Sunday, February 3, 2013

First Known Picture of BMLs---1929

E.M. Ball Image N1503, Glass Plate, 1929
Four Hour Exposure with Moon Trail
Brown Mountain Lights from Wiseman's View
From the E.M. Ball Collection (1918-1969), D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections,
University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
This historic image is the first known photograph of the BMLs.  It was taken in 1929 by E.M. Ball, a professional photogagher from Asheville, NC.  It is not known if the image was ever published---it is now housed at the D.H. Ramsey Library at UNC-Asheville.  The title accompaning the photograph identifies it as: 'Brown Mountain light, from Wiseman's View near Linville Falls'---and this is the only photograph of the 9,116 in the Ball Collection that is labled as the BMLs; although image N1347, labeled 'Brown Mountain, from Wiseman's View', appears to be a daytime exposure with no visible lights.
Although not published at the time, photograph N1503 was the subject of a newspaper article by J.S. Coleman, Jr. in the August 25, 1929 issue of The Asheville Times (Asheville, NC).  In his article, entitled "Strange Light Continues To Mystify" Coleman describes the photograph:
"Within the last two weeks, however, the lights have been photographed for the first time in history.  The difficult work was done by E.M. Ball, of the Plateau studio, Asheville, and the result was highly satisfactory, even though the picture failed utterly to explain the phenomenon.
Mr. Ball took his pictures from a point not far distant from Marion.  He exposed a very sensitive color plate one night over a period of four hours.  During that time, the moon, sliding across the sky, left a bright streak on his plate, but the mysterious Brown Mountain lights had been caught in the meantime.
One thing established by the photograph is the fact that the light appears at several parallel points along a line near the summit of Brown Mountain.  Each of the points seems to be a small disk of light, though the impression given an observer is that of a blaze."
The mystery lights described by Coleman and faintly visible in the image above, are highly suggestive of city or town lights such as those seen today from the same observation point.  Compare with my photographs 2104, 2184, & 2188 (1Dec12) in my January 26, 2013 blog post City Lights visible from Wiseman's View.
In Ball's 1929 photograph, only the southern 2/3rds of Brown Mountain is visible as the gently sloping flat-topped ridge in the middle of the image.  The lights appear to be coming from the Catawba Valley to the south and east of Brown Mountain.

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