Originally published in 1967, Mysterious Fires and Lights is Gaddis’ follow-up to the bestselling Invisible Horizons (1965).
Vincent Gaddis’ Invisible Horizons (1965) introduced the Bermuda Triangle into popular culture. The book is a compendium of sea mysteries (the “vanishing” crew of the Mary Celeste, the “cursed” S.S. Watertown) and includes a chapter called “The Triangle of Death” expanded from his 1964 article for Argosy, “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.” Gaddis, a journalist by trade before he went freelance, was a member of the Fortean Society and wrote for the Society’s magazine, Doubt, starting in the 1940s. He was also a contributing editor for the San Diego-based The Round Robin (1945-1959), “a bulletin of contact and information for students of psychic research and parapsychology” edited by N. Meade Layne, a former English professor whose theory of a parallel dimension called Etheria influenced Gaddis as well as the ufology field.
Gaddis’ coining of “Bermuda Triangle” very likely owes something to Charles Fort’s “London Triangle,” first mentioned in New Lands (1923):
There is a triangular region in England, three points of which appear so often in our data that the region should be specially known to us, and I know it myself as the London Triangle. It is pointed in the north by Worcester and Hereford, in the south by Reading, Berkshire, and in the east by Colchester, Essex. The line between Colchester and Reading runs through London.
The “triangular region,” according to Fort, experiences a high degree of disturbances including earthquakes, “repeating explosions in the sky,” “luminous” aerial phenomena, and falling meteorites—“the type of phenomena that might be considered evidence of signaling from some unknown world nearby.”
Invisible Horizons was first published by Chilton Books in hardcover in 1965. A paperback edition was rushed out the same year, minus the voluminous photographs, by Ace Books, a publisher specializing in science fiction, horror, and the booming “strange but true” genre since the late 1950s. Ace released new editions of all four of Charles Fort’s books throughout the 1960s, starting with The Book of the Damned in 1962.
Gaddis spins a compelling yarn, and, unlike almost all of his genre contemporaries, he cites his sources, even if many of them are ultimately unreliable (i.e., Fate magazine). Gaddis presents his peculiar combination of Fort, Freud, and Jung in the introduction:
We are led to believe that all our awareness, all our knowledge, is derived from the five senses. But consciousness is only the surface of a great mental well that drops deep into the unknown—the outer light of a spectrum that radiates far into the infrared of the subconscious and the ultra-violet of the superconscious.
Man… is influenced by innumerable invisible forces that, in turn, respond to the ceaseless ebb and flow of the universe.
Later, he explains that “the supernatural of today is the natural of tomorrow,” a sentiment originating with Fort* and best expressed by Arthur C. Clarke years later: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”*
“The Triangle of Death” covers all the disappearances mentioned by E.V.W. Jones in his 1950 AP article, with a big section devoted to “the most incredible mystery in the history of aviation,” the disappearance of the five Navy TBM Avengers of Flight 19 in 1945. (Flight 19 is a myth unto itself that dates to a 1962 American Legion article by Allan W. Eckert called “The Mystery of the Lost Patrol.” The article is poorly researched and includes much sensational hearsay repeated by Gaddis, Charles Berlitz, and many others.)
Gaddis even “borrows” the beginning and end of the Jones article. Here’s Jones:
It’s a small world? No, it’s still the same vast world the ancients knew, with the same misty limbo of the lost.
We think it is small because of speeding wheels and wings and the voice of radio which comes out of the void. A mile is only a minute’s travel by wheel or a few seconds’ flight—but it is still a mile.
But it is the same big world the ancients knew into which men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.
And here’s Gaddis:
The Bermuda Triangle underlines the fact that despite swift wings and the voice of the radio, we still have a world large enough for men and their machines and ships to disappear without a trace. A mile is still a mile, and the miles can add up to a vast unknown—the same misty limbo of the lost feared by our forefathers.
Gaddis’ conclusion about the nature of the “limbo of the lost” is that
occasional aberrations of an unusual type occur in the air and on the surface of the ocean. These aberrations might cause magnetic, possibly gravitational, effects; in which case might for all practical purposes be referred to as “space warps,” and cause deadly turbulence ending in total disintegration of planes and ships…
Earlier in the chapter Gaddis refers to the aberration as a “hole in the sky”—shades of Fort’s Super-Sargasso Sea and Meade Layne’s Etheria. Gaddis makes a few more observations of interest in the chapters following “The Triangle of Death.” In the first, as if anticipating Fox Mulder, Gaddis remarks that
in an apparently limitless universe, extending into nobody knows how many dimensions, all phenomena cannot be neatly classified. The realm of the unknown will ever ‘surround’ us, and it is a realm without end.
And from his conclusion, “Invisible Horizons”:
Could some of these crews have been kidnapped by extra-terrestrials? To those who have investigated this question, the evidence that there is interplanetary or interstellar traffic is impressive. We may be ignored for the same reason that savages on a jungle-clad isle are ignored by passing merchant vessels… Still, occasional visitors from the void may pick up some of us for exhibition in their zoos!
So Gaddis popularized not only the Bermuda Triangle but a foundational trope in ufology and ufo lore that became cemented in the mainstream with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the conclusion of which shows the crew of Flight 19 and other alleged abductees being released from the Mothership.
Joshua Blu Buhs, an independent scholar researching the early Forteans, has written the most comprehensive biography of Gaddis on record at his blog, From an Oblique Angle.
Images of Gaddis are via Blu Buhs and Nancy Bradley.
Gaddis and Meade Layne are mentioned in this 1948 North American Newspaper Alliance article about a proposed Atlantis expedition.