Brushes with the Paranormal—Anomalies

I have always been fascinated by anomalies, be they unexplained phenomenon or incredible creatures….I used to read books by Ivan T. Sanderson, one of the early pioneers of Cryptozoology, and by Charles Fort, who chronicled anomalies throughout history.  I recently acquired several books from Readers Digest

that discuss the various aspects of the unexplained.  Im always on the lookout for events that happened in my location, so I was fascinated by the following:

On November 1921, rocks began to fall from the sky over the town of Chico, California. J.W. Charge, the owner of a grain warehouse along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, complained to City Marshal J.A. Peck that someone was throwing rocks at his building everyday. Peck, believing it was nothing more than local youngsters playing pranks on the man, paid little attention to the report. His conclusions, after a very brief investigation, were that he had seen the stones fall but could not explain them. He suspected that “someone with a machine was to blame.” The stones remained a nuisance to Charge but were largely ignored by everyone else until a few months later, on March 8, 1922. On that day, stones ranging in size from peas to baseballs came raining down on the warehouse, seemingly from nowhere. They continued to fall for days and a search by police officers of the area failed to find anyone throwing the rocks.

In the days that followed, Charge’s warehouse sustained quite a bit of damage, from broken windows to split boards and collapsed roof shingles. Stones also began to rain down on a cluster of houses that were located near the railroad tracks and individuals who stood in the open, perhaps trying to determine the source of the mysterious projectiles, were often struck. The investigators and officials present often became targets too. Fire Chief C.E. Tovee and Traffic Officer J.J. Corbett were narrowly missed by a large boulder that came from nowhere and struck a wall behind the spot where they had been standing just moments before. The force of the stone’s impact left a large dent in the wood.

The fall of stones continued throughout most of the rest of the month, attracting a large amount of publicity and a number of curiosity-seekers. The origin of the stones was never solved but a Professor C.K. Studley added to reports by saying that some of the rocks were so large that they “could not be thrown by ordinary means”. He also noted that they did not seem to be of meteoric nature. The famous chronicler of anomalies Charles Fort asked a friend, writer Miriam Allen deFord, to go to Chico to investigate personally. Throughout March a series of articles appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and the rocks were described as being warm and “oval-shaped”. Miriam Allen de Ford, wrote: “I looked up in the cloudless sky and suddenly saw a rock falling straight down, as if becoming visible when it came near enough. This rock struck the earth with a thud and bounced off on the track beside the warehouse, and I could not find it.” She also stated that at one point a rock fell from the sky to “land gently at my feet.”

I also read an account many years ago about a fall of candy in the early part of the 20th century in Chico, but it will take some digging to find that article Im afraid…

Anyway, if anyone is interested, the link for the above excerpt is HERE

Another link to explore from is HERE

The link to Ivan Sanderson’s book that I read is HERE

Here is a blurb about Ivan Sanderson:


Born in Scotland, Sanderson traveled widely in his youth. His father, who manufactured whisky professionally, was killed by a rhinoceros while assisting a documentary film crew in Kenya in 1924.

As a teenager, Sanderson attended Eton College, and, at 17 years old, began a yearlong trip around the world, focusing mostly on Asia. Sanderson earned a B.A. in zoology, with honors, from Cambridge University, where he later earned M.A. degrees in botany and geology.

He became famous as the most credible witness to see a Kongamato, after being attacked by a creature he described as “the Granddaddy of all bats”. This encounter occurred when he had shot a fruit bat that toppled into the water. He went to retrieve his catch but was warned by his partner to duck. He described the following events:

“Then I let out a shout also and instantly bobbed down under the water, because, coming straight at me only a few feet above the water was a black thing the size of an eagle. I had only a glimpse of its face, yet that was quite sufficient, for its lower jaw hung open and bore a semicircle of pointed white teeth set about their own width apart from each other. When I emerged, it was gone. … And just before it became too dark to see, it came again, hurtling back down the river, its teeth chattering, the air “shss-shssing” as it was cleft by the great, black, dracula-like wings.”

Sanderson conducted a number of expeditions as a teenager and young man into tropical areas in the 1920s and 1930s, gaining fame for his animal collecting as well as his popular writings on nature and travel.

During World War II, Sanderson worked for British Naval Intelligence, then for British Security Coordination, finally finishing out the war as a press agent in New York City. Afterwards, Sanderson made New York his home and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In the 1960’s Sanderson made his home in Warren Country in rural northwestern New Jersey, where he owned considerable land. He later lived in apartment #516 in the Whitby building on West 45th Street in Manhattan’s Hells Kitchen until his death in 1973.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Sanderson was widely published in such journals of popular adventure as True, Sports Afield, and Argosy, as well as in the 1940s in general-interest publications such as the Saturday Evening Post. In the 1950s, Sanderson was a frequent guest on John Nebel‘s paranormal-themed radio program. He was a frequent guest on The Garry Moore Show, being one of the first recognized animal researchers on television to bring live specimens on talk shows. As his friend and fellow cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has remembered in several of Coleman’s books, Sanderson’s appearances often involved his discussion of cryptozoological topics. Coleman notes that Sanderson could be skeptical. In “Mysterious America,” for example, Coleman documents that Sanderson discovered the 1909 “Jersey Devil” incident was an elaborate real estate hoax.

Sanderson was an early follower of Charles Fort. Later he became known for writings on topics such as cryptozoology, a word Sanderson coined in the early 1940s, with special attention to the evidence for lake monsters, sea serpents, Mokèlé-mbèmbé, giant penguins, Yeti, and Sasquatch.

Sanderson founded the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained (SITU) in 1965 near Columbia, New Jersey.

Before Ivan Sanderson, was Charles Fort:  (from Wiki):

Fort and the unexplained


Fort’s relationship with the study of anomalous phenomena is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. For over thirty years, Charles Fort sat in the libraries of New York and London, assiduously reading scientific journals, newspapers, and magazines, collecting notes on phenomena that lay outside the accepted theories and beliefs of the time.

Fort took thousands of notes in his lifetime. In his short story “The Giant, the Insect and The Philantropic Old Gentleman”, published many years later for the first time by the International Fortean Organization in issue #70 of the “INFO Journal: Science and the Unkown”, Fort spoke of sitting on a park bench at The Cloisters in New York City and tossing some 60,000 notes, not all of his collection by any means, into the wind. This short story is significant because Fort uses his own data collection technique to solve a mystery. He marveled that seemingly unrelated bit of information were, in fact, related. Fort wryly concludes that he went back to collecting data and taking even more notes. The notes were kept on cards and scraps of paper in shoeboxes. They were taken on small squares of paper, in a cramped shorthand of Fort’s own invention, and some of them survive today in the collections of the University of Pennsylvania. More than once, depressed and discouraged, Fort destroyed his work, but always began anew. Some of the notes were published, little by little, by the Fortean Society magazine “Doubt” and, upon the death of its’ editor Tiffany Thayer in 1959, most were donated to the New York Public Library where they are still available to researchers of the unknown.

From these researches Fort wrote four books. These are The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932); one book was written between New Lands and LO! but it was abandoned and absorbed into Lo!.

Fort’s writing style

Understanding Fort’s books takes time and effort: his style is complex, violent and poetic, profound and occasionally puzzling. Ideas are abandoned and then recalled a few pages on; examples and data are offered, compared and contrasted, conclusions made and broken, as Fort holds up the unorthodox to the scrutiny of the orthodoxy that continually fails to account for them. Pressing on his attacks, Fort shows what he sees as the ridiculousness of the conventional explanations and then interjects with his own theories. Wilson opines that Fort’s writing style is “atrocious” (Wilson, 199) and “almost unreadable” (Wilson, 200), and compared him to Robert Ripley, a contemporary who found major success hunting oddities, and speculates that Fort’s idiosyncratic prose might have kept him from greater popular success.

Fort suggests that there is, for example, a Super-Sargasso Sea into which all lost things go, and justifies his theories by noting that they fit the data as well as the conventional explanations. As to whether Fort believes this theory, or any of his other proposals, he gives us the answer: “I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written.” Wilson suspects that Fort took few if any of his “explanations” seriously, and notes that Fort made “no attempt to present a coherent argument”. (Wilson, 200)

Fortean phenomena

Despite his objections to Fort’s writing style, Wilson allows that “the facts are certainly astonishing enough” (Wilson, 200). Examples of the odd phenomena in Fort’s books include many of what are variously referred to as occult, supernatural, and paranormal. Reported events include teleportation (a term Fort is generally credited with coining);[6][7]poltergeist events; falls of frogs, fishes, inorganic materials of an amazing range; unaccountable noises and explosions; spontaneous fires; levitation; ball lightning (a term explicitly used by Fort); unidentified flying objects; unexplained disappearances; giant wheels of light in the oceans; and animals found outside their normal ranges (see phantom cat). He offered many reports of Out-of-place artifacts (OOPArts), strange items found in unlikely locations. He also is perhaps the first person to explain strange human appearances and disappearances by the hypothesis of alien abduction and was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, specifically suggesting that strange lights or object sighted in the skies might be alien spacecraft. Fort also wrote about the interconnectedness of nature and synchronicity. His books seem to center around the idea that everything is connected and that strange coincidences happen for a reason.

Many of these phenomena are now collectively and conveniently referred to as ‘Fortean’ phenomena (or ‘Forteana’), whilst others have developed into their own schools of thought, for example, UFOs into ufology, or the reports of unconfirmed animals classified as cryptozoology. These new disciplines per se are generally not recognized by most scientists or academics, however.

Forteana and mainstream science

Some skeptics and critics have frequently called Fort credulous and naïve, a charge his supporters deny strongly. Over and over again in his writing, Fort rams home a few basic points that were decades ahead of mainstream scientific acceptance, and that are frequently forgotten in discussions of the history and philosophy of science:

  • Fort often notes that the boundaries between science and pseudoscience are “fuzzy”: the boundary lines are not very well defined, and they might change over time.
  • Fort also points out that whereas facts are objective, how facts are interpreted depends on who is doing the interpreting and in what context.
  • Fort insisted that there is a strong sociological influence on what is considered “acceptable” or “damned” (see strong program in the sociology of scientific knowledge).
  • Though he never used the term “magical thinking“, Fort offered many arguments and observations that are similar to the concept: he argued that most (if not all) people (including scientists) are at least occasionally guilty of irrational and “non scientific” thinking.
  • Fort points out the problem of underdetermination: that the same data can sometimes be explained by more than one theory.
  • Similarly, writer John Michell notes that “Fort gave several humorous instances of the same experiment yielding two different results, each one gratifying the experimenter.”[8] Fort noted that if controlled experiments – a pillar of the scientific method – could produce such widely varying results depending on who conducted them, then the scientific method itself might be open to doubt, or at least to a degree of scrutiny rarely brought to bear. Since Fort’s death, scientists have recognized the “experimenter effect“, the tendency for experiments to tend to validate given preconceptions. Robert Rosenthal has conducted pioneering research on this and related subjects.

There are many phenomena in Fort’s works which have now been partially or entirely “recuperated” by mainstream science: ball lightning, for example, was largely rejected as impossible by the scientific consensus of Fort’s day, but is now receiving new attention within the science community. However, many of Fort’s ideas remain on the very borderlines of “mainstream science”, or beyond, in the fields of paranormalism and the bizarre. This is unsurprising, as Fort resolutely refused to abandon the territory beyond “acceptable” science. Nonetheless, later research has demonstrated that Fort’s claims are at least as reliable as his sources. In the 1960s, American writer William R. Corliss began his own documentation of scientific anomalies. Partly inspired by Fort, Corliss checked some of Fort’s sources and concluded that Fort’s research was “accurate, but rather narrow”; there were many anomalies which Fort did not include in his books.[9]

Many consider it odd that Fort, a man so skeptical and so willing to question the pronouncements of the scientific mainstream, would be so eager to take old stories – for example, stories about rains of fish falling from the sky – at face value. It is debatable whether Fort did in fact accept evidence at face value: many instances in his books, Fort notes that he regarded certain data and assertions as unlikely, and he additionally remarked, “I offer the data. Suit yourself.” In Fort’s books, it is often difficult to determine if he took his proposals and “theories” seriously; however, as noted on the extraterrestrial hypothesis page, Fort did seem to hold a genuine belief in the presence of extraterrestrial visitations to the Earth.

The theories and conclusions Fort presented often came from what he called “the orthodox conventionality of Science”. On nearly every page, Fort’s works have reports of odd events which were originally printed in respected mainstream newspapers or scientific journals such as Scientific American, The Times, Nature and Science. Time and again, Fort noted, that while some phenomena related in these and other sources were enthusiastically accepted and promoted by scientists, just as often, inexplicable or unusual reports were ignored, or were effectively swept under the rug. And repeatedly, Fort reclaimed such data from under the rug, and brought them out, as he wrote, “for an airing”. So long as any evidence is ignored – however bizarre or unlikely the evidence might seem – Fort insisted that scientists’ claims to thoroughness and objectivity were questionable.

It did not matter to Fort whether his data and theories were accurate: his point was that alternative conclusions and world views can be made from the same data “orthodox” conclusions are made, and that the conventional explanations of science are only one of a range of explanations, none necessarily more justified than another. In this respect, he was far ahead of his time. In The Book of the Damned he showed the influence of social values and what would now be called a “paradigm” on what scientists consider to be “true”. This prefigured work by Thomas Kuhn decades later. The work of Paul Feyerabend could also be likened to Fort’s.

Another of Fort’s great contributions is questioning the often frequent dogmatism of mainstream science. Although many of the phenomena which science rejected in his day have since been proven to be objective phenomena, and although Fort was prescient in his collection and preservation of these data despite the scorn they often received from his contemporaries, Fort was more of a parodist and a philosopher than a scientist. He thought that far too often, scientists took themselves far too seriously, and were prone to arrogance and dogmatism. Fort used humor both for its own sake, and to point out what he regarded as the foibles of science and scientists.

Nonetheless, Fort is considered by many as the father of modern paranormalism, not only because of his interest in strange phenomena, but because of his “modern” attitude towards religion, 19th-century Spiritualism, and scientific dogma.

I personally find all of this extremely compelling….and I invite any personal anecdotes you care to share 🙂


~ by irishgrl on April 3, 2009.

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