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Twin Monsters

April 5, 2015

“Frankenstein” was born in Switzerland during the dark and stormy summer of 1816. But the spark that gave life to Mary Shelley’s classic novel may have happened half a world away and more than a year earlier — with a planet-altering event that began 200 years ago today.

Mount Tambora rose above a small island in Indonesia. It staged a powerful eruption on April 5th, 1815. It rumbled for a few days more, than blew itself to bits on April 10th — the most powerful eruption ever recorded. The mountain turned to “liquid fire,” and dozens of cubic miles of smoke and ash were blasted into the sky.

The smallest particles of ash made it all the way to the stratosphere, almost 30 miles high, where they spread around the entire planet. They reflected a lot of sunlight back into space, causing the global temperature to drop by a couple of degrees.

The drop was even steeper in parts of America and Europe, where 1816 was called the “year without a summer.” Crops failed, farmers were bankrupted, and the hungry staged food riots.

That summer, Shelley was vacationing in Geneva with her future husband — the poet Percy Shelley — as well as Lord Byron and one other writer. Cold, stormy weather trapped them indoors. In the gloom they told ghost stories, and staged a contest to see who could create the scariest.

Mary Shelley’s contribution was Frankenstein — the tale of a monstrous creation — inspired by a monstrous explosion half a planet away.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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