1907, May 13 (pre.): The Smoking Body

SO! Here's one of those stories that I can't yet confirm, but am sharing with you anyway...

        It's been said, by multiple authors, that the May 13, 1907 edition of the Madras Mail -- the first evening newspaper to be published in India and, conveniently for the British, published in English -- claimed that a woman in the village of Manner (near the city of Dinapore) had been discovered by police burned to death in unburned clothes; the room she was in had no signs of a fire other than the woman's smoking body. Apparently, this situation perplexed the two officers enough that they carried the still smoldering corpse to the District Magistrate. Perhaps they felt they wouldn't be believed without the corpse to show off!

The Difficulty of Charles Fort

        As far as weird stories go, this particular incident was first featured in a book devoted to strange and paranormal phenomena in 1932 when it appeared in Charles Fort's Wild Talents. For those of you who don't know, Charles Fort is extremely famous for his four books on strange topics, and is often referenced by modern 'researchers' who include Fort's claims in their own articles and books. This is largely because Charles Fort almost always provides a reference to where he himself found the articles, such as in this case... Fort is the person who attributes it to the Madras Mail. So, while many other authors also mention this incident, ultimately all of them got it from Fort. Many of these later authors attributed this incident to the topic of spontaneous human combustion; Fort never did.

        Which brings us to the difficulty... for, even though Fort almost always listed his sources, he didn't always list them right. Sometimes he might list the wrong day. Or the wrong year. And then he had a tendency to pick just the best details when presenting articles, sometimes leaving out details that made things sound more normal. So, while with Fort you can almost always guarantee he actually got his story from an article you can actually track down, actually tracking down the article can be hard...and it's a requirement to find the article, to be sure the story Fort tells is in fact the story that was reported.

        Unfortunately, this particular account is in a very difficult to find newspaper. The Madras Mail died in 1981, and I'll have to contact libraries in India to find someone with access to archive copies of the newspaper... so it's going to be a while before I can say much more. In the meantime, I'm marking this account as "Unreliable" as evidence of the paranormal until I can confirm the original article.