Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Fun with Kites

I’ve covered mystery lights recently, but the following stories really tickled me. The first appeared in The Ballymena Observer on 14 January 1878.
On Friday night last an incident which may be considered somewhat amusing occurred in Monaghan. About half-past nine o’clock the inhabitants were thrown into a state of consternation by a phenomenon which appeared in the heavens in the shape of a large blazing star. The star kept shooting from right to left, up and down, and performing numerous pantomimic “capers,” which in no slight degree terrified the nervous people of the town. At times it would soar high up in the sky, and then suddenly dive down as if it were determined to reach the earth and consume it. Large crowds had assembled, the city fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers had congregated in groups to view and comment upon the singular phenomenon. Some persons were wondering, others, others were predicting the rapid approach of the Day of Judgement and the burning of the earth. The local astronomer was sent for, and his advice eagerly sought. The sage reviewed the object of the people’s terror, looked extremely wise, thought at first he could explain, but afterwards confessed that he was unable to do so; that he had never beheld anything so extraordinary. People were in a dreadful state of excitement, and were patiently awaiting what they considered inevitable – the burning of the earth – when the object raised itself in the heavens, and then, with one sweep, directed its course in the direction of the assembled multitude, who ran helter-skelter, terror in their very hearts. At last the star rested on terra firma, and those present were awaiting something terrible to ensue, but the blaze began to die out. One young man, more courageous than the others, approached, though cautiously, the fading blaze; and after a good deal of reconnoitring stepped forward and lifted a large kite, with a lighted turf suspended to the tail by means of a piece of wire. This discovery caused no small amount of satisfaction, and every person breathed more freely after it.
The people of Monaghan were lucky to have had their mystery solved in an evening. Some have had to wait a hell of a lot longer, if this item from the Belfast Evening Telegraph of 1873 is to be believed (it seems plausible – until the last sentence, that is).
Sixty years ago considerable excitement was caused at Brattleboro, Vermont, in the United States, by a strange meteor which appeared one dark night, and, after hovering in the sky for about twenty minutes, suddenly vanished with a loud explosion. Many persons considered the phenomenon to be a supernatural omen, and so mysterious and striking was the occurrence that it has never been forgotten in the district, and the story of this wonderful light in the heavens has been handed down from one generation to another as one of the most remarkable events of the present century. The mystery has at last been solved. An old gentleman has lately died at Brattleboro, and, according to a Vermont paper, on his deathbed he confessed that when a boy, in 1811, he made a kite and attached a paper lantern to it, in which he put a candle, arranging the contrivance so that when the candle burned out it would explode some powder in the bottom of the lantern. He kept the secret entirely to himself, and, choosing a dark night when nothing but the coloured lantern was visible, managed unobserved to get his kite into the air, thus producing the sensation which so profoundly affected the district. Having made this confession, without which he could not die comfortably, the old gentleman turned his face to the wall and expired in perfect peace.
Belfast Evening Telegraph, 6 January 1873
The Ballymena Observer, 14 September 1878

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