Laughter that Miller was “likely at times to go off the deep end about the lost continent of Mu or astrology of the ‘occult’” at a moment’s notice. Those who even recognized Fort’s name probably chalked the allusion up to this tendency. But the connection between the two American iconoclasts is deeper than that.
Henry Miller reached California in 1942, a year after starting a cross-country trek, two years after being forced out of Europe by war. Writing in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, he was hopeful about where he landed, even as he excoriated his home country. He moved to Beverly Glen, where he met the artist Jean Varda. Varda enticed him to Monterey, and Miller moved to Big Sur in 1944, relocating to different houses in the area several times over the next three years before settling down on Partington Ridge, near Anderson Creek, for fifteen years. The era was a productive one for Miller, although his literary output was less stellar than it had been in the 1930s. Indeed, because of the way he was idolized by the art community of the San Francisco area, he was successfully tempted into publishing pieces that were sometimes little more than literary detritus—damned things, themselves, which otherwise would have passed out of existence.
Miller’s Bohemianism was such that he became something of an icon for others in the San Francisco art scene—and beyond. Conscientious objectors and disillusioned soldiers found their way to San Francisco and, eventually, Big Sur. (Margaret Parton’s Laughter on the Hill gives a glimpse of the dissolute lifestyle of those burned out by the war.) Others wrote—adding to the tidal wave of letters Miller complained about so bitterly. Bern Porter organized a festschrift for Miller, titled The Happy Rock and George Leite contributed a poem to it: “Through screams and the smoking,/Henry Miller, you shine with creation.” When squares looked down their noses at this rising generation, they blamed Miller for leading the children astray: he was at the center of a Cult of Sex and Anarchy, as a Harper’s magazine article had it. Miller saw that he was being turned into an icon, and was not bothered—even encouraged it. He fancied himself a kind of guru—someone who had reached Enlightenment, or, as he said, in the language of Dianetics, a clear—someone not unlike Fort himself. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch makes only one explicit reference to the scientific gadfly, but a Fortean sense permeates the text. There’s the letters—from “cranks, freaks, nuts and plain lunatics.” There’s his characterization of Anderson Creek as especially weird, or uncanny. Flying saucers are abundant. His neighbors are interested in the same kind of scientific esotericism that filled the columns of Doubt: “Nearly every one seems to be a specialist in some field, be it art, archeology, linguistics, symbolism, Dianetics, Zen Buddhism or Irish folklore.”
All of which raises the question, When did Miller first encounter Fort? There’s no definitive record, but a good guess is possible. Miller missed the hullabaloo around the founding of the Fortean Society because he was in Paris at the time. And he does not seem to have read—or read deeply—most of the founding members of the Society, with the exception of Dreiser and John Cowper Powys. Miller mentions both in Books of My Life, especially praising Powy’s Autobiography—which mentions Fort a couple of times—and he and the Welshman became correspondents; Powys’s letters were among those Miller actually wanted to receive. And maybe that is the connection with Fort. He also knew Caresse Crosby, who was a member of the Fortean Society. We know he had read Fort by the time he reached New Orleans, on his cross-country drive, in 1941, because he recommended to Anais Nin that she read The Book of the Damned. “A very queer book,” he wrote, according to her diary. “You will see. Read it thoroughly—contains starling data and still more starling beliefs.” Thayer had all of Charles Fort’s books reprinted in an omnibus edition that year, but Miller recommended only the first of Fort’s four tomes.
By the time Miller was ensconced in California, Fort was au courant. An acquaintance wrote in a November 1943 letter, “Your speaking of Henry Miller reminds me to say that Janko [Yanko; Jean Varda] met him down there [LA], and Miller speaks of coming here again. I think he is a good man. Charles Fort makes my tired ache, altho I realize I am one of a minority. Many people whose minds I respect admire him: Janko; at one time John [Steinbeck]; Toni [Solomons Jackson].” If enthusiasm for Fort was generally high among Miller’s new acquaintances in California, then his joining the Society in late 1945 makes good sense. And that is what he did: the winter 1945 issue of Doubt announced that Miller had joined the Society, and was offering his watercolors for any price. The Society was also selling copies of his “Plight of the Creative Artist in the United States of America.”
Still, too much stress could be put on Miller’s joining the Society. Thayer was known for trying to get all sorts of people to sign up, and waiving the fees as an enticement, so Miller may not have sought out the Society—perhaps this was another step in the fetishization of Miller. Then, too, it may have just been a financial decision. In 1946, Miller was living on $50 per month from New Directions publishing and whatever he made from his watercolors—so he may have seen Forteans as a new market. He was already well known for sending out begging to letters to all and sundry. But by this point in the story, such a conclusion seems inadequate. Even if Miller was being made into an icon, even if he was just looking for a new place to hawk his wares, there are too many connections—personal, structural, literary, and artistic—to dismiss the connection between Miller and Fort. There was an elective affinity between Miller’s writings, Fort, and Fortean thought, each reflecting the other.
One connection between Miller and the Forteans was that both shared some literary traditions. Miller cherished the Romantic yawps of writers such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who influenced Blavatsky and Theosophy) and Arthur Machen. He wrote, “Around 1880 English novelists of imagination—the writers of ‘romances’—began to introduce into their works the so-called and miscalled ‘supernatural’ element. Theirs was a revolt against the fateful tendency of the times, the bitter fruits of which we of this generation our tasting.” One reason he may have thought ‘supernatural elements’ misnamed was because at the same time these stories were being written, other so-called myths were being proven true: Heinrich Schliemann, James Frazer, Annie Besant, and Madame Blavatsky were "busy unveiling the truth in one realm after another, all interlocked, all contributory in breaking the spell of defeat and paralysis in which the doctrines of the Nineteenth Century held us. The new century opens with promise and splendor; the past comes alive again, but tangibly, substantially, and with almost greater reality than the present.” Fort himself took inspiration from French authors of such romances. More importantly, as Forteanism took shape in the years after his death, Theosophy and similar doctrines were folded into it, as were the weird writers who were building on Machen and H. Rider Haggard and other authors of romance. In both the writings of Henry Miller and many Forteans—although not Thayer—flying saucers became akin to Blavatsky’s Ascended Masters—signs of a coming Age of Aquarius.
This love for Romantic writers and thinkers ripened, in Miller, into a kind of monism—not the same as Fort’s monism, but analogous. In Big Sur, he said, “The full reality, that’s God—and man, and the world, and all that is, including the unnameable. I’m for reality. More and more reality. I’m a fanatic about it, if you like.” For both Miller and Fort, circles (and related shapes) symbolized this monism. Fort had everything transforming into everything else—mice into cheese, peaches into apricots—and Miller had a spiral writing architecture that allowed him to encompass everything, not just facts but truth: “I am not following a strict chronological sequence” he wrote in The World of Sex, “but have chosen to adapt a circular or spiral form of time development which enables me to expand freely in any direction at any given moment. The ordinary chronological development seems to me wooden and artificial, a synthetic reconstitution of the facts of life. The facts and events of life are for me only the starting points on the way towards the discovery of truth.” Miller returned to the structure repeatedly in his subsequent books. The point isn’t that he borrowed the symbolism of the circle from Fort—but that reading Fort, he may have recognized a writer with a similar sensitivity.
The most striking resemblance between Fort and Miller, though, is that both, ultimately, were engaged in a similar project: rescuing what had been lost, making holy what had been damned—and creating a more complete understanding of the universe. Miller wrote in Tropic of Cancer: “There is only one thing which interest me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books . . .” That was Fort’s goal, to remind the world of what had been left out of the books. Fort accomplished his task by collecting forgotten anecdotes. Miller did it, in part, through profanity: curse words had been kept from books—but the inclusion of the damned could clue the reader in to a deeper reality: “When obscenity crops up in art, in literature more particularly, it usually functions as a technical device . . . Its purpose is to awaken, to usher in a sense of reality. In a sense, its use by the artist may be compared to the use of the miraculous by the Masters.” Fort and Miller used these rescued things—rains of blood, swear words—to different ends, Fort to heighten skepticism, Miller to advocate for a transcendental and fundamental truth—but the appreciation of the ignored was similar. As was the hope that by showing the world what had been cast off, reform could come. Miller sometimes wrapped outgoing mail in rejected water paintings, only to find that those were often the most prized by his correspondents. “Strange,” he said, “how people suddenly develop an appreciation for that which is tossed away.”
This Fortean interest in the left-over, the forgotten, brought Miller close to the Fortean Society in several respects. Both championed, for example, the civil liberties of minorities—damned people, as it were—Thayer advocating for the rights of Native Americans in Doubt as Miller did in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. Miller and Thayer were both fascinated by kooks and cranks—The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, with its celebration of Americans with elaborate, yet unusual, philosophies—unsung saints, he suggested—was echoed in the pages of Doubt, with Thayer printing the ruminations of all kinds of heterodox thinkers. The shared interest in the esoteric, the off-trail, underwrote the political anarchism of both Miller and other Forteans—Thayer, certainly, but also the San Francisco Forteans. Having seen the Big Sur community overcome many obstacles with no formal government, Miller concluded, “The less organization the better!” Thayer was bitter in his denunciations of what Eisenhower had not yet named the military-industrial complex. San Francisco Forteans Philip Lamantia and George Leite joined Kenneth Rexroth in becoming conscientious objectors.
Miller declaimed a lot about the need to reach an absolute truth, and absolute surety—but he was willing to get there even by means he knew might be untrustworthy. (“If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there,” he quoted M. N. Chatterjee as saying in Big Sur—a very Fortean sentiment.) Thus, he accepted astrology not necessarily as an accurate description of nature’s forces, but as a language in which to write poetry. Thus, he learned that Madame Blavatsky’s Ascended Masters were made up, as was Cyril Hoskins claim to be a lama—as was James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon—but all were good for contemplating, for feeling one’s way into the universal. Thayer notoriously poked fun at even his frequent contributors for their beliefs. Fort professed to hold his outlandish theories skeptically. At one point, he quipped, “Now there are so many scientists who believe in dowsing that the suspicion comes to me that it may only be a myth, after all.” Historian Michael Saler calls this skeptical embrace of the improbable the “ironic imagination,” and it was common among the San Francisco Forteans, an appropriate response to the horrors of the world. As Rexroth wrote, “If the whole shebang is a lie anyway, certainly the amusing lies, the lies of the charlatans who have never been able to get the guillotine in their hands, are better than the official lie, the deadly one. Since Hiroshima this attitude needs little apology. Some of our best people prefer alchemy to physics today.”
There are substantial differences between Fort and Miller, too: in their literary styles, and in their understanding of knowledge and truth. Fort wrote in short, sharp sentences, intending to upset the reader, questioning every assumption. Miller wrote in a discursive, confessional style, hoping to bring the reader closer to God. Do not mistake that: they were different, in serious and important ways. But they also shared some concerns; it is clear that most of their similarities were developed in parallel, with Miller likely only discovering Fort in the 1940s, his (one) mention of him and obscure membership in the Fortean Society betokening both the closeness and tremendous distance between the two authors. Even as Miller fashioned himself into a new Fort, he was still a very different writer, with different tools and different aims. But there is little doubt that they belonged together—like non-identical but overlapping circles—at least in the 1940s and 1950s.
Fort’s books, Fortean Society paraphernalia, Miller’s (often banned) works—these circulated along the same paths. Thayer sold Fort’s books—and also offered back issues of George Leite’s literary journal Circle, just as Leite and Bern Porter’s Circle advertised Fort’s book and the Society. In the late 1940s, Leite established a bookstore in Berkeley, daliel’s (always with the lower case d), which sold modern works, surrealist texts, Fort, and Miller. Across the Bay, Paul Elder’s bookstore in San Francisco did a happy business in copies of Doubt as well as Miller’s works. Across the country, in New York, Ben Abramson was also working to sell both authors, although he preferred Miller. Abramson and Thayer had become friends when both were in Chicago, and Abrams was a great fan of Thayer’s work. He thought Thayer’s affection for Fort, though, was misplaced, and griped about not being able to sell Fort’s omnibus volume or issues of Doubt, although he continued to set them out for sale. Abramson also bought copies of Miller’s works carried from Europe by GIs, and sold them under the counter, as it were, as well as publishing Miller’s Aller Retour New York.
It is here, at Abramson’s Argus Bookstore, where the circle is completed—it’s only a single anecdote, but emblematic of what was likely happening at daliel’s and Elder’s and other, more experimental, bookstores. The poet and publisher Jonathan Williams remembers, as a child fascinated with Lovecraft and other writers of the weird—the new romancers, as Miller might have it—he made his way to Argus bookstore after a dispiriting outing to the theater: “And so I was very involved with Lovecraft, and Lovecraft sent me, by chance, to a bookshop where I bought Patchen. The Argus Book Shop, which was one of the great bookshops of its time, run by a man by the name of Ben Abramson, who was a friend of people like Christopher Morley and the Baker Street Irregulars. And Tiffany Thayer. People who wrote ‘strangely’ strange . . . the books of Charles Fort. Then I went there one day, probably the day of the terrible experience of Tristan and The Iceman Cometh, probably that same weekend, and I saw these curious books on the shelf. Kenneth Patchen books, you know. Hand-painted books. The Journal of Albion Moonlight, Sleepers Awake, et al. So I started buying them. Then I started buying Henry Miller books. Because Ben Abramson had all these things. I went from H. P. Lovecraft to Patchen and Miller like overnight, when I was about sixteen.”
The circle never ended.
“Fortean extraordinaire” or node in several Fortean nexuses?
Odo (Ode; Otto) Max Bernhard Stade was born 2 July 1892 in what was, at the time, Germany but now is part of France. My high school history teacher called these the ping-pong states, Alsace-Lorraine. It’s not fair to say that’s the last known fact about him we have—there’re plenty—but certainly his early life is difficult to document. And not from lack of material. There are both official documents and recollections. But there’s a slippage between them, an-off-set, like a misprinted newspaper, that makes it hard rehearse Stade’s precise history: for all the murkiness, there is a real history, a true succession of events.
There’s an online biography of him, Odo B. Stade, 1892-1976— A Life of Dedicated Service, which seems to have been written by his widow in the late 1980s. The exact provenance is unclear, and so some wariness is good. There are also newspaper accounts from the 1950s and remembrances. Even a few historical examinations. These sometimes accord with the documentary record, sometimes put meat on the biographical skeleton, sometimes, frankly, conflict. Let’s follow these lines, chary all the way. Where we end up—Fortean extraordinaire, nodes in various nexuses—Lord only knows.
An appropriately sketchy biography: a horse-racing tout with a Fortean system who disappears into the shadows.
Ray Jurgen. Perhaps Jürgen. He’s mentioned in Doubt once—#15, January 1947. At the time, he was living at 32-12 54th Street, Woodside, Long Island New York. We know from what was reported by Tiffany Thayer that he was involved in horse racing—and as it happens, his house was only about fifteen miles from the Belmont Park Race Track.
Searching for Ray Jurgen’s associated with horse racing reveals that this Ray Jurgen lived in Chicago around 1930. We can be fairly certain it’s the same one, since at the time he was advertising a winning system that sounds like the one discussed by Thayer. So we have two biographical points. What can be discovered from these? As it turns out, not much: not much at all.
Inspired by Fort to dismiss the germ theory.
Guy Fred Rogers died in the summer of 1952. At the time, he was living in Gainesville, Florida, with his wife, Nell Rogers. He had lived throughout the Southeast corner of the United States for most of his life, moving often. Rogers had been involved in radical politics and developing alternative theories of medicine. He is recorded several times in the pages of Doubt, the Fortean Society magazine, throughout the late 1940s and into the early 1950s.
Late in 1951, he and Nell published what would stand as their magnum opus: The Medical Mischief, You Say!: Degerminating the Germ Theory. It was a relatively short pamphlet, supplemented with excerpts from other writers, such as Bernar MacFadden—the physical culturalist who influenced Fortean Scott Nearing to take up vegetarianism, and the Naturopath and Fortean George S. White. The book dismissed the germ theory of disease, and embraced, instead, a naturopathic emphasis on food and healthy habits. But the germ theory was only the starting point of a critique that encompassed medicine, science, American society, war, commercialism, and capitalism. These were issues that had consumed them for decades and fit them easily into the left-libertarian tradition that supported so much of the Fortean Society.
A Fortean radical—though a Fortean mostly by admiration.
Scott Nearing may need to be introduced to the modern world, but for a time he was quite famous as a leftist and early advocate of the back-to-the-land movement. His life is well documented, by himself and his second wife, biographers, and historians. So I’ll keep the biographical portion of this relatively brief.
Nearing was born in Pennsylvania on 6 August 1883, almost a decade after Charles Fort and almost two decades before Tiffany Thayer. He lived a privileged life in coal country and attended Penn Charter School, where he was a classmate of future Fortean Society founder J. David Stern. As Stern recalled, the two worked together on a paper about the Fourier movement in America, but had to turn in separate essays because they could not agree on an interpretation: Nearing blamed the downfall of that early Utopian society on external factors, while Stern thought the silly ideas held by the members was to blame. It was a telling split, Stern going on to become a business liberal, friend of the New Deal, while Nearing—alone among his family—nurtured a sensitive social consciousness that would drive him to the left of socialism and toward a kind of primitivist anarchism.
(Corrected after first posting.)
Esteemed as a Fortean—but seemingly not very interested in Fort, Fortean ideas, or the Fortean Society, except to the extent they could serve his own purposes.
Hereward Carrington is almost famous enough not to deserve an entry here: a ghost hunter and investigator of psychic phenomena, he was one of the leaders in the field during the first half of the twentieth century as spiritualism transformed itself into parapsychology and made some progress in institutionalizing itself as a form of knowledge—a species of science—and not (just) esoteric Christianity in both the United States and England. (The story in France is slightly different. I don’t really know what was going on in Germany along these lines, or other European countries for that matter.) But, famous as he is, it is worthwhile to at least do a quick overview of his life and work to get a sense of the communities that abutted and overlapped the Forteans.
Hereward Carrington was born to Robert and (Sarah) Jane (Pewtress) Carrington on 17 October 1880 in Jersey, on the Channel Islands. Robert had been born on the Isle of Man, and worked int he civil service: he was away from home at the time of the 1881 census, leaving Jane as head. Hereford had three brothers, Herbert, Hedley, and Fitzroy, and one sister, Irma, all older than him. Healey made his way to the United States, and Hereford followed him; according to the census, he immigrated in 18989. Other sources have him making the trip in 1888, which seems on the young side. The brothers were living—with Hedley’s wife—in Minnesota, where Hedley was a manager for a rubber company and Hereford a clerk at a bookstore.
A few days ago, I received a note from Judith Willis, widow of Ronald Willis, one of the founders of the International Fortean Organization (INFO). His posthumous novel, lost for some forty years, has been published:
A Troll’s Phantasmagoria by Ronald J. Willis, founder of the International Fortean Organization (INFO), is set in the early 1970s, when it was written. Yet many of its themes still resonate today. Its weird and wacky characters include Garn, a troll of the Scandinavian sort and Lucy, A PhD-holding prostitute and expert in ancient languages. Along with wild and funny events, the novel includes allusions to death, Fortean phenomena, Lovecraftian lore, mysticism and various religions and spiritual paths including Gnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Paganism. Its language and writing style range from racy to poetically profound. Unusual aspects of this novel include, in the first chapter, a square-formatted poem scanned in from the original typewritten manuscript (using a typewriter, the author had to continually turn the paper four different ways while typing the poem). Ronald J. Willis (1930-1975) founded the INFO in the mid-1960s. This novel’s manuscript was found in the proverbial old trunk by his family after a 21st century move and is published on the 40th anniversary of his death. It is believed that the novel was written before he was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 1974. Distributed by Ingram, A Troll’s Phantasmagoria is available from many online booksellers in the US and many other countries, as well as through brick-and-mortar stores.
I am about to order myself a copy.
I think—I think I know who he was. I hope I’m not stitching together multiple stories, but I don’t think I am: he was a magical, stamp-collecting, philosophizing Fortean from Chicago.
Ernest W. Brady—the W likely standing for William—was born in northern Ireland during the 1880s—varying sources say 1881, 1886, 1887, and 1888. I don’t know anything about his upbringing there—cannot find him in the censuses—but he immigrated to the United States in 1916, a year of some note in northern Ireland’s history. He arrived in Philadelphia—at least according to records created much later on. I cannot find him in the 1920 census. There is a Ernest Brady, born in Ireland around 1886, living in New Jersey in 1920, which could be him, except that Ernest Brady continues in New Jersey through the 1940s, while the one who becomes a Fortean is in Chicago.
I am a father, husband, and independent scholar living in Folsom California. I can be reached at joshuabbuhs_at_gmail_dot_com.