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Pages (PDF): 307
Publication Date: 1931
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Originally published in 1931, this was Forts third book, detailing paranormal and generally weird phenomena. The book goes into detail on cryptozoology (including the Jersey Devil and various out of place animals), animal mutilations and attacks on people, strange swarming of balls, the appearance of various strange people from nowhere (the famous cases of Princess Caraboo and Kaspar Hauser), and the mysterious disappearances of others (including the diplomat Benjamin Bathurst, and vessels such as the Mary Celeste, Carroll A. Deering, and USS Cyclops, presaging later interest in the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon). He also wrote an extensive chapter on the winter of 1904-5 in Britain, when a widespread religious revival in England and Wales coincided with numerous other strange occurrences: the appearances of ghosts, poltergeists, a few purported cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion, and a ravenous wolf (or perhaps werewolf) mutilating sheep and other farm animals in Northumberland.
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A naked man in a city street—the track of a horse in volcanic mud—the mystery of reindeer's ears—a huge, black form, like a whale, in the sky, and it drips red drops as if attacked by celestial swordfishes—an appalling cherub appears in the sea—
Showers of frogs and blizzards of snails—gushes of periwinkles down from the sky—
The preposterous, the grotesque, the incredible—and why, if I am going to tell of hundreds of these, is the quite ordinary so regarded?
An unclothed man shocks a crowd—a moment later, if nobody is generous with an overcoat, somebody is collecting handkerchiefs to knot around him.
A naked fact startles a meeting of a scientific society—and whatever it has for loins is soon diapered with conventional explanations.
Chaos and muck and filth—the indeterminable and the unrecordable and the unknowable—and all men are liars—and yet—
Wigwams on an island—sparks in their columns of smoke.
Centuries later—the uncertain columns are towers. What once were fluttering sparks are the motionless lights of windows. According to critics of Tammany Hall, there has been monstrous corruption upon this island: nevertheless, in the midst of it, this regularization has occurred. A woodland sprawl has sprung to stony attention.
The Princess Caraboo tells, of herself, a story, in an unknown language, and persons who were themselves liars have said that she lied, though nobody has ever known what she told. The story of Dorothy Arnold has been told thousands of times, but the story of Dorothy Arnold and the swan has not been told before. A city turns to a crater, and casts out eruptions, as lurid as fire, of living things—and where Cagliostro came from, and where he went, are so mysterious that only historians say they know—venomous snakes crawl on the sidewalks of London—and a star twinkles—
But the underlying oneness in all confusions.
An onion and a lump of ice—and what have they in common?
Traceries of ice, millions of years ago, forming on the surface of a pond—later, with different materials, these same forms will express botanically. If something had examined primordial frost, it could have predicted jungles. Times when there was not a living thing on the face of this earth—and, upon pyrolusite, there were etchings of forms that, after the appearance of cellulose, would be trees. Dendritic sketches, in silver and copper, prefigured ferns and vines.
Mineral specimens now in museums—calcites that are piles of petals—or that long ago were the rough notes of a rose. Scales, horns, quills, thorns, teeth, arrows, spears, bayonets—long before they were the implements and weapons of living things they were mineral forms. I know of an ancient sketch that is today a specimen in a museum—a colorful, little massacre that was composed of calcites ages before religion was dramatized—pink forms impaled upon mauve spears, sprinkled with drops of magenta. I know of a composition of barytes that appeared ages before the Israelites made what is said to be history—blue waves heaped high on each side of a drab streak of forms like the horns of cattle, heads of asses, humps of camels, turbans, and upheld hands.
A new star appears—and just how remote is it from drops of water, of unknown origin, falling on a cottonwood tree, in Oklahoma? Just what have the tree and the star to do with the girl of Swanton Novers, upon whom gushed streams of oils? And why was a clergyman equally greasy? Earthquakes and droughts and the sky turns black with spiders, and, near Trenton, N. J., something pegged stones at farmers. If lights that have been seen in the sky were upon the vessels of explorers from other worlds—then living in New York City, perhaps, or in Washington, D. C., perhaps, there are inhabitants of Mars, who are secretly sending reports upon the ways of this world to their governments?
A theory feels its way through surrounding ignorance—the tendrils of a vine feel their way along a trellis—a wagon train feels its way across a prairie—
Projections of limonite, in a suffusion of smoky quartz—it will be ages before this little mineral sketch can develop into the chimneys and the smoke of Pittsburgh. But it reproduces when a volcano blasts the vegetation on a mountain, and smoke-forms hang around the stumps of trees. Broken shafts of an ancient city in a desert—they are projections in the tattered gusts of a sandstorm. It's Napoleon Bonaparte's retreat from Moscow—ragged bands, in the grimy snow, stumbling amidst abandoned cannon.
Maybe it was only coincidence—or what may there be to Napoleon's own belief that something was supervising him? Suppose it is that, in November, 1812, Napoleon's work, as a factor in European readjustments, was done. There was no military power upon this earth that could remove this one, whose work was done. There came coldness so intense that it destroyed the Grand Army.
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