Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dark Days: Three Cases


G. ; Notes and Queries, 2:3:366, May 9, 1857.

"A phenomenon of this extraordinary nature occurred at Bolton-le-Moors and the neighbourhood, about noon on Monday, March 23, 1857. The wind during the morning had been north-east, with a little snow; at twelve o'clock the air became quite still, and a deep gloom overspread the heavens, increasing so rapidly, that in ten minutes it was not possible to read, or distinguish the features of any person a few yards off. This was the more singular from there being no fog at the time, though snow in very minute particles was falling. The extreme darkness continued about eight minutes, when the horizon at two or three points assumed a lurid yellow appearance, as though from conflagrations a few miles distant; within a quarter of an hour from this time the darkness was dispelled; but such was the alarm caused by the phenomenon, that many persons supposed the world at an end, not a few were made ill by intense nervous excitement, and all were more or less impressed with a feeling of awe. Poultry went to roost, instinct being stronger than habit. Can any of your correspondents explain the cause of this phenomenon, or record any similar occurrences?"

If darknesses, such as that described above, are due to great fires, where are the reports of the fires and why does no one smell the smoke?


Murray, Charles A. ; Annual Register, 99:132-133, 1857.

"The following letter from the Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, Her Majesty's Envoy to Persia, to Sir Charles Lyell, was made public:- "Bagdad, May 23, 1857. My dear Sir Charles,—We have lately witnessed here a phenomenon so strange that a brief description of it may not be uninteresting to you. On the 20th instant, a few minutes before 6 p. m. (which is here about an hour before sunset), I was sitting with my Mirza reading some Persian letters, when on a sudden I became sensible of an unusual obscuration of the light on the paper. I jumped up, and going to the window, saw a huge black cloud approaching from the north-west, exactly as if a pall were being drawn over the face of the heavens. It must have travelled with considerable rapidity, for in less than three minutes we were enveloped in total darkness—a darkness more intense than an ordinary midnight when neither stars nor moon are visible. Groping my way amid chairs and tables, I succeeded in striking a light, and then, feeling assured that a simoom of some kind was coming on, I called to my servants to come up and shut the windows, which were all open, the weather having been previously very sultry. While they were doing so the wind increased, and bore with it such a dense volume of dust or sand, that, before they could succeed in closing the windows the room was entirely filled, so that the tables and furniture were speedily covered. Meanwhile a panic seized the whole city; the Armenians and other Christian sects rushed through the gloom to confess and pray in the churches; women shrieked and beat their breasts in the streets and the men of all classes prostrated themselves in prayer, believing that the end of the world had arrived. After a short time the black darkness was succeeded by a red, lurid gloom, such as I never saw in any part of the world, and which I can only liken in imagination to the effect that might be produced if all London were in conflagration in a heavy November fog; to me it was more striking (I may almost say fearful) than the previous utter darkness, and reminded me of that 'darkness visible' in which the poetic genius of Milton placed the demons and horrid shapes of the infernal regions. This lurid fog was doubtless occasioned by the rays of the western sun shining obliquely on the dense mass of red sand or dust which had been raised from some distant desert, and was borne along upon the blast. I enclose you a specimen of the dust. The Arabs here think that it came from the Nejd. The storm seems to have travelled in a circular direction, having appeared first from the south, then south-west, then west, then north-west. After about two hours, it had so far passed away that we were able to open the windows again and breathe the outer air. It cannot have been a simoom, for during those which I have experienced in Arabia and Egypt the wind is hot and stifling. On the 20th the wind was high, but only oppressive from the dense mass of dust that it carried with it. " Professor J. Quekett, having examined a specimen of red dust from Bagdad, which accompanied Mr. Murray's letter, detected under the microscope only inorganic particles, such as quartz, sand, and, though a small portion of calcareous matter was present in the sand, yet he could observe no microscopic shells or other organic matter."


Eells, M. ; Monthly Weather Review, 30:440, September 1902.

"Friday, September 12, 1902, was the darkest day that the oldest inhabitant of Hood Canal, in western Washington, ever knew here, owing largely to the smoke from heavy fires in western Washington and western Oregon. At Twana, in Mason County, it appeared as follows: The evening before was somewhat smoky, though not peculiarly so, with a few ashes occasionally falling. About 3 o'clock on the morning of the 12th the whole heavens were a very bright red, according to the statement of a young lady who waked up, as she supposed, about that time, the light being similar in appearance to a certain kind of northern lights only it covered the whole heavens. By 5-30 a. m. , when the writer first looked out, it had faded to a dull red. By 7 a. m. the reddish appearance had disappeared, it having turned to a gray color. At 9 a. m., it was possible to read in the house only by getting near a window, and even then it was quite trying to the eyes. By 11:30 a. m. the dull reddish color appeared all around, soon growing very bright in the north, but by 12-30 p. m. the brightest red was in the south. Between 12 noon and 1 p. m. was the darkest part of the day, it being utterly impossible to read out of doors. After 1 p. m. it began to lighten a little, the chickens, which had gone to roost, began to crow; 1:15 p.m. it was again possible to read out doors; at 2 p. m. there was considerable dull red in the sky, but it then disappeared to be seen no more, the heavens becoming again of grayish color. After 3 p. m. was the brightest part of the day.

What caused the reddish appearance has not been satisfactorily explained. Some attributed it to the light from the fires, but this does not seem possible. The writer attributes it to the sun's rays working through the darkness, until he learned that the brightest red was seen about 3 a. m. There certainly seems to have been a very peculiar state of the atmosphere that day, which can only be explained by wiser meteorologists than the writer, but the day will be remembered as one in a lifetime."

-from Corliss, William R. Strange Phenomena: A Sourcebook of Unusual Natural Phenomena. Volume G-2. Compiled by Glen Arm, Maryland: The Sourcebook Project, 1974.

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