Greetings and Salutations to all our Townships Weekend readers. As you know I have a weekly column on Thursdays, but I am honoured to be contributing once a month to the Townships Weekend. I decided to do something different for the weekend format and entertain you with a short series of stories on a subject, something like the old fashioned serials they once had in newspapers.
So here is Part 2 of…..
I Swear it’s True! Part 1 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina
I am a proud family member from the Knight and Crittenden family dynasty and come from a lineage that not even Heinz 57 would understand. My bloodlines are thick with British and Irish roots and a few other tree branches slipped in between. My mother’s side from the Call’s Mills and Island Brook area were all from England and Ireland, and as a child, tales were told on a weekly basis about our ancestors.
My favourite story was one about my great great aunt fighting off the Fenians during the fight at Eccles Hill on May 25, 1870. According to the Crittenden legend, she fought them off single-handedly using a spoon as a door lock. Knowing my mother’s side of the family, I assumed she probably invited them in to play cards and have a few pints. But, one tale that was told to me was continued on through the years and even the Knight side contributed years later, so here goes.
My grandfather George Crittenden married a lass from Laconia, N. H so we had many ‘International’ stories to mix with the encyclopaedia of family stories. One tale that was told was about one of the Griffin family that did some sewing for the American Civil War. She lived for almost 100 years under six British sovereigns and ended up living most of her life in the Eastern Townships, but part of her life was in Boston,Mass where she learned to sew by sewing for the soldiers. She came to the Townships via Brockville, On. and this was one cracker of a story she once spread for years to come. I am sure the tale stretched a bit here and there but the basis of this story was written in the media.
In 1915 it was said that some of their family in Brockville and the surrounding area were returning from church and spotted something lit in the sky on February 15, 1915. When the mayor of Brockville and three constables also witnessed this incident word quickly spread up and down the valley that the Germans were invading Canada.
Vivid flashes in a minor lightning storm gave credence that German aircraft were possibly passing over the area. To make matters even more interesting the mayor of Gananoque also said that two invisible aircraft were heard flying overhead. Parliament Hill went dark at 11 pm that very night and the city of Ottawa and most small towns in the outlying areas followed suit 20 minutes later. I have no doubt that many of the Griffin family spent a restless, fearful night.
Newspaper headlines of: Machines Crossed Over St. Lawrence River: Seen by Many heading to the Capital–Fireballs Dropped appeared quickly the next day. Explanations from government officials were demanded by the local newspapers. Was it really a few of the Morristown youths playing pranks? Some asked when a paper balloon was found on the ice of the St. Lawrence River near the town. What about the remains of a few more balloons that were found with fireworks attached to them near the Brockville Asylum? Soon after these items were found; the media that had been so intent on causing hysteria scoffed at their reader’s fear in print.
Opinions differed as to the nature of the mysterious objects. Of course Ottawa had to chime in to assure everyone that Germans aircraft had not flown their planes over Eastern Ontario as the headlines persisted. The Dominion Observatory agreed, adding information about local wind direction and added that everyone just had war jitters. But, in all honesty the generic comments from the Observatory and the government did nothing to quell the fear of the locals. As gossip spread and the story transfer expanded to new highs the German bombers became very real to the public. No matter what the media and the government had said in their morning statements the lights still went out all over the Ottawa Valley and guns were set up on various rooftops that next evening.
If you ask some today they will tell you it wasn’t the Morrisburg kids trying to be funny, but in reality it was UFO’s. This story which has appeared in a number of paranormal books says that as the Valley was “preparing for the arrival of Germans” these strange lights were apparently spotted in towns all over Ontario and in provinces as far away as Manitoba.
When I was a kid I used to let balloons go up in the sky in the backyard of my Albert Street home and always hoped that maybe an alien would find it and it would make him or her smile. Maybe the pranks of those Morrisburg kids caught someone else’s attention in the sky– I guess we will never know will we. Almost out of the X-Files isn’t it? So what happened in the next tale from the family lore?
See you in a few weeks for another chapter…..
I Swear it’s True! Part 2 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina
To recap Part 1- It was the story of seeing UFO’s or the German’s supposed attempt to bomb our fair land in the Brockville area in 1915 by one of my ancestors. If anyone thinks that was strange, it does not begin or end there. It was not that particular moment where the hysteria began in my family about things that go bump in the night. It seems there were other incidents before that.
Housing was sparse in the early 1900s and a group of my ancestors all resided in one home in the Calls Mills area. One night they were suddenly awakened at 3 am in May of 1910 by the voices of the neighbours from a local fire nearby. The barn fire illuminated the sky and Halley’s Comet was also passing that very night. The women seeing the fire in the distance assumed that Halley’s Comet was producing the end of the world which they of course expected.
The three rushed outdoors in their night clothes waving their arms and crying in despair. It took awhile to get the ladies under control and understand what had really happened. No doubt they had read the newspapers about the coming of Halley’s Comet and this was it.
For weeks international and local newspapers literally terrorized their readers. Over 500 Italians in Little Italy in New York fell to their knees in prayer that night when they saw the ball of flame bearing down on them in the sky. In New Jersey locals took the whole day off work to pray in their local churches for their salvation. Fraudsters hawked anti-comet pills, with one brand promising to be “an elixir for escaping the wrath of the heavens,” while a voodoo doctor in Haiti was said to be selling pills “as fast as he can make them.” Two Texan charlatans were arrested for marketing sugar pills as the cure-all for all things comet, but police released them when customers demanded their freedom. Gas masks, too, flew off the shelves.
The whole performance took five hours that night while the barn fire raged. In the rural countryside some folks gathered on top of their rooftops and watched, waiting for the comet to suck them up into the sky.
The world’s greatest scientists assured everyone that no harm would befall and their analysis could not be foretold, but it was concluded that there was no cyanogen gas from the tail of the comet that they were fearful of. Local bartenders were telling their patrons to drink half water and half alcohol and that was an antidote if they breathed any cyanogen gas from the meteor. Local farmers removed their lightning rods from their homes and barns, fearful of dangerous light flashes and substances that might accompany the comet.
Folks got real creative with their anxiety like my ancestors. It didn’t help that a few months earlier The New York Times had announced that one astronomer theorized that the comet would unceremoniously end life as we know it. The Associated Press warned their readers they had observed two rather large black spots on the sun and solar eruptions were viewed and spread even more hysteria.
In Sherbrooke some educators carried bottles so they could contain some of the ‘comet atmosphere’ for future analysis. Meanwhile in the back shops of country newspaper offices, the appearance of a few had never been noted for their extreme cleanliness. There is nothing of an edible nature in these places and the printers went on the principle that composing rooms were useful not ornamental. This was pointed out in a delicate manner, on the Wednesday afternoon, by a business neighbour who was a considerable gossip. The male gossiper came downtown without his colored glasses to see what all the fuss was about, and was unable to view the eclipse with any degree of comfort or satisfaction.
Popping into the back shop of the Sherbrooke Record to tell the printers of his sad plight he chanced to look at the eclipse through one of the windows.
“Well now isn’t that fine,” said he, “you don’t need smoked glasses to shield your eyes when you gaze at the sun through these dirty windows.” He was soon given a pail of water with the other necessary equipment and told to “go to it.’’
In the end there was no collision with earth, none of my cousins got sucked up into the heavens, and life went back as we know it. In the next days in a newspaper it read:
“Some of our citizens claim to have seen the comet Friday night.
There is nothing wrong with their eyesight”– May 27 1910 The Montreal Gazette
That night as the barn burned down few locals thought of Halley’s passing comet as a danger, only my ancestors. The ‘horror’ has carried on through the years and will not end with me. I am called :“Anxiety Girl”- able to jump to the wrong conclusion in one single bond. As I tell my grandchildren: ”99% of your awesomeness will come from me.” Then I get the “look”. I don’t think these stories will help my case.
See you in a few weeks for Part 3 for more of their celestial shenanigans.