Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Mention of BMLs in 19th Century Travelogues

A review of five significant mid-Nineteenth Century travelogues of the area reveals no mention of the BMLs; adding further support to our earlier conclusions that the BMLs were not seen before about 1900.  Although thinly populated during the 1800s, the mountainous areas west and north of Brown Mountain were visited by some highly observant scientists and nature enthusiasts who left written documents of their travels.  Of particular interest to these adventurers were the rocky summits of Table Rock, Hawksbill, The Chimneys, Gingercake, and Grandfather Mountains----all later to become favored observation spots for viewing the BMLs.  In addition, Linville Gorge and Linville Falls received a lot of attention, as did local legends and unexpalined phenomenon.  The following publications were written by prominent men who traveled and visited these areas in the mid-19th century.

Lanman, C, 1849; Letters from the Allegheny Mountains; Geo. P. Putnam, New York.
Colton, H., 1859; Mountain Scenery: The Scenery of the Mountain of Western North Carolina and
                             Northwestern South Carolina; W.L. Pomeroy,Hayes and Zell, Philadelphia.
Lanman, C., 1865; Adventures in the Wilds of the United States and British American         
                              Provinces; John W. Moore, Philadelphia.
Hall, E.H., 1866; Appleton's hand-book of American Travel.  The southern tour; being a guide
                             through Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and    
                             Kentucky; D. Appleton & Co., New York.
Zeigler, W. and Grosscup, B., 1883; The Heart of the Alleghanies or Western North Carolina; Alfred
                             Williams and Co, Raleigh, NC

Each of these adventurers solicited the help of highly experienced local guides to accompany them, yet not a single one of their very detailed travelogues mentions the BMLs---apparently the local guides weren't aware of BMLs at the time.  The first written reference to the Brown Mountain Lights we've been able to find is the 1913 newspaper article in the Charlotte Observer, which mentioned sightings as early as c1908.

In his 1859 travelogue, H. Colton mentions visiting The Chimneys on the east rim of Linville Gorge and witnessing the late afternoon reflection of the sun off of the glass windows of the houses of Morganton.  Colton writes: 

"The eye has a full, open scope from the Grandfather Mountain entirely around the Roan, and even beyond that.  The valley of the Catawba is open to the view from its origin to its end, the whole of Turkey and North Coves, with their rich fields of waving corn.  In the dim, dark distance, a lone mountain rises to view, which, from its location, we suppose to be the Pilot.  Just as the sun fades beneath the horizon, it casts forth a clear, red light, and you see flashing in its blaze the windows of the houses of Morganton: from the same source, a golden tinge is thrown upon every leaf, and everything is mellowed into soft loveliness in the accomplishment of nature's most splendid creation."

Colton's 1859 report of seeing the sun reflected by the windows of the houses of Morganton while observing at sunset is the earliest published account we have of Catawba Valley civilization being visible from the higher mountains to the northwest.  Colton's guide, David Franklin must have known about this sunset phenomena, and surely would have mentioned to Colton if the lights continued to be visible after darkness----so apparently they were not visible after dark---or if lights in the same spots were visible after dark, both Colton & Franklin understood them to be man-made lights, such as gas lanterns, torches &/or fires, and not mystery spook lights.  Anyone who would interpret Colton's observations as early sightings of the BMLs, would have trouble explaining the lack of mention of nighttime sightings.

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