St. Elmo’s Fire seen above Foothill area
February 8, 2005
We were away on vacation and my closest neighbor Leland Gefvert, plus others in his home at the time, were astonished to see what is described as follows.
It was a cold, blustery night, perfect for the electrical phenomenon that must have been St. Elmo’s Fire.
Lee saw a bright white, blue tinged light from my windows and his first thought was someone had a flash light in the room.
This light was a flash, danced around a bit, and then disappeared. Better drive around, and see if anyone is at home, Lee said, when he arrived in front of the house it was dark.
So he went home and thought about the mystery. We are so fortunate to have wonderful neighbors like Lee and all the others around us.
We all look out for each other when someone is away on vacation, or just because.
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The mystery has bothered Lee for quite a while, until he received his LST publication (Land Ship Tank). There was an article about St. Elmo’s Fire, which described what could have been the light that night in my home.
During World War II, Lee served on a rather large ship called a Landing Ship Tank, also known to sailors, and the military as a large slow target.
You may have seen such ships as our soldiers landed at Normandy. The rear of this ship would let down, tanks, trucks, and men would disembark very near to shore.
Lee served aboard this kind of ship from 1944 to 1946 and has experienced permanent ear damage from the noise of the ship.
This year Lee will be 84 years old and has a wonderful memory. During the war, another country’s captain, asked Lee, “why are you so strong in military might and weak at home?”
So just what is St. Elmo’s Fire? It is an electrical disturbance that occurs under certain atmospheric conditions.
It is usually observed on ships and is considered as a portent of bad weather. It is also known to occur near, and around mountain tops such as the Sierra Nevada.
The flashing blue light that can illuminate a room holds no heat, it simply finds an object as a conductor. Sometimes, this magical light dances around a person’s head, blades of grass, or horns of cattle.
The amount of electricity involved is not great enough to be dangerous.
St. Elmo was an early Christian martyr, also known as Eramus, who was tortured in a most gruesome way.
The word capstan comes from his torture. A capstan is a drum like apparatus for hoisting anchors or other weights by exerting traction upon a cable.
Because of his martyrdom, he became the patron saint of sailors. During rough weather, frightened seamen interpreted the blue flashing light on the tops of the masts as a sign of his protection.
The phenomenon, also known as corposant, was long regarded with superstitious awe.
The ghostly light often frightened people who did not understand where, or how it originated. It is sometimes, considered a blessing when seen, or has touched an object, or a home.
This is great news, a blessing is always welcome. However, I am rather glad we were not home, and the mystery is fully explained, or is it?
— JoEtta Brown can be reached at JoetBro@aol.com.