Recently I’ve found myself haunted, not by earworms, but by stories of anomalous music: “Home, Sweet Home,” played at seances on a caged accordion, i.e. concealed mouth organ; elfin pipes, angelic choruses at Victorian deathbeds, and, lately, the mysterious music of nature. Here are a few cases of mystifying melodies from the great outdoors. Usually an explanation is tendered. Whether these are correct or even plausible, I leave to my readers, as I am a musician, not an acoustical engineer.
We begin with a phenomenon that, witnessed far from land, must have seemed mystic and enchanting.
Issues From Iceberg
Encountered By Red Cross Liner Off Newfoundland Coast
Tones Like Those of Chimes
New York, April. 28. Music, such as charmed Ulysses and his sailors off the shores of Crete, was reported by 14 hardy fishermen to-day, as coming from a two-spired iceberg, which the Red Cross Liner Florizel encountered 200 miles from St. Johns, near the Newfoundland coast.
“We were sailing along through calm seas Sunday morning,” said Olaf Henderson, when the Florizel docked in South Brooklyn to-day.
“Suddenly out of the mist there loomed two great towers, each which resembled pictures I have seen of the spires of the Rheims Cathedral.
“They were surrounded by a mist, which disappeared when the sun broke through the clouds and all hands on board the Florizel distinctly heard the strains of music, which sounded low at first, then gradually grew louder, until it seemed as though a choir, accompanied by chimes, was singing a great cantata.
“This phenomenon is caused, I am told, by windholes in the level surface of the ice. [Essentially an icy ocarina.] When the sun melts too much of the ice the berg loses its musical properties.” The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 April 1915: p. 1
The Florizel, named for a character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale was lost in a wreck off the coast of Newfoundland in February of 1819, killing over 100 crew and passengers. If this music had occurred closer to the time of the wreck, it might have been seen as an ill omen.
Cave formations are one explanation given for the organ-like sounds heard in the Arizona Badlands; a sunken cathedral is a less plausible one, although it is overlain with what sound like tribal memories of Spanish abuse of the indigenous peoples.
Comes From the Ground and Source Cannot be Explained.
One of the most interesting phenomenon is to be observed in the badlands of Arizona. Out in the midst of an alkali plain there is a desolate formation of rock covering only about an acre in extent, and from these rocks, or rate from beneath them, there issue sounds of music as though an organ was playing, and the strains are echoed from every direction. The place has never been excavated or fully explored, and the theory of scientists is that there is a peculiar formation of stalactites in a cave there with an opening somewhere through which the wind plays upon these stalactites, producing the music. The Indians claim, however, that a cathedral was at one time built upon this place, and that there was a bad priest placed in charge of the cathedral, who abducted Indian women and children. One night the ground opened during a violent storm and the earth closed in over the top of this cathedral. The Indians believe that the music which comes from the ground proceeds from the ghosts of those who were interred at the time of the earthquake. Detroit Tribune. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 14 January 1904: p. 8
Is this a case of singing fish? [another post, another day.]
An account of a mysterious buzzing sound that is frequently heard in Skookum Bay, which is now going the rounds of the papers, reminds us of a still more mysterious sound that is heard during the summer months and always just before sundown, on what is called Big River in Mendocino County, Cal. Another strange coincidence is that the locality near which the sound is heard to best advantage in both cases has the same name—viz, Cape Horn. The sounds in the Big River case resemble the sweet strains of band music, heard plainly, though apparently from a great distance. It is impossible to locate the direction from which these sounds proceed, as when several persons are listening at once some will hear it from the air above, some from the water below and some from the shore on either side. Many learned and scientific people have striven at different times to investigate this strange phenomenon, but though the sounds have been hard for many years, the mystery remains as great today as at the beginning. Willapa Post. Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 10 October 1893: p. 5
This story of a musical mountain in Truckee, Nevada has a really ingenious explanation: musical scree.
A NEVADA WONDER
MUSICAL MOUNTAIN OF THE WEST
Sweet Strains From the Hillside Heard by Old Prospectors.
In the old Truckee mining district down the Truckee River near Pyramid Lake, is situated Nevada’s musical mountain, says the Virginia Enterprise. This mountain was first discovered by the white settlers in 1833, at which time there was some excitement in regard to mines found in its neighborhood. The discoverers were a party of prospectors from the Comstock.
They had pitched their tent at the foot of the mountain, and for a few evenings thought themselves bewitched. Each evening, a little after dark, when the air was calm and all was quiet, a mysterious concert began. Out from the face of the big mountain were wafted soft strains that seemed to cause the whole atmosphere to quiver as they floated over the camp. The music then appeared to pass over until it was far, far away and almost lost in the distance, when, beginning with a tinkling as of many little silver bells, there would be a fresh gush of sweet notes form the mountain.
During the daylight hours little of the mysterious music was heard, and it was soon settled that it was not caused by the wind. A spring near which the explorers had pitched their tent afforded the only good camping grounds in the neighborhood, and as each new party of prospectors arrived at the spot the wonder grew.
Some Paiute Indians who came along and camped at the spring were found to be acquainted with the peculiar musical character of the mountain. They called it the “Singing Mountain.”
Some of the men collected in the camp became more interested in the mountain than in prospecting, and gave most of their time to an investigation of the mystery of the musical sounds heard to proceed from it. They found that the whole face of the mountain was covered with thin flakes of a hard crystalline rock. There were great beds of these flakes. The investigators concluded that the musical sounds heard proceeded from this loose material, huge drifts of which seemed to be gradually working their way down the steep face of the mountain.
At all events, the strains heard at the foot of the mountain in the evening’s stillness seemed to be produced by the uniting and blending of the myriads of bell-like tinklings proceeding from the immense beds of slatey debris creeping, glacier-like down the slope.
This solution of the mystery of the musical mountain is the only one worthy of notice. As no mines of value were found, the district was soon deserted and has since seldom been visited. Therefore few, except the old-time prospectors, knew much about the “Singing Mountain.” San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 26 June 1894: p. 2
Animal, vegetable, or mineral? There are certainly cave crickets, but they do not chirp.
STRANGE MUSIC IN A NEVADA MINE
It is not often that the honest miner meets with animal life while delving in the depths of the earth, and more rare and surprising still is the warbling of birds or chirruping of crickets in the walls of a quartz vein passing into a solid granite mountain: but for the past week the miners engaged in driving the tunnel into the Grizzly Lode, on the northern slope of Mount Snowden, have been hourly greeted with such sounds proceeding from above and beyond the hanging wall on their left, about sixty-five feet in from the portals of the tunnel. The sound is usually kept up from three to ten minutes at a time, and sometimes resembles the chirruping of a cricket and sometimes that of a bird. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 July 1882: p. 11
After the musical ice-berg, this Aeolian anomaly is a favorite, even though it has a rather anti-climactic explanation, which I’m not sure that I believe.
Mysterious Music in the Air.
From the Rochester Express.
A singular and unaccountable phenomenon is agitating the social circles of North Chili, Monroe County, and is the cause of much speculation and superstitious foreboding. The evidence of the existence and recurrence of the curious phenomenon is unimpeachable.
About 7 o’clock every morning there can be heard a soft, soughing sound in the air, like the music of an Aeolian harp, but of greater volume. This weird music seems to pervade the air for miles. Families living widely apart have heard it at the same hour. At first it was noted with simple curiosity, but its recurrence with such regularity when the air is not disturbed by violent storms has given it a romantic interest. What is it? is the question. Various theories have been presented, such as the vibration of the telegraph wires, or the sound of a far distant locomotive whistle toned down and mellowed by distance or some peculiar condition of the atmosphere, or formation of the ground. But these do not satisfactorily account for it. It is unlike the sound of the wires, and too akin to music to be caused by an engine. It is heard miles away from the wires—on each side of the railroad—where the sound of vibration would be carried away by the wind. It seems to float high in the air, now clear, now faint, then swelling again to distinctness. Some people have averred that the sounds proceed from a certain spot of ground about a mile from the station at North Chili. They assert that the earth vibrates, and that the sound seems to rise and float away skyward. This, perhaps, needs further investigation and verification. That this mysterious music has been heard and is causing considerable interest is undeniable. Trenton [NJ] State Gazette 17 February 1876: p. 1
The mysterious music at North Chili, N.Y., has been found to proceed from a sawmill ten miles off, the humming vibrations of the air being distinctly noticed with a favourable wind. Albany [NY] Evening Journal 16 March 1876: p. 2
I have my own story of a musical anomaly. I was driving along on a section of highway recently added as a connector to a local freeway. Suddenly the most exquisite music poured from the radio. It was an ethereal women’s chorus singing in tones of stunning purity. I couldn’t catch the words so I reached for the radio to turn up the volume.
But the radio was not on.
The mind reeled a bit.
Then the car passed from the new road onto the old and the music stopped. I realized that the angel chorus had been the sound of my tires’ harmonics on the rain grooves of the new road surface.
Other mysterious music with prosaic explanations? Jot me a note at Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.