Being afraid of the dark is something that we easily mock, as a silly thing to worry about. There is no reason to be frightened of the dark. Yet we have surrounded ourselves in an ever-present comforting light, that always stays on.
Trying to stave off the dark is only natural for humans who constantly had to fend off nocturnal predators in order to survive the night. But one-day darkness descended upon their heads in the middle of the morning.
No more light
On May 19, 1780, the day began turning darker much too soon, in New England; only a few hours after the sun showed its face in the sky it became tinted a reddish hue. By noon it was already dark, and people needed candles and lamps to be able to see.
The sun and stars were obscured from view. People’s testimony from that period state that it was difficult to see a white sheet of paper because it blended with the blackness. No one could work any longer that day, children were sent home from school, flowers closed their petals, cows returned to their stalls and chickens went to their roosts as in preparation for the night.
The population was rightly scared. There was no electricity to light up the darkness in those days so they had to rely on candles and lamps. Lack of fast communication methods, such as radio or telegraph, also made it difficult for people to get into contact with other regions to find an explanation for the unusual event.
This isolation only intensified the fear, and many turned to religion and religious figures for help and guidance. Churches swelled with concerned parishioners looking for direction.
The priests were as dumbfounded as they were and could not offer any advice. The only sensible thing to do was wait and hope that it may pass.
As midday turned into evening and the sun still refused to come back out again, people started to fear they might never see proper daylight and that this was a punishment from God. Judgment day loomed in their minds and hearts.
The moon also turning a reddish face at them only helping to create more panic. All-day that fateful day there had been no light and when the clock turned its hours into the proper night, the sky still remained covered. Only the next day did the sun finally come back in the sky in all its shining glory. The relief people must have felt.
Seeking an explanation
Many years after that phenomenon a number of theories came up in pursuit of an explanation. People’s eyewitness accounts played a crucial role in revealing the truth. Solar eclipse, thunderstorm, and volcanic eruption were among the theories proposed but abandoned since there was no evidence for any of them.
A lot of people described a pervasive scent of smoke, like burning leaves in the air that day. The rain that had fallen left a soot-like coating behind, the same was observed in rivers. That particular winter had been a very cold one.
The University of Missouri announced that forest wildfires in Canada are the cause and the most likely scientific explanation for the event of darkness in the spring of 1780. Fire scar rings in the trees affected in the area also date the event to that very year.
The paper published by the University explains how the fires created a thick column of smoke that ascended into the upper atmosphere mixing with fog to later affect an area hundreds of miles away. This explanation also aligned with witness accounts of ashy deposits and smoky smell in the air.
Mysteries like this make life on this planet fascinating and intriguing. People learn new things about the world around them and uncover secrets years after glimpsing them.
The mysterious event of New England’s dark day has influenced ideas and prompted others to seek out spirituality, out of a need for redemption before death.