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.
- When May 19 became day of darkness (cnn.com)
- The day the sun disappeared across New England (wcvb.com)