Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Once upon a time there came a Dark Day ...

Two hundred thirty years ago a Connecticut legislator confronted one of the terrors that haunted the contemporary mind: the sun never properly came up on May 19, 1780 -- or so it seemed. Timothy Dwight of Yale described the event in Travels in New England and New York (1822):

“The 19th of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many houses; the birds were silent and disappeared; and the fowls retired to roost. The legislature of Connecticut was then in session at Hartford. A very general opinion prevailed that the Day of Judgment was at hand. The House of Representatives, being unable to transact their business, adjourned. A proposal to adjourn the Council [Senate or Upper House] was under consideration.

When the opinion of Col. Davenport was asked, he answered, ‘I am against an adjournment. The Day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”

Confronted with whatever the equivalent horror in our imaginations might be, somehow I suspect that our representatives would launch into denouncing terra-ists and then hightail it for a bunker in an undisclosed location. But maybe not.

The Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project (a 1930s Depression stimulus agency) commissioned a mural to commemorate Colonel Abraham Davenport's equanimity:

Colonel Abraham Davenport-Dark Day.jpg

Employment programs don't always produce high art but it is nice to know the painters kept eating.

There is some speculation that the Dark Day was caused by a Canadian forest fire.

H/t to The Thicket for this story and the Stamford Historical Society for the photo of the mural.

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