Friday, March 9, 2012

The Sky is Falling! (1833 Leonid Meteor Shower)

In 1833, all of North America that lay east of the Rocky Mountains witnessed an unparalleled meteor storm.  According to an article on Wikipedia, estimates place the count of meteors seen as between 100,000 and 200,000 meteors an hour.  These meteors were of a particular type known as Leonids, which have produced prolific showers of meteors at various times in recorded history.

When this spectacular astronomical event occurred in 1833, many people in the U.S. thought that the stars were falling and that the end of the world had come.  To some, it looked like a rain of fire. 

In her book, Hither and Yon, middle Tennessee historian, Jill Garrett, describes how this event affected many people in middle Tennessee.   She cites Nat Jones of the town of Mt. Pleasant, who wrote that few people went to bed that night.  in Columbia, Caroline Nicholson woke from her sleep by "cries of wonder and alarm" and she was terrified to look out the window.

One man in Maury County was reported to have become alarmed that he was about to meet the Lord while being a slaveholder, so he freed his slaves on the spot.  Unfortunately, his repentance did not last, and he rescinded his action when the day came and the world had not ended.  So much for his having had a true change of heart.


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