Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Silent City

Alaska's Silent CityAlaska's Silent City was said to be an incredibly realistic mirage of a cityscape visible over Muir Glacier between June 21st and July 10th of each year. So many eyewitness accounts had been recorded - often from Indians and prospectors - that, by the turn of the 20th Century, the story of the Silent City was well known and widely accepted, though no one could account for its detail and clarity, nor why so many had seen the same mirage. The most prominent explanation was that it was a reflection of a town in either Russia or Bristol, England. Both towns were at least 2500 miles from the location at which most eyewitnesses claimed to have encountered the bizarre phenomenon. Skeptics claimed that was flatly impossible.

In 1897, the duke of Abruzzi led an expedition in search of the fabled mirage. According to reports from members of that expedition, the party met with spectacular success. "We could plainly see houses, well-defined streets, and trees. Here and there rose tall spires over huge buildings which appeared to be ancient mosques or cathedrals.
- L.B. French, The New York Times

The picture above was one a prospector claimed to have taken sometime between 1885 and 1888. It was widely circulated and became the image most associated with the phenomenon. But the picture is a hoax. The San Francisco Examiner sent a reporter to track down the mirage, but the reporter did not find the Silent City, he found that the prospector had actually bought the photograph from a British tourist some years earlier. He was passing the cloudy picture of Bristol, England off to people who took his tour - a tour to see the Silent City!

Even though the photograph has been debunked, belief in the Silent City remained stalwart throughout the early 20th Century. Sightings have not been made in over a century.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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