What made the mighty Niagara stop?

An enormous ice dam formed at the source of the Niagara River on the eastern shore of Lake Erie on March 29, 1848 causing the enormous Falls to come to a halt. While the Niagara is not the tallest waterfall in the water, what is extremely impressive about the great spout is about 168,000 cubic metres (6 million cubic ft.) of water go over the crestline of the falls every minute during the day so when just after midnight, the thunderous sound of water surging over the great falls at Niagara came to a halt, citizens of Buffalo was shocked — what happened?

It took some exploration the next dawn to find out the cause: the flow of water was severely restricted because of an ice jam. The eerie silence persisted throughout the day, and many wondered how to break it up, or what they effect when the jam was broken what would happen to the surrounding area. The silence continued into the next evening, when finally the waters of Lake Erie broke through the blockage and resumed their course down the river and over the falls.

The header picture, from the Library of Congress archives, is from about 50 years later in 1915.

Centaurs and Asteroids

What’s going on?

The symbol F is for the Centaur Cyrallus at 07 Aquarius 47. But it was not known then, as Cyllarus was discovered on October 12, 1998 at 18 Taurus 34.but with an orbit of. 134 years. 1998-134 = 1864. thus Cyrallus was at the end of its orbital run in 1848. The glyph was designed by Zane Stein, now of Solar Fire, I guess based on Ovid’s description of the centaur of having a long beard. There are lots of meanings for it but most are more pertinent for individuals than a mundane chart, still out of them, “self-importance” semisextile Neptune is interesting but it’s hard to believe that a minor Centaur could have such an effect on Niagara.

On the otherhand, asteroid Eris is partile Neptune at 1 Neptune 26 and both get the interesting symbol from Martin Goldsmith of a “female angelfish swims seductively.” He writes the symbol suggests when there is a casting of seductive spell over someone or over the public at large

Next to Eris, the goddess of discord and the Trojan War, is Diana of the hunt 03 Pisces 33 and then the Part of fortune partile to Venus. That is interesting setup as Eris gave the golden apple to Menelaus tantalizing him to give it to the fairest goddess of all. His choices were (Diana) Artemis, (Venus) Aphrodite and Helen of Troy. He chose Helen and thus the war began. Overall the preponderance in Pisces is quite impressive. Here Eris is between Neptune, often called the husband, of Venus 08 Pisces 35.

At the end of the preponderance stellium is Tantalus at 26 Aries 25 next to Pluto (Hades) perhaps suggesting the rushing waters that want to run once more. Saturn is squared Mars but both in rather passive signs; and Saturn is then trined Hygeia/ Jupiter in the seventh as people want the rivers to run because their stop upsets all of nature.

Jupiter’s exaltation does not seem to have much effect perhaps because he is rather kind and indulgent, the sign is rather kind and loving and the house, the seventh, not getting enough motive power to do much at all. Jupiter’s square to Mercury at 14 Pisces 57 does not hold much sway as the salesman is looking for a deal.

Mars is caught in a rather happy trine with the North Node who is partile Cupido the asteroid, and Cyrallus, his mind seems to be elsewhere perhaps playing the Neptunian ponies. Thus going around the wheel we do not have much energy to get those waters moving. Perhaps it really is time to chill.

From 1849, the newly made Suspension Bridge spanning the Niagara River, Buffalo, New York
This lithograph is contemporaneous with the essay according to the Library of Congress, as it depicts the newly made suspension bridge over the Niagara River. The falls is far upstream to the left and is thought to be the fastest waterfall in the world.

The waiting game

The stalemate continued for over 24 hours, and here is the problem — we do not know how much longer after that interval. If we decide to go with dawn, which when the night transitions over to day and the sky starts to get brighter, that would be “nautical dawn” or when the Sun is about 12 degrees from horizon. Astronomical dawn, which only the birds sense, was around 4:21 am (remember there is no daylight savings at this point) which happens to be exactly when Neptune 01 Pisces 30 went into its essential house. Now here’s another cool thing:  Neptune has just been discovered on September 23, 1846 in Berlin– just three years earlier.

The Niagara flows again.
Cupido-a, always concerned with appearances, is now in the seventh house in Virgo and intercepted. Order must be returned and it seems all the asteroids on the other side of the chart agree — Eris is now ahead of the Moon, and everything else has moved into the first house where both Pisces and Aries are intercepted. Cool looking chart isn’t it? Our Centaur is now way in the back and Tantalus looks like he may get pushed over himself by Pluto who is on the move. Saturn is still square Mars who is in the fourth house and opposite the midheaven while Jupiter now in a more aggressive fifth house wants some action. The waters are moving, eager to get on with it.

Has Niagara ever stopped since? The United States Army Corp of Engineers made it stop in 1969 but that does not count; that was a force event, and historically we do not know of another natural occurrence — before or since. What we do know is, it must have been mighty cold that winter. Brrrr—


  1. The essay is based on “Today in History” from the Library of Congress. That article is here.
  2. Niagara Falls are from the Niagara Falls Tourism site which even has a nice brochure documenting this historical event. Get it here.

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