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The Palatine Light by M. H.

This phenomenon appeared off the northern coast of Block Island about 1720, and reappeared at irregular intervals down to the year 1832, since which it has not been seen. A common impression of those seeing it for the first time was that it was a light on board of some ship, or a ship on fire when very bright. Arnold, in his History of Rhode Island, gives an account of it, and also of the tradition which assigned to it a strange origin. "This light," he remarks, "has been the theme of much learned discussion within the present century, and, while the superstition connected with it is of course rejected, science has failed thus far in giving it a satisfactory explanation." Dr. Aaron C. Willey, a resident physician of Block Island, wrote a careful account of the phenomenon in 1811, which was published at the time in the Parthenon, whatever that may have been. He says: "Its appellation originated from that of a ship called the Palatine, which was designedly cast away at this place in the beginning of the last century, in order to conceal, as tradition reports, the inhuman treatment and murder of some of its unfortunate passengers." This was an emigrant ship bound from Holland to Pennsylvania. Some seventeen of the survivors were landed on the island, but they all died except three. One lady, it was said, having "much gold and silver plate on board," refused to land. The ship floated off the rocks, and soon after disappeared for ever. Dr, Willey says he saw this light in February, 1810. "It was twilight, and the light was then large and greatly lambent, very bright, broad at the bottom and terminating acutely upward. From each side seemed to issue rays of faint light similar to those perceptible in any blaze placed in the open air at night. It continued about fifteen minutes from the time I first observed it, then gradually became smaller and more dim until it was entirely extinguished." The same gentleman saw it again in the following December, when he thought it was a light on board of some vessel until undeceived. It moved along apparently parallel to the shore on this occasion, after a time falling behind the doctor, who was riding along the coast. Finally, it stopped, then moved off some rods and stopped again. The same authority declares that he had been told by a gentleman living near the sea that it had often been so bright as to "illuminate considerably the walls of his room through the windows." This happened only when the light was within half a mile from the shore, for it was "often seen blazing at six or seven miles' distance, and strangers supposed it to be a vessel on fire."