Saturday, August 30, 2014

Baton Rouge Birdfall

If you'll allow me a trifold layer of foggily backward-reaching citation, Charles Fort's The Book of the Damned makes reference to a May 1917 article in the Monthly Weather Review, which in turn quotes a Baton Rouge news correspondent to the Philadelphia Times in 1896.

It was reported that, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the summer of 1896, there came a tremendous rain of dead birds from the sky. Hundreds of them hitting sidewalks, pedestrians and Ford Quadricycles, making those sickening dull splat sounds that always ensue when God pours a giant bucket of dead birds out on a city. The avian selection was intriguing as well: there were ducks, catbirds, and woodpeckers - birds who generally do not share close company. There were also birds that looked sort-of like canaries but evidently weren't, and there were a great many fowl "of strange plumage" that could not be identified.

As Fort notes, the desperately cobbled-together explanations of bird kills are often attributed to the presence of a nearby storm in the area. At least, among those who seek to assure the public that there is nothing unknown, nothing weird, nothing paranormal, nothing truly FUBAR in the Universe. But in this instance, the best the experts could come up with was....

"There had been a storm on the coast of Florida."

Of this, Fort goes on to say:

"The reader feels only momentary astonishment that dead birds from a storm in Florida should fall from an unstormy sky in Louisiana, and with his intellect greased like the plumage of a dead duck, the datum then drops off."

(And for an additional dimension of convolution, the above image comes from a version of the report quoted from a St.Louis newspaper in an ornithological journal called The Osprey, volume 1, number 4, page 56, December 1896.)

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