by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
03 February 2008
Cometary fire ruins,
as seen from the corner of Dearborn and Monroe
Streets, Chicago, 1871.
Super Comet - After the Impact, is a special
video that basically takes the
comet that wiped out the
dinosaurs and put into modern times.
They added some cheesy drama,
following the struggles of several individuals or groups, before,
during, and after the impact, to show how people would react to such
a global cataclysm.
They used the same type of cometary body assumed
to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, the same size, same
impact location, and utilized all the computer modeling they have
done on this past event to try to show what might happen (and to
show what they think happened then).
Not terribly creative and
suggests that they really don't know all the effects of such an
impact and are just putting things together from what little they
have been able to figure out about that one impact, some (or much)
of which may be just speculation, though I'm sure that there is some
good science going on there.
This show highlights what we have already noted in this series of
the difference between the American School of Asteroid
impacts that happen only at millions of years intervals and the
British School which posits that showers of much smaller objects
occur with great frequency in between those millions of years
The cheesiest part of this "docu-drama" was, of course, the depicted
foibles of the humans experiencing the event.
But, in a way, even
those depictions were useful. The one guy who simply couldn't grasp
the nature of the event, kept traveling "home" (which happened to be
the site of the impact) even when it was clear that there was no
home left. His emotions basically drove him to his own death.
Other people continued to act as if the world was still the same
place and suffered thereby, though they learned to cope. What was
clearly evident was that it was lack of knowledge about such events
that was the chief problem for all of them.
During the course of the show, one of the experts made the remark
"WHEN it happens," as though he - and the rest of them - knew for a
fact that this was on the agenda for our near future.
The very fact
that so many scientists are working on these problems, including a
large number of them studying the possible human reactions and
behaviors and how to deal with masses of people, should warn us that
there IS something they aren't telling the masses in the headlines
of our daily newspapers, though certainly they are "testing" public
reactions with shows such as Super Comet - After the Impact.
On my desk, before me, I have a book out of the more than 30 volumes
and scores of papers on the topic of comet and asteroid impacts that
I have collected in the course of this study. The title of this book
Hazards due to Comets and Asteroids edited by
Tom Gehrels, with
120 contributing authors, published by the University of Arizona
Press in 1994.
There is something in this book that I want to bring to your
attention before we get on to our main catastrophe of the day: Mrs.
O'Leary's Cometary Cow.
The volume mentioned above, Hazards due to Comets and Asteroids,
which we note was published in 1994, (in reaction to the impending
Comet Shoemaker-Levy event vis a vis Jupiter), contains a paper
beginning on page 1225, (yeah, it's a BIG book!), that is written by
Robert L. Park of The American Physical Society, Lori B. Garver of
the National Space Society and Terry Dawson, a staffer for the House
Committee on Science, Technology, and Space working for the
Committee's then Chairman, Rep. George E. Brown (See him
The following is a condensation of the main points of this paper:
Our understanding of the history of Earth and its inhabitants is
undergoing a radical change.
The gradual processes of geologic
change and evolution, it is now clear, are punctuated by natural
catastrophes on a colossal scale - catastrophes resulting from
collisions of large asteroids and comets with Earth. It is, to use
the popular term, a "paradigm shift."
This "new catastrophism," is not unlike the revolutions brought
about by the heliocentric solar system of Copernicus, or Darwinian
evolution, or the big bang. In retrospect, such revolutionary ideas
always seem obvious.
On reading the Origin of Species, Thomas Huxley
"Why didn't I think of that."
Now, looking at the
Moon, we find ourselves wondering why it took so long to ask whether
the process that cratered its surface is still going on. [...]
The long time scale between major impacts has implications for
public policy. Governments do not function on geologic time. On the
North Dakota prairie near the town of Grand Forks, lie the abandoned
ruins of America's ballistic missile defense system...
accordance with the ABM treaty, the Grand Forks facility was meant
to defend our retaliatory capacity. It was declared operational in
1975 - and decommissioned the same year. National leaders had been
persuaded by some scientists that the Grand Forks facility would
meet the threat to our intercontinental ballistic missile fleet,
even though other scientists warned that the system was dangerous
It was closed because the money to operate it was
needed for other projects that were deemed to be more urgent.
The lesson of Grand Forks is as old as human history: societies will
not sustain indefinitely a defense against an infrequent and
unpredictable threat. Governments often respond quickly to a crisis,
but are less well suited to remaining prepared for extended periods.
Even on the brief scale of human lifetimes, resources are eventually
diverted to more immediate problems, or defenses are allowed to
decay into a state of unreadiness.
According to news accounts, in
the great flood of 1993, the U.S. Corp of Engineers prepared to
close the massive iron gates in the vast complex of levees on the
Mississippi and its tributaries only to discover that some of the
gates had been removed and sold for scrap. Periodic inspections had
been suspended to save money.
Indeed, civilization will do well to
survive long enough to be threatened by a major asteroid impact; our
own destructive impulses of the unanticipated consequences of our
technologies seem likely to do us in first.
It is unrealistic to
expect governments to sustain a commitment to protection against a
rare occurrence when they are constantly under pressure to respond
to some perceived immediate crisis.
Particularly now , with nuclear weapons being dismantled by
the major powers, any talk of a nuclear defense against such an
unlikely hazard as cosmic collisions will be seen as an effort by
the weapons community to sustain itself. The risk of diversion of
any mitigation system to military uses must be regarded as a more
immediate hazard. [...]
Given the frequency of past collisions, major impact is unlikely to
occur in the next century. [...]
Discussion of mitigation may serve one public purpose. It is
important that devastation not be accepted as inevitable, otherwise
society might prefer not to know when it is coming. An asteroid
interception workshop hosted by NASA in 1992 concluded that
available technology can deal effectively with a threatening
asteroid, given warning time on the order of several years.
conclusion validates the view that current efforts should
concentrate on detection and orbit determination.
The challenge of science is to identify objects that threaten Earth
and work out the timetables for their arrival. Here the challenge is
straightforward and technical. [...]
The emphasis has properly been on impacts that would be expected to
have global consequences. Even for objects too small to produce more
than local effects, however, it has been pointed out that an impact
might be misidentified as a nuclear explosion. Misidentification
would be most likely among nations that have recently joined the
ranks of "nuclear powers" and would therefore be expected to have
less sophisticated means of verification.
It is more than a hypothetical concern. We recall that the 1978
South Indian Ocean anomaly, detected by a Vela satellite, was
suspected at the time of being a South African-Israeli nuclear test.
In spite of the failure to find any confirming evidence from
intelligence sources or atmospheric monitoring, it created
international tensions that lasted for years.
At the time, there
were suggestions that it might have been an artifact produced by
micrometeorite impact on the Vela satellite itself, but little
serious consideration seems to have been given to the idea that the
satellite had observed the fireball from an asteroid impact in the
atmosphere. A 1990 satellite observation of an apparent asteroid
impact fireball over the Western Pacific has been described by
The danger of misidentification, which grows as
weapons proliferate among less sophisticated nations, is meliorated
in part by publicizing the possibility. The only sure means of
avoiding an unfortunate response, however, would be for everyone to
know the impact is coming. Which again places the emphasis on
Efforts to persuade governments to invest significant resources in
evaluation of the hazard of asteroid impacts must overcome what has
been called the "giggle factor." Clearly, elected officials in
Washington are not being inundated with mail from constituents
complaining that a member of their family has just been killed or
their property destroyed by a marauding asteroid. [...]
Congressional involvement has been confined to the Committee on
Science, Space and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives,
whose current chair, George Brown of California, has maintained an
interest in the asteroid issue for several years. The committee
directed NASA to conduct two international workshops on the asteroid
In March of 1993, the Space Subcommittee held a formal hearing to
examine the results of the two workshops. Some members remain
skeptical that the threat is real. But even among those who
recognize that it is only a question of when a major impact will
occur, there was no sense of urgency. [...]
The frequency of impacts of objects of various sizes is known only
to limited precisions. In particular, objects up to several meters
in diameter explode in the atmosphere without reaching the surface.
Although the energy released in these explosions may be many times
greater than that released by the Hiroshima bomb, they most
frequently occur over the ocean or sparsely inhabited regions of
Earth and go unreported. [...]
Congress is unlikely to take any action in the absence of public
pressure. Once the public understands that Earth and the life on it
have been shaped by cosmic collisions (and the process is
continuing), they will be more likely to support the science needed
to evaluate the threat. The scientific community must, therefore,
concentrate on public education. [...]
All of this creates a dilemma. While it is important to inform the
public, it is dangerous to encourage fear mongering. ... Scientists
would do well, for example, to avoid such terms as "near miss." The
public understands "near-miss" as the draft of wind from a truck
that passes as you step off the curb - not a truck that went by six
hours earlier. [...]
Even in such staid newspapers as the New York Times and Washington
Post, articles may include a well-reasoned discussion of relative
risk, but the headline writers find "doomsday rock," "space bullets"
and "killer comet" irresistible.
These headlines exploit the
excessive fear engendered by events people feel powerless to
The image of an indifferent mountain of stone and metal
guided by the immutable laws of physics toward an inevitable
rendezvous with Earth, is the stuff of nightmares. Remarkably,
however, Nature has apparently provided a non-threatening
demonstration. The impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on the back side
of Jupiter in July of 1994 provides an historic opportunity to
educate the public without terrorizing anyone.
Shoemaker-Levy 9, in its last pass by Jupiter, broke into a string
of 21 major pieces. The energy released by the impacts of the full
string will be equivalent to about a billion megatons of TNT.
Although the pieces will impact on the side of Jupiter away from
Earth, millions of amateur astronomers will be watching to see the
flashes reflected from Jupiter's moons. A few hours later, the
rotation of Jupiter will bring the impact region into view.
great disagreement about what will be seen, but no one suggests that
it will not be spectacular.
The asteroid-comet community needs only to insure that everything is
fully and accurately explained; the message will take care of
the energy deposited by the cosmic impacts is enormous
this is a process that is still going on
This guy had a lot of faith in human beings, didn't he?
that all scientists had to do was to tell the public the truth and
they would get enough support to fund cataloging the dangerous
asteroids in earth-crossing orbits. He also thought that this was
the main problem: asteroids that could be seen and listed.
What seems obvious to me is that someone else took the "Lesson of
the Grand Forks Facility" in an entirely different way.
that comes to my mind is this: are
the Elite Powers creating a
On Terror as an immediate and constant pressure on the public to get
the needed support for the stockpiling of nuclear weapons so they
will have them to use on asteroids?
You know, kind of a benevolent
lie with a million or so innocent Iraqis being sacrificed to sustain
Kind of like the Madeleine Albright thing:
In 1996 then-UN
Ambassador Madeleine Albright was asked by 60 Minutes correspondent
Lesley Stahl, in reference to years of U.S.-led economic sanctions
"We have heard that half a million children have died.
I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know,
is the price worth it?"
To which Ambassador Albright responded,
"I think that is a very hard
choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it."
So, is there somebody at the top who thinks that stockpiling nuclear
weapons is a good thing for planetary defense of a cosmic nature?
There is another way to ask the question: are the Powers That Be
using the threat of asteroids on lawmakers to get them to agree to
backing the phony War on Terror in order to obtain and retain the
support of the masses when what they are really doing is just
planning on a fascist take-over of the world?
Notice that the paper
above also said:
The risk of diversion of any mitigation system to military uses must
be regarded as a more immediate hazard.
It's hard to tell what goes on in the minds of deviants.
One thing I
think we can be sure of is that the threat of cometary bombardment
is real and immediate, and that comes from the science. Sadly, it
does not come from our leaders who, even if they are aware of some
threat and are stockpiling nuclear weapons to use to divert inbound
asteroids or comets, haven't bothered to make the threat clear to
the masses of humanity via science as they very well could.
Scanning through this almost 1300 page volume which collects pretty
much all the then scientifically acknowledged data on comet and
asteroid impacts reveals that there was some pretty interesting
thinking going on prior to Shoemaker-Levy 9.
We've come a long way
in our understanding since then; well, some have. The U.S. school is
still pretty much stuck in the "single massive asteroid at vast
timescales"; probably due to political pressures to keep the real
issues covered up. I noted that Shoemaker had a paper in the volume
where he said there were only 140 known impact craters on the earth.
He completely ignored the
Carolina bays which have been reclaimed
for what they are by Richard Firestone, Allen West and Simon
The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes: Flood, Fire, and
Famine in the History of Civilization.
I understand that there are
over 50,000 of those critters. That's scary!
We also note the remark in the above paper:
"The frequency of
impacts of objects of various sizes is known only to limited
precisions. In particular, objects up to several meters in diameter
explode in the atmosphere without reaching the surface."
this guy wasn't part of the the same crowd that hung out with
Brigadier General S. Pete Worden, who said that he ,
should pay more attention to the 'Tunguska-class' objects - 100
meter or so objects which can strike up to several times per century
with the destructiveness of a nuclear weapon," reported in the
Thirty Years of Cults and Comets.
In any event, the authors of the above quoted paper had a generally
open attitude toward the public and educating them that no longer
seems to be the perception of our ruling elites.
Speaking of General Worden and his obscure remark, after publishing
the last installment of the present series, several members of the
SOTT Forum did a little digging on the question and came up with
some very interesting finds. It seems that there were two events in
the 1930s that equaled the Tunguska event:
Two "Tunguskas" in South America in the 1930's?
This article was printed in IMO's December 1995 edition of the WGN
Journal. It was written by Duncan Steel of the Anglo-Australian
There is evidence that there were two massive bolide explosions
which occurred over South America in the 1930's. One seems to have
occurred over Amazonia, near the Brazil-Peru border, on August 13,
1930, whilst the other was over British Guyana on December 11, 1935.
It is noted that these dates coincide with the peaks of
the Geminids, although any association with those meteor showers
is very tentative.
The identification of such events is significant
in particular in that they point to the need for re-assessment of
the frequency of Tunguska-type atmospheric detonations.
Then there is this:
February 12, 1947: A rain of around 70 tons of iron
This week marks the golden anniversary of what is arguably the most
spectacular meteorite fall ever seen.
At 10:40 a.m. on February 12,
1947, a incredibly bright fireball seared its way across the sky of
eastern Siberia and rained around 70 tons of iron meteorites onto
the rugged landscape.
Because it was so well documented,
the Sikhote-Alin fall proved a great boon to meteorite science.
A large 5kg Sikhote-Alin specimen with a naturally formed hole
The 1947 Siberian event is considered in most literature as one of
the two most significant events this century where the earth has
encountered objects from space.
It was an iron meteorite that broke
up only about 5 miles above the earth. It produced over 100 craters
with the largest being around 85 feet in diameter. The strewn-field
covered an area of about 1 mile by a half mile. There were no fires
or similar destruction like that found at Tunguska. Shredded trees
and broken branches mostly.
A total of 23 tons of meteorites were
recovered and it's been estimated it's total mass was around 70 tons
when it broke up.
(from Sky Publishing Corporation and George Zay)
There are more, of course, but this just tells us that there are
many things going on here on the Big Blue Marble that we aren't
aware of. That's what Victor Clube is saying in his narrative report
to the USAF and Oxford that sent me off on this topic.
return to Clube and our historical review:
The next period of cometary activity that Clube refers to is that
which encompassed the American Revolution (1775 - 1783) and the
French Revolution (1789 - 1799) and the mid-nineteenth century
I'm going to skip the two revolutions for the moment and go
directly to the mid-nineteenth century period because it is
intensely interesting and leads us into our topic of the day.
In trying to find some details about the mid-nineteenth century
crisis mentioned above, a whole lot of things turned up that I'm
sure we all learned in history class in school, but it just never
was put together in a way that made it look as interesting as it
does now! What happened then was, of course, the "Industrial
Revolution." But it was kind of like the Renaissance in that it
overlapped a lot of other interesting events.
The Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism began, more or
less, toward the end of the eighteenth century.
century was a turbulent epoch beginning with a stock market crash in
1825 then moving on to the Panic of 1847, a collapse of British
financial markets associated with the end of the 1840s railroad
boom. The crisis of 1847 could have been more disastrous except that
it was cut short by economic revival following the California gold
strike of 1849.
After a period of prosperity, there began a series of wars and
revolutions. There was the first Italian War for Independence in
1857, and then the American Civil War of 1861, the Polish
Insurrection of 1863, Napoleon the Second's Mexican adventure and
the campaign against Denmark in 1864 which started the Prussian Wars
led by Bismarck. Bismarck attacked Austria in 1866 and won a victory
over France in 1871.
The, there was the Republican uprising in Spain
which toppled Queen Isabella from the throne. Finally, there was the
last of Louis Napoleon's adventures which culminated in the crashing
of the Empire in 1871.
There was Civil War in France following the downfall of the Second
Napoleon, and the people (Paris Communards) seized power. They were
soon crushed and order was restored in the Third Republic, and the
revolutionary tide receded for the rest of the century.
It is interesting to consider the other events that were occurring
at this time. Industrial capitalism was being spread with missionary
Western investors roamed the globe looking for
openings to establish trade and to invest in anything that could be
bought or sold. In the process, millions of people were
redistributed in the greatest mass migrations in history from the
Old World to the New. Science became the handmaiden of industry and
capitalism. The volume of world trade was 1.75 billion dollars in
1830 and it rose to 3.6 billion in 1850, skyrocketing to 9.4 billion
So, Clube is right. For about twenty-five years, the entire Western
world was bubbling cauldron of war and revolution and people taking
advantage of wars and revolution to make money. When it was all
over, the imperial powers of Europe that were to rule the world
until 1914, were firmly ensconced.
More than that, the United States
as a federal, capitalist entity, had been forged at Appamattox.
There were obviously other things going on at that time. In the
period from 1830 to 1860 there was apparently an enormous upsurge in
The imminent return of Christ was being predicted
Manuel de Lacunza, a Catholic priest in South America
wrote (under the pen name of Juan Josafa Ben-Ezra) a book entitled
The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, which was published in
Spain in 1812. He believed that Jesus was coming very, very soon.
William Miller (Seventh-Day Adventists) declared that
coming and predicted 1844 as the date.
Edward Irving of England and
Johann Bengel in Germany almost simultaneously came to the
conclusion that the prophecies of Daniel pointed to the time of the
end being right then; Mason in Scotland, Leonard H. Kelber in
Germany and many, many others preached about the Second coming.
Spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis gave 157 lectures in 1845 about
the new era, which Edgar Allen Poe attended regularly.
Spiritualism Craze began with the Fox sisters in 1848. Mourant
Brock, of the Church of England, noted that the craze for
eschatology had spread through all of Europe and extended to India.
The Story of Prophecy by Henry James Forman).
As Clube notes, this religious fervor parallels cosmic events.
In 1843, there appeared one of the greatest comets of history. The
Great Comet of 1843 formally designated C/1843 D1 and 1843 I, was
discovered on February 5, 1843 and rapidly brightened. It was a
member of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of comets resulting from
the breakup of a parent comet (X/1106 C1) into multiple fragments in
These comets pass extremely close to the Sun - within a
few solar radii - and this is why they often become very bright.
C/1843 D1 moved rapidly toward an incredibly close perihelion of
less than 830,000 km on February 27, 1843, at which time it could be
seen in broad daylight just a degree away from the Sun!
around and passed close to earth on March 6, 1843, and seemed to
manifest its greatest brilliance the following day. It was last
observed on April 19, 1843. At that time this comet had passed
closer to the sun than any other known object. The American Journal
of Science and The New York Tribune devoted special sections to this
comet at the time.
You could say that "comet fever" was pandemic!
The Great Comet of 1843 - still unnamed - developed a tail over 2
Astronomical Units in length, the longest known cometary tail until
measurements in 1996 showed that Comet Hyakutake's tail was almost
twice as long.
In 1857, an anonymous German astrologer predicted that a comet would
strike the earth on June 13 of that year. The impending catastrophe
became the talk of all of Europe. The French astronomer, Jacques Babinet, tried to reassure people by stating that a collision
between the earth and a comet would do no harm. He compared the
impact to "a railway train being hit by a fly".
apparently, had little effect.
The Paris correspondent for the
American journal, Harper's Weekly, wrote:
Women have miscarried; crops have been neglected; wills have been
made; comet-proof suits of clothing have been invented; a cometary
life insurance company (premiums payable in advance) has been
created... all because an almanac maker... thought proper to insert,
under the week commencing June 13, 'About this time, expect a
Let's back up just a minute here, to 1826. In 1826, comet 3D/Biela
was discovered by Wilhelm von Biela.
It has become known as
Comet Biela or Biela's Comet. This comet had been first seen in 1772 by
Charles Messier and again in 1805 by Jean-Louis Pons. It was von
Biela who discovered it in its 1826 perihelion approach (on February
27) and calculated its orbit, discovering it to be periodic with a
period of 6.6 years which is why it was named after him and not
Messier or Pons.
It was only the third comet (at the time) found to
be periodic, after the famous comets Halley and Encke.
astronomer M. Damoiseau subsequently calculated its path, and
announced that on its next return the comet would cross the orbit of
the earth, within twenty thousand miles of its track, and about one
month before the earth would arrive at the same spot!
When the comet came in 1832, the earth did, indeed, miss it by one
month. It returned again in 1839 and 1846. In its 1846 appearance,
the comet was observed to have broken up into two pieces. It was
observed again in 1852 with the two parts being 1.5 million miles
Each part had a head and tail of its own.
The comet did not come in 1852, 1859, or 1866.
The Edinburgh Review
notes about this strange state of affairs:
The puzzled astronomers were left in a state of tantalizing
uncertainty as to what had become of it.
At the beginning of the
year 1866 this feeling of bewilderment gained expression in the
Annual Report of the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society. The
matter continued, nevertheless, in the same state of provoking
uncertainty for another six years.
The third period of the
perihelion passage had then passed, and nothing had been seen of the
missing luminary. But on the night of November 27, 1872,
night-watchers were startled by a sudden and a very magnificent
display of falling stars or meteors, of which there had been no
The meteors were radiating from the part of the sky where the comet
had been expected to cross in September.
In other words, the
trajectory was the same, and the earth intersected it, but the
velocity was somewhat altered. The American Journal of Science said
they fell like snowflakes. Professor Olmstead, a mathematician at
Yale University estimated 34,640 shooting stars per hour. The New
York Journal of Commerce wrote that no philosopher or scholar has
ever recorded an event like this.
These meteors became known as the Andromedids or "Bielids" and it seems apparent that they indicated
the death of the comet. The meteors were seen again on subsequent
occasions for the rest of the 19th century, but have now faded away.
Is that all there is to that?
As it happens, on Sunday, the 8th of October, in the year 1871, at
half past nine o'clock in the evening, events occurred which caused
the death of hundreds of human beings, and the destruction of vast
amounts of property, across three different States of the American
Union, sending millions of people into fits of the wildest alarm and
The following passages are extracted from the
History of the
Great Conflagration, Sheahan & Upton, Chicago 1871.
The summer of 1871 had been
excessively dry; the moisture seemed to be evaporated out of the
air; and on the Sunday above named the atmospheric conditions
all through the Northwest were of the most peculiar character.
The writer was living at the time in
Minnesota, hundreds of miles from the scene of the disasters,
and he can never forget the condition of things. There was a
parched, combustible, inflammable, furnace-like feeling in the
air, that was really alarming. It felt as if there were needed
but a match, a spark, to cause a world-wide explosion. It was
weird and unnatural.
I have never seen nor felt anything
like it before or since. Those who experienced it will bear me
out in these statements.
At that hour, half past nine o'clock in the evening, at apparently
the same moment, at points hundreds of miles apart, in three
different States, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois, fires of the
most peculiar and devastating kind broke out, so far as we know, by
In Wisconsin, on its eastern borders, in a heavily timbered country,
near Lake Michigan, a region embracing four hundred square miles,
extending north from Brown County, and containing Peshtigo,
Manistee, Holland, and numerous villages on the shores of Green Bay,
was swept bare by an absolute whirlwind of flame. There were seven
hundred and fifty people killed outright, besides great numbers of
the wounded, maimed, and burned, who died afterward.
More than three
million dollars' worth of property was destroyed.
(pp 393, 394,
"At sundown there was a lull in the wind and comparative stillness.
For two hours there were no signs of danger; but at a few minutes
after nine o'clock, and by a singular coincidence, precisely the
time at which the Chicago fire commenced, the people of the village
heard a terrible roar. It was that of a tornado, crushing through
the forests. Instantly the heavens were illuminated with a terrible
The sky, which had been so dark a moment before, burst into
clouds of flame.
A spectator of the terrible scene says the fire did not come upon
them gradually from burning trees and other objects to the windward,
but the first notice they had of it was a whirlwind of flame in
great clouds from above the tops of the trees, which fell upon and
entirely enveloped everything.
The poor people inhaled it, or the
intensely hot air, and fell down dead. This is verified by the
appearance of many of the corpses. They were found dead in the roads
and open spaces, where there were no visible marks of fire near by,
with not a trace of burning upon their bodies or clothing. At the
Sugar Bush, which is an extended clearing, in some places four miles
in width, corpses were found in the open road, between fences only
No mark of fire was upon them; they lay there as if
asleep. This phenomenon seems to explain the fact that so many were
killed in compact masses.
They seemed to have huddled together, in
what were evidently regarded at the moment the safest places, far
away from buildings, trees, or other inflammable material, and there
to have died together.
Another spectator says:
"Much has been said of the intense heat of the fires which destroyed
Peshtigo, Menekaune, Williamsonville, etc., but all that has been
said can give the stranger but a faint conception of the
reality. The heat has been compared to that engendered by a
flame concentrated on an object by a blow-pipe; but even
that would not account for some of the phenomena.
For instance, we have in our
possession a copper cent taken from the pocket of a dead man
in the Peshtigo Sugar Bush, which will illustrate our point.
This cent has been partially fused, but still retains its
round form, and the inscription upon it is legible. Others,
in the same pocket, were partially melted, and yet the
clothing and the body of the man were not even singed.
We do not know in what way to
account for this, unless, as is asserted by some, the
tornado and fire were accompanied by electrical phenomena".
"It is the universal testimony that the prevailing idea among the
people was, that the last day had come. Accustomed as they were to
fire, nothing like this had ever been known.
They could give no
other interpretation to this ominous roar, this bursting of the sky
with flame, and this dropping down of fire out of the very heavens,
consuming instantly everything it touched.
"No two give a like description of the great tornado as it smote and
devoured the village. It seemed as if 'the fiery fiends of hell had
been loosened,' says one. 'It came in great sheeted flames from
heaven,' says another.
'There was a pitiless rain of fire and
*sand*.' 'The atmosphere was all afire.'
Some speak of,
of fire unrolling and shooting forth in streams.'
The fire leaped
over roofs and trees, and ignited whole streets at once. No one
could stand before the blast. It was a race with death, above,
behind, and before them".
A civil engineer, doing business in Peshtigo, says:
"The heat increased so rapidly, as things got well afire, that, when
about four hundred feet from the bridge and the nearest building, I
was obliged to lie down behind a log that was aground in about two
feet of water, and by going under water now and then, and holding my
head close to the water behind the log, I managed to breathe.
were a dozen others behind the same log. If I had succeeded in
crossing the river and gone among the buildings on the other side,
probably I should have been lost, as many were."
In Michigan, one Allison Weaver, near Port Huron, determined to
remain, to protect, if possible, some mill-property of which he had
He knew the fire was coming, and dug himself a shallow well
or pit, made a thick plank cover to place over it, and thus prepared
to bide the conflagration.
"He filled it nearly full of water, and took care to saturate the
ground around it for a distance of several rods.
Going to the mill,
he dragged out a four-inch plank, sawed it in two, and saw that the
parts tightly covered the mouth of the little well. 'I calculated it
would be touch and go,' said he, 'but it was the best I could do.'
At midnight he had everything arranged, and the roaring then was
awful to hear. The clearing was ten to twelve acres in extent, and
Weaver says that, for two hours before the fire reached him, there
was a constant flight across the ground of small animals. As he
rested a moment from giving the house another wetting down, a horse
dashed into the opening at full speed and made for the house. Weaver
could see him tremble and shake with excitement and terror, and felt
a pity for him.
After a moment, the animal gave utterance to a snort
of dismay, ran two or three times around the house, and then shot
off into the woods like a rocket."
"Not long after this the fire came. Weaver stood by his well, ready
for the emergency, yet curious to see the breaking-in of the flames.
The roaring increased in volume, the air became oppressive, a cloud
of dust and cinders came showering down, and he could see the flame
through the trees. It did not run along the ground, or leap from
tree to tree, but it came on like a tornado, a sheet of flame
reaching from the earth to the tops of the trees.
As it struck the
clearing he jumped into his well, and closed over the planks. He
could no longer see, but he could hear. He says that the flames made
no halt whatever, or ceased their roaring for an instant, but he
hardly got the opening closed before the house and mill were burning
tinder, and both were down in five minutes.
The smoke came down upon
him powerfully, and his den was so hot he could hardly breathe.
"He knew that the planks above him were on fire, but, remembering
their thickness, he waited till the roaring of the flames had died
away, and then with his head and hands turned them over and put our
the fire by dashing up water with his hands. Although it was a cold
night, and the water had at first chilled him, the heat gradually
warmed him up until he felt quite comfortable. He remained in his
den until daylight, frequently turning over the planks and putting
out the fire, and then the worst had passed.
The earth around was on
fire in spots, house and mill were gone, leaves, brush, and logs
were swept clean away as if shaved off and swept with a broom, and
nothing but soot and ashes were to be seen".
In Wisconsin, at Williamson's Mills, there was a large but shallow
well on the premises belonging to a Mr. Boorman.
The people, when
cut off by the flames and wild with terror, and thinking they would
find safety in the water, leaped into this well.
"The relentless fury of the flames drove them pell-mell into the
pit, to struggle with each other and die - some by drowning, and
others by fire and suffocation. None escaped. Thirty-two bodies were
found there. They were in every imaginable position; but the
contortions of their limbs and the agonizing expressions of their
faces told the awful tale".
James B. Clark, of Detroit, who was at Uniontown, Wisconsin, writes:
"The fire suddenly made a rush, like the flash of a train of
gunpowder, and swept in the shape of a crescent around the
settlement. It is almost impossible to conceive the frightful
rapidity of the advance of the flames. The rushing fire seemed to
eat up and annihilate the trees."
They saw a black mass coming toward them from the wall of flame:
"It was a stampede of cattle and horses thundering toward us,
bellowing, moaning, and neighing as they galloped on; rushing with
fearful speed, their eyeballs dilated and glaring with terror, and
every motion betokening delirium of fright. Some had been badly
burned, and must have plunged through a long space of flame in the
desperate effort to escape.
Following considerably behind came a solitary horse, panting and
snorting and nearly exhausted. He was saddled and bridled, and, as
we first thought, had a bag lashed to his back. As he came up we
were startled at the sight of a young lad lying fallen over the
animal's neck, the bridle wound around his hands, and the mane being
clinched by the fingers.
Little effort was needed to stop the jaded
horse, and at once release the helpless boy. He was taken into the
house, and all that we could do was done; but he had inhaled the
smoke, and was seemingly dying. Some time elapsed and he revived
enough to speak.
He told his name - Patrick Byrnes - and said:
'Father and mother and the children got into the wagon. I don't know
what became of them. Everything is burned up. I am dying. Oh! Is
hell any worse than this?'"
When we leave Wisconsin and pass about two hundred and fifty miles
eastward, over Lake Michigan and across the whole width of the State
of Michigan, we find much the same condition of things, but not so
terrible in the loss of life.
Fully fifteen thousand people were
rendered homeless by the fires; and their food, clothing, crops,
horses, and cattle were destroyed. Of these five to six thousand
were burned out the same night that the fires broke out in Chicago
and Wisconsin. The total destruction of property exceeded one
million dollars; not only villages and cities, but whole townships,
were swept bare.
But it is to Chicago we must turn for the most extraordinary results
of this atmospheric disturbance. It is needless to tell the story in
detail. The world knows it by heart.
I have only space to refer to
one or two points...
The fire was spontaneous.
The story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow having
started the conflagration by kicking over a lantern was proved to be
false. It was the access of gas from the tail of Biela's comet that
burned up Chicago!
The fire-marshal testified:
"I felt it in my bones that we were
going to have a burn."
He says, speaking of O'Leary's barn:
"We got the fire under control, and it would not have gone farther;
but the next thing I knew they came and told me that St. Paul's
church, about two squares north, was on fire".
They checked the church-fire, but,
"The next thing I knew the fire
was in Bateham's planing-mill."
A writer in the New York Evening Post says he saw in Chicago,
"buildings far beyond the line of fire, and in no contact with it,
burst into flames from the interior."
It must not be forgotten that the fall of 1871 was marked by
extraordinary conflagrations in regions widely separated.
On the 8th
of October, the same day the Wisconsin, Michigan, and Chicago fires
broke out, the States of Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois were
severely devastated by prairie-fires; while terrible fires raged on
the Alleghenies, the Sierras of the Pacific coast, and the Rocky
Mountains, and in the region of the Red River of the North.
The Annual Record of Science and Industry for 1876, page 84, says:
"For weeks before and after the great fire in Chicago in 1872, great
areas of forest and prairie-land, both in the United States and the
British Provinces, were on fire."
The flames that consumed a great part of Chicago were of an unusual
character and produced extraordinary effects.
They absolutely melted
the hardest building-stone, which had previously been considered
fire-proof. Iron, glass, granite, were fused and run together into
grotesque conglomerates, as if they had been put through a
blast-furnace. No kind of material could stand its breath for a
I quote again from Sheahan & Upton's work:
"The huge stone and brick structures melted before the fierceness of
the flames as a snow-flake melts and disappears in water, and almost
as quickly. Six-story buildings would take fire and disappear for
ever from sight in five minutes by the watch...
The fire also
doubled on its track at the great Union Depot and burned half a mile
southward in the very teeth of the gale - a gale which blew a
perfect tornado, and in which no vessel could have lived on the
lake... Strange, fantastic fires of blue, red, and green played
along the cornices of buildings"
["History of the
Chicago Fire" 85, 86].
Hon. William B. Ogden wrote at the time:
"The fire was accompanied by the
fiercest tornado of wind ever known to blow here".
"The most striking peculiarity of the fire was its intense heat.
Nothing exposed to it escaped. Amid the hundreds of acres left bare
there is not to be found a piece of wood of any description, and,
unlike most fires, it left nothing half burned... The fire swept the
streets of all the ordinary dust and rubbish, consuming it
The Athens marble burned like coal!
"The intensity of the heat may be judged, and the thorough
combustion of everything wooden may be understood, when we state
that in the yard of one of the large agricultural-implement
factories was stacked some hundreds of tons of pig-iron. This iron
was two hundred feet from any building.
To the south of it was the
river, one hundred and fifty feet wide. No large building but the
factory was in the immediate vicinity of the fire. Yet, so great was
the heat, that this pile of iron melted and run, and is now in one
large and nearly solid mass".
The amount of property destroyed was estimated by Mayor Medill at
one hundred and fifty million dollars; and the number of people
rendered houseless, at one hundred and twenty-five thousand.
hundred lives were lost.
"What eyewitnesses described was more like a holocaust from heaven
than an accidental fire started by a nervous cow.
And in fact,
according to a theory propounded by Minnesota Congressmen Ignatius
Donnelly, the devastating fires of 1871 did fall from above, in the
form of a wayward cometary tail. During it's 1846 passage, Biela's
comet had inexplicably split in two; it was supposed to return in
1866, but failed to appear. Biela's fragmented head finally showed
up in 1872 as a meteor shower.
"Donnelly suggested the separated tail appeared in 1871 and was the
prime cause of the widespread firestorm that swept the Midwest,
damaging or destroying a total of twenty-four towns and leaving
2,000 or more dead in its wake. Drought conditions that fall no
doubt contributed to the extent of the conflagration.
"History today concentrates on the Chicago Fire alone and largely
overlooks the Peshtigo Horror, as it was then called. It ignores
altogether Biela's comet and it's unaccounted-for tail.
No doubt that this story came to the attention of
Ten years later, there was the Great Comet of 1881 (C/1881 K1),
discovered by the Australian amateur astronomer, John Tebbutt. All
we hear about this comet nowadays is that it was one of the first
comets photographed and studied scientifically. However, this comet
following so closely on the events of ten years previously obviously
got a few people thinking.
Ignatius Donnelly, who had already stated that he thought the Great
Chicago Fire had been caused by cometary debris, published a book in
Ragnarok, wherein he proposed that a giant comet had
passed close to the earth in past ages. The intense heat from the
comet had set off huge fires that raged across the face of the
He suggested that the comet had dumped vast amounts of dust
on the earth, triggered earthquakes, leveled mountains, and
initiated the ice age. He even explained some of the miracles of the
Bible in terms of his comet, proposing that the standing-still of
the sun at the command of Joshua was possibly a tale commemorating
Donnelly's readers were thrilled by his descriptions of
the "glaring and burning monster" in the sky, scorching the planet
with unearthly heat and shaking the land with "thunders beyond all
Possibly inspired by Donnelly (not to mention what was obviously
going on in the heavens), Camille Flammarion wrote The End of the
World in 1893 in which he recounted a fictional collision between
the earth and a comet fifty times its size. Flammarion's lurid prose
ensured that his book was an immediate sensation!
should be noted, was a friend and associate of, and greatly
influenced by, Allan Kardec, the French Pedagogue, medical student,
linguist and researcher of "spirit communications." He was also a
friend of Jules Violle the probable true identity of the legendary
Well, all that was a pretty interesting diversion into history, now
wasn't it? Doesn't seem quite so dull and boring anymore, eh? Okay,
time to return to Victor Clube's narrative.
I think that what he is
writing will make a whole lot more sense now!
The fact of a perceived danger at these epochs, signified
historically by a global rise in eschatological concern, is now
understood in various academic quarters as marking some kind of
physical dislocation (climate? disease?) which causes economic and
social activity to be widely deranged, even to the point of collapse
of civilized society, leading then to revolution, mass migration and
war, amplified on a global scale.
The occasions of such breakdowns
in civilization are of course a matter of serious concern and their
systematic study has been taken up in America (and elsewhere) at
such institutes as the Center for Comparative Research in History,
Society and Culture at the University of California, Davis
To the "enlightened" however, the eschatology
remains an anomaly and secure connections with celestial inputs have
generally still to be made. We should recall however that many, as
usual on these occasions of breakdown, would see "blazing stars
threatening the world with famine, plague and war; to princes'
death; to kingdoms many curses; [and] to all estates many losses..."
The three earliest of these epochs are of course the periods of
Inquisition and of the great European witch-hunts (which spilled
over to America) when ecclesiastical and secular administrators
alike would discourage any (astrological) notion that the celestial
sphere interfered with terrestrial affairs.
The separate stories of
scientific revolutionaries like Copernicus, Kepler, Bruno, Galileo
and Newton now bear witness to the ferocity with which the most
acceptable cosmic viewpoint (of the time) was imposed. Indeed, these
separate stories are still being adjusted and Newton, it is now
realised, was constrained by his times to work under conditions of
rather considerable censorship.
The acceptable part of his scientific output was of course published
and has proved its worth repeatedly over 300 years. The unacceptable
part however dealt with "blazing stars" and eschatology and remained
unpublished for some 250 years.
One of the first to examine this
material (Keynes 1947) was so taken aback by the contrast as to dub
Newton not so much "the first of the age of reason" as "the last of
the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerias".
was the Founding Fathers of the Royal Society in Restoration England
who hit upon the "enlightened" step of deriding the cosmic threat
and public anxiety; and it is not without significance today that
English-speaking nations ultimately stood firm and prospered as
others faltered at the last and briefest of the above epochs
(Goldstone, loc cit).
Accordingly, it is largely an Anglo-Saxon
"achievement" that cosmic catastrophes were absolutely discarded and
the scientific principle of uniformitarianism was put in place
between 200 and 150 years ago.
If short-period bombardment of our planet by comets or comet dust is
a reality (as it increasingly appears to be); and the effects of
such an event are deleterious in the extreme; and if we are in fact
overdue for a repeat performance of such a visitation (which also
appears to be the case); what effect might public awareness of this
have on the status quo on the planet at present?
Would the bogus
"war on terror" not become instantly obsolete and would people
across the planet not immediately demand that their political
leaders reassess priorities and take whatever action possible to
mitigate the threat?
And if those political leaders refused to do so
and it became known that that this grave threat to the lives of
billions was long-standing and common knowledge among the political
elite (with all that that implies), what then? Revolution?
hurrah before the 6th extinction?
Who knows. We only know that this knowledge, in its fullest
explication, is being suppressed and marginalized.
The reasons for
the psychological games and ploys may be interesting to investigate.
so that is what we will look at next:
Why is Humanity so Deaf, Dumb
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