All Things Maine
All Things Maine

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Witness to the Dark Day

Google Books has a copy of a remarkable little book called A biographical sketch of the life of Ralph Farnham, of Acton, Maine : now in the one hundred and fifth year of his age, and the sole survivor of the glorious battle of Bunker Hill. Ralph was a veteran of the Revolution, though not of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The book's best moments are in his own words—as when he describes the "Dark Day" of May 19, 1780.
"Was it two o'clock, exactly, when it commenced?" we asked.

"Two o'clock, as near as we could judge, by the sun," was the reply; "we had no clocks nor watches in those days. There wasn't a time-piece, perhaps, within twenty miles."

"It was a total eclipse of the sun?" we suggested.

"No, 'twas no eclipse," replied the old gentleman, apparently somewhat annoyed at our lack of faith. "It was total darkness, and no one, from that day to this, has discovered the cause."

We doubt whether the old gentleman now knows the nature of an eclipse; but any attempt to prove a natural cause for this phenomenon rouses his indignation. [p. 30]
As it turns out, Ralph was correct. There was no eclipse on the Dark Day, and the phenomenon has never been fully explained. One theory attributes the darkness to smoke from forest fires.

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