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Sunday, January 22, 2012

1858: METEORIC PHENOMENON AT SEA

New York Times, March 18, 1858


METEORIC PHENOMENON AT SEA. -- Captain
CONGDON, of the ship Caroline Tucker, from Havre
Jan. 16, gives the particulars of a singular and startling
phenomenon which occurred on the passage.  The
voyage was characterized by nothing unusual, the weather
being such as is common for a Winter passage.  They 
reached the meridian of the Banks of Newfoundland on
the 20th of February; the weather was dark and squally,
the wind from N.W. to N.N.W., the temperature 46
degrees, and the Barometer 30. The ship was under
double-reefed topsails, and everything made snug for
stormy weather.  On the following day, (the 21st,) when
between the southern end of the Banks, and the northern
edge of the Gulf Stream[,] the Barometer falling to 29.50,
and the atmospheric temperature changing suddenly from
59 degrees to 46 degrees, a furious squall of rain and
wind from the Southwest came up at 2 P.M., enveloping
the whole heavens in darkness; the heaviest part of the
squall continued only for fifteen minutes, at the latter
part of which a sudden report, as loud as a six-pound
cannon, was heard overhead, and the mainmast was
instantly enveloped, as by a dozen rockets falling to
the deck.  The ship was lighted fore and aft, and
several of the crew were benumbed, as by a stroke
of electricity.  The chief mate was standing some
twelve aft of the mainmast, steadying himself by
holding on to the topgallant halyards, which lead
from the masthead by a chain, and terminate in a
leading block having an iron strap, at the instant
the explosion was heard.  His arm was paralyzed,
and fell helpless at his side, as if it had been struck
by a heavy descending body, and for several
minutes it was entirely benumbed.  Several others
of the crew felt a severe shock.  On examination,
no serious injury was discovered, but the lead
about the mast-coat was ripped up, and the heads
of the copper nails brightened.  Capt. CONGDON
says they saw, several days before this, while near 
the edge of the Gulf, several meteors at the
masthead -- a thing very common in the Gulf --
but there was no explosion.  The sailors call them
"_compesanis_."  But on no occasion, during an
experience of 22 years of sea, has he witnessed
so terrific an explosion, or observed such effects
from the bursting of a meteor.

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