When I’m getting ready to start writing a new book, I take
the time to find out what was going on during the historical period in
question. Normally I’m looking for wars,
major battles, presidential elections, economic crises, inventions, new laws—any
event that might change the lives of my characters. When my story is set in Charleston,
South Carolina or the Low Country between Charleston and Savannah, I check the
weather conditions, too. That’s a region prone to hurricanes, major temperature
fluctuations, insect infestations, earthquakes, and lethal epidemics.
This time, however, I was in for a surprise. I was getting
reading to write Henrietta’s Journa
set in Charleston in the 1830s, and I wanted to know if there had been any
hurricanes. The period turned out to be relatively quiet on the weather front.
Only a couple of tropical storms threatened, and those barely brushed the city.
I was not expecting to find two major astronomical events. They were both so
spectacular that I had to write them into my story. What caught me most off
guard was the realization that just as I would be getting ready to announce the
upcoming publication of this new book, two similar events would be
happening in South Carolina in 2017.
The first event was a massive storm of meteorities witnessed
all across the South on November 13, 1833. No mere meteor shower, this! People
were terrified, many declaring that the world was coming to an end as the
sparks seemed to be falling all around them. The occasion was the Leonid
Shower, which occurs in mid-November every thirty-three years. In 1833, the
earth’s orbit took it very close to the orbit of the comet Tempel-Tuttle and was said to have caused some 100,000
shooting stars per minute. Another legend says that the song “Stars Fell on
Alabama” was written to commemorate the event . And witnesses declared that this famous woodcut was an accurate depiction of what happened.
Now, in 2017, we are told that an even greater
meteor storm will fill the skies on Saturday, August 12. This one
comes from the Swift-Tuttle comet and is called a Perseid shower. Although
articles on the internet are claiming that it will be the brightest shower in
human history, its expected 300 shooting stars per hour cannot hope to rival
what Henrietta Ainesworth witnessed in 1833. Still if you want to get a feel
for what Henrietta’s experience was like, it wouldn’t hurt to look up at the
sky on Saturday night.
Stay tuned to hear about the second event.