In May 1911, the New York Public Library had been reopened in its new Beaux-Arts marble temple at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Now diligently working on his next project, Charles Fort walked to the library every morning, five days a week. He trudged up the flank of white polished steps, took a seat at one of the wide oak desks in the reading room beneath the gilt and coffered ceiling, removed his coat and slid it carefully over the back of his chair.
He read meteorology, natural history, shipping reports and science journals, squinting through his glasses as he turned page after page. With some regularity, he turned to the sheet of paper on the table and scratched a pencil note of some neglected phenomenon. All his notes were written on various grades of pulpy paper that were then ripped against a ruler into small rectangles. Some slips were torn from old correspondence; some were thin onion skin. Each piece was about 1½ by 2½ inches. Fort's handwriting was on a severe diagonal, lower left to upper right, tightly capturing the essence of each report with abbreviations. When he needed extra room for his pencil scrawl, a slip was torn long, then folded to match the dimensions of the other notes. An extremely elaborate note might require an entire sheet of paper, pleated and fixed with a paper clip so it ended up the same size. He managed to assemble 40,000 notes, by his own estimate, deliberately seeking information of the widest possible diversity: 'astronomy, sociology, psychology, deep-sea diving, navigation, surveying, volcanoes, religion, sexes, earthworms'.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Showers of blood
At the Telegraph, a nice extract from Jim Steinmeyer's new biography of Charles Fort: