The “Fatal Day of Halley’s Comet” – Verona, Wisconsin (1910)

“Comet fever” is a term sometimes used to describe the phenomena of widespread anticipation and apprehension that grew throughout the United Sates in the early months of 1910.

Expectations of seeing the celestial phenomena were boosted by the popular press; newspapers stoked excitement, and advertisers added pictures of comets to promote their products.

As with the appearance of any heavenly apparition, there were some who saw omens of catastrophe or calamity in the event.

Miss Clara Hinsel lived in Verona, a city on the prairie of south-central Wisconsin.

Today, Verona is a suburb of Madison.,_Wisconsin

Sometime in the Spring of 1910, Clara received a beautiful embossed postcard from her friend or admirer, Harry Fesenfeld.

The face of the postcard is a deeply-embossed and weighty depiction of a poppy.

The postcard was not mailed, but Halley’s Comet was visible in the United States from days in April to early May of 1910.

That gives us an approximation of the delivery of Harry’s postcard.

On the reverse, Harry writes a long message.

He greets Clara as “Dear Friend” and thanks her for her postcard.

Harry reports that “motoring all off down here” – one cannot tell if the equipment is unusable or if the roads are impassable.

The weather, according to Harry, “looks like summer for sure this time”.

At present, Harry is “very busy” but looks forward to visiting Verona “when the motor comes”.

(In the early 20th century, autos were sent away for repairs as there were no garages and local blacksmiths were not able to do the required work.

In closing, Harry proclaims, “Today is the fatal day of Hallie’s (sic) Comet” and he asks, “are you frightened”.

It is not clear if Harry is being facetious or dramatic in posing the question of the “fatal day”.

(I believe Harry meant “fateful”, rather than “fatal”.)

One hopes that the friends were able to see the remarkable apparition and that they remained correspondents for many years.


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