The Falling of the Stars

     "The morning of November 13th, 1833, was rendered memorable by an exhibition of the phenomenon called SHOOTING STARS, which was probably more extensive and magnificent than any similar one hitherto recorded. . . .
     Probably no celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with so much admiration and delight by one class of spectators, or with so much astonishment and fear by another class. . . .
     The reader may imagine a constant succession of fire balls, resembling sky rockets, radiating in all directions from a point in the heavens, a few degrees south-east of the zenith, and following the arch of the sky towards the horizon. . . . The balls, as they travelled down the vault, usually left after them a vivid streak of light, and just before they disappeared, exploded, or suddenly resolved themselves into smoke. No report or noise of any kind was observed, although we listened attentively. . . .
     The flashes of light, although less intense than lightning, were so bright as to awaken people in their beds. One ball that shot off in the north-west direction, and exploded a little northward of the star Capella, left, just behind the place of explosion, a phosphorescent train of peculiar beauty. . . .
     The meteors began to attract notice by their unusual frequency or brilliancy, from nine to twelve o'clock in the evening, were most striking in their appearance, from two to five, arrived at their maximum, in many places, about four o'clock, and continued till rendered invisible by the light of day." --Denison Olmsted, "Observations on the Meteors of November 13th, 1833," The American Journal of Science and Arts, 25 ([Jan.?] 1834), 363, 365, 366, 386, 393, 394.

     "The whole firmament, over all the United States, being then, for hours, in fiery commotion! No celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with such intense admiration by one class in the community, or with so much dread and alarm by another." "Never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell toward the earth; east, west, north, and south, it was the same. In a word, the whole heavens seemed in motion. . . . The display, as described in Professor Silliman's Journal, was seen all over North America. . . . From two o'clock until broad daylight, the sky being perfectly serene and cloudless, an incessant play of dazzlingly brilliant luminosities was kept up in the whole heavens." --R. M. Devens, American Progress; or, The Great Events of the Greatest Century, ch. 28, pars. 1-5.

     "No language, indeed, can come up to the splendor of that magnificent display; . . . no one who did not witness it can form an adequate conception of its glory. It seemed as if the whole starry heavens had congregated at one point near the zenith, and were simultaneously shooting forth, with the velocity of lightning, to every part of the horizon; and yet they were not exhausted--thousands swiftly followed in the tracks of thousands, as if created for the occasion." --F. Reed, Christian Advocate and Journal, Dec. 13, 1833.

     "To understand the use of the word shower in connection with shooting stars we must go back to the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 1833, when the inhabitants of this continent [of North America] were in fact treated to one of the most spectacular natural displays that the night sky has produced. . . . For nearly four hours the sky was literally ablaze . . . . More than a billion shooting stars appeared over the United States and Canada alone." --Peter M. Millman, "The Falling of the Stars," The Telescope, 7 (May-June, 1940), 57.

     "The shower pervaded nearly the whole of North America, having appeared in nearly equal splendor from the British possessions on the north to the West-India Islands and Mexico on the South, and from sixty-one degrees of longitude east of the American coast, quite to the Pacific Ocean on the west. Throughout this immense region, the duration was nearly the same." --Denison Olmsted, Letters on Astronomy, Addressed to a Lady: in Which The Elements of the Science Are Familiarly Explained in Connexion With Its Literary History (1840 ed.), pp. 348, 349.

     "Neither language, nor the pencil, can adequately picture the grandeur and magnificence of the scene. . . . It may be doubted, whether any description has surpassed, in accuracy and impressiveness, that of the old negro in Virginia, who remarked 'It is awful, indeed, sir, it looked like ripe crab-apples falling from the trees, when shaking them for cider.'" --J. T. Buckingham, "The Meteoric Shower," The New-England Magazine, 6 (Jan.-June, 1834), 47, 48.

     "The five winter counts [chronological records in picture writing naming each year (winter) by an outstanding event] next cited all undoubtedly refer to the magnificent meteoric display of the morning of November 13, 1833, which was witnessed throughout North America and which was correctly assigned to the winter corresponding with that of 1833-'34. All of them represent stars having four points, except The-Swan, who draws a globular object followed by a linear track.
     Fig. 1219. It rained stars. Cloud-Shield's Winter Count, 1833-'34. White-Cow-Killer calls it 'Plenty-stars winter.'
     Fig. 1220. The stars moved around. American-Horse's Winter Count, 1833-'34. This shows one large four-pointed star as the characterizing object and many small stars, also four-pointed.
     Fig. 1221. Many stars fell. The Flame's Winter Count, 1833-'34. The character shows six stars above the concavity of the moon.
     Fig. 1222. Dakotas witnessed magnificent meteoric showers; much terrified. The- Swan's Winter Count, 1833-'34.
     Battiste Good calls it 'Storm-of-stars winter,' and gives as the device a tipi with stars falling around it. This is presented in Fig. 1223." --Garrick Mallery, "Picture-Writing of the American Indians," [U.S.] Bureau of Ethnology. Tenth Annual Report . . . to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1888-'89 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893), p. 723.

"I witnessed this gorgeous spectacle, and was awe-struck. The air seemed filled with bright descending messengers from the sky. It was about daybreak when I saw this sublime scene. I was not without the suggestion, at the moment, that it might be the harbinger of the coming of the Son of Man; and in my then state of mind I was prepared to hail Him as my friend and deliverer. I had read that the 'stars shall fall from heaven,' and they were now falling." --Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (New York: Pathway Press, 1941), p. 117. (Original edition 1855.)