Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tomorrow Is Sea Serpent Day...

...for some unfathomable reason, but for lovers of the strange, the outre, and the downright weird, August 6th is The Day (see the Cryptomundo post)!

--Dateline: New York. On this day in 1890 wife-killer William Kemmler became the first person to be executed in the electric chair. His last words were "Take it easy and do it properly; I'm in no hurry." They didn't and he had to be shocked a second time with 2000 volts at which point his body caught fire.

--Dateline: Hiroshima, 1945. The Enola Gay drops the first atomic bomb, codenamed Little Boy, ever used as a weapon. Nine years later Japan retaliates by releasing the first of many, many Godzilla movies.

--Dateline: New York again. On this day in 1902 gangster, bootlegger, and numbers runner Dutch Schultz was born. But for his death, Dutch would be nothing more than an obscure footnote in history; however, after a hit man shot him while urinating and as he lay dying in a hospital room, a police stenographer copied down his rambling, surreal, and downright bizarre last words, providing one hell of a writing prompt for such authors as William S. Burroughs, Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, and others.

--Dateline: Milwaukee. On this day in 1966 science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith died. Smith, whose real name was Paul Linebarger and who happened to be Sun Yat-Sen's godson, wrote some of the Strangest. Science Fiction. Ever.

--Dateline: Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts. On this day in 1817 locals spotted what was described as a huge sea serpent. Coincidentally, also on August 6 in 1848 the crew of the Daedelus spotted a sea serpent off the Atlantic coast of South Africa

But the Big Event, the One that ties all this together, is the birth of Charles Fort in 1874. Fort spent something like thirty years studying newspapers and compiling notes on, well, the strange, the outre, and the downright weird, events and...things...not readily explainable by "Mainstream Science:" mysterious fires and lights, falls of frogs and fish from the sky, strange noises, unusual aerial phenomena (including what were later called UFOs); however, though some claim otherwise, he maintained a certain skepticism--and a significant sense of humor--towards his research:

"Before I looked into the case of Ambrose Small, I was attracted to it by another seeming coincidence. That there could be any meaning in it seemed so preposterous that, as influenced by much experience, I gave it serious thought. About six years before the disappearance of Ambrose Small, Ambrose Bierce had disappeared. Newspapers all over the world had made much of the mystery of Ambrose Bierce. But what could the disappearance of one Ambrose, in Texas, have to do with the disappearance of another Ambrose in Canada? Was somebody collecting Ambroses? There was in these questions an appearance of childishness that attracted my respectful attention."
--Wild Talents

I was fascinated by this stuff as a kid in the 'Sixties, which was virtually unavoidable since the paperback racks of the time were overflowing with anthologies of strange phenomena and UFOs were all the rage. In fact, a lot of my interest in science stemmed from reading about all the bizarre, unexplained stuff going on in the world, so it should come as no surprise that I regard Ol' Charlie as a personal saint.

Fort's legacy lives on in the British magazine Fortean Times.

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