Some Fortean events are memorable because of the reactions they provoked. Fear. Terror. Wonder. Awe. Confusion. Disbelief. Loose bowels.
With that in mind, I believe that the following events are worth remembering, not because they are the most mystifying of Fortean incidents - they’re obviously not, all have been readily explained - but because of how they made the witnesses feel.
On Saturday, 6 August 1927, just before 11am, a strange darkness fell over the town of Coleraine. It had been a sunny morning, but very quickly, homes and businesses were resorting to “artificial illumination.”
The darkness had a strange quality. The town’s older residents had never seen anything like it before. And though the town was never in total darkness, and the incident lasted only 10 minutes, it had quite an effect on the people of Coleraine. According to The Derry Journal: “The strange occurrence, which was the subject of general conversation, greatly disturbed many people, some imagining that ‘The Last Day” was at hand.”
Some thunder and heavy rain brought the event to a close.
It would be easy to mock the good people of Coleraine. But a few years later …
Sunday, 16 January 1955, had been a “slightly foggy” day in London until “a belt of darkness” descended and plunged some parts of the city into “pitch black” darkness. It was so dark that “people caught in the unlit streets groped their way along fences and walls.”
Some women queuing outside East Croydon Bus Station screamed when the darkness reached its peak. A woman carrying a baby dropped to her knees and prayed. While outside Croydon Town Hall, a man was shouting: “This is the end of the world.”
There was nothing to worry about, of course. According to the Weather Bureau, it was “a cloud composed of London smoke which became trapped between a northerly wind and a south-easterly. The temperature was such that it descended in a dense cloud, between a mile and two miles across.”
They added: “Such a concentration of smoke, although not unique, is a rare phenomenon.”
Like the earlier Coleraine incident, the London darkness lasted about 10 minutes.
THE PHANTOM TOWN
At 3pm on Sunday, 2 August 1908, a small town appeared on the sea, about 6 -7 miles from Ballyconnelly, in Connemara.
Individual houses could be discerned. There was a mix of sizes and architectural styles. Some houses had been “dismantled,” leading one journalist to opine: “ … as if even this strange land of sunshine on the crest of the western ocean had been the scene of misery and devastation.”
The town remained visible until 6pm.
Only a handful of people saw the town appear. But by the time it disappeared, hundreds lined the shore. And though many regarded the phenomenon “as the reflections in the water of some city far away,” just as many were disappointed that the town had not come to stay.
“The crowd gazing anxiously out on the ocean from the shore wondered if their eyes had not betrayed them, but they had all seen the vision in the broad daylight only a few miles from the shore, and they regarded the legend of ‘Hy-Brazil’ as no longer an imaginative story from the region of fables.”
The Belfast Weekly News, 13 August 1908
The Derry Journal, 8 August 1927
The Dundee Courier and Advertiser, 17 January 1955