The seminal biography of the twentieth century’s premier chronicler of the paranormal, Charles Fort—a man whose very name gave rise to an adjective, fortean, to describe the unexplained.
By the early 1920s, Americans were discovering that the world was a strange place.
Charles Fort could demonstrate that it was even stranger than anyone suspected. Frogs fell from the sky. Blood rained from the heavens. Mysterious airships visited the Earth. Dogs talked. People disappeared. Fort asked why, but, even more vexing, he also asked why we weren’t paying attention.
Here is the first fully rendered literary biography of the man who, more than any other figure, would define our idea of the anomalous and paranormal. In Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural, the acclaimed historian of stage magic Jim Steinmeyer goes deeply into the life of Charles Fort as he saw himself: first and foremost, a writer.
At the same time, Steinmeyer tells the story of an era in which the certainties of religion and science were being turned on their heads. And of how Fort—significantly—was the first man who challenged those orthodoxies not on the grounds of some counter-fundamentalism of his own but simply for the plainest of reasons: they didn’t work. In so doing, Fort gave voice to a generation of doubters who would neither accept the “straight story” of scholastic science nor credulously embrace fantastical visions. Instead, Charles Fort demanded of his readers and admirers the most radical of human acts: Thinking.
Ben Hecht saw iconoclastic author Fort (1874 1932) as an "inspired clown" who thumbed his nose at science as well as religion, and Fort's imaginative books exerted a strong influence on science fiction, notably novelist Eric Frank Russell. Stage magic historian Steinmeyer (Hiding the Elephant) captures Fort's wry humor, skepticism and wildest notions. Surviving fragments of Fort's unpublished autobiography illuminate his strict Albany, N.Y., childhood. In 1892, Fort became a New York City reporter and editor before his world travels and 1896 marriage. He was befriended by Theodore Dreiser, who shepherded Fort's short stories and first novel into print. Fort also pored through diverse journals to document the paranormal and anomalies rejected by the scientific establishment. Shoe boxes packed with 40,000 slips of paper served as a basis for The Book of the Damned (1919), which saw print because Dreiser threatened to leave his publisher unless the company also published Fort. As more compilations of oddities appeared, Fort developed a cult following, and the so-called Forteans issued journals long after their leader's death. Steinmeyer has emerged from the archives with a wonderful, prismatic portrait of the man who once wrote, "To this day, it has not been decided if I am a humorist or a scientist." 8 pages of b&w photos.