Aug 05, 2022 I Brent Swancer

The Strange Mystery of the Great Meteor Procession of 1913

The skies of our world hold many mysteries. All manner of weird and unexplained phenomena have been observed in our skies, and often they leave people scratching their heads to wonder what they have just seen. Some mysteries really stand the test of time, becoming lodged into history as inscrutable aerial enigmas that will likely never be solved, and one of these is surely a very bizarre light show that took place in the skies over a vast swath of area in 1913 and which has never been explained.

On February 9, 1913, at shortly after 9 p.m. something very strange was observed in the skies above Canada, the United States, and the Atlantic Ocean. People reported seeing an unusual meteoric phenomenon of some sort, consisting of a procession of between 40 and 60 bright, slow-moving fireballs that moved across the sky in what was described as a “stately and measured” manner in an identical trajectory, and which seemed to have no clear radiant, or point of origin, and which some witnesses reported as creating a loud thunderous boom as it passed. Many reports would also mention a large, white, tail-less body bringing up the rear. The odd procession of fireballs took about 5 minutes to cross the sky, and although it was mostly observed in remote areas of Canada due to the clear skies at the time, it would turn out that the phenomenon had been witnessed across the northeastern United States, Bermuda, and Brazil, covering at least 11,000 km (7,000 miles), possibly even more. At the time, most people likely thought it was just a cool, very weird celestial show, but when one astronomer started looking into it, it would turn out to be more bizarre than anyone could have ever thought. 

The strange meteor procession of 1913 may have just been lost to the mists of time if it hadn’t been for a Canadian astronomer and University of Toronto astronomy professor by the name of Clarence A. Chant, who had not seen the phenomenon himself but began analyzing hundreds of reports from witnesses, and who came to the conclusion that this was a celestial event “quite without parallel.” One witness by the name of Walter L. Haight would say of his sighting:

On the evening in question I happened to be returning from a snowshoe tramp, and was in the act of tightening up the straps on my foot when my companion called out: “Look! Look!” and I immediately threw my head up and caught sight of the large meteor, which appeared to be traveling very slowly – so slowly that the stateliness of its motion excited my liveliest surprise and wonderment...While my gaze was riveted on the large body, and just when it was about passing out of sight, my companion again called out “Look! There and there!” and I looked up an saw the first group of following meteoric bodies...Before I could recover from my astonishment a new group of smaller ones...came sailing along...I likened them at the time, and the resemblance seems yet apt and appropriate to a large battleship moving ahead with attendant squadrons of torpedo-destroyers and torpedo boats.

Clarence Chant

Some reports made mention of spectacular sparks and balls of fire being shot by the objects, as well as the rather strange tailess object following it all along, such as one observer at Appin, Ontario who said:

A huge meteor appeared travelling from northwest by west to southeast, which, as it approached, was seen to be in two parts and looked like two bars of flaming material, one following the other. They were throwing out a constant stream of sparks and after they had passed they shot out balls of fire straight ahead that travelled more rapidly than the main bodies. They seemed to pass over slowly and were in sight about five minutes. Immediately after their disappearance in the southeast a ball of clear fire, that looked like a big star, passed across the sky in their wake. This ball did not have a tail or show sparks of any kind. Instead of being yellow like the meteors, it was clear like a star.

The procession was seen by ships at sea too, some as far away as Brazil and which show no sign of the intensity of the phenomenon weakening. One such report comes from a W. W. Waddell, first mate of the SS Newlands, which at the time was off the coast of Brazil. He would say of it: 

Eight Bells, midnight. – Had just gone on bridge and Fo’castle Head, and I was just about to leave the deck for my bunk when my eye was caught by a bright shooting star in the western sky that traveled away across the heavens at a height of about twenty degrees above the horizon. As it went it seemed to drop stars for all the world like a rocket when it explodes...I had time to yell out to the second mate, who had relieved me on the bridge, asking if he had seen that, when a whole shower of stars of the same kind came shooting across in the wake of the first one, each of the stars wavering at the same speed and keeping regular distances from one another, all leaving a train of smaller stars in their wake that seemed to be drawn after the parent star.

There was report after report like this, and when looking through the cases and talking to the myriad witnesses, Chant was thoroughly struck by the many oddities and anomalies among them. One was that the procession moved in a directly straight course “on a perfectly horizontal path with peculiar, majestic, dignified deliberation.” The objects also moved much more slowly across the sky than typical meteors, had no clear radiant or point of origin, showed no signs of descending towards the earth, retained perfect formation, and the procession lasted an uncommonly long length of time and covered far more distance than a normal meteor shower. He was also struck by the fact that the reports of the number, appearance, and behavior of the fireballs were “very discordant” between the many witnesses. Chant would describe the event in his paper for an issue of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society Canada, called An Extraordinary Meteoric Display:

As we all know, most shooting stars are visible for but a very short time, and the brilliant ones very generally descend rapidly towards the earth, seemingly ( as one of my correspondents remarked) ` in a mighty hurry to reach their destination’; but here were bodies moving leisurely along, giving ample time for the fortunate observer to make several wishes if he were so inclined. Some report that just before disappearing this body burst, leaving behind it a trail of stars. Before the astonishment aroused by this first meteor had subsided, other bodies were seen coming from the north-west, emerging from precisely the same place as the first one, Onward they moved, at the same deliberate pace, in twos or threes or fours, with tails streaming behind, though not so long nor so bright as in the first case. They all traversed the same path and were headed for the same point in the south-eastern sky. Gradually the bodies became smaller, until the last ones were but red sparks, some of which were snuffed out before they reached their destination. Several report that near the middle of the great procession was a fine large star without a tail, and that a similar body brought up the rear.

To most observers the outstanding feature of the phenomenon was the slow, majestic motion of the bodies; and almost equally remarkable was the perfect formation which they retained. Many compared them to a fleet of airships, with lights on either side and forward and aft; but airmen will have to practice many years before they will be able to preserve such perfect order. Others, again, likened them to great battleships, attended by cruisers and destroyers. Should these bodies strike the earth they might prove destroyers indeed! Still others thought they resembled a brilliantly lighted passenger train, travelling in sections and seen from a distance of several miles. The flight of the meteors has also been compared to that of a flock of wild geese, to a number of men or horses in a race, and to a school of fish, startled and darting off in a single direction. These and many other interesting details will be found in the reports of observations printed below.

As to the number of bodies there is great diversity of statement. The usual estimate is from 15 to 20 but some say 60 or 100, while some say there were thousands. Various reasons can be assigned for the discrepancy between these numbers. Those giving the small numbers probably refer only to the chief bodies, and as some people have better eyesight than others, where one would see a single body others would see its different parts. Those who report the large numbers undoubtedly included fragments of the larger bodies and also the many red stars bringing up the rear.

Rather interestingly, there would be evidence that there was possibly a second meteor shower just 5 hours after the initial one, even though the Earth's rotation meant that there was no obvious mechanism to explain this at the time. The next day there would also be an odd, possibly related sighting in broad daylight, of which the Toronto Daily Star would write:

At about 2pm on that date some of the occupants of a tall building near the lake front saw some strange objects moving out over the lake and passing to the east. They were not seen clearly enough to determine their nature, but they did not seem to be clouds, or birds, or smoke, and it was suggested at the time that, perhaps, they were airships cruising over the city. Afterwards, it was surmised that they may have been of the nature of meteors moving in much the same path as those seen the night before.

The objects were reportedly seen moving first from west to east, then returning in the other direction before disappearing out of sight, meaning that it would be impossible for them to be normal meteors. Whether this incident has anything to do with the event from the previous evening is unknown. When Chant’s paper was released it generated a huge amount of interest among other astronomers and scientists, many of which looked into it themselves and came up with various theories to explain it all, including that it had been just a normal meteor shower or one composed of multiple meteoroid clusters, or that it was caused by a body or group of bodies getting temporarily locked into Earth’s orbit like a temporary second moon and then disintegrating. Chant himself eventually came to the same conclusion, that this had been a small, short-lived natural satellite of the Earth, some sort of wandering rogue space rock mini-moon that had orbited and then fallen into the atmosphere. The early 20th century author of the unexplained, Charles Fort, would suggest in his 1923 book New Lands that it was not a natural phenomenon at all, but rather possibly the work of extraterrestrials, and some other UFO researchers have suggested this as well. 

In the end we still don’t really know what has come to be called the Great Meteor Procession of 1913 or the Chant Meteor Procession was, and it remains a big question mark. Making it even more difficult to figure it all out is that there were no photographs taken and only a handful of sketches made by witnesses, so we are left with nothing but the witness accounts collected by Chant and subsequent researchers on the matter, leaving it all in the realm of debate and speculation and making it one of the strangest and unexplained celestial light shows ever seen. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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