Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Black smoke looked white at first

This is actually my third papal succession vigil. Those of us old enough to have followed the news in 1978 may remember the brief reign of Pope John Paul I, who died shortly after succeeding Paul VI in 1978. (See list of popes here.) John Paul II was the the second choice for 1978.

I can't prove this without exerting myself beyond a quick Google search, but I'm pretty darned sure that every time a pope has been selected in my lifetime there was a news report like the one I heard today on the radio:
Watchers thronging in St. Peters Square reported seeing white smoke emerge from the Vatican, but that the smoke changed to black.

"I could have sworn I saw white smoke at first," said a disappointed vigilist.

Cheering erupted among the crowd, believing that the successor to the late Pope had been selected, but it slowly died away as the smoke darkened to an unquestionable black. Despite the disappointment, the determined crowd continues its vigil.
Do you think the guy in charge of the smoke does that on purpose? While it certainly would be a hilarious bit of Vatican humor to use color-changing smoke, I think it has more to do with human nature. Consider this story that could be, but is typically not, reported in every weekday morning's New York Times:
Commuters Disappointed but, Determined, Wait On

Thousands of area commuters reported this morning that they "could have sworn" they heard the bus coming around the corner, only to discover that it was just a delivery van...


I expect to see a headline in the Onion tomorrow, or perhaps next week with the original Area Commuters Dissapointed but, Determined, Wait on.
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