A Grand Illusion

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Welcome to the Grand illusion
Come on in and see what's happening
Pay the price, get your tickets for the show
The stage is set, the band starts playing
Suddenly your heart is pounding
Wishing secretly you were a star.

But don't be fooled by the radio
The TV or the magazines
They show you photographs of how your life should be
But they're just someone else's fantasy
So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you never win the game
Just remember that it's a Grand illusion
And deep inside we're all the same.
We're all the same…
(Styx, The Grand Illusion)

The stories have been told for years. On a clear day, when it's very still, sometimes people say they can see the other side of Lake Erie, more than 50 miles away. The claims have been documented in newspaper articles, but no photographic evidence exists. But scientists say, it is quite possibly true.

CLEVELAND – Scientists say it's a mirage, but others swear that when the weather is right, Clevelanders can see across Lake Erie and spot Canadian trees and buildings 50 miles away.

Eyewitness accounts have long been part of the city's history.

"The whole sweep of the Canadian shore stood out as if less than three miles away," a story in The Plain Dealer proclaimed in 1906. "The distant points across the lake stood out for nearly an hour and then faded away."

"I can see how this could be possible," said Lawrence Krauss, chairman of the Physics Department at Case Western Reserve University.

Krauss and Joe Prahl, chairman of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at Case, said mirages can occur during an atmospheric inversion, in which a layer of cold air blankets the lake, topped by layers of increasingly warm air. When this happens, it can cause the light that filters through these layers from across the lake to bend, forming a lens that can create the illusion of distant objects.

The scientists said the air has to be extremely calm for the mirage to appear. If the wind blows, it distorts or dissolves the image.

The phenomenon has actually been noticed in other places as well. The stories also exist in Canada, where they claim they can see Cleveland, clear as a bell.

"It's not terribly unusual. Sailors are always exposed to this kind of thing," he said.

Prahl, who regularly sails his 30-foot sloop Seabird from Cleveland to Canada, has never seen it.

But Bob Boughner, a reporter for the Chatham Daily News in Ontario, said he's seen Cleveland from across Lake Erie twice, the first time four summers ago while driving along a road near the lake. He saw it again two summer ago while driving along the same road.

All of a sudden, there was Cleveland, just off the Canadian shore, as if it were just across a river, he said.

"I happened to look across the lake and, geez, I couldn't believe the sight," he said. "I could see the cars and the stoplights. I could even make out the different colors of the vehicles. It lasted a good two or three minutes."

Boughner said he remembers his aunt Melba Bates, who lived all her life on Lake Erie and recently died in her late 90s, talking about being able to see Cleveland, but he didn't believe her.

"I thought she was making up stories," he said. "But sure enough, I could see the same damned thing. When it shows up, it looks like you can touch it."

But fear not people! It is only an illusion. They haven't actually cloned Cleveland! The world just isn't ready for that.

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9 Responses to A Grand Illusion

  1. crosspatch says:

    There are two places where I have witnessed a similar thing. There exists a certain weather condition in Southern California where Mt. San Jacinto down near Palm Springs can be seen from the Los Angeles area. The other is where the snowcapped peaks of the Alps can be seen from Munich. It requires a certain weather condition that I think is related to cold air and some kind of inversion layer that causes the light to bend and so be seen from over the horizon.

    Both locations have their regional name for this condition but I will be darned if I can remember it.

    Interesting article on the effect here.

  2. Tom McAdam says:

    I grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan, and on more than one occasion saw buildings and trees out on the lake. The Wisconsin shore was 60 miles away, but the objects were clearly there.

    Another illusion I (and others) observed was a freighter on the horizon with an identical, upside down freighter a few degrees above it.

  3. Gaius says:

    Some of the atmospheric optical illusions are quite interesting, actually. I think everyone must have experienced the “water on the road” illusion on a hot day.

  4. Black Jack says:

    The Green Flash is one heck of an interesting optical phenomenon: It’s real, I’ve seen it several times. Check it out, there are pics at the link or visit Wikipedia


  5. Gaius says:

    Very cool pictures. I had no idea anyone had actually gotten a picture of that.

  6. Black Jack says:

    From Wikipedia:

    Jules Verne, the early French science-fiction writer, wrote a book named Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray) whose hero is chasing this elusive phenomenon.

    Éric Rohmer, a French film director, made a movie named Le Rayon vert where one gets to see a green ray in the last scene.

  7. Gaius says:

    < ?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> < !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> Untitled document Hey, Black Jack – haven't seen you in a while – been on vacation?

  8. Black Jack says:

    In a manner of speaking, yes. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been updating the electrical system here. New 200 amp residential service, 2 sub panels, all new rope, new fixtures, fans, switches and outlets, cat 5, and lots of tricky three ways, fancy bells and whistles in the kitchen, along with several motion and infrared sensors inside and out. This old shack is up to speed and looking good for at least the foreseeable future. Thanks for asking.

    BTW, unless the structure has compelling historical significance, or is of such obvious quality of materials and construction as to demand it be preserved, it’s a big mistake to fix up an old house. Best is to scrape and start from scratch. Thus spoke the voice of experience.

  9. Gaius says:

    I’ve dealt with far too many old houses. I know what you speak of!

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