By John Wilmerding
In late August 1859 a spectacular eruption of the northern lights dominated the New England heavens for several days, commented on by newspapers across America and Europe. In the same period Walt Whitman, the great poet of that day, witnessed what he described as a "year of comets and meteors transient and strange." For those who saw these astronomical phenomena the experience was indelible. It was a major stimulus to artists and writers at the time.