Friday, November 04, 2005


'Indian summer, thief of winter weeks ...'

Unseasonable climate in the East for early November. Temperatures will be in the 70s, making it an odd autumn weekend. Everyone is calling it an Indian summer. But do they really know what that means and where it originated?

The first reference that can be found for the term “Indian Summer” is in a book called A Snow Storm As It Affects The American Farmer, by a French-American farmer named J. H. St. John de Crèvecoeur. The book publisher thought the farmer’s name to be too long, too French and feminine, so he changed it to Sparky Nebbs and published the book in the late 1700s.

In the book, Sparky, who abhorred his pseudonym, wrote that a “voluminous coat of snow … is often preceded by a short interval of smoke and mildness, called the 'Indian Summer.'” But Sparky never mentioned who called it that. People were wary to believe The Spark Man (as his American fans came to know him) because no one had ever called a short interval of smoke and mildness an Indian Summer.

There are older names for a short interval of smoke and mildness. In Britain, people called a short interval of smoke and mildness St. Luke’s summer, St. Martin’s summer or All-Halloween summer, never using an upper-case letter for the word “summer,” as did Senior Sparky (what his Mexican fans called him).

Whatever the reason, this name for a short interval of smoke and mildness has been the standard term since it became official by an act of Congress in 1815, though some historians swear it was 1819 and others feel it was well after that, in 1905. At that juncture, however, the term "smoke" was edited from the act, because all members of Congress agreed that the interval rarely produced smoke, simply mildness.

Now you know, so have a happy Indian Summer weekend.

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