Sun, 03 Feb 2008 07:42 EST
|Cometary fire ruins, as seen from the corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets, Chicago, 1871.|
Last night we watched Super Comet - After the Impact, a Discovery Channel special 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
articles: 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 events.
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 is 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 Brown (See him listed HERE). 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
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
remarked simply: "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. ... Built in
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 and ineffective. 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 sacle 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. That conclusion validates
the view that current efforts should concentrate on detection and orbit
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 Reynolds (1993). 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 detection.
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
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
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
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 control. 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. There is 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 itself:
(1) the energy deposited by the cosmic impacts is enormous (2) this is
a process that is still going on.
This guy had a lot of faith in human beings, didn't he? He thought
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. The question
that comes to my mind is this: are the Elite Powers creating a War 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 it. 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 against Iraq, "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
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 Warwick-Smith in 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." Obviously,
this guy wasn't part of the the same crowd that hung out with Brigadier
General S. Pete Worden, who said that he believes "we 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 previous article:
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 equalled 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 Perseids and
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:
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.
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 strewnfield 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. So, let's 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 crisis. 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
The Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism began, more or
less, toward the end of the eighteenth century. The nineteenth 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
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
It is interesting to consider the other events that were occurring
at this time. Industrial capitalism was being spread with missionary
zeal everywhere. 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 in 1870.
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
religious fervor. The imminent return of Christ was being predicted
everywhere! 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
Christ was 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. The 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. (See: 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 about 1106. 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! It swung 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". His words, 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 comet'.
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. French 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 apart. 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 previous forecast... [source]
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 terror.
The following passages are extracted from the History of the Great Conflagration, Sheahan & Upton, Chicago 1871. [source]
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 spontaneous
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, etc.)
"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 glare. 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 slightly burned. 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. (p. 372)
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" (373).
"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 'great balls 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. There 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
charge. 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. I quote:
"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" (390).
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
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
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
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". (163)
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 moment.
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" [Ibid 87].
"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 instantly"
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" [Ibid 121].
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. Several
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. (Ken Rieli)
No doubt that this story came to the attention of Victor Clube!
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
Ignatius Donnelly, who had already stated that he thought the Great Chicago Fire had been caused by cometary debris, published a book in 1882, entitled 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 globe. 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 this event. 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 thunders".
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! (Flammarion, it 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 alchemist, Fulcanelli.)
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 (Goldstone, 1991).
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". Thus it 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? One last 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 and
Comment: Continue to Part Seven: Tunguska, the Horns of the Moon and Evolution