This week in history: A deadly storm in Ireland, the first UFO chase & Common Sense is published
January 6th: The Night of the Big Wind
On January 6th, 1839 one of the most powerful storms in history hit Ireland. Without any warning, winds of over 115 miles per hour ripped through the countryside, wrecking 42 ships and damaging or destroying 25% of the houses in North Dublin. We found many descriptions of the storm in our Irish newspaper archive, and this one offers fearsome detail:
Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser January 12, 1839
It would turn out to be Ireland's worst storm in centuries, with a death toll estimated to be between 200 and 300. Most of the dead were on the 42 wrecked ships that attempted to ride out the storm. The storm was also accompanied by flooding, as the surge drew sea water far inland.
Interestingly, the event held significance in 1909, when Britain implemented Old Age Pensions. Anyone over 70 years old would receive 13 pounds a year, but many from Ireland who were that old had no documentation to prove it. Many local committees that were set up to investigate claims found it very convenient to ask claimants if they could recall any details about the storm of 1839.
Janurary 7th: The Mantell UFO Incident
On January 7th 1948, an unidentified flying object was reported by multiple people near Maysville Kentucky. Members of the Kentucky Air National Guard all confirmed this sighting, reporting a mysterious circular object emitting strange colors and changing altitude rapidly.
Four P-51 Mustangs from the Kentucky Air National Guard were already in the air, and were ordered to investigate the object. Three eventually fell away due to low oxygen or low fuel, but one pilot - 25 year old Captain Thomas Mantell - continued to climb towards the object. Mantell was an experienced pilot, having flown several thousand hours and participated in the Battle of Normandy, but this pursuit would ultimately be his demise - witnesses report seeing his plane in a circling descent before crashing near the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
Rumors flew wildly in the coming days, as some media began to sensationalize the story. In one capacity or another, the following things were reported about Mantell's death:
- The UFO was a soviet missile
- The UFO was an alien spacecraft that shot down Mantell
- Mantell's body was found riddled with bullets
- Mantell's body was missing
- The plane exploded mid-air (as seen in the clipping below)
- The plane wreckage was radioactive
Evening Journal January 8, 1948
Ultimately, all of these rumors were debunked - the cause of the crash was a combination of Mantell probably blacking out at 25,000 feet of altitude, combined with his inexperience flying the P-51 Mustang specifically. As for the object, it was most likely a U.S. Navy Skyhook weather balloon. The Kentucky Air National Guard wouldn't have known about these top-secret devices at the time, and it was discovered that one was launched nearby on the same day.
Despite eventually being debunked, this incident (and several others in 1948) sparked an increase in belief in UFO's in America, convincing many that UFO's were a "real" phenomenon to be investigated and explored.
January 10th: Common Sense is published
On January 10th 1776, one of the most important pieces of literature in American history was published.
Common Sense, a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, inspired residents of the Thirteen Colonies to rebel against Great Britain. At the time, whether or not to rebel against the Crown was a central issue in American society, and Common Sense aptly presented an argument in favor of seeking freedom from British rule.
Paine's success was in the way the pamphlet was written - he skipped the erudite philosophical arguments that some of the Founding Fathers made, and instead expounded his argument in simple terms understood by the common man. Common Sense was more like a sermon than a political treatise, and relied heavily on biblical references, which could be understood by most of the population at the time. Historians widely agree that Common Sense was the most influential pamphlet of the American revolutionary period.
The circulation was also historical - in proportion to the population at the time, Common Sense is the most widely distributed publication in American history. George Washington had it read aloud to his troops, and many others gathered in taverns to hear it read aloud if they did not have a copy themselves. If you're interested in reading the document, you can read it for free in many locations online.