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  • Marchers on the Moon June 14, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback











    Beachcombing has previously enjoyed picking over the Victorians’ and their telescope-fuelled speculations about intelligences on nearby planets. Today though he offers up not a Victorian astronomer but an early twentieth-century newspaper clipper: Charles Fort (1874-1932) who flirted with the idea of life on the moon (and, indeed, many other unlikely places…)

    Fort, an American, spent decades reading journals, magazines and publications looking for anomalous material: teleportation, spontaneous combustion, poltergeists etc. He then ordered and published this material into four books: The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932). Fort’s defenders – and there are many – claim that Fort offered not only obscure facts but important perspectives on the nature of knowledge. Beachombing prefers to think of Fort as a sometimes brilliant stylist and an often mediocre philosopher.

    Fort’s normal method was (i) to rave a little, (ii) to set out a series of facts culled from his precious hours in the library and then (iii) round these off with an explanatory insinuation – to call any of Fort’s ideas a ‘theory’ is somehow to debase them as they were deliberately and provocatively tentative. In the passage below – taken from New Lands, pp. 426-430 in the Fort omnibus edition – Fort is concerned with the moon. We have given, heretically, an edited version with references and content – some of Fort’s meanders – cut out.

    ‘Having had no mean experience with interpretations as products of desires, given that upon the moon communication with this earth should be desired, it seems likely to me that the struggles of hosts of Americans, early in the 60s of the 19th century [i.e. the American Civil War], were given thought by some lunarians to be manoeuvres directed to them, or attempts to attract their attention…

    Beacon-like lights that have been seen upon the moon. The lights have been desultory. The latest of which I have record was back in the year 1847. But now, if beginning in the early 60’s, though not coinciding with the beginning of unusual and tremendous manifestations upon this earth, we have data as if of greatly stimulated attempts to communicate from the moon – why one assimilates one’s impressions of such great increase with this or with that, all according to what one’s dominant thoughts may be, and calls the product a logical conclusion. Upon the night of May 15, 1864, Herbert Ingall, of Camberwell, saw a little to the west of the lunar crater Picard, in the Mare Crisium, a remarkably bright spot.

    Oct. 24, 1864 – period of nearest approach by Mars – red lights upon opposite parts of Mars. Upon Oct. 16, Ingall had again seen the light west of Picard. Jan. 1, 1865 – a small speck of light, in darkness, under the east foot of the lunar Alps, shining like a small star, watched half an hour by Charles Grover. Jan. 3, 1865 – again the red lights of Mars. A thread of data appears, as an offshoot from a main streak, but it can not sustain itself. Lights on the moon and lights on Mars, but I have nothing more that seems to signify both signals and responses between these two worlds.

    April 10, 1865 – west of Picard, according to Ingall – ’a most minute point of light, glittering like a star’.

    Sept. 5, 1865 – a conspicuous bright spot west of Picard. It was seen again by Ingall. He saw it again upon the 7th, but upon the 8th it had gone, and there was a cloud-like effect where the light had been.

    Nov. 24, 1865 – a speck of light that was seen by the Rev. W.O. Williams, shining like a small star in the lunar crater Carlini.

    June 10, 1866 – the star-like light in Aristarchus; reported by Tempel.

    Astronomically and seleno-meteorologically, nothing that I know of has ever been done with these data. I think well of taking up the subject theologically. We are approaching accounts of a different kind of changes upon the moon. There will be data seeming so to indicate not only persistence but devotedness upon the moon that I incline to think not only of devotedness but of devotions. Upon the 16th of October, 1866, the astronomer Schmidt, of the land of Socrates, announced that the isolated object, in the eastern part of the Mare Serenitatis, known as Linné, had changed. Linné stands out in a blank area like the Pyramid of Cheops in its desert. If changes did occur upon Linné, the conspicuous position seems to indicate selection. Before October, 1866, Linné was well-known as a dark object. Something was whitening an object that had been black…

    Upon December 14, 16, 25, 27, 1866, Linné was seen as a white spot. But there was something that had the seeming more of a design, or of a pattern, an elaboration upon the mere turning to white of something that had been black – a fine, black spot upon Linné; by Schmidt and Buckingham, in December, 1866. The most important consideration of all is reviewed by Schmidt in the Rept. B.A., 1867-22 – that sunlight and changes of sunlight had nothing to do with the changing appearances of Linné. Jan. 14, 1867 – the white covering, or, at least, seeming of covering, of Linné, had seemingly disappeared – Knott’s impression of Linné as a dark spot, but ‘definition’ was poor. Jan. 16 – Knott’s very strong impression, which, however, he says may have been an illusion, of a small central dark spot upon Linné. Dawes’ observation, of March 15, 1867 – ‘an excessively minute black dot in the middle of Linné’.

    A geometric figure that was white-bordered and centered with black, formed and dissolved and formed again.

    I have an impression of spectacles that were common in the United States, during the War: hosts of persons arranging themselves in living patterns: flags, crosses, and in one instance, in which thousands were engaged, in the representation of an enormous Liberty Bell. Astronomers have thought of trying to communicate with Mars or the moon by means of great geometric constructions placed conspicuously, but there is nothing so attractive to attention as change, and a formation that could appear and disappear would enhance the geometric with the dynamic. That the units of the changing compositions that covered Linné were the lunarians themselves – that Linné was terraced – hosts of the inhabitants of the moon standing upon ridges of their Cheops of the Serene Sea, some of them dressed in white and standing in a border, and some of them dressed in black, centering upon the apex, or the dark material of the apex left clear for the contrast, all of them unified in a hope of conveying an impression of the geometric, as the product of design, and distinguishable from the topographic, to the shining god that makes the stars of their heaven marginal…

    And, upon the moon, the assembling of the Chiaroscuroans, or the lunar communicationists who seek to be intelligible to this earth by means of lights and shades, patterned upon Linné by their own forms and costumes. The Great Pyramid of Linné, at night upon the moon – it stands out in bold triangularity pointing to this earth. It slowly suffuses white – the upward drift of white-clad forms, upon the slopes of the Pyramid. The jaws of this earth seem to munch, in variable light. There is no other response. Devotions are the food of the gods.

    Upon August 6, 1867, Buckingham saw upon Linné, which was in darkness, ‘a rising oval spot’. In October, 1867, Linné was seen as a convex white spot.’

    Beachcombing is whisked away from this strange astronomical North Korea, where drones dressed in white walk around drones dressed in black. It is the door bell and someone from Porlock – actually the postman with books. The sun floods in. The alien vistas dissolve. Never again will Beachcombing walk among the Ice Palaces of Luna…

    Beachcombing just has time though – before returning to his paid job – to give the reader the opening sentence of Fort’s next paragraph: ‘Also it may be that the moon is not inhabited…’

    Any other nineteenth- or twentieth-century theorising on life on the moon?


    *Almost as soon as he published this Beachcombing got an interesting email from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous. A reference was given to Chambers, Life on Mars (London 1999), pp 48-49 where Chambers describes late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century plans to communicate with Mars using lights, mirrors etc: see Fort’s ‘Astronomers have thought of trying to communicate with Mars or the moon by means of great geometric constructions placed conspicuously’. We hope to return to this theme.