Saints and Stars: Eyewitness Accounts of Latter-day Saints of the Leonid Meteor Shower, November 18, 2001 with a Parallel with the Saints’ Accounts of November 13, 1833
Compiled and Edited by Scot Facer Proctor
Your experiences a week ago with the Leonid Meteor Shower have been awe-inspiring and fun to read. You took your families, you braved the early-morning-hours, you didn’t want to miss this remarkable phenomenon in nature.
The Saints had a similar experience 168 years ago. Many of those early Saints saw a similar shower because they had been thrust from their homes and were being expelled from Jackson County, Missouri. Some of them recorded their observations then. Some of you recorded your observations now. Meridian’s Science and Religion Editor, Dr. John P. Pratt, enlightened us on this event in an article published last fall. (Read http://www.meridianmagazine.com/sci_rel/001206meteor.html )
David Perlman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported the event this year in these words: LEONID SHOWER DAZZLES OBSERVERS WORLDWIDE Shooting stars flashed across the sky by the thousands and fireballs exploded in bursts of brightness as the Leonid shower lived up to forecasts across the United States and turned into a true meteor storm. In the Bay Area, thousands of avid sky watchers jammed state parks and remote hillsides to catch their first sight of the spectacle.
While newspaper men and women gave various accounts for their papers across the world, you, too, gave your accounts for Meridian Magazine, The Place Where Latter-day Saints Gather online. We invite you to read through the following accounts, both modern and antique. Your account might be among them. We think you will find this quite fascinating.
Barbara Ann Ewell Evans wrote:
“In 1833 we moved to Ray County, Missouri. There I witnessed the falling of the stars, November 13, 1833.” (1)
Kathryn Wehunt recorded:
“My family and I live in Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb just north of Atlanta. After attempting in vain to wake our teenage daughter and son, my husband and I, wrapped in blankets, headed for the back yard and parked ourselves on the lounges by our pool. The meteor shower was magical. There were streaks of light every few seconds. Some were brilliant, some were faint. Although it was not as spectacular as a fourth of July fireworks display, it was just as exciting, if not more so! We were both awestruck, laughing, “oohing & ahhing”, and wishing our children were there experiencing this “once in a lifetime” event. After almost an hour, dawn was fast approaching and we held each other, gazing skyward, proud of ourselves that we were still able and willing to enjoy and appreciate this moment in time and space. It set an inspirational tone for the day, as just two hours later we were in Stake Conference listening to Elder Dallin H. Oaks address us. It was a day that we’ll always remember! AWESOME!”
Parley P. Pratt wrote this from Missouri:
“About 2 o’clock the next morning [November 13th], we were called up by the cry of signs in the heavens. We arose, and to our great astonishment all the firmament seemed involved in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Thousands of bright meteors were shooting through space in every direction, with long trains of light following in their course. This lasted for several hours, and was only closed by the dawn of the rising sun. Every heart was filled with joy at this majestic display of signs and wonders, showing the near approach of the coming of the Son of God.” (2) Parley even included an illustration in his history showing the falling meteors all around the Saints’ tents huddled along the shores of the Missouri River. (3)
From Marianne Bennett:
“Here in central Maine, we got up about 4 a.m. We went out to stand and watch, but soon realized that our best vantage point would be if we were laying down. The temperature was very cold — my guess is upper 20’s to low 30’s. So we laid down a double layer of blankets and then we crawled under a layer of sleeping bags. There we were, all five of us, and our dog walking over us watching a show that was better than fireworks. It wasn’t as bright as fireworks, nor did the meteors appear as often as fireworks. But, it was spectacular. We oooohh’d and aaaahh’d over and over. We saw a couple that were so bright that they left trails across the sky. We saw one on the lower western horizon that was so bright is lit up the sky with its green and yellow tail. It was the best thing we have done together in a long time. It was definitely worth missing out on a little sleep. Reporting from my woods here in Maine.”
The Prophet Joseph recorded from northern Ohio:
“November 13. About 4 o’clock a.m. I was awakened by Brother Davis knocking at my door, and calling on me to arise and behold the signs in the heavens. I arose, and to my great joy, beheld the stars fall from heaven like a shower of hailstones; a literal fulfillment of the word of God, as recorded in the holy Scriptures, and a sure sign that the coming of Christ is close at hand. In the midst of this shower of fire, I was led to exclaim, ‘How marvelous are Thy works, O Lord! I thank Thee for Thy mercy unto Thy servant…
“The appearance of these signs varied in different sections of the country: in Zion [Missouri], all heaven seemed enwrapped in splendid fireworks, as if every star in the broad expanse had been suddenly hurled from its course, and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. Some at times appeared like bright shooting meteors, with long trains of light following in their course, and in numbers resembled large drops of rain in sunshine. These seemed to vanish when they fell behind the trees, or came near the ground. Some of the long trains of light following the meteoric stars, were visible for some seconds; these streaks would curl and twist up like serpents writhing. The appearance was beautiful, grand, and sublime beyond description; and it seemed as if the artillery and fireworks of eternity were set in motion to enchant and entertain the Saints, and terrify and awe the sinners o ft he earth. Beautiful and terrific in scenery, it will not fully compare with the time when the sun shall become black like sack-cloth of hair, the moon like blood, and the stars fall to the earth (Revelation 6: 13).” (4)
Doug Simpson wrote from Colorado:
“My wife Carol and I live in Lakewood, Colorado on Green Mountain, 6,000 ft above sea level. We set the alarm clock for 1:30a on Sunday morning, jumped in the car and headed to the high plains east of Denver in order to gain a view of the heavens without the obstructing light of the metropolitan area. As we drove east we saw streaks of light in the sky, which became more and more visible the further we went from the city. Forty miles east of Denver we pulled the car onto a country road in Strasburg, Colorado at the predicted peak time for viewing the meteor shower–3:00a. We were fortunate to have totally clear skies and at more than a mile above sea level our view was spectacular! We could see the Milky Way in its full glory. We could easily distinguish the various viewable constellations including Leo, Cancer, and the Hydra, as well as the planet Mercury. In brisk early morning temperatures around 30-degrees Fahrenheit, we observed falling stars which at times came in clusters of six or more. We focused our observations on the eastern horizon where we expected to see the majority of meteors, but were surprised to see many in all quadrants of the sky. They seemed to come from all directions. We saw several large, colorful fireballs streak across the heavens. Particles of their light seemed to linger, descending for several minutes, almost like Fourth of July fireworks. In the hour or so that we spent on that country road in eastern Colorado we estimated that we saw 15-20 meteors per minute! It was an inspiring and unforgettable lifetime experience. Carol says she now has wishes stored up for a lifetime!”
Edward Stevenson joined the church shortly after the event in his day:
“I witnessed the falling stars–which was the grandest and most sublime sight eye ever beheld. No fear entered my mind, but joy rather than awe; this was in the fall…If ever stars in the heavens had been on the move, it could not have excelled the sight. It appeared to me as some of the meteors, or stars, came down near to the surface of Silver Lake, on the banks of which I stood. And what makes it still more interesting was that a mob had assembled in Missouri to mob the Latter-day Saints who had just been driven from Jackson County, Missouri, and were in their tents, canopies, wagons and etc. on the banks of the Missouri River. God frightened the mob by this one of the signs of the last days so that great fear came upon the people, and the mob fled saying that the judgment day had come.” (5)
Roy Einreinhofer from the Cape Cod Ward wrote this:
“I went out at about 4:00 AM on Sunday to observe the meteor shower. On Cape
Cod, Massachusetts we were blessed with an absolutely clear sky. Although the temperature was in the 20s, I spent about an hour watching the show. Everything from faint red streaks to brilliant white ones. I was going to head for the town beach to get a better view, but the level of traffic headed in that direction indicated that there would be no parking spaces left. Speaking with friends on Monday, that suspicion was confirmed.
Although we didn’t get the 4000+ per hour that had been predicted, the show
was still amazing. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.”
Eliza Lyman recorded this from Missouri:
“The next day we crossed the river into Clay County…. It was here that I saw the stars fall. They came down almost as thick as snowflakes and could be seen until the daylight hid them from sight. Some of our enemies thought the day of judgment had come and were very much frightened but the Saints rejoiced.” (6)
Sylvia McMillan Finlayson wrote this from California:
“The meteor show was fantastic. Paul and I agree that the only other thing we’ve done, astronomically speaking, that comes close to this was the total eclipse we saw in Helena, Montana way back when. A total eclipse is quite different from a 99.9% eclipse, which quite surprised me at the time. Sunday morning as I snuggled in my -40 degree sleeping bag, I saw as many as 4 meteors at a time. It wasn’t a massive rain shower of light, rather streaks of glory racing across the sky. One here, one there. We even saw one skip off the atmosphere and come back in for a second run. Orange, red and white lights. There was a feeling of playfulness and light-heartedness. Something one doesn’t normally associate with such a grand event. The anticipation of waiting for the where and when of the next grain of sand to trail a path across the sky was exhilarating. Equally fun was listening to our group of close friends ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with excitement and wonder at what they were witnessing. Off in the distance were some party boys hooting and hollering every time a new flash went off.”
Philo Dibble, a prominent member of the church, recorded the following observations made by Joseph Hancock, the brother of Levi Hancock, near Kirtland, Ohio, on that night:
“On one occasion Joseph was preaching in Kirtland, sometime in the fall of 1833. Quite a number of persons were present who did not belong to the Church, and one man, more bitter and skeptical than others, made note with pencil and paper of a prophecy uttered on that occasion, wherein Joseph said that ‘Forty days shall not pass, and the stars shall fall from heaven.’
“Such an event would certainly be very unusual and improbable to the natural man, and the skeptic wrote the words as a sure evidence to prove Joseph to be a false prophet.
“On the thirty-ninth day after the utterance of that prophecy, a man and brother in the Church, by the name of Joseph Hancock,… and another brother were out hunting game and got lost. They wandered about until night, when they found themselves at the house of this unbeliever, who exultingly produced this note of Joseph Smith’s prophecy and asked Brother Hancock what he thought of his prophet now that thirty-nine days had passed and the prophecy was not fulfilled.
“Brother Hancock was unmoved and quietly remarked, ‘There is one night left of the time, and if Joseph said so, the stars will certainly fall tonight. The prophecy will all be fulfilled.’
“The matter weighed upon the mind of Brother Hancock, who watched that night, and it proved to be the historical one, known in all the world as ‘the night of the falling of the stars.’
“He stayed that night at the house of the skeptical unbeliever, as it was too far from home to return by night, and in the midst of the falling of the stars, he went to the door of his host and called him out to witness what he had thought impossible and the most improbable thing that could happen, especially as that was the last night in which Joseph Smith could be saved from the condemnation of a ‘false prophet.’
“The whole heavens were lit up with the falling meteors, and the countenance of the new spectator was plainly seen and closely watched by Brother Hancock, who said that he turned pale as death and spoke not a word.” (7)
Rao Canham wrote this from the Los Altos Ward in Silicon Valley, California:
“At 2:25 I awoke to see if the meteors had arrived and if the clouds would permit my wonderful wife, Mercedes, and I to watch the predicted show. Having confirmed that the show was indeed on, I went in to gently wake her up. We went out into the chill at 0230 and enjoyed a fantastic show. Neither of us had ever seen such a spectacular sky phenomena.
“No more than 45 seconds went by without us seeing meteors painting the sky with a bright silver line. The meteors were appearing in all directions. Some were low on the horizon and others darted right over our heads. In the 20 minutes we watched we saw over 50 meteors. The evening was made all the more special by Elder and Sister Canham (my dad and his wife), full-time missionaries in the San Jose mission, being able to join us.
“We all enjoyed the work of the master in a special artistic display. We are thankful for such beauty in our world and its skies. It truly was a marvelous work and a wonder.”
Included as a footnote in the History of the Church is this:
“Stephens in his History of the United States (page 455), thus speaks of the same event: “During the fall of 1833 occurred a natural phenomenon of a most wonderful character. This was on the night of the 13th of November. It was what is known as the ‘meteoric shower,’ or the ‘falling of the stars.’ It was witnessed with amazement and astonishment throughout the entire limits of the United States.” (8)
Linda Hissong recorded this from Adamsville, Tennessee:
Our home is near the Tennessee River. I awoke around 3:30 a.m., went outside to see if anything had started. It was in the forties that morning, not cold, just brisk. I soon began to see the fireworks starting. One here, then another behind me, then one to the side. I was so excited to see the beautiful sight before me. I went back into our home. My husband was awake and asked me where I had been. I told him that I had been watching fireworks. I asked him if he would like to go back with me? He stated that he would love to. I said, “You’re joking. At 4:00 a.m.?” He said, “No, I am not, and would love to join you.” So, here the two of us, walk to the back of our property, in our pajamas, and set together enjoying the wondrous sight before us. We could not keep up with them, coming across in such an array. Some would streak, others leave tails behind them, but all were beauty to behold. But, most of all, as we walked back to our house, holding hands, we were thankful and grateful to have been a part of this night, together.”
And Coral Anna Foster wrote this from Mt. Solon, Virginia:
“Down here in Mt. Solon (oops, you blinked), Virginia, the view was spectacular.
“I regularly am an early riser, so it wasn’t difficult to shed the warm bed for the less than welcome, decidedly cold, morning air outdoors. Grabbed my parka & trotted on out. I had thought that maybe I’d see one or two streaks across the sky. Ha! Then, the eyes adjusted to what was playing across the star-studded heavens.
“I lay down on the grass, feet to SW and these lights were scudding across from NE – SW. But, wait, there were an errant few, skittering from E – W and a few others gamboling back the other way. Cris-crossing amongst the others, like calves weaving in and out of a herd of cattle.
“Some were very large and one could see their “tails” for at least 20 – 30 seconds, and also see that tail vanish into a puff of grey smoke. Most others seemed fairly short-lived.
“Out here in the county, in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains, all was so still around me, occasional dog bark, rustle in the woods across to my right – some creature on a morning forage. But, I lay there in awe of this crossing of celestial paths.
“The strangest part of witnessing all the firelights, was that there was no sound! I kept thinking that I was missing the audio from the pyrotechnics. Solitary as I was, it was difficult not to “ooh”, and “oh, wow”, and “aaaaah” out loud.
“How puny man, how vast is His Dominion, and how thankful we should be that we have eternity to perfect ourselves.”
Sue Vohsen wrote this from the East Coast:
“I watched the meteor shower from the perspective of my front steps in the mountains of North Carolina. The skies were perfectly clear. I sat on the bottom step and laid back on the upper steps and watched with awe. Since this was my first Sunday as music leader in Primary I knew I couldn’t stay up long and function so I only stayed out for 15 minutes, but counted 27 meteors in that time. It was lovely.”
Douglas C. Pierce was so moved by the Leonid shower that he observed from his mountain retreat he wrote this poem some days later:
Rock of ice, rock of might,
Streak so silent though the night.
While I in stupor wonder gaze
At thy herald light.
Rock of ice, midnight blaze,
Burn the shadow of the days.
Render skies with tongue of flame
And bask in mortal’s praise.
Rock of fire, rock of flame,
Rock of ice, what is thy name?
For I in stupor wonder gaze
Am drawn to play thy wishing game.
Do wishes fall upon thee sir,
To meet a fate of fire?
Canst thou hear the prayers of men
In melancholy choir?
Rock of ice, this selfish game
That thou stage with careful aim,
Laughs at men a thousand fold,
Rock that doth deserve no name.
For what power dost thou hold?
Wherein lies thy wond’rous gold?
And how can thou these wishes grant,
O proclaimer of a myth so bold?
But even as I so recant,
I feel the haunt that myths enchant.
O rock of ice, thou brazen soul,
Hear my wish, this prayer I chant!
My wish shall fall upon thee sir,
To meet thy glorious fire!
O rock of ice, thou twisted master,
Grant me my desire!
1. Madsen, Carol Cornwall. Journey to Zion: Voices from the Mormon Trail [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997, 272.
2. Pratt, Parley P. Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Revised and Enhanced Edition. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2000, p121.
3. Ibid, p. 122.
4. Smith, Joseph. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1980, Vol 1: 439-40.
5. J.G.Stevenson, editor, Autobiography of Edward Stevenson, (1986), p 5.
6. Eliza Lyman, BYU-S, p.4.
7. The Juvenile Instructor , 27 (Jan. 1892), p. 23.
8. History of the Church, 1: 440.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.