Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On This Date in 1780

The Darkness (an obscuring cloud from a forest fire in southern Ontario, according to researchers at the University of Missouri/NASA) descended upon the Northeast.
Any Old Swamper will tell you that

"It's a sign of rain or snow
When birds and bugs fly low."
(Actually, I don't know if any Old Swamper will tell you that, but I am sure that I heard it as a youngster. It was featured on an incessantly-repeated promo for The Mickey Mouse Club on a local Rhode Island teevee station. I'm pretty sure it was Eddie Carroll --whom see -- voicing Jiminy Cricket, but this feature dredges older harbors. And my point here is that New Englanders know the significance of strange weather, and rarely attribute it to supernatural forces.)
The very literate -- folk who were familiar with natural philosophy, scientific inquiry, works of Edmund Burke, James Cook, and Joseph Priestley -- knew that it wasn't an eclipse. Because they may have been in possession of one of Mr. Franklin's peer's almanacs (NOT the Old Farmer's Almanac, which didn't start publishing until 1792). They also knew that it wasn't Judgment Day or the Apocalypse (because they had thinking parts).
The loudest -- and by no means at all the largest number -- believed that their God had picked an inopportune Spring day to punish them for their misdeeds, not the least of which was a pesky war for independence. These were the individuals who may have had an almanac in the outdoor privy, but used the astronomical information pages with the goofy symbols as hygienic accommodation. They were referred to as "teabaggers." Hadn't anyone read their Rabelais?, Their fundaments would have been probably more elegantly attended, if only at the distress of the local goose population.
Where were we? Ah! Adumbration. Murk. The skies were murky for a few days, and eventually darkened more on that May 19, enough so that the local news media (in their usual -- yes, even then -- chickeny panic) mentioned it. Of course the cloud of smoke -- which most people recognized as the airborne remnants of some faraway forest fire -- dissipated.
The only people who achieved any gratifying consideration as result of widespread dumbassery were sailors who suggested that women renove their garments as the height of The Darkness allowed them access to nightspots that opened early to serve them. They were the first disaster capitalists. William Pynchon of Salem saw some mariners taking advantage.No mass hysteria has so gripped the superstitious in New England until the Coakley/Brown race in 2009.
(This presentation features a photograph of Tina Louise.)

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