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E-mails true and false circulate after tragedy

September 17, 2001 

In times of great tragedy, e-mails espousing truth usually begin to circulate. And after the unimaginable devastation of Tuesday’s attacks, it wasn’t long before the cycle began.

The first I saw was one regarding a prophecy by Nostradamus from 1654 that, according to e-mail legend, said the sky will burn and a great collapse will occur in the “city of York.” It also pinpoints September 2001 as the month for the horrific event. I have to admit, not being a Nostradamus aficionado, I was taken in, stunned by his prescience.

It turned out, as these things often do, to be a cruel hoax.

Nostradamus died in 1566, well before this prediction. And none of his quatrains mentions that specific date.

The closest quatrain I found (thanks to the Internet Public Library and was from the seer’s Century VI, Quatrain 97: “At forty-five degrees the sky will burn/Fire to approach the great new city/In an instant a great scattered flame will leap up,/When one will want to demand proof of the Normans.”

Some scholars say the “forty-five degrees” could point to New York City. But the true quatrain isn’t quite as stunning as the fanciful creation.

The other e-mail making the rounds is one quoting Canadian newscaster Gordon Sinclair and his inspirational pro-American broadcast from June 5, 1973. The American dollar had declined dramatically and Sinclair was discussing the situation on the air.

This missive, unlike its mystical counterpart, is far more grounded in truth, although some versions have taken his speech out of context and not dated it.

Still, the message is glorious:

“... this Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people in all the earth ...

“When the railways of France, Germany and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke.

“I can name you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble.

“Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? ...”

“Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I am one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around.

“They will come out of this thing with their flag high.”

It’s easy to see how both messages could be misconstrued and applied to the horror of the past week.

When we read them and forward them on, and on again, it shows how desperate we are for some guidance to lead us out of the ashes of anguish for which there is no explanation.

By Jonathan Groves Copyright © 2001, The Springfield News-Leader, a Gannett company.

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