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  • William Corliss RIP July 16, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback

    An email from Moonman brings the sad news that William Corliss passed away 8 July, a month and a half shy of his eighty-fifth year. Corliss, for those who don’t know, was the world’s greatest living anomalist. From 1974 to his death he collected curiosities culled from science magazines and journals. He then took these anomalies and ordered them into categories ranging from Astronomy through Zoology, categories that were then published in whole or in sub-categories. These publications included an assessment of the anomaly in question, possible explanations, some astute observations and typically a number of exclamation marks. Many of these works are already worth a lot of money – Beachcombing has been plucking up the courage to buy Ancient Infrastructure (1999), pictured above.  Others will now become so as a belated tribute to WC.

    Comparisons with Charles Fort (obit 1932) are often made but are surely misplaced as 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’. 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.

    Beachcombing is fond of both CF and WC, though he feels far more at ease with Corliss’s scientific and ‘secular’ approach. He certainly feels that this death concerns him more than CF’s mysterious passing on the best part of a century ago. Beach gives this belated pledge of loyalty, in part, because he spent most of this spring reading Corliss while waiting in the half light for his elder daughter to drop off. The tiny rubrics required only intermittent concentration: just as well as the reading was constantly interrupted by objections to barbie doll privileges and concerns over monsters under the bed. Beach had even worked up a short list of queries and suggestions for additions that he had wanted to send in to the great man, but was put off by the fact that he only had a postal address and no email. Another regret that will fester like an unrecoverable splinter…

    Commiserations to the Corliss family and WC’s many friends.


    20 July 2011: JD ‘with a black armband’ writes in to note that this obituary and a few others have now been gathered on WC’s site. No indication yet though as to whether it will stay up or not. SY quotes Yeats ‘and all the authorities are agreed it was a sad, sad day on which he died’. Invisible, meanwhile writes in with this information, ‘I just called the number on the sourcebook page and was told that, while they don’t take credit cards, I could send a check, so I’m ordering a bunch of books (I fear these will go out of print rapidly). The Ancient Infrastructure book is only $21.95 + ?? UK shipping. Can’t pass it up. They say that they take pounds sterling at “prevailing rates”. ‘ Invisible also reflects that these books will likely become rare now. She is almost certainly right. Thanks JD and Invisible!

    31 August, 2011: Beach’s comments, in part, provoked the FT’s Bob Rickard to some of his own reflections, which are frankly far more worthwhile. Thanks Bob!