“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together” – Ray Bradbury
We need to have a word with those folks in alternate dimensions. They keep lobbing explosives over here. This is both perplexing and terrifying, particularly as on March 16, 1891, they seemed to have been playing fast and loose with their ordnance. We like to think that with just a little vigilance and measure of caution, on a good day most of us who are not living in a combat zone can avoid being blown up. This appears not to necessarily be the case. Once you start digging into mystery explosions, it turns out that there are countless reports of inexplicable “things that go boom in the night”, often doing ludicrously localized damage and leaving little evidence. We offer up comforting explanations from various fields of expertise. Geologists talk about microquakes. Astronomers go with meteorites. Police suspect foul play. Most conspiracy-minded folks are happy to suggest the military is getting careless with its bombs. Given that often nobody seems to be able to conclusively say where many of these explosions originate, what happened to the shrapnel, or how certain strange wounds managed to occur when an unfortunate is caught in the mystery blast, it would seem we are pointedly ignoring the possibility that things are getting a little hairy in parallel worlds, and that some inter-dimensional demolitions expert is thoughtlessly letting his craft leak into our universe. No manners on these otherworldly critters.
Imagine you’re two old-fashioned country boy pals doing some bar-hopping in the big city. You think your biggest worries are probably alcohol poisoning, barfights, venereal disease, and avoiding hipsters. One doesn’t usually consider that they might get blown up strolling along Brooklyn’s Vanderbilt Avenue. Sadly, this is precisely what happened to the unfortunate farmer Smith Morehouse of Orange County, NY on March 16, 1891.
This is Very Queer: An Inexplicable Explosion Fills Farmer Morehouse’s Face with Powder – At 2:30 o’clock this afternoon, two farmers named Smith Morehouse of Orange County, NY, and William Owens of Sussex, NJ, places only a mile apart, left a Kings County elevated railroad train at the Vanderbilt Avenue station and proceeded along Vanderbilt Avenue ins search of a commission merchant named S.F. Crusen, who, they suppose, lives somewhere between 650 and 660 Butler Street. At the corner of Vanderbilt and Atlantic Avenues, while they were in front of Thomas Kane’s saloon, an explosion occurred, which resulted in filling Morehouse’s face with powder. Neither of the two men had any kind of a firearm and neither saw anybody on the street at the time, or can offer any explanation of the source of the explosion. The injured man was taken to the Homeopathic hospital, quite badly hurt. His companion, Owens, was locked up in the Tenth precinct station house pending investigation of the occurrence. The police are looking into the matter (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 16, 1891, p6).
Now both men were intoxicated, but neither was determined to be carrying anything especially incendiary other than their livers. As Morehouse was well and properly injured, but Owen evaded any injury at all, Owen was immediately considered a suspect. Police quickly determined that the two were fast friends and both vociferously denied any precipitating argument, or frankly any reason that one would want to harm the other. Owen was fined $1 for public drunkenness and then released. The problem remained of how the effects of an explosion that nobody saw had managed to mess up Morehouse, leave Owen (who was walking right next to him) unscathed, and show no evidence on the ground around them that anything had happened. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper followed up the next day, merrily shooting down the somewhat dubious theories offered, and pointing out the anomalous nature of Morehouse’s injuries.
“Just as we had crossed Atlantic Avenue,” said Owens, “I heard a great noise and found that my friend was shot”. The police at once began an investigation, but this afternoon the mystery is as far from solution as ever. Captain Early, in his special report to Superintendent Campbell this morning, says that Morehouse must have stepped upon a torpedo carelessly dropped by a railroad employee. “The right side of his face was scratched,” says the captain, “his tongue was cut and from the roof of his mouth the surgeons of the Homeopathic hospital took a small sliver of copper. The right side of Morehouse’s hat rim was fractured with holes in a manner which indicated that the explosive came from below”. The railroad torpedo theory is better than none, but it is hardly sufficient. In the first place railroad men say that a greater weight than a man’s foot is required to explode a torpedo, and there is no mark of explosion upon the sidewalk. Although the injury is on the side of the face which was next to Owens, the latter was untouched. There is no mark upon Morehouse below his chin. Various theories are offered by police and citizens living in the neighborhood and reporters were assured this morning that Morehouse was shot with a blank cartridge by boys; blown up with dynamite bomb thrown from a neighboring window; struck by a current which slid down a telegraph pole a few feet away and last, in all seriousness, it is declared that a fragment of meteorite iron, as it fell, exploded before his face (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1891, p6).
Anomalist Charles Fort examined the newspaper account of the event in the New York Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle, pointed out that there were plenty of witnesses (some of which were looking directly at the men when the explosion that wasn’t an explosion occurred), and that despite the physical evidence etched on the clothes and face of poor Morehouse, no shrapnel, residue, or burn marks could be found in the vicinity.
No other material could be found, though an object of considerable size had exploded. Morehouse’s hat had been perforated in six places by unfindable substances. According to witnesses there had been no one within a hundred feet of the men. One witness had seen the flash before the explosion, but could not say whether it had been from something falling or not. In the Brooklyn Eagle, March 17, 1891, it is said that neither of the men had a weapon of any kind, and that there had been no disagreement between them. According to a witness, they had been under observation at the time of the explosion, her attention having been attracted by their rustic appearance (Fort, 1974, p464).
In an odd coincidence, on the same date (presumably occurring on March 16th, reported on the 17th) in neighboring Pennsylvania, some sort of concussive force, which was referred to as a “whirlwind”, blew the carriage of a family up into the air and dashed it into the trees. That is a very specific tornado, especially since it affected nothing else in the surrounding area.
Wilkes-Barre, PA, March 17. While James Bollock and son were riding in a carriage from Dallas yesterday they were overtaken by a whirlwind, and the men and carriage were lifted bodily and carried some distance and thrown against the trees. Each of them weighed above two hundred pounds. They were badly injured. The whirlwind was confined to a narrow compass and did no other damage (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17, 1891, p6).
Are we seeing the curious effects of overpowered inter-dimensional firecrackers? We may never know, but my advice is if you hear a mystery boom, don’t wait for the flash. Duck and cover. The explosion may never come, but better safe than sorry. Sometimes an explosion is just an explosion, and we can proceed with our comfortable confidence that the universe doesn’t occasionally distribute the blast across a few different worlds, but as Kenneth Clark said, “We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs”.
“This Is Very Queer”. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 16 (Tuesday). Brooklyn, NY, 1891.
“Police Puzzled”. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17 (Wednesday). Brooklyn, NY, 1891.
“Caught in a Whirlwind”. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 17 (Wednesday). Brooklyn, NY, 1891.
Fort, Charles. The Complete Books of Charles Fort. New York, NY: Dover, 1974.