Charles Fort’s X-Men

One of Charles Fort’s books which I haven’t spent a lot of time within the past is his final one; Wild Talents. In this work, Fort collects reports and accounts of human beings with occult or paranormal gifts or powers. If he had been so inclined, Fort might have collected these individuals together and formed his own ‘School for Gifted Youngsters’. For those not aware, the school is the headquarters and training grounds of Marvel’s X-Men. At this school, Charles Xavier (Professor X) recruits mutants, beings with incredible powers, and teaches them to harness and control their powers so that they can live in harmony with human beings.

Though Professor X and his school may be fictional, Fort documents case after case of people in the real world who exhibit similar kinds of amazing feats. OK, so you don’t have a guy with claws coming out of his hands who also has an amazing regenerative abilities, but you get the idea. I’ve picked out a few to highlight, though I highly suggest you read his book for yourself. In some of the instances cited below, it might be more appropriate to label the perpetrators as “super-villains” rather than “super-heroes” as many of the persons used(abused) their “powers” for more material gains.

First up, Fort talks about a bank which was robbed. In broad daylight. In front of multiple witnesses. By an unseen, or invisible, criminal. The story is as follows;

“A bank in Blackpool was robbed, in broad daylight, on Saturday, in mysterious circumstances”—so says the London Daily Telegraph, Aug. 7, 1926. It was one of the largest establishments in town—the Blackpool branch of the Midland Bank. At noon, Saturday, while the doors were closing, an official of the Corporation Tramways Department went into the building, with a bag, which contained £800, in Treasury notes. In the presence of about twenty-five customers, he placed the bag upon a counter. Then the doorman unlocked the front door for him to go out, and then return with another amount of money, in silver, from a motor van. The bag had vanished from the counter. It was a large, leather bag. Nobody could, without making himself conspicuous, try to conceal it. Nobody wearing a maternity cloak was reported.

In the afternoon, in a side street, near the bank, the bag was found, and was taken to a police station. But the lock on it was peculiar and complicated, and the police could not open it. An official of the Tramways Department was sent for. When the Tramways man arrived with the key, no money was found in the bag. If a bag can vanish from a bank, without passing the doorman, I record no marvel in telling of money that vanished from a bag, though maybe the bag had not been opened.

Fort tells of more burglaries committed by person’s who could neither be seen nor apprehended by the police:
New York Evening Post, March 14, 1928—people in a block of houses, in the Third District of Vienna, terrorized. They were “haunted by a mysterious person,” who entered houses, and stole small objects, never taking money, doing these things just to show what he could do. Then, from dusk to dawn, the police formed in a cordon around this block, and at approaches to it stationed police dogs. The disappearances of small objects, of little value, continued.
Two more strange thefts before we move on to other displays of occult power:

Upon the afternoon of June 18, 1907, occurred one of the most sensational, insolent, contemptible, or magnificent thefts in the annals of crime, as viewed by most Englishmen; or a crime not without a little interest to Americans. On a table, on the lawn back of the grandstand, at Ascot, the Ascot Cup was upon exhibition, 13 inches high, and 6 inches in diameter; 20-carat gold; weight 68 ounces. The cup was guarded by a policeman and by a representative of the makers. The story is told, in the London Times, June 19th. Presumably all around was a crowd, kept at a distance by the policeman, though, according to the standards of the Times, in the year 1907, it was not dignified to go into details much. From what I know of the religion of the Turf, in England, I assume that there was a crowd of devotees, looking worshipfully at this ikon. It wasn’t there.

About this time, there were a place and a time and a treasure that were worthy the attention of, or that were a challenge to, any magician. The place was Dublin Castle. Outside, day and night, a policeman and a soldier were on duty. Within a distance of fifty yards were the headquarters of the Dublin metropolitan police; of the Royal Irish Constabulary; the Dublin detective force; the military garrison.

It was at the time of the Irish International Exhibition, at Dublin. Upon the 10th of July, King Edward and Queen Alexandra were to arrive to visit the Exhibition. In a safe in the strong room of the Castle had been kept the jewels that were worn by the Lord Lieutenant, upon State occasions. They were a barbaric pile of bracelets, rings, and other insignia, of a value of $250,000. And of course. They had disappeared about the time of the disappearance of the Ascot Cup: sometime between June firth and July 6th.

Within the Marvel universe there are a number of superpowered persons that have fire as their source of power. So too in reality do we have a few accounts of pyrokinetics. Fort tells us about the following cases:

New Zealand Times, Dec. 9, 1886—copying from the San Francisco Bulletin, about October 14—that Willie Brough, 12 years old, who had caused excitement in the town of Turlock, Madison Co., Cal., by setting things afire, “by his glance,” had been expelled from the Turlock school, because of his freaks.

His parents had cast him off, believing him to be possessed by a devil, but a farmer had taken him in, and had sent him to school. “On the first day, there were five fires in the school: one in the center of the ceiling, one in the teacher’s desk, one in her wardrobe, and two on the wall. The boy discovered all, and cried from fright. The trustees met and expelled him, that night.” For another account, see the New York Herald, Oct. 16, 1886.

New York Herald, Jan. 6, 1895—fires in the home of Adam Colwell, 84 Guernsey Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn—that, in 20 hours, preceding noon, January 5th, when Colwell’s frame house burned down, there had been many fires. Policemen had been sent to investigate. They had seen furniture burst into flames. Policemen and firemen had reported that the fires were of unknown origin. The Fire Marshal said: “It might be thought that the child Rhoda started two of the fires, but she cannot be considered guilty of the others, as she was being questioned, when some of them began. I do not want to be quoted as a believer in the supernatural, but I have no explanation to offer, as to the cause of the fires, or of the throwing around of the furniture.”

Captain Rhoades, of the Greenpoint Precinct, said: “The people we arrested had nothing to do with the strange fires. The more I look into it, the deeper the mystery. So far I can attribute it to no other cause than a supernatural agency. Why, the fires broke out under the very noses of the men I sent to investigate.”Sergeant Dunn—”There were things that happened before my eyes that I did not believe were possible.”

We shall end our tour of Fort’s X-Men with his musings on the ‘poltergeist’ phenomena and how it may actually represent a kind of occult power or a re-imagining of the old stories of “witchcraft”. Fort tells us:
My general expression is against the existence of poltergeists as spirits—but that the doings are the phenomena of undeveloped magicians, mostly youngsters, who have no awareness of their powers as their own—or, in the cases of mischievous, or malicious, persecutions, are more or less consciously directed influences by enemies—or that, in this aspect, “poltergeist disturbances” are witchcraft under a new name.
He then provides us with some accounts which seem to suggest that witchcraft may still be alive and well:
New York newspapers reported three cases, close together, in the year 1927. New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 12, 1927—Fred Koett and his wife compelled to move from their home, near Ellenwood, Kansas. For months this house had been bewitched—pictures turned to the wall—other objects moving about—their pet dog stabbed with a pitchfork, by an invisible.

New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 12, 1927—Frank Decker’s barn, near Fredon, N. J., destroyed by fire. For five years there had been unaccountable noises, opening and shutting doors, and pictures on walls swinging back and forth.

Home News (Bronx), Nov. 27, 1927—belief of William Blair, County Tyrone, Ireland, that his cattle were bewitched. He accused a neighbor, Isabella Hazelton, of being a witch—”witch” sued him for slander—£5 and costs.

And lastly:

An elderly woman, Mme. Blerotti, had called upon the Magistrate of the Ste. Marguerite district of Paris, and had told him that, at the risk of being thought a madwoman, she had a complaint to make against somebody unknown. She lived in a flat, in the Rue Montreuil, with her son and her brother. Every time she entered the flat, she was compelled by some unseen force to walk on her hands, with her legs in the air.

The woman was detained by the magistrate, who sent a policeman to the address given. The policeman returned with Mme. Blerotti’s son, a clerk, aged 27. “What my mother has told you, is true,” he said. “I do not pretend to explain it. I only know that when my mother, my uncle, and myself enter the flat, we are immediately impelled to walk on our hands.” M. Paul Reiss, aged fifty, the third occupant of the flat, was sent for.

“It is perfectly true,” he said. “Everytime I go in, I am irresistibly impelled to walk around on my hands.” The concierge of the house was brought to the magistrate. “To tell the truth,” he said, “I thought that my tenants had gone mad, but as soon as I entered the rooms occupied by them, I found myself on all fours, endeavoring to throw my feet in the air.”

The magistrate concluded that here was an unknown malady. He ordered that the apartments should be disinfected.

As someone who grew up on comic books and various other forms of fantasy, it doesn’t take much to convince me that some people, consciously or unconsciously, have access to abilities or powers beyond what the rest of us have. Could there be more prosaic explanations for these accounts, possibly. I certainly don’t rule it out. But the sheer volume of the reports, many which have similar circumstances, seem to suggest that something else is going on. Perhaps these powers or abilities are vestigial remains from pre-history, as Fort has suggested in Lo!. Maybe they represent the next step in gradual human evolution, not unlike the X-Men comics.


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