At this point, the elder Henry was teaching music—judging by his and his later career, he had artistic interests, and selling wood was a way to make ends meet. The family had grown, Henry joined by two sisters, Margaret, aged 3, and Ruth, aged 1. Also living with them was one of Alice’s sister’s, Margaret, and a servant. Before the next census, Margaret had left, and the servant girl was gone, leaving just the nuclear unit: Henry, a voice specialist working on his own accord, Alice, Margaret and Ruth in school, an the younger Henry a newspaper reporter. The family was not flush, but not poor either. They rented the apartment at $90 and did have a radio set. During this period, the younger Henry may also have been on Broadway, as a chorus boy, according to an obituary.
At some point in the 1930s, presumably after 1935, the younger Henry picked up and headed west, ending up in Pasadena no later than 1940, when he was noted by the census. He was a writer, scraping by. He made $750 over the previous year, having worked only 35 weeks. Either business was picking up, or he was on a good run, because the past week he’d worked thirty hours. Henry, then aged 32, was boarding with the 54 year-old Elinor K. Once, a Missouri-born widow. The house was nice, worth about $8,500 and Ms. Once was doing well, bringing in just shy of $2,500 per year. The house was about 9 years old.
At some point, though—I don’t know when—Geiger became a Theosophist. It could have been in New York; it could have been why he came West; it could have been in southern California, which was a seat of Theosophy, and metaphysical organizations generally. It could have been later, during or even after World War II. He did do writing for the magazine “Theosophy,” though, and so might have been doing theosophical scribbling at this time. Geiger was part of the United Lodge of Theosophists, which had started in 1909, and was dedicated to keeping Theosophy aligned with he texts written by Madame Blavatsky and rejecting teachings that did not accord. His Theosophical orientation may or may not have been entangled with what a later acquaintance called his “militant” pacifism.
His pacifism led him to becoming a conscientious objector with the outbreak of World War II. I do not know whether he was registered as such, or refused to fill out selective service paperwork and was arrested, or what happened, exactly, but he ended up in a co.o work camp administered by the American Friends Service Committee. This was CPS Camp 76, in Glendora, California, which was associated with the Forest Service for most of its existence. In addition to maintaining the camp and doing administrative work, the men were assigned to tasks by for the Service in southern California. Despite the Quaker aegis, the camp housed men of many denominations, and it may be here that Geiger encountered Theosophy, if he had not discovered it earlier.
In the camp, Geiger met other radicals, among them Roy Kepler, who would found Kepler’s books after the war, and associated with a group calling themselves “The Pacifica Associates of Glendora”—a playful pun on Pacifism and their place near the Pacific Ocean. In 1942, they started sending out a printed—not mimeographed—newsletter “Pacific Views” that considered the philosophical underpinnings of pacifism and the plight of pacifists—as well as other minorities of conscience—in a country that was increasingly being dominated by the state. The group also produced a 140-page mimeographed piece “Pacific Studies on Conscientious Objection.” Other CPS camps produced similar letters, and they were exchanged between camps. Geiger may have still been in the camp when he started corresponding with the public intellectual Dwight MacDonald.
After the war, Geiger returned to his home in the Pasadena area. The exact chronology here is not quite clear; this is the period when he was definitely associated with the ULT Theosophical lodge, and gave speeches on the movement. At some point, he became associated with the Cunningham Press, along with another Theosophist, Gordon Clough. I believe the press did fine art printing—including work by Marcel Duchamp—which, by accounts, was lucrative. Geiger was also in contact with another CPS alum, Lewis Hill, who was in the San Francisco Bay Area, associated with Kenneth Rexroth and its anarchist-Bohemian community, and setting up the Pacific Foundation with its associated radio station—the first publicly supported station—KPFK. Geiger’s Theosophy was taken up by Hill, as well as Ida Shagaloff, who ‘had been involved with” Geiger before marrying Denny Wilcher, another person important in the founding of KPFK.
On 4 July 1946, he wed Elizabeth Sawyer. They had a daughter, Gretel, on 6 December 1948.
Earlier in 1948, in January, Geiger started another newsletter, also reflecting his humanistic, pacifist, and Theosophical beliefs. He may have been helped, at the start, by Theosophist Victor A. Endersby. but Geiger was the driving force. The newsletter—“its clean letterpress pages devoid of illustration, ads and any but the most austere ornaments or sidebars,” in the words of one commenter—was called MANAS, and it appeared weekly for almost forty years. The pair was a revival of both his ideas in the 1930s’ to put out a philosophical newsletter and his C.O. camp publication. In the decade since he had first played with the idea of a philosophical publication, Buddhist and other “Eastern” ideas had gained some purchase in American thought, and the title “Manas” was meant to be both evocative of that lineage and also obscure. Remaining true to the sense that the weekly should be an expression of pure thought—clean, unadorned—Geiger did not sign any of the writing, his name only appearing in the legally required notations.
Manas had a circulation in the low thousands, 2,000 maybe 3,000, but was influential nonetheless. It was an important influence on those associated with Lewis Hill and the Pacific Foundation. Dwight MacDonald read it. So did Marcel Duchamp. Manas published some of E. F. Schumacher’s early essays on Buddhist economics. Henry Miller, Marc Chagall, Robert Hutchins, Abram Maslow, Wendell Berry, and Theodore Roszak also wrote pieces that appeared over the course of newsletter’s life. Each issue bore the same introduction, which read in part, “MANAS is a journal of independent inquiry, concerned with the study of the principles which move world society on its present course, and with searching for contrasting principles- that may be capable of supporting intelligent idealism under the conditions of the twentieth century.”
Historians have noted that Manas, like the works of Hill and MacDonald, worried over the moral realities of an America dominated by the state, by business, and by science—the new determinisms. Geiger wrote, “It is as though there were an unspoken cry, lodged in the throat of millions. ‘What shall we believe in? What can we work for that will mean something and will last?’” The process of answering that question was a democratic one—people on the fringe, people like him, would put that question in words—would speak the unspoken—and then the rest of the country would think through the problem cooperatively. “Geiger saw in such cooperation a process that would bring out the inner self in each person and that had as its ultimate end the nonviolent construction of better values,” notes Matthew Lasar. In the end, these problems were human ones and could only be solved by humanistic inquiry.
Geiger especially favored thinkers outside the mainstream: he believed that the margins was where evolution started. And so he brought to bear the writings of Kirkpatrick Sale, Peter Berg, Wes Jackson, Robert Swann, John and Navy Jack Todd, as well as more well-known outsiders, Thoreau and Tolstoy and Gandhi and Tom Paine. In addition to his Theosophy and Pacifism, Geiger argued for a socialism that had ties to Edward Bellamy and rejected the then-current communism as too doctrinaire.
Unlike so many other pamphleteers—their numbers collected by Tiffany Thayer and gathered in the Fortean Society—Geiger seems to have been relatively affluent. At least, there was a Henry Geiger in Pasadena who was known as a philanthropist who had enough funds to be the principal contributor behind the building of the Flintridge Library, which was to be named in his honor. That was in 1961, and I suppose could have referenced some other Geiger—this one was said to have had a step son named Kenneth Bissell—I can’t tell. He was listed in the City Directory, though, and the only Geiger that I can find. He gave his business as “writer.”
The last issue of Manas appeared 28 December 1988.
Henry Geiger died 15 April 1989. He was 80.
I do not know when Geiger first made the acquaintance of Fort. This ignorance is the usual state of affairs when I write these little biographies. Certainly, there were many ways he could have come to Fort, his overlapping communities also ones where Fort’s writings were known. There were a number of Theosophists in the Fortean Society, and occasionally Theosophical publications made reference to Fort; these appeared, as far as I’ve determined, exclusively in the post-War years. More broadly, the southern California metaphysical community was aware of Fort through R. DeWitt Miller, N. Meade Layne, and others. Tiffany Thayer, secretary of the Fortean Society, was also a devoted pacifist, and cheered on Conscientious Objectors, spreading Fortean literature through the camps as well as he could, while some C.O.’s picked up on Fort even earlier—Kenneth Rexroth, for example, who had not been in a cam- (he did alternative service) but was part of the C.O. network. Of course, Geiger read so widely, he could have happened upon Fort himself.
At any rate, Geiger never seemed to have joined the Fortean Society; and his publication does not seem to have come to Thayer’s attention—at least Manas was never mentioned in “Doubt.” But Geiger, nonetheless, found ideas worth thinking through in Fort, and mentioned him a number of times in Manas. I have found five references to Fort, the first in 1949, the last in 1957. The carefully compiled index—kept by Geiger himself on cards, later digitized—indicate there were no later mentions, none I have missed. It would be wrong to say that Fort was an important figure in Geiger’s thought; he wasn’t. Rather, he became a synonym for resistance to the determinisms science—Fort was proof that there was more to the world than scientists knew, or understood. Some of the unexplored was purely humanistic, other parts bordered on the metaphysical: powers of the mind, actions of the spirit.
For the most part, the references to Fort were relatively brief, and in a couple of cases not well integrated into the essay. The final example, from 1959, wasn’t even by Geiger. It was a brief essay by Maurice Lowe, of Ocean Park, B.C., on the uselessness of agnostics. He ended with a quote from Fort: “So here we have the pair of them—theist and atheist, believer and agnostic—each tucked up in a double bed with the very man he hates! The philosopher long since arose from that bed and walked forth to herald the day when, in the words of Charles Fort, "there may be an organic science, or the interpretation of all phenomenal things in terms of an organism that comprises all.”
The first mention, by contrast—also a quick reference—was not really complimentary. Discussing how humans had gone from being the subject of history to the object—once the actors, humans now just had forces happen to them—Geiger looked, briefly, ate world citizen and Fortean Garry Davis, then at nineteenth-century examples of writing that emphasized the power of humanity, and chose, among all the possible topics, to concentrate on Franz Mesmer. Mesmer is the source of the word mesmerize, and his animal magnetism laid the groundwork for the later spiritualist movement; even at the time Geiger was writing, in 1949, he was widely considered a crank exponent of pseudoscience. But that was part of what appealed to Geiger: Mesmer was a man who stood “against orthodoxy.” It was the same reason so many Forteans found solace in Fort.
But Geiger found Fort lacking. He compared Joseph Ennemoser, a German speaking exponent of Mesmer—even after Mesmer fell into disfavor—who wrote a “History of Magic.” Geiger said those two volumes “brought the entire range of Psychical phenomena within the scope of mesmeric explanation. This remarkable work was published in English by Bohn's Scientific Library in 1854. Modern readers are impressed by the compilations of the eccentric, Charles Fort, in his Book of the Damned—the facts damned and rejected by the scientific orthodoxy—but in Ennemoser they would find a continuous record of human wonders—presented, not as curiosities, but as the foundation for a new appreciation of the potencies of man. . . Whatever else we may say of these followers of Mesmer in the nineteenth century, they dealt with certain realities in human nature, and they were champions of Man, not deprecators of human possibility. The impetus of the current they represented was largely absorbed by the Spiritualistic movement . . .”
Geiger’s references to Fort in the 1950s were more appreciative. Two were also just mentions, though more substantive than his 1949 reference. He used Fort in the introduction to a 1951 essay. The topic was a Fortean one: that science presented itself as explaining all of reality, but there were significant lacunae in its doctrines; his mention of Fort, though, was little more than some throat-clearing, before he got to the meat of his essay: “A large bookstore, for example, may stock as many as half a dozen books devoted to the workings of heredity, all of them giving extensive information on inheritable traits, but withholding discussion of matters which, so far, our knowledge of heredity does not help us to understand. Perhaps a book on the gaps in scientific knowledge would not be interesting; perhaps it would not ‘sell,’ although the books of Charles Fort (The Book of the Damned, Lo! and New Lands) found enough buyers to justify republication years after their first appearance, and Fort's books were largely devoted to matters which modern science ignores. Fort, however, was a man who could make fascinating entertainment out of ‘the unknown,’ and he provided enough facts to stimulate the imagination of the reader—in fact, he stimulated so many imaginations that his admirers eventually started the Fortean Society to continue the tradition of turning up odd, ‘damned' facts. . . But Fort was a kind of ‘sport’ in the field of literary science. He made a profession out of the exceptional and apparently inexplicable (although he offered explanations of his own), and conventionally minded scientists hardly take him seriously.”
Once more, n 1957, Fort was used as . . . if not decorative varnish, as in the first and last mentions of him in the newsletter, then scene-setting. Geiger was building up to discuss “The Search for Bridey Murphy,” something of a literary sensation that moved the topic of reincarnation from esoteric subject to popular discussion. (It was an important touchstone for some Forteans, particularly R. Dewitt Miller.) Geiger approached the book only after pointing out that science was a bit more loose in its consideration of the unknown than it had been a few years before, many of the fields locked by uncertainty that opened up questions about what counted as real—he pointed to Fred Hoyle’s work in physics, the problem of development in biology, and the effect of the mind on healing. And he reached the then-current uncertainty of scientists by first noting the tendency of scientists, in prior decades, to limit uncertainty and express dogmatic assertions.
Charles Fort came at the very beginning of the essay, existing on the edge between certainty and uncertainty in science. Geiger began the piece, “No one knows the population of the twilight world of believers in the impossible, the miraculous, and the ‘unscientific.’ All that we can be sure of is that it is very large. In 1919, Charles Fort published his astonishing volume, The Book of the Damned. He published other books afterwards, but this book, a compilation of the ‘damned’ facts—facts which have been ignored by the sciences to which they supposedly belong—made his reputation and even led, in later years, to the formation of a Fortean Society, devoted to the impudent tradition of unearthing facts, or presumed facts, which cannot be explained by any familiar theory. Fort's work gave a kind of borderline respectability to skepticism toward scientific ‘authority’ . . . But at a more popular level, only a thin veneer of security protects many people from the most nightmarish anticipations, and the control of ‘scientific fact’ over the romantic imagination is very largely a window-dressing operation.”
This reference was far more positive than the first one, and suggests that in the interim, between 1949 and 1957, Geiger had spent some time with Fort, reading him, thinking about him, and come away impressed: his was more than a mere collection of weird anecdotes. And there is evidence of this engagement with Fort, a 1952 essay, the fifth of his mentions of Fort, and by far the most substantive. It is true that the essay uses Fort, once again, as an entrepôt to a different argument—which is interesting in itself, suggestive that Fort was worth thinking with, and had some currency in the communities to which Geiger addressed himself—this time Fort is not just mentioned. He is described, even celebrated, though still clearly within the confines of Geiger’s thought.
Geiger began the essay, “Even if there were no ‘Fortean Society’ to celebrate his name, Charles Fort should be remembered for arranging the strangest parade in history.” This view of Fort was rooted in Geiger’s first take on him, that Fort was a collector of anomalies, but there was no disparaging comparison to other, better writers. “No one should go through life without having read” ‘The Book of the Damned,’ he said. “Whether to enjoy a brilliant confirmation of his own suspicions, or to have his complacent confidence in ‘authorities’ badly shaken.” Geiger could read traces of the 20th century in the book, he said, by which he seemed to mean the reflexivity of modernist literature. There had, of course, been other collections of wondrous events, from Pliny to Gould, but Fort was “much more than this. It is, more than anything, a satyric commentary on the narrow band of experience which the orthodox in any age use to circumscribe the ‘real.’” Again, this view had roots in Geiger’s earlier view—that the determinisms we are served, from science or the state, and that limit the imagination, spiritual and political, are humanly constructed and therefore reconstructable—but Fort is given his due.
As with so many other commenters, Geiger was impressed by Fort’s collection, even as he is unwilling to accept everything he reports. (And Fort would agree!) “Men like Fort accomplish a necessary catharsis for a civilization which is heavily burdened with the solemnity of its achievements and the righteousness and finality of its opinions. There are certain difficulties, of course, in accepting everything that Fort says, or seems to be saying.” What mattered to Geiger, as to other Theosophists and metaphysically-inclined fans of Fort was that he was taking it to science, opening a space in which other beliefs could grow. “Fort's damned facts’ seem vastly disturbing to a lot of scientific assumptions; they are a collection of square pegs in a universe of round holes. And we, for our part, shall have to leave them as they are, except for a wondering appreciation of Mr. Fort's talent as a priest of the improbable, a midwife of the impossible.”
Science, though, was not here Geiger’s chief target—he had a definite appreciation of science, even as he thought it could be too hidebound—nor was he interested in Fort’s monotheism or cosmological hypotheses. Again in light with so many other Forteans, he wanted to take what Fort had written and do something else with it: in this case, he saw in Fort’s methods a tool for deconstructing social, economic, and political verities. He wanted a revolution of culture—but, unlike many at the time who also called for revolution against the state and capitalism, Geiger had no truck with communism. That was as totalitarian an ideology as fascism. “If you want to irritate a system-advocating reformer or revolutionist, start talking to him about the importance of kindness, personal integrity, consideration for others, and the need for comprehension of the difficulties under which all men struggle. He will soon be angrily calling you names, or politely ignoring you.”
What Geiger was pointing to was what he thought of—in fairly Romantic terms, as a self-organizing community of equals. The impulses that would lead toward this utopia, though, were thwarted by political systems, institutionalize Christianity, and psychology. Indeed, he said, there were even wild talents—perhaps this argument, which came towards the end of the essay, was what got him thinking of Fort in the first place. He told the story of a black prisoner in Leavenworth who could quell seizures in epileptics and simulate death so convincingly he almost became an autopsy subject. In this case, the psychiatrists admitted his talents, but Geiger suspected that was only because the man was safely confined in prison: he was still within the arms of an official institution. He suspected there were a lot more examples of such socio-cultural strangeness in the world, and hoped to see it exposed.
“Some day, some ‘Fort’ of cultural anthropology will compile a book of the psychological and cultural facts which are damned by the rules and regulations of orthodoxy and respectability in all areas of life. The ethical ideas and attitudes suppressed by church morality will be listed along with the forbidden thoughts prohibited by nationalism. In this book, the unmentionables of Communism will have a place beside the heresies of free-enterprise economics, while the unforgivables of psychological science will share space with the realities concealed by ignorant superstition. When will it be published? In the Golden Age, of course.”
Although Geiger suggested this new “Book of the Damned” could only be written in a distant future, when the self-organizing society o social democrats had come to being, and the faults of earlier systems easier to see, one suspects that wasn’t exactly an accurate accounting of his own thought. After all, Fort had exposed the foibles of science write at its most dominant moment. Could not the emperors religion, psychology, capitalism, and communism also be revealed as naked? And wasn’t that exactly what Geiger was doing? He himself was a Fort of cultural anthropology, finding those things damned by orthodoxy and which could be used in the construction of a new, different, and—he hoped—better world.