Seneca Guns by Shelley Hopkins
Did you know that we have ghost pirates shooting at the shore here in the coastal South Carolina area? That is one of the suggestions to explain the phenomenon of Seneca Guns that are occasionally heard around the coastal regions of North and South Carolina. I have only lived here for a year, so this is new to me. Yesterday I saw a post from our local newspaper mentioning that several people from Isle of Palms to James Island had heard these boom sounds, and that people’s homes shook and windows rattled. The paper was waiting to hear from the US Geological Service if the area had experienced tremors, but the writer said, if no tremors were measured then this was just a case of Seneca Guns. So far, no tremors have been reported.
I immediately began researching and learned that Seneca Guns is one of several names this unexplained booming sound is called. James Fennimore Cooper wrote a short story about these booms that were heard in NY at Lake Seneca and the name stuck for the United States. The same sounds have different names in other parts of the world, including Barisol Guns in India, Uminari in Japan, and my favorite, Mistpouffers off the coast of the Netherlands.
No one knows what causes these sounds. One suggestion was sonic booms, but the Seneca Guns have been documented from as early as 1850. At times these sounds are associated with earthquakes, or mainly with the aftershocks, including several mentions of these booms being heard after the Earthquake of Charleston in the 1800’s. Other times these booms are heard on clear days with no possibility of thunder. Seismic activity has never been recorded with the booms. Generally they are heard along coastal areas or lake areas, so the suggestion of plate tectonic shifts has been made, but again no evidence has been recorded to suggest this is possible.
I read an article from the US Geological Service that discounted nearly every suggestion that had been made, from meteors to earthquakes to parts of the Atlantic plate sliding off in the ocean, to sonic booms. The geologist concluded by saying, “The Earth is a complex place and there is a lot about it that we don’t understand. Perhaps someday we will understand what causes Seneca guns, but right now we don’t understand what makes them. However, they do not seem to pose a threat to anyone.” http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/booms.php
I looked at a site from North Carolina, the NCCoast.org, and found a quote from a longtime resident, “Marlene Dixon Varnam has experienced Seneca Gun episodes all of her life. ….Varnam owns and operates Carson Varnam Seafood Market, a business she and her late husband launched back in 1955.
“As a child I was curious about what they were. My first thought, of course, was that there might be a storm. But, then, there would be no clouds in the sky. Our house might shake, but I was never frightened,” she recalls.
“Through the years, we heard a lot different things that might be causing the booms – earthquakes, part of the continental shelf slipping away and jets breaking the sound barrier,” she says.
“There are no definitive answers, and the booms have become part of our lives. We just go about our business when it happens. Some mysteries you just can’t solve,” Varnam concludes.” http://www.nccoast.org/
I love the fact that despite all the scientific knowledge of our time we still have mysteries. It is exciting to try and imagine what might cause these sounds. I do not believe the answer is ghosts or any other mystic phenomenon but it is fun to imagine the possibility. A little mystery in life is good.
At the same time I did find an explanation that seems reasonable, that involves atmospheric inversions due to cold air and warm air that could create a microphone effect. This would explain why the sounds are heard near the coast and why they are so loud, yet does not explain the cause. Life is interesting. My goal for now is just to hear and feel one of these Seneca Booms while not seeing a ghostly pirate ship on the horizon. If you have any experience with this, please share it, I am very interested.