Mystery Booms Rattle
North Carolina Since 1850s
By Jerry Allegood
Raleigh News & Observer

FORT FISHER, N.C. -- The sound rolls in off the ocean like an invisible tidal wave, washing over houses with enough force to rattle windows and startling people who look uneasily to the ground and to the sky for an explanation.
Boom. Rattle. Rattle boom. And it is over as quickly as it began.
The mysterious noises have been reported as far back as the 1850s.
Now, a Duke University seismologist hopes to find clues about the mystery sound's origins as a side benefit from an earthquake research project.
Peter Malin, a seismology professor for 10 years, plans to monitor a sensor that has been placed deep in the ground at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site near Wilmington.
The sensor is intended to record minor seismic activity that might indicate when more significant quakes can be expected.
There is no explanation for the sounds, at least not one on which everyone agrees.
Some say the rumbling is a sonic boom created by unseen aircraft. Others suggest top-secret military training offshore or maybe the earth moving on the ocean floor or deep below ground.
Then there are the theories that gave the phenomenon its name, the Seneca Guns -- that the sound comes from the ghosts of American Indians firing guns to disturb descendants of those who drove them from their land.
This name first arose in New York, then applied to North Carolina, even though there were no Seneca Indians there.
Malin's hunch is that the booming noise originates in the atmosphere, although he has no particular theory on the cause.
He heard the sound and saw its impact in July while preparing his project. Doors and windows shook, but the house didn't, he said, indicating to him that the ground did not move.
Residents who have heard the noise for years have ruled out obvious suspects such as thunder because the booms have occurred on clear days when there were no clouds or lightning.
Accounts of the rumbling date back to the days before airplanes, much less supersonic jets that fly fast enough to break the sound barrier.
There is no particular pattern, although in the past they have been reported most often in the fall and spring.
Other scientists have suggested that the interplay between water and weather might be causing the sounds.
Some people say that the mystery should never to solved, but Malin says that there is good scientific basis for his wanting to figure it out.

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