December 26, 2003
Charles Berlitz and the Bermuda Triangle
by Loren Coleman © 2003
Charles Frambach Berlitz, 90, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, an author of several popular books on unexplained phenomena, died December 18, 2003, at University Hospital in Tamarac.
A great linguist in his own right, born of a family responsible for a worldwide consortium of language schools, Charles Berlitz is to be credited with internationally popularizing the phenomena known today as “The Bermuda Triangle,” due in large part to a book he wrote thirty years ago.
Berlitz became interested in mysteries in advance of his authorship of The Bermuda Triangle, however. During visits to Florida (before he and his wife moved there in the 1980s), Berlitz began looking into local phenomena. His first book on wonders would be The Mystery of Atlantis (NY: Grosset and Dunlap, 1969). This work gave broad attention to Edgar Cayce’s prediction that part of the lost continent of Atlantis would come from the sea near Bimini in the late 1960’s. Berlitz used as his main source and later collaborator Dr. Mason Valentine, who first reported the mysterious “Bimini Wall,” and advanced them as evidence of Atlantis. In 1970, Berlitz’s book Mysteries from Forgotten Worlds was penned during the ancient astronauts mania, and covered some of the same topics as Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods. However, as opposed to blaming outer space visitors for constructing the Bimini Island ruins, Easter Island statures, the Great Pyramid, the Nazca lines, and other such monuments, as von Daniken had, Berlitz theorized these structures were the remnants of lost civilizations.
Berlitz’s book The Bermuda Triangle was published in 1974 by Doubleday, and enjoyed an extremely popular following. Berlitz’s retelling of the accounts of plane and ship disappearances specific to an area roughly between Florida and Bermuda captivated readers. Although book reviewers would take Berlitz to task for sensationalizing the vanishings, sales were never diminished by the critiques. Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle sold 5,000,000 hardbound editions around the world, in many languages. Later paperbacks would sell more copies.
People began to believe that Berlitz invented the location’s name and had done the original research on the subject, which, of course, was far from the reality of the situation. Unknown to most of the general public, Berlitz was not responsible for “coining” the term “Bermuda Triangle.”
The first known media attention to the idea that there might be a hotspot of disappearances off the coast of Florida began with an article by E. V. W. Jones, appearing on September 16, 1950, via the Associated Press. Then, in October 1952, Fate Magazine published an article, “Sea Mystery at our Back Door,” written by “George X. Sand” (probably a pseudonym). He used the infamous missing Navy Flight 19 of five TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers and 14 men of December 15, 1945, and other reports of disappeared ships as his examples. In the article, Sand observed that these “strange marine disappearances” were happening in a “watery triangle bounded roughly by Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico.” In 1962, the term “Deadly Triangle” was promoted by author Dale Milton Titler. In Titler’s book, Wings of Mystery (NY: Tower, 1962), the area is mentioned in the context of Chapter 14, “The Mystery of Flight 19.”
The actual naming of the “Bermuda Triangle,” can be traced to the creative collaboration of Fortean writers Vincent Gaddis and Ivan T. Sanderson. Crawfordsville, Indiana, reporter Gaddis was a friend of Scottish biologist Ivan T. Sanderson, according to author Mark A. Hall. Sanderson, in the 1960s, was an editor at Chilton Books and the Science Editor at Argosy Magazine, and thus he was responsible for shepherding Gaddis to these two publishing forums. In the February 1964 issue of Argosy Magazine, Gaddis wrote a thorough and thoughtful account of the mysteries of the Caribbean disappearances in an article entitled “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.” Sanderson wrote in 1970 that it was Gaddis that “coined the catchy moniker ‘The Bermuda Triangle'” in the article’s title. Gaddis’s next wrote a book, Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea (Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965), which reworked the Argosy article into his chapter, “The Triangle of Death.”
Several authors would follow with treatments before Berlitz’s was published. Ivan T. Sanderson continued the examination with an August 1968 Argosy article, “The Spreading Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle,” and in his 1972 Saga Magazine article, “The Twelve Devil¹s Graveyards Around the World.” Sanderson also examined the topic in his book, Invisible Residents (NY: World Publishing, 1970; NY: Avon, 1973).
Other notable books were John Wallace Spencer’s Limbo of the Lost (Westfield, MA: Phillips Publishing Co., 1969; NY: Bantam, 1973), Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey’s The Bermuda Triangle (New
Hope, PA: New Hope Publishing Company, 1973), and Richard Winer’s The Devil’s Triangle (NY: Bantam, 1974).
In the post-1974 wake of Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, previous books on the topic were more or less forgotten.
The Bermuda Triangle became an overnight bestseller. Berlitz’s book on the tales of the mysterious disappearances was seen as the most successful of the lot, and he subsequently obtained more contracts for other books on the unknown. In addition to many linguistic texts and guidebooks, some of the unexplained phenomena titles authored by Charles Berlitz include:
The Mystery of Atlantis (1969)
Mysteries from Forgotten Worlds (1970)
The Bermuda Triangle (1974)
Without a Trace: New Information from the Triangle (1977)
The Philadelphia Experiment – Project Invisibility (1979)
The Roswell Incident (1980)
World of Strange Phenomena (1988)
The Dragon’s Triangle (1989)
Charles Berlitz’s World of the Incredible But True (1991)
Charles Berlitz’s World of the Odd and the Awesome (1991)
Charles Berlitz’s World of Strange Phenomena (1995)
The term “Bermuda Triangle” would eventually spawn investigative interest for related mysteries. The discussions of other “triangles,” for example, have included
Jay Gourley’s The Great Lakes Triangle (NY: Fawcett: 1977), Japan’s “Devil’s Sea Triangle,” in Jerome Clark’s Unexplained! (Detroit: Visible Ink, 1998), and “The Bridgewater Triangle,” in Mysterious America (NY: Paraview, 2001).
The term “Bermuda Triangle” would eventually spawn investigative interest for related mysteries. The discussions of other “triangles,” for example, have included Jay Gourley’s The Great Lakes Triangle (NY: Fawcett: 1977), Japan’s “Devil’s Sea Triangle,” in Jerome Clark’s Unexplained! (Detroit: Visible Ink, 1998), and “The Bridgewater Triangle,” in Mysterious America (NY: Paraview, 2001).
Other Berlitz books would have similar impacts. Robert Durant, a former officer with Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society of the Investigation of the Unexplained remarked upon hearing of Berlitz’s death: “I can certainly point to his Roswell book, co-authored with William Moore, as the reason the word ‘Roswell’ has huge resonance with an international public. Without the advance Berlitz’s name procured, Moore and Friedman could not have done the initial detective work. It is that simple. And the vast written and TV literature that followed Berlitz-Moore depended absolutely on the original book. Like the Bermuda Triangle, Roswell was really Berlitz’s baby.”
Despite what one thinks about the specific factual content of Charles Berlitz’s books on the inexplicable, on an emotional and curiosity level Berlitz introduced new enigmas to a wider cross-section of global readers. The public’s continued affection for the riddles of Atlantis and The Bermuda Triangle to whether or not aliens crash landed in 1947 at Roswell has much to do with Berlitz’s popular characterizations of these mysteries.
Charles Berlitz remained committed to an open-minded inquiry of phenomena throughout his life, and became an anonymous benefactor of organizations investigating reports of the strange and unknown.