|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 “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 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 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. That 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 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 threat. […]
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 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 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 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 Cassiopaea 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 Observatory.
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 interesting events.
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 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 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 combustion.
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” (Ibid 374).
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 tale”. (386)
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?'” (383)
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”. (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” [Ibid 119].
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 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 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 Blind?