MFDJ 05/08/24: Angel’s Glow

Today’s Glowing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

One of the most interesting aspects of the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War battle of Shiloh involved a strange visual phenomenon observed at night. Many soldiers were forced to lie in the mud and muck for two days while waiting for the medics to get to them. When the sun went down, an eerie blue-green glow began to be seen in several areas of the darkened Tennessee battlefield. Strangely, the wounds of some of the stranded soldiers were emitting this glow. No one had any idea what this phenomenon might portend, but the doctors and nurses noticed that those whose wounds had glowed brightly in the dark had a significantly higher survival rate than those whose wounds were not illuminated. Additionally, the wounds healed at a faster rate, and more cleanly. Because of these seemingly magical properties, the coloration became known as “Angel’s Glow”.

“The Angel’s Glow”

In 2001, two high school students finally solved this 139-year-old mystery. Bill Martin and his family were visiting the Shiloh Battlefield Park. They heard the stories about the strange glow, and Martin asked his mother, a microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center, if this phenomenon might have something in common with the micro-luminescent bacteria she had studied. Martin and his friend, Jon Curtis, researched the luminescent bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens, which lives in the guts of parasitic nematodes, a type of invertebrate also known as roundworms. When nematodes vomit up the glowing bacteria, P. luminescens kills other microbes living in the nematode’s host, which at Shiloh would have been the body of a soldier.

Martin and Curtis studied the historical records and nighttime conditions at Shiloh during the battle. Normally P. luminescens dies at human body temperature, but the students found that temperatures on the battlefield in 1862 were low enough for soldiers to develop hypothermia. This allowed the bioluminescent bacteria to live and multiply in the bodies of wounded soldiers, to kill off competing parasitic bacteria, and to help save the lives of their human hosts. The eerie “Angel’s Glow” surrounding the wounds of some soldiers at Shiloh—and later, Gettysburg—was the bioluminescence of P. luminescens.

For solving this mystery, Bill Martin and Jon Curtis received first place in the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Culled from: The Aftermath of Battle by MFDJ Patron Meg Groeling


Legend  Du Jour!

In their assaults on the living, some spirits worked in quiet ways, relying on persistence rather than violence or chaotic energy. A haunting of this kind took place in the late 18th Century on a British slaver, bound from Liverpool to the Slave Coast of Africa to load its hapless cargo. Within a few days of leaving port, the ship was racked with discord. The captain was harsh and quick-tempered, and in his general displeasure with the crew he nursed a particular hate for a man named Bill Jones—aging, stout and slow at his tasks, but uncowed when the captain bellowed and cursed at him.

One day as the wind freshened, the captain gave orders to shorten sail. As always, Jones puffed and sweated with effort but worked at half the speed of his comrades. The captain took relish in berating him mercilessly when he returned to the deck—although most captains rarely spoke at all to the humbler crew members. The old sailor bore it for a time. At length, however, he turned on the captain, his face twisted with fury, and loosed a barrage of insolence that left the crew dumbstruck.

The captain, pale with rage, stumbled down the companionway that led to his cabin and returned with a blunderbuss. Its muzzle was packed with nails and iron slugs, and the captain took deadly aim and fired. Jones was flung backward, his chest horribly torn. He sighed as his life slipped away, but when he saw the captain regarding him contemptuously, his gaze grew fierce. “Sir,” he gasped, “you have done for me now, but I will never leave you.” He died without saying another word.

Fearful of mortal authorities, the captain swore his crew to silence, but he had more to contend with than the collective memory of the sailors. For the murdered man’s spirit walked. Unheard and for the most part unseen, it joined the crew in the daily round of duty, a stolid toiler whose progress was marked by casks that seemed to shift themselves and a solitary rag that mopped the decks and polished the fittings without the urging of mortal hands.

Only up on the yards did the phantom show itself to the crew. A man busy wrestling with the canvas would feel the spar shudder beneath him, he would glance to one side and gaze aghast at the bulky figure of Jones sitting beside him, as deliberate and painstaking in death as ever he had been in life. But when the man blinked, or turned away to gesture to a sailor on deck, the apparition would vanish—although the telltale trembling continued.

The captain alone never ceased to see the ghost. He confessed to the first mate that the spirit hovered by him every minute of the day. Even at night, when he tossed and woke, he found himself fixed by the ghost’s steady gaze. He beseeched the mate to take command of the ship while he fended off his spectral tormentor.

But he captain’s sufferings dragged on, and his figure grew gaunt and his eyes bright with fever. By day he paced the decks, seemingly alone. His glance, however, flickered from side to side, and he rarely raised it to eye level, for there were eyes he did not care to meet. Sleep became impossible, and he spent his nights sitting up, groaning softly from time to time.

At last the captain could stand no more. One day the mate, giving orders from the afterdeck, heard a splash. He rushed to the taffrail to see the face of the captain, a scrap of white on the dark water receding in the ship’s wake. The captain flickered in and out of view behind the wave crests, slipping bit by bit to an easeful death. Suddenly, however, he began to thrash. He half-rose from the water, and even at that distance, the mate discerned his terror. “He is with me even now!” came the hoarse cry over the hiss of the foam. Then the captain vanished beneath the waves, and with him went the ghost of Bill Jones—it was never again encountered on board.

Culled from: The Enchanted World: Ghosts

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