Saturday in the Museum with Frederic

Image: Frederic Edwin Church, The Meteor of 1860 (1862).

This time of year food is often associated with the night sky.  Around camp fires or backyard grills we take advantage of the warm nights to cook and eat outside.  Looking up to see the stars emerge makes that hot dog or s’more all the more enjoyable.  So for this week’s post we take a break from art that that looks at food to one that that looks up the at the sky.

In 1860, a unique astronomical event occurred when there was a “meteor procession” that appeared as a string of fire balls across the sky.  Inspired by the sight, Hudson Valley School’s Frederic Edwin Church painted this picture.  It appears the painting is in private holdings.  So you can only see it here! (and all over the internets).

Church was not the only person taken with the sight.  Walt Whitman penned a poem included in Leaves of Grass called “Years of Meteors, 1959 ’60.” For many years the subject of the poem was a mystery to astronomers.  They could not figure out what event or series of events Whitman was referencing:

Nor the comet that came unannounced out of the north, flaring in heaven;

Nor the strange huge meteor procession, dazzling and clear, shooting over our heads,

(A moment, a moment long, it sail’d its balls of unearthly light over our heads,

Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone;)

—Of such, and fitful as they, I sing—with gleams from them would I gleam and patch these chants;

The comet mentioned in the first line was easily identifiable as Comet 1860 III.  But what of this “procession?”  Nominees included Leonid meteor shower of 1833, or the one in 1858, or a single fireball that came on November 15, 1859.

The mystery was solved when astronomer Don Olsen of Texas State – San Marcos came across the Church painting in the back of an exhibition catalog.  A search through local documents and newspapers from the time confirmed that Church and Whitman were looking at the same event.  (San Marcos may ring some bells for D.C. trivia buffs).


If you have returned from camping or need a break from grilling, or are visiting D.C. for your summer vacation, then the rest of our site is for you.  The other six days a week we are a dining guide for Washington, D.C. and we like to think of ourselves as the best way to find a great place to eat in the District. We have more than 300 recommended restaurants that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc.) in either LIST or MAP format.

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