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Our Dark Day.

Among the remarkable events of 1881 will be chronicled the phenomenal darkness of last Tuesday. It was a dark day like that experienced in 1780, though perhaps a little less in degree. A dark, vapory mist, settled down in the valleys, completely obscuring the sun, while a penetrating dampness pervaded the air indoors as well as out. The veil which overspread everything was not confined to this locality but extended in a greater or less degree nearly all over New England and the Middle States. But those who dwell upon the mountains and high hills were above the fog and had a bright sun and pleasant skies. The morning was so dark that many people failed to recognize its coming and kept their beds for an hour or two under the impression that old Sol hadn't removed his night cap. The superstitious, as usual, believed that the end of the world had come and went about with sad hearts and long faces. The school children were dismissed, and business to a certain extent was suspended. The stores, business offices and dwellings were lighted. The greatest wonder, however, was the peculiarity in the atmosphere which gave every object a luminous, greenish tint, more like the effect produced by the burning of calcium lights than anything else. The grass of the lawns and the foliage of the trees took on new beauties, while everything discernible through the gloom underwent a transformation that was marvelous and not easily explained. The flame of a gas jet was pale as silver and its illumination resembled that of the electric light. In the afternoon the misty cloud lifted a little, but it was four o'clock before the sun was fully seen and then it was dull and brassy as if it had not fully aroused from its day-time nap. That our readers may compare out dark day with that of a century ago we reprint a few extracts from a graphic description which we find at hand:

Previous to the 19th of May, 1780, a vapor filled the air for several days. There was a smell of sulphur. The morning of the 19th was overcast, with some clouds, and rain fell over the country, with lightning and thunder. Scarcely any motion was in the air; what wind there was came from the southwest. By nine o'clock in the forenoon, without previous warning, the darkness stole gradually on, with a luminous appearance near the horizon, as if the obscuring clouds had dropped from overhead. There was a yellowness of the atmosphere that made clear silver assume a grass green hue. Then a dense, undefinable vapor settled rapidly and without aerial movement over all the land and ocean from Pennsylvania to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the darkness it caused sinking by degrees until the sunlight was effectually shut out. Ordinary cloud is was not. The rapidity with which so large an extent of country was enveloped precludes the possibility of supposing this to have been a natural cloud moving laterally. Besides this the day was too calm to imagine such a thing. Down came the darkness, thicker and thicker. By ten o'clock the air was loaded with a thick gloom. The heavens were tinged with a yellowish or faint red; the lurid look increased. few, if any, ordinary clouds were visible. The sun in disappearing in took brassy hue. The lurid, brassy color spread everywhere, above and below. The grass assumed the color of the sky, and all out of doors wore a sickly, weird and melancholy aspect- a dusky appearance as if seen through a smoked glass. By eleven o'clock it was as night itself, and from this time until three in the afternoon the darkness was extraordinary and frightful. * Just how dark the day was is attested by indisputable evidence. The hour and minute could not be discovered on the face of a watch or clock by persons of unimpaired eyesight. Candles became an absolute necessity both out of doors and in, as it was impossible to transact ordinary business without them. Fires on the hearthstone shone as brightly as on a moonless November evening, and all dinner tables were set with lighted candles upon them as if it were the evening repast. The keenest eyes indoors could not see to read the common print. So far beyond any ordinary fog was the effect that stages on the road either put up the nearest hotel during the mid-day hours or carried candles or lanterns to enable the perplexed driver to see to well see his way. And the brute and feathered creation seemed puzzled and agitated. The birds ceased to fly and hid themselves in the branches of the trees. As the darkness increased they sang their evening songs as they do at twilight, and then became silent. Pigeons on the wing took to the shelter of the forest as they do at night. The whippowill, as if it were truly night, cheerfully sang his song through the gloomy hours. Woodcocks, which are night birds, whistled as they only do in the night time. Bats came out of their hiding places and flew about. The fowls marched solemnly to their roosts as they do only at nightfall, and after cackling for a while over the mystery of so short a day, became still. Cocks crowed as is their custom at nightly intervals and the early breaking of the day. Frogs piped their evening concert and dogs whined or howled and ran away as on the approach of an earthquake. The herds of cattle on the New England's thousand hills, sought the shelter of the shed or barnyard, lowing as they came to the gate, and sheep huddled around the circle with their heads turned inward- the invariable token of apprehended danger. On the human family the effect was still more curious and terrifying. The mechanic left his tools in the shop, the farmer his plow in the furrow, and each moved in silent and marveling mood towards the barn or dwelling. On the home threshold they were met by pale and anxious women, who tremblingly inquired, "What is coming?" The alarmed traveler, seeking the sympathy of his fellow-man as one impressed with a sense of impending peril, put up at the nearest house, and mingled his anxious questionings and forebodings with those of the family. Strong men met and spoke with surprise on their countenances, and little children peered timidly into the deepening gloom and then sought the sheltering parental arms. Schools broke up in affright, and the wondering pupils scampered homeward with many expressions of childish fear. The inevitable candle shone out of the windows of all dwellings- every countenance gathered blackness- all hearts were filled with fear of an approaching unparalleled storm, or the occurrence of a terrestrial convulsion; but it was not the blackness of the storm cloud, such as sometimes with a frightful agitation breaks over a single city; it was the silent spreading of the pall cloth over the earth by strong invisible hands.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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On September 6, 1881, a strange darkness settled over New England. In some places it was so dark that schools were dismissed. What light there was from the obscured sun was strangely yellow, and everything seemed luminous. Some people believed that the world had come to an end. A similar phenomenon occurred on May 19, 1780. The sky turned dark, and colors were distorted, causing the grass appeared blue. Men driving the mail stages reportedly had to pull off at the nearest inn because they could not see. These dark days were caused by enormous fires in the west and Canada. There was so much soot in the atmosphere that for days before the sunsets had been spectacular. Rain that fell and collected in tubs was covered by black scum and smelled like soot. In 1881, the fires that caused "Yellow Tuesday" burned 20 villages and killed 500 people. A similar fire occured in September of 1950 which was called "The Great Smoke Pall."


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"Our Dark Day" article from the Gazette and Courier newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   Sep 12, 1881
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   2.0"
diameter   10.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L06.001

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