Measuring The Circle:

Armed only with a Ring of Confidence, Bob looks towards the Fortean future.


It was one of the most surreal - not to say tiring - couple of weeks of my life when I turned my cellar over to Team AFU, an

A small corner of my periodical shelving.

infamous  gang of marauding  Swedish archivists. To be fair, it was by arrangement and completely necessary... 

Over the years I have taken in a number valuable book and magazine collections - some orphaned by deceased owners, some no longer wanted and others from living Forteans donating to one of the our primary causes: the establishment of a national reference collection of printed Forteana. Since we have no funds with which to pay for a proper base - such as a weatherproof house where we could unpack, catalogue and shelve these books and magazines - my own home, which is blessed with a large cellar, was our only option for temporary storage.

However, this old house is more than a hundred years old and the cellar floor - made of compacted earth over which I had poured a thin layer of cement and levelling compound - could not stop the slow but steady seep of moisture from below. A dehumidifier running continuously down there extracted up to three litres of water a

Clipping files & boxes of books everywhere.

day ... not good news. It was a race to find a sound storage solution before the unique materials we were pledged to preserve were damaged by the encroaching damp. <!--break-->


As I put together the Fortean Times obituary for William Corliss [1], it provided much food for thought: on comparisons between him and Fort, on his Sourcebook ‘mission' and his method, and on what lessons they may hold for today's Fortean researchers.

William Corliss in his study, 1993

On his ‘bizarre history' blog, ‘Dr Beachcombing' - who called Corliss "the world's greatest living anomalist" - made direct comparisons with Charles Fort. "It is not so much the similarities between the two men as the differences that matter. Fort was a visionary and, despite his denials, knew it. Corliss had a sense of humour that only the non-committed can enjoy. Fort took reports wherever he would find them. Corliss tended to restrict his searches to academically accredited works. Fort was on the soft end of the humanities with prose to match, Corliss was a scientist with remarkable range and a usefully bland style. Fort was a one man Punch and Judy show who published five books and attracted disciples: ‘Forteans swarmed to him like settlers, he became a land'. [2] Corliss created a system of anomaly collection that transcended him and that will hopefully survive his death. It would be absurd to talk of Corlissians." [3]

EAGLE & BABY 1 - The Svanhild Hartvigsen Story

It was nearly 30 years ago that John Michell and I first wrote about accounts of young children snatched away by large eagles. In our 1982 book Living Wonders - which was subsumed into Unexplained Phenomena (2000 and 2007) - they constituted a chapter we called ‘Avian Abductions' in which we compiled nearly 20 cases with varying degrees of credibility. I would like to take this opportunity to correct and expand one of them - the story of Svanhild Hansen, kidnapped by a sea eagle on the 5th June 1932 from a farmyard on a Norwegian island. Unlike the many hapless children in our accounts, ‘the eagle-girl of Leka' was recovered alive. 

Svanhild with her torn childhood clothing, her husband and a stuffed eagle. Apx 1969s.

Svanhild became a living testament to her strange experience. "Over the years I have heard many stories about children and animals that have been taken by eagles. But I'm probably the only one who has come out of it alive. I'm grateful," she told the Dagbladet Magazine in 2007. [1]

The occasion for revisiting this topic was the news of Svanhild's death in November 2010. [2 + 3] I was alerted to this by FT's veteran Swedish correspondent Sven Rosén, who also pointed out that the death notices in Norwegian newspapers contained significant differences to some of the details given in Living Wonders (LW) and Unexplained Phenomena.


Mike Dash has, in these blogs, extolled the joys of historical research. I concur and share with you a little adventure I had recently while processing images of some 18th century woodcuts for inclusion in my picture library. [1] 

Witch ducking - chapbook frontispiece.

I was particularly puzzled about this one (pictured right). According to John Ashton's Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century (1882), the full title it illustrates is quite a mouthful: A Strange and Wonderful Relation of the Old Woman who was drowned at Ratcliffe Highway a Fortnight Ago, to which is added The Old Woman's Dream, a Little after her Death. Contemporary illustrations of ‘witch ducking' or ‘swimming' are rare and I wanted to know more about this event, where and when it took place and the identity of the Old Woman (if the victim was indeed she).


In the last few weeks I have at last begun a project that was long on my mind ... an online index to Fortean Times. The initial stages will explore the potential of Internet tools (such as wikis) to make this a live project available to all via the CFI website.

As some of you may know, Steve Moore and I compiled detailed index to FT up to issue 105 (1997), but, in the 12 years since then, the count has risen by another 149 issues.

Digital Clippings: Chasing Polts and Monsters in dusty old Times


One of the key services planned for the CFI is an online archive of Fortean periodicals (including , ufology, cryptozoology, psychical research and so on). Recently, I saw an example of how this could be done.

Inspired by the images of old news clippings posted by Mike Dash and Theo Paixmans in this forum, I'd like to share with you a recent little bonanza. Thanks to a tip from Brian Chapman on the forteana mail list - - these digitised clippings came from a recent and short-lived trial run of the long-anticipated digital archive of the Times, spanning 1785-1985. For a few days in mid-August 2007, the Thompson-Gale host site - see - made the entire 200-year archive freely available for genealogy researchers as part of National Family History Week.

Alas, I only discovered it one day before the free password expired and had only an hour or so to test it for Fortean data. The Times archive is now only available through their regular subscription procedure -  

As anyone who has used the rather eccentric indexes to ancient runs of the Times will know, they were made for a different era, one of gentlemen scholars with lots of time on their hands. They were indexed, usually, on the short headline so you also had to have a talent for coming at your subject obliquely; a ‘frog fall', for example, may have been indexed as ‘A Curious Phenomenon' or an SHC might be ‘Shocking Death in Putney'.

Treasures of the British Library Catalogue

As a Christmas treat, I’m reposting this gem, composed by Paul Sieveking for Fortean Times 177 (October 2003), which celebrated the 30th year of publication. This list of curious titles and amusing author names was collected by Paul Sieveking and others (including me) while working on the last hard copy edition of the British Library Catalogue of Printed Books, (1979-1985).   

Going, going, gone!

A giant step?

As someone who is constantly researching some Fortean topic or other, I really appreciate the notes by Mike Dash and Theo Paijmans in their blogs about research resources. I really hope they will continue and the notes build up into a series useful to any Fortean researcher ... and I fully expect to contribute to that series myself.

Here's my first shot, the point of which is that it is well worth monitoring auction catalogues for items of interest. Remember, not too long ago, the well publicised auction of the camera with which the notorious Cottingley fairy pictures were made? Sadly, such items themselves usually fall well beyond what most of us (even collectively?) could afford, but there are good literary gleanings too.

I must thank Phil Baker who, at a recent gathering at Paul Sieveking's home in North London to sort newsclippings, brought to our attention a notice from Christie's auction house of possibly the most famous of all photographs of a footprint of the manimal that westerners referred to as the Abominable Snowman, better known in the Himalayas as the yeti. Closer to the date of the sale, I began to monitor the Christie's website. I had the (daft?) idea of bidding for them myself, but when one newspaper (sorry, lost the clipping) announced that the photos were expected to fetch more than £2000. I wisely let that drop, but I saved the following details from their online catalogue in case they were not available after the auction.

Out of Body, Out of Mind

It has seemed to me that one of the most important questions about our existence is what happens to us at or after death. It is a question with far-reaching implications. If some sort of sentience can have any detectable independence of the human body, either in life or after its death, the proof would affect the fundamentals of morality, psychology and neuroscience, and (I presume) the more obscure realms of physics that deal with multiple dimensions and mysterious quantum energy states.

Besides the challenges it would make to current scientific understanding, the affect on religion and culture in all its forms are almost beyond imagining as it impacts upon every single person alive at the time. The possibility of some sort of survival of death is not just a personal matter, but must extend to all those who have lived and died before us. In turn it would raise questions about the nature of consciousness, personality and society itself. We'd even have to redefine death and what we mean by the 'dead'.

Obviously, we have no idea what such a survival may entail or what form it might take. Yes, we have a wealth of literature purporting to be communications with the deceased, full of accounts of dying and the world beyond, but it is narrative not fact. The best you can say is that they are the experiences of those who think they are in contact with the deceased, for we have no practical way of distinguishing between the real and the imagined here, especially when it might be based upon misperception or misinterpretation.

The Welcome Tent

Let me guess! You're either a long-time well-wisher of the CFI or simply curious. Either way, I'm glad you've found this blog site where you - all of you, and for whatever reason - are very welcome.

In its decade or more of slow gestation, the Charles Fort Institute (CFI) has been more of an idea than a reality. Progress has met many obstacles - shortage of funds, of time, tedious consultations on charities law, and so on - but the central idea and goals of the CFI have inspired a kind of dogged determination in those who know of it to see it through.

So, after detours and delays, here we are with something tangible ... and from this small step we hope to grow an institution that will benefit every fortean researcher, the general public and posterity.

There is so much to discuss - so many ideas, enthusiasms, projects, aims and goals - that mentioning them all here would clog this inaugural message. After all, our growing list of bloggers, their topics and the discussions they hope to provoke, is the main point of these pages.

Our ultimate aim, though, is to progress towards a thoroughly 21st century resource, attracting whatever funding we can to function fully and professionally. The core will be an archive of materials on fortean and related topics, which will include both physical media (books, periodicals, video, etc) and digitised data, so that our holdings will be accessible from anywhere in the world via the Internet. We already have a few collections donated with more promised in wills; their storage and cataloguing, therefore, will be one of our first priorities.

Now that we have this site up and running - and work is going on in the background to overhaul the main CFI home site- the chief obstacle to dissemination knowledge of the CFI has been overcome. We can conduct our affairs openly and invite anyone who thinks our aims have merit to
join us.

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