The invisible mongoose that lives in the wall has asked me to make a list of the best books I read in 2007. I’m not one to argue, so here’s a double-handful of titles arranged in no particular order.
The Trickster and the Paranormal (Xlibris, 2001) by George P. Hansen.
A dense, occasionally baffling disquisition of how the paranormal works. Contains a staggering amount of information about skeptics, sociology, parapsychology, stage magic, literature, hoaxing, shamans and religion. The last 200 pages can be a real briar patch, but the author presents complicated material as clearly as possible, tells interesting stories, like his work on the Brooklyn Bridge abduction case, and includes some first-rate dish. From time to time I muttered, “What the hell is he talking about?” but by the end I felt like I actually understood something about the supernatural. Then I had a nervous breakdown.
The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena 2nd edition (Rough Guides, 2007) by Bob Rickard and John Michell.
Whether you’re a budding fortean or someone who can use “lithobolia” in a sentence, you will enjoy this overview of the paranormal. The Guide contains fresh and familiar material, but what makes it really interesting is how the contents are arranged. Instead of sections on “poltergeists” or “UFOs”, the authors use headings like “teleportation” that describe what seems to be happening. This makes it easier to discuss phenomena without preconceptions and avoids the “linkage blindness” that can occur with familiar categories. The book’s a little unwieldy for bathtub reading, and there’s an arguable fact or two, but it’s a glimpse of what the great, unwritten, Encyclopedia Forteana might be like.
When the New Seven Wonders of the World was announced, Loren Coleman suggested making a list of seven fortean wonders to accompany it. I found the prospect of choosing a world list intimidating, however, and decided to concentrate on the United States.
The qualifications for being one of the New Seven Wonders were not rigorous; candidates had to be "man made, completed before 2000, and in an "'acceptable'" state of preservation." . I used the same criteria, including some choices that represent a category of objects.
That said, here they are, ready to be made into postage stamps and collectible spoons, the Seven Fortean Wonders of America.
The name Herman Webster Mudgett is largely forgotten, but he was an infamous figure in late 19th century America.
Mudgett, better known as "H.H. Holmes", was a successful swindler and serial killer who built a "Murder Castle" in Chicago, a three-story human abattoir complete with shops, apartments, and its own crematorium. He was captured in 1895 and wrote a death-row memoir in which he claimed a total of 27 murder victims, including men, women and children. Mudgett was hanged and, at his request, the coffin filled with concrete to discourage grave robbers.
True crime buffs remember the Castle, but there is another aspect of the story that suggests the man's malignant influence was not cemented into the ground with him.
According to David Franke's book, The Torture Doctor:
I never set out to be a blogger. I write slowly and don't like launching opinions without first applying a protective coating of footnotes and qualifiers. Nevertheless when asked to contribute to CFI, I immediately said yes.
It's not for the salary (they're paying me in cowry shells), or the groupies, or the glamour of the thing. Neither is it an urge to pontificate or promote an agenda. Most likely it's the same impulse that drives children to share their discoveries with anyone who'll listen. When I was just a larva, I chased my mother around the house reading factoids out of Grolier's Encyclopedia or Stranger than Science; 36 years later, technology has made it possible for me to harass a much larger audience with odds and ends about vampires, monsters, haunted houses, psychic phenomena and flying saucers. Other people feel the urge to do this, perhaps even the man whose name is carved over the Institute's door, Charles Hoy Fort.
Since this a fortean blog, let me say a few words about our founder. I came to Fort's work long after being weaned on Ivan Sanderson, Brad Steiger and countless cheap strange-but-true paperbacks. When I finally read The Book of the Damned, the anomalies and outrageous theories felt familiar but the style was jarring and the larger concepts escaped me. I've had to rely on other writers to explain Fort's viewpoint, which seems to be that reality is a sort of lava-lamp with everything in a state of flux and flow. That sounds as reasonable as any other theory I've heard about the nature of reality, but grand ideas don't hold my attention- I'm here for the anomalies or, to be precise, the stories about anomalies.