Theories fly at annual FortFest

March 18, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Apparently, even flying saucers were grounded by Friday's storm, depressing attendance at the 43rd annual "Conference on Anomalous Phenomena," which began yesterday at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Still, about 50 followers of early 20th-century weird-science enthusiast Charles Fort - they call themselves Forteans - gathered for two days of seminars on the paranormal, mind-bending magic shows and ukulele music.

"The media equates us with UFO buffs," chided Phyllis Benjamin of Roland Park, who is president of the International Fortean Organization. "That is not necessarily the case."

Indeed, only one of a dozen presentations planned at this year's "FortFest" was devoted to alien travel; there were also more highbrow discussions of dragon-art symbology, Jewish mysticism and sacred architecture.

The event began with a discursive talk by afterlife theorist Michael Grosso, who argued that psychics are actually artists.

Grosso also boasted that he had a premonition or "pre-cognition" of Anna Nicole Smith's recent death.

That was enough for Maryland Institute College of Art literature professor Mikita Brottman, who came out of curiosity - and left in a hurry.

"It seems like a little club of elderly folks who go on cruises," said Brottman on her way out yesterday morning. "There is something quite touching about it. They're sort of a dying breed, people interested in these things."

The preponderance of gray hairs wasn't lost on 72-year-old Andy Euston of Asheville, N.C., a self-described "FortFest junkie."

"I was struck by the amount of white heads," said the retired urban designer.

But he said the underlying mission of Forteans - to combat dogmatic thinking, whether religious or scientific - should appeal to younger generations.

The conference concludes today at the Days Inn Inner Harbor hotel.

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