Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Leslie Shepard on Charles Fort

Although Leslie Shepard (1917 – 2004) was a passionate devotee of early cinema, he  is probably best known today for his books on Dracula, Indian mysticism, the supernatural, paranormal  and British street literature, on which he was a world expert. He was a born collector who amassed a huge library of books and ephemera, much of which is now in academic libraries. The portion  which escaped this fate seems to have been sold at auction over a period of years and it was at auction a couple of years ago that I acquired a large box containing part of his penny ballad archive—possibly the detritus.

It goes without saying that Shepard was a fan of Charles Fort, that indefatigable collector of facts concerning the paranormal, and probably in the 1960s, as he reports in this typed article of 1974, which may have appeared in INFO, a successor to Doubt, the house journal of the American-based Fortean Society, that Shepard was recruited into the latter. Shepard had relished the early issues of Doubt, but in the article he complained that in the later numbers natural skepticism towards scientific dogma was transformed into something:

...almost paranoid , to the extent of suggesting that  reports of successful space travel might be an elaborate hoax.
This sort of thing eventually became tedious, since true Fortean skeptism is reserved for scientific dogma , not true science, and there is a point at which extreme and invincible skeptism can be more dogmatic than dogmatic science .

Wise words to ponder in these days of so many irrational conspiracy theories.But there are other interesting things in the article. For instance, Shepard reveals that ‘ several years ago’ he identified  39, Marchmont Street in Bloomsbury  as Fort’s home in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Shepard’s ‘skirmishes ‘ with Camden council regarding a blue plaque came to nothing. He also exhorts all loyal Forteans to contact the Town Clerk to save the building before it ‘gets swept away by the property exploiters who are making a concrete desert of London ‘. How prescient !

At the time of the article Shepard lived in Eire and as a fully paid up member of the Fairy Investigation Society, he remarks that Fort would have enjoyed collecting facts about fairies in this country during the twenties, when there were many first-hand accounts. Shepard was also a member of the Dracula Society and envisages a yearly Bram Stoker Festival ’with revivals of films and plays on  the vampire theme’. The Society had already planned an 8-10 day tour of Transylvania in conjunction with the Romanian Ministry of Tourism.[RR]

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