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Strange Images Rising Over Lake Erie


By James Donahue


People in Cleveland, Ohio, say that when the weather is just right, they can see buildings and trees on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, some 50 miles away. Science says it is a mirage and that such visions aren’t real.


A story in an 1906 edition of the Plain Dealer said “the whole sweep of the Canadian shore stood out as if less than three miles away.” The story said the illusion lasted for about an hour before it faded.


As a child growing up on the shores of Lake Huron, I remember times when we saw clear images of buildings from the Canadian side, and that was probably farther away than 50 miles. When it happened we were always amazed that we could see what we were looking at.


Lawrence Krauss, of the Physics Department, and Joe Prahl, from the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Departments at Case Western Reserve University, say these are mirages, much like people get when they are in the desert.


They explain that the mirage happens during an atmospheric inversion where a layer of very hot air blankets cooler air below it. This causes light filtering through the two layers to bend, forming a lens that can create the illusion of distant objects. They say such visions, however, are extremely rare.


Strange, however, that we did not find such visions to be rare at all. It was not uncommon to see the buildings across the lake, although I must admit that this did not happen every day. What the two scientists failed to explain with their mirage theory is why the image involved things that really exist on the other side of the lake. We saw buildings at a point where a real city stands. Thus I never felt that what we were looking at was only an illusion.


Something else is in play when these visions are seen. While I have never read of people seeing buildings while looking out on the Atlantic or Pacific coastline, the Great Lakes are large bodies of water that are surrounded by towns and objects that appear to come into view to those on the opposite sides of the lakes from time to time. These may not be mirages, but rather reflections of real objects projected across the lake by something existing in the atmosphere.


We experienced other visions that rarely are mentioned in local newspapers, or even discussed among ourselves. There were the water spouts, or tall, thin whirling tornados reaching from the lake high into the clouds. Such things twisted and moved, but never seemed to ever come ashore. While always interesting to watch, they never appeared to be a threat to us as we stood gazing at them from ashore.


Sometimes when the tide dropped unusually low, the ruins of a ship would come into view. We could stare at it for a few hours, wondering about the history of this skeletal horror from the past, until the tide returned at it disappeared from our view once again.


There are many mysteries about the Great Lakes known mostly to those who live on the shores.