The Day Christopher Columbus Made the Moon Disappear

Christopher Columbus and his crew made their last journey to the Americas in 1502 and ended up stranded on the coast of Jamaica. Stranded so to speak because his total number of ships was halved (two remained out of four) due to the turbulent journey that they had endured.

The remaining two were not looking too good either; not only were the ships damaged but the crew and the ships themselves were suffering from a massive outbreak of work infestation. This meant that Columbus and his men were left at the mercy of the natives of Jamaica and their generosity.

Not beginning on the wrong foot, the native Jamaicans were very welcoming of these ships full of strange men initially. They provided the men with a steady supply of their native food and other essentials, in exchange for some goodies from the crew. It looked well and comfortable for Columbus and his men in the initial days. Things, however, began to take a sour turn soon enough.

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Tables Turn

For a few months after the ships had arrived, in spite of the willing generosity of the natives; Columbus’ crew members seemed to take advantage of their hospitable hosts. Plundering and raiding villages, stealing and cheating the locals off of their food and other supplies and not to mention that the men seemed to have a never-ending hunger; the natives realized that their hospitality was being taken advantage of.

Very soon, they began to turn a blind eye to the crew’s demands and simply stopped supplying them with any of their necessities pretty much leaving them to fend for themselves. Without any consistent form of sustenance and perhaps even appalled by the behavior of his crew, Columbus retreated to the ship spending time trying to figure out how he could come up with a plan to save his crew and the ships from ruin and starvation.

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Christopher Columbus Gets An Idea

While Columbus sat by himself in his cabin (no doubt hungry and feeling sick as well), he suddenly remembered an astronomical book that he had been carrying – The Ephemerides. It was in this book that he found and noted the date – February 29, 1504, which was supposed to be the time of the next Total Lunar Eclipse.

A Lunar Eclipse occurs when the moon passes into the shadows of the Earth and, therefore, appears hidden from sight for a short amount of time. However, the problem with this prediction in the book was that the time that the Lunar Eclipse occurs in different parts of the world will naturally be different depending on its location and angle of sight facing the moon.

While Columbus remained unsure of what time precisely the Eclipse would occur in Jamaica, it nonetheless gave him an idea to use to his advantage. So he gathered his interpreter and some strength and decided to warn the leaders of the native tribes that if they did not start cooperating with Columbus soon, he would make the moon disappear from the sky.

The Gamble

Christopher Columbus was undoubtedly nervous; he had made a tall claim and a ferocious warning that had however left the native chieftains unfazed. Some laughed while others simply dismissed Columbus for his madman ramblings. This left the great explorer wondering whether this gamble was worth it and whether The Ephemerides had correctly predicted the Eclipse or not. However, as it turned out, the next night that was the date mentioned in the book – the moon did disappear from the sky.

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The Earth’s shadow began hiding the face of the moon the more it rose in the sky until it was reduced to nothing but a red circle, looking nothing like the moon. It looked instead more like a raging ring of fire – angry with the behavior of the natives and a sign of forthcoming punishments and atrocities that the enraged Gods would now have to commit on the natives.

Panic Ensues

Columbus and his crew were not the only one to notice this occurrence. The natives saw it too and were frightened enough to seek him out and beg for their forgiveness. They wanted their beloved moon back in the sky and order restored in their lives, afraid of this new incarnation of the moon and it’s near disappearance – fearing what other tricks Columbus had up his sleeves if they didn’t comply with him.

Christopher Columbus, however, was not going to give in this quickly, especially since the Eclipse itself would last a while longer. Claiming that he needed to consult his God and Master, he retired to his cabin again. While the natives nervously awaited their fate, Columbus instead relaxed and kept a steady eye on an hour glass that let him know how much time remained before he could go out and speak to the natives again.

Very soon, the Eclipse reached its totality that is its turning point and served as the signal for Columbus. He immediately left his cabin to speak to the natives again and inform them that the moon had now agreed to return to the sky, but this would happen gradually. He also, of course, made sure that the natives knew that the moon had agreed to return only in exchange for them providing the crew with sustenance again.

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Problem Solved

So Christopher Columbus did manage to get his way. From the following day itself, the natives went back to their usual friendly selves and brought with them food and nourishment for Columbus and the crew. Ever grateful to them to have convinced the moon to come back to their sky.

In fact, they kept the crew well fed and looked after for several more months until a ship from Spain arrived on the coast, which helped Columbus set sail again. Surely, as the natives stood standing on the shore waving their arms madly at the retreating ship, they wondered what great men and consorts of the gods were now leaving their land.

Video:Harsh History: Columbus Moon

After beaching his fleet on his fourth and final voyage, Christopher Columbus used the moon to steal supplies from the Taino natives of Jamaica.