The Phenomenon of 1819 — Was It A Natural Event Or Something Else?

No time in Canada's history has there ever been anything so strange, as "The Phenomenon of 1819." 

It was Sunday, November 8, 1819 and took place in the old section of Montreal, Quebec. 

The sunrise revealed it was to be a grey cloudy day. As the sun rose the grey clouds began to turn a strange greenish colour, then in parts completely black and after a few minutes the whole sky was darkened with heavy black swirling clouds. It started to rain heavy, but not like rain as we think of rain, this rain was sudsy, like soap bubbles but sooty in colour and texture. A fine layer settled on the ground before it slowly disappeared, dissipating into the air. The clouds cleared and the sun came out. People went about their business.

The next day, everything was normal. But, on Tuesday the 10th, the clouds returned, turning first green then to black. Moments, when the sun shone through the clouds, it was an unearthly brownish yellowish colour then turned blood red. The clouds got heavier and darker and a strange vapour descended from them. At noon the sky was pitch black. 

Now, the public was becoming alarmed, wondering what was causing this remarkable occurrence. Some thought it could be an immense forest fire burning somewhere to the west. Others thought it was a new great volcano rising somewhere in the province. There were even people that believed in an old Indian legend, the island Montreal was situated on was going to sink into the earth. The end was nigh.

As the people were looking up at the black sky there was a sudden flash of light, no one had ever seen a lightning bolt with such intensity. The thunder that followed was deafening and shook the earth. It started to rain the black sooty soapy stuff, again. Another flash! This time, the lightning bolt hit the spire atop the old French parish church, in the square, Place d'Armes, which lit up the iron cross at the very top a red hot colour, to everyone's amazement. They watched in horror as it was destroyed and fell to the ground in a million pieces, thinking Satan had something to do with it.

The darkness lasted into the night, when morning arrived. All was fine again. This phenomenon was almost forgotten about until now.

This event was not just witnessed by one person alone, but was reported by reliable sources from Quebec City, Quebec to Kingston, Ontario and from far down into the United States, Montreal being the centre, or eye of the storm. 

Was it a natural weather or meteorological event or something else? It has never really been fully explained and probably never will.

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Dog Brindle

The Phenomenon of 1819, described anonymously in Scientific American, May 21, 1881.
This account was reprinted in The Unexplained: A Sourcebook of Strange Phenomena (1976) by William R. Corliss.

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