21 January 2014


Northern Echoes is, for the benefit of those who can’t quite work out such things, a random collection of notes and jottings on whatever comes to mind, with little or no connection between them. We start with an early British newspaper version of some classic Fortean stories, and their origin:
Hampshire Telegraph 23 March 1893 p 11.
Some Mysterious Disappearances.

Even in this enlightened nineteenth century it to still occasionally happens that a man 'disappears mysteriously. In Russia this usually means that at he has been arrested on suspicion and. quietly deported to Siberia - in Spain he may have been the victim of a rival's jealousy; in Italy, of the vengeance of a secret society. But even here in as England it has sometimes occurred that the father of a family has gone out for his usual morning stroll and never been heard of again, or that the son of the house has started on his daily journey to the City, and apparently vanished in into space. No doubt most of such disappearances are voluntary, but enough remain entirely the unaccounted for to suggest unpleasant suspicions.


But there is another class of Mysterious disappearances which is far more weird and uncanny than any of these. For example, it is not many years ago since James Worson, a shoemaker of Leamington, started one morning from that town on a foot-race against time to Coventry and back. Some money was staked on the result, so three witnesses closely followed the pedestrian in a light cart. Two hours later these witnesses returned to Leamington in a condition of terror and bewilderment, relating a most incredible story. They averred that Worson, having done his first few miles in very good form, was making capital time along the middle of a piece of straight, level road, when he suddenly stumbled, fell forwards with a terrible cry, and vanished

They were perfectly certain that he did not fall, to the ground, but disappeared before reaching it. The terror-stricken witnesses, after waiting-a short to time, drove back to Leamington and informed the police. They were detained pending investigations, but had to be discharged, since there was no evidence against them, and no cross-examination could shake their story. A thorough search was instituted,- but from that day to this no light has ever been thrown on this extraordinary occurrence. Of course, the obvious suggestion is that these men had either murdered Worson or connived at his disappearance: but, apart from the fact that they were respectable men, and that not the slightest reason appeared for their doing either he the one or the other of these things, they would in surely have invented some more probable tale than this if they had had anything to conceal. It is quite possible that some of these witnesses may still be living.

Another Wonderful Story.

Nor does this wonderful story stand alone. In the year 1854 there was living near the village of Selma, in the State on Alabama, US.A., a planter named Williamson. One morning in July of that year this man left his house after breakfast to give some directions to the overseer of a gang of slaves who were working in a great meadow which lay on the other side of the road. His wife stood at the door watching him, with her baby in her arms. As he crossed the road he exchanged cordial greetings with a neighbour and his son who were driving past. A minute later this neighbour - a Mr. Wren -recollected something which he wished to say to Mr. Williamson, and, turning his head, saw him walking slowly across the meadow towards his men.

Turning his horse, he was about to call after him, when the as boy at his side suddenly cried ; it "Why, father, what has become of Mr. Williamson Looking up quickly, he saw the whole wide meadow stretching before him absolutely untenanted except for the men working at the other side of it. While they were still gazing in blank astonishment--for there was no ditch, no wall, no ha bush even which could have concealed the missing a man for a moment-Mrs Williamson came rushing from the house with the baby still in her arms, crying wildly: "He's gone ! he's gone! what an awful thing" and then fell to the ground unconscious. When she revived it was found that her reason was gone. This event set afloat the wildest stories among the superstitious negroes of that district, but no light was ever thrown upon the mystery. An official inquiry was held, and, after some hesitation, the Court decided that Mr. Williamson most be considered as dead, and his is estate was administered accordingly.

Gone in a Moment.

Again, a journalist of Chicago one night came upon an old school-fellow named Brewster, whom he had not seen for several years previously. Brewster was shabbily dressed, and bore evidences of extreme indigence ; indeed, he confessed that his despair and wretchedness had been so great as to induce him to meditate suicide, His friend however, cheered him up; took him, home with him to his rooms, gave him a first rate supper and put him in his own bed, promising to find some employment for him the next days.

After Brewster had fallen asleep, and while the journalist was writing at a table a few feet away, a friend lodging in the same house came in for a few minutes, and seated himself at the table. The heavy breathing of Brewster at once attracted his attention, and the journalist explained his presence and what he hoped to do for him. He had hardly concluded, when suddenly the breathing ceased, and the friend, who was facing the bed, started up with a look of horror, crying: "Good God ! What has happened!" The bed was empty! They rushed to it and it tore off the clothes, but, though it was still warm they found nothing between the sheets but the shirt Brewster had worn. The missing man was never seen again, and in this case, as in the all the others, no explanation has ever been forthcoming. of. Both the witnesses of this wonderful occurrence were alive three years ago.

The Footprints in the Snow.

Another somewhat similar instance is reported, from the neighbourhood of Quincy, Illinois, where lived, with his wife and family, a most respectable and intelligent man named Christian Ashmore. One November 9th, 1878,-at about nine o'clock in the evening, his son Charles, a boy of sixteen, took a bucket and went to fetch water from a spring a hundred yards from the house. As he did not return, the family became anxious, and Mr. Ashmore, after calling several times from the door, took at lantern, and, accompanied by his eldest daughter, set out in search of his son.

A slight snow had fallen, and the boy's footprints were quite distinct, but about half way to the spring the track suddenly ceased, nothing but the unbroken surface of the snow being visible in front and all around. The well was thickly coated with ice, and had certainly not been disturbed for hours. The most careful search yielded no result, and a renewed examination of the track by the morning light only confirmed what they had already discovered-that the boy's footsteps ceased suddenly and inexplicably in the midst of a perfectly open spare.

Utterly incredible as they seem, these stories are all vouched for as facts. How are they to be explained? These stories, presented as fact, are in fact all by Ambrose Bierce, or at least three of them are; those of Worson, Williamson and Ashmore. Their journey into the Fortean literature is documented by Marian Kensler HERE The text of Bierce’s stories can be found HERE
But I have never seen the fourth story, “Gone in a Moment” and I cannot track it down via Google. Marian Kensler suggests that Bierce originally had other stories in the little collection Mysterious Disappearances. Could this be one of them, and have we then the ghost of a lost story by Ambrose Bierce preserved in an English provincial newspaper?

Quite early on these stories began to mutate, thus the Northants Evening Telegraph of the 2nd February 1901 relocates Williamson to Haslemere in Surrey and Ashmore to the “south coast”!

The closing of the US Internet mailing list 'UFO Updates' seems to be yet another nail in the coffin of ufology. To be honest the thing had been struggling for years and the days when it was the home to some intelligent passionate debates had long gone.

Its problem was that for many of the contributors ufology was a religion not a science. Any critical discussion of classic cases was howled down with cries of 'pelicanist', 'skeptibunker' and the rest. The definition of these epithets was “anyone who suggests any explanation of UFO reports that does not involve non-human or at least exotic intelligences”. It’s clear that many on the list and wider saw their role as conservators of mysteries rather than as solvers of puzzles. Not surprisingly most well-known British ufologists joined the blacklist of those who were to be shouted down by, for example, Pope Jerry Clark. Magonians were joined by Nigel Watson, David Clarke, Andy Roberts and latterly Joe McGonagle (and I suspect that Jenny Randles and Paul Devereux were in there somewhere). Their crime was arguing that UFO reports were probably not generated by alien intelligences.

At least critics of the classic cases were allowed to put their case, those who criticised Saint Budd and Jacobs were just thrown off the list. No matter how wild and dangerous their claims became, no matter that they wrecked people’s lives; that Jacobs went in for the shrillest kind of substitute antisemitism or however much John Mack cheer-led for the old apartheid regime in South Africa (even having the gall to attack Nelson Mandela for teaching the 'natives' white folks ways) they remained inviolate.
Of course the defectors from the abductionist cult such as Carol Rainey got the worst of it. Rainey was portrayed as the caricature shrewish and vengeful ex-wife of Budd Hopkins, rather than someone who, having participated in his research had been eventually able to see the dangerous techniques and assumptions behind it. For this she was subjected to a barrage of misogynist abuse on UpDates, which provoked a number of contributors, including Magonia Online editor John Rimmer, to sever links with the list. Of course the Hopkins fan-boys and eager believers stayed to the bitter end and eventually drove it into the ground. It will be missed but not mourned.


  1. Should I be flattered (as I would be) to be considered a Magonian, or egotistically peeved that you missed my name off your list of British contenders against some of the hingelessness that displayed itself on UpDates?

    I wouldn't have asked if you hadn't referred to Pope J Clarkwithoutanee. One of my few claims to ufological fame is that it was I who dubbed him the 'Boy Bishop of Canby' (because of his tendency to sermonize: no one could deploy the word 'behoove' as he could, or as frequently) and later, on his conversion to Papism, the 'Cardinal of Canby'. This is of scholarly importance because there is, and can be, only one True Pope of ufology, whose name is so sacred to the faithful that I dare not breathe it.

    It's not quite true that critics of Hopkins & Jacobs were summarily cast out from the list. In the late 90s at least it was possible to get a wiggin' thereon for calling Hopkins intellectually dishonest (hardly contentious, one would have thought), and some of us had some fun when Linda Cortibalone joined, calling herself 'Honeybee', as I recall. There didn't seem to be much consistency as to who did get chucked off or what threads were suddenly terminated or whose comments were censored and whose were allowed to go way over the top. Even so, the treatment of Carol Rainey and Emma Woods was a disgrace. But I'm glad that the archive will remain on the web (and thanks to the irrepressible Isaac Koi is also PDF'd) for posterity. Some sedulous psychosocialist should get at least one D.Phil out of it some day.

    Also for the record—yes, Jenny Randles did appear in former years; and I am guilty of introducing Paul Devereux to it, tho' he did not stay long.

    And finally, it was not a US mailing list, but Canadian, emanating from Toronto.
    Happy new year!

  2. > Ashmore

    According to Kevin Randle, Jessup tried to peddle this story as a UFO kidnapping.


  3. "Gone In A Moment" reminded me somewhat of "Keeping His Promise" by Algernon Blackwood.

    Blackwood, of course, had lived in New York as a young man and may conceivably have based it on a story (by Bierce or otherwise) that was doing the rounds back then.