Go Back Report # 24



A Mystery on the Lakes—The Wizard Lights—A Curious Phenomenon on Lake Erie.

I notice in the Dispatch of the 11th inst.,1 the following paragraph:           

“The statement that a vessel was seen burning off Erie on Tuesday night is corroborated by several persons living on the high lands, south of the city, who say they saw it.”          

On the Tuesday evening mentioned, Oct. 29th, at about 7 o'clock, my attention was called by one of my family to a bright light on the lake, having very much the appearance of a vessel on fire. Bringing several objects into range, I watched the light for some time to ascertain whether there was any perceptible motion.    
   The wind was blowing hard at the time down the lake and a vessel would naturally drift rapidly to leeward, at all events as soon as the propelling power should be interfered with the fire. No motion, however, in any direction was to be discovered, and at once concluded that it was nothing more than the "mysterious light,” which for many years past, at longer or shorter intervals, has been seen by the inhabitants at this point on the lake shore. The light has made its appearance generally, if not always, in the fall of the year, and usually in the month of November, and almost always during or immediately after a heavy blow from the southwest. The most brilliant exhibition of the light I have ever seen was during the night of the 24th or 25th, as nearly as I can recollect, of November 1852. It had been my fortune to witness the burning of the steamer Erie, near Silver Creek, several years before, and the resemblance which this light bore to that of the burning steamer was so strong that I confidently expected the arrival of the boats from the wreck during the night. Others with myself watched the light for perhaps two hours, and with the aid of a good night-glass obtained what seemed to be a very distinct view of the burning vessel.    
   The object appeared to be some 200 or more feet in length upon the water and about as high above the water as an upper cabin steamer, such as was in use upon the lake twenty years ago. At times the flames would start up in spires or sheets of light, then away from side to side, and then die away, precisely as would be the case with a large fire exposed to a strong wind; and two or three times there was the appearance of a cloud of sparks, as if some portion of the upper works had fallen into the burning mass below. The sky and water were beautifully irradiated by the light during its great brilliancy. The light gradually subsided, with occasional flashes until it disappeared altogether. The light of Tuesday evening, although very brilliant for a time, was not nearly so brilliant nor of so long duration as that of 1852.  
   I am told that this light was seen by mariners on the lakes as long as fifty years ago, but I am not aware that it has ever been made the subject of philosophical speculation or investigation, or, in fact, has ever obtained the notoriety of a newspaper paragraph before. The only theory approaching plausibility I have heard is that the shifting of the sands caused by the continued and heavy winds of autumn has opened some crevices or seams in the rock of the lake bottom through which gas, owing to some peculiar condition of the atmosphere with which it comes in contact, becomes luminous, or perhaps ignited, and burning with a positive flame. That there are what are called “gas springs” in the water along this portion of the lake is a well known fact, and that a highly inflammable gas in large quantities exist at a comparatively shallow depth on the shore has been sufficiently proved by the boring of wells at different points, as at Erie, Walnut Creek, and Lock Haven, and by the natural springs at Westfield and Fredonia.       
   But whatever the cause, the light is a curious fact, and well worthy the attention of those interested in the investigation of the phenomenon of nature.  

Reference for the above text is: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 12, 1867, p. 4. With thanks to Jerome Clark of the Magonia Group: http://anomalies.bravepages.com    

Note 1: In Response To: What does "inst." after a date mean? (Lori Schriefer)         
"inst." is an abbreviation for "instant", which means the current month or year, depending upon its context. For example, "the 3rd day of March, inst.," means March 3 of the current year. "The 3rd day, inst.," means the 3rd day of the current month.     
Reference: http://history-sites.com/mb/cw/arcwmb/index.cgi?noframes;read=12006         


North America – United States, Ohio  
There is a city/town on Lake Erie called “Brooklyn” but the Brooklyn Daily Eagle seems to be a New York City newspaper.-CF-           
Brooklyn   Latitude 41-26-23 N, Longitude 81-44-08 W (D-M-S)           
Lake Erie  Latitude 41-52-35 N, Longitude 80-53-34 W [Ashtabula, Ohio]       
Reference: http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/f?p=154:1:1765846258792399         


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