The Day That Disappeared

Tower of David at night מגדל דוד בלילה
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

_

Did you know that on May 19, 1780, at around noon, the sky became as dark as night?  No, it wasn’t a solar nor lunar eclipse. And it didn’t just last a few minutes, either.  “Normal” did not return until the middle of the next night!  This unusual darkening of the sky was experienced in Eastern Canada and the New England states.

There are witnesses’ reports.  Here are a few:

“The birds having sung their evening song disappeared and became silent. . .The fowls retired to roost. … Objects could not be distinguished but at a very little distance; and every thing bore the appearance and gloom of night.” – Samuel Williams, Harvard professor

“I am against adjournment. The day of judgement is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.  I wish therefore that candles may be brought.” – Abraham Davenport, Connecticut Legislature

There was a poem, by poet John Greenleaf Whittier, written about it:

“Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon,

A horror of great darkness, like the night

In day of which the Norland sagas tell,

The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky

Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim

Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs

The crater’s sides from the red hell below.

Birds ceased to sing, and all the barn-yard fowls

Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars

Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings

Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died;

Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp

To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter. . . .”

The religious were convinced it was the Day of Judgement:

Matthew 24:29:  “… the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky…” (Signs preceding the return of Christ).

The day was pitch-black and people panicked.  Candles were required and lit everywhere ….

It was a mystery for many years.  It is now believed that the likely cause was a combination of smoke from forest fires, a thick fog and dense cloud cover.

When a fire doesn’t kill a tree, and that tree later grows, scar marks are left in the growth rings. This makes it possible to approximate the date of a past fire. Researchers examining the scar damage in Ontario, Canada, attribute the “Dark Day” to a large fire in the area that is today occupied by Algonquin Provincial Park.

I’ve given you just a few bits and pieces.  I know many of you will want to read some more about this amazing event.  So I’ve chosen a few sites for you.  Let’s start with Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, then there is WikiQuotes; and then Celebrate Boston (the date is wrong, but I’m going to assume the text is correct). Those are good places to start.

48 comments

  1. Wow! Quite a tale, TK– I almost wish I’d been there! I was going to suggest that smoke from too many barbecue grills might have been a factor, but May seems a little early to be cooking outside… : )

    Loved Whittier’s line, “all ears grew sharp to hear the doom-blast of the trumpet…” Yes, I’ve had a few days like that myself… : P

    Fascinating post– many thanks!!

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  2. Darkness! are you aware that at the time of the crucifixion the sky went dark? Pilate reported this to Rome — to Tiberius Caesar “Now,when he was crucified darkness came over the world, the sun was hidden, a dark sky appeared and stars could be seen. The moon did not shine all night although it was full. Pontius Pilate 33AD

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  3. Great Jeopardy answer. Had no idea. Thanks for visiting my blog. pass it along to others if you think it is worthwhile. i will make this site a regular. Like the material.

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  4. Thank you for stopping by and the likes !!! I have always loved Oh Canada …yep, a place we would go often thought the border was not so kind back then I still love it. I love the info, but I will admit that the behavior toward 1st nations and tar sands has me baffled

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      • Yah! How come there is no share button to facebook. Just a like on FB. I would have wanted to experience the apocalyptic moment. That is fascinating!

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        • I see it … it’s the second one on the first row. I see that 6 have already clicked on it.
          I’ll say this about WordPress lately: it takes forever for the page to load completely, just so that I can press “Like” … maybe wait until Like is there, then that means all the buttons, theoretically, have loaded.

          Let me know if you still experience problems

          Btw, the sun is finally showing it’s face to us here! 🙂

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    • Heehee Thanks for the kind words. Believe me, Canadian history alone is a lot for me to cover. Every now and then I’ll post not-Canadian stuff.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting! 🙂

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  5. I experienced something similar in the late 80s. I was just a kid then so I have no idea of the exact date, but I’m pretty sure it was spring, and we were living in NS. There was a massive forest fire (or several forest fires) in Quebec and the smoke drifted over the Halifax area in the middle of a weekday, blocking out the sun. It was quite surreal! It was weird even in modern times – I can’t imagine what it would have been like in the 1700s!

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    • Yes, I agree. Without instant communication, it must have been really scary to not know the cause. I’ll bet, though, that you must still remember how it felt that day. I mean surreal, yes, but I imagine scary too, especially as a child!

      Thanks for sharing that! 🙂

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      • I remember it particularly because an adult seemed to think I should be scared, but the smoke was big news in our house because Dad was in the air force and it affected his flying, so I wasn’t worried because I knew what was going on when it happened.

        And you’d think an event like that would be in news archives somewhere, but a couple hours of searching have only turned up this mention:
        “The most devastating year for fires in recent history was 1989, when more than 12,000 fires destroyed seven million hectares of forest across Canada.”
        by David Roberts of the Globe and Mail, August 12, 1998

        So now I’m starting to wonder if my very active imagination made this all up! 🙂

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        • No don’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of research is that only things that people who write, only report in what like or really important. I’ve searched for things I wanted to know more about, and have come out empty. Frustrating! Believe in your memory! 🙂

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  6. This is really fascinating! I wonder how people might react today. Although we would “know” the reason, I wonder how many would suspect a more menacing answer and might panic.
    Great post.

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