A Moon’s World

T omorrow, on January 31, 2018, the moon will be a trio of rare things made much rarer for coinciding: a supermoon, i.e. a full moon rounding the closest point in its earthly orbit, appearing larger and brighter as a result; a blue moon, i.e. the second full moon in a single calendar month; and—reportedly starting at 6:48 a.m. and peaking at 8:30 a.m.—a blood moon, i.e. a moon turned reddish by the optics of a lunar eclipse.

Apparently the first such confluence in over 150 years, it’ll be a banner day for our celestial neighbor and a source of excitement for us in turn. But we shouldn’t let it eclipse our appreciation for the more sustained contributions the moon has given us here in New Haven—the services and inspirations it’s delivered with frequency, reliability and, maybe if you squint, a smile on its face.

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It was the ebbing and flowing of the moon-controlled tides, after all, that gave Quinnipiack natives and generations of settlers easy access to their staple sustenance: Crassostrea Virginica, a.k.a. the eastern oyster. Oysters need a marine environment to develop and reproduce, but humans are made for turf, not surf. Enter—or rather exit—New Haven’s tides, whose low points exposed the harbor floor and the mollusks that grew there.

The moon was also a crucial pre-electric night light. A sufficiently waxed moon made some outdoor activities viable even after dark, which is partly why local almanac writers such as Roger Sherman—who actively published during the mid-18th century and was later a key figure of the American Revolution as well as New Haven’s first mayor—charted lunar cycles for their many readers. Local newspapers, the first of which began publishing in 1755, would eventually take up the charge, continuing to track the moon into the 20th century.

Not just offering utility, the moon has also given us plenty of creative license. Countless local poems, metaphors and quips have relied on the moon. But sometimes utility and creativity overlap. For example, throughout most of the 19th century and into the 20th, the moon leant its Latin name, Luna, to a medical treatment: silver nitrate, more artfully dubbed “lunar caustic.” Named so because of silver’s alchemical association with the moon, it was used as an antiseptic, a cauterizing agent and, at least once, a toy for wordplay: “I don’t like your lunar caustic remarks,” said a fictional character in an 1878 edition of the New Haven Evening Register.

A little less than a century later, with Luna’s more regular contributions continuing as usual, the moon made perhaps its biggest single splash by letting a couple of us visit. The Apollo 11 lunar landing of July 20, 1969, was celebrated across the land and gave select New Haveners some interesting things to study. Yale geochemist Karl K. Turekian, for example, compared moon rock samples to pieces of East Rock and found them to be surprisingly similar, according to a retrospective New Haven Register article published in 1989.

Also in 1989, one or more enterprising New Haveners opened up The Moon, an alternative music club at 399 Whalley Avenue. An early review by the Register noted the venue’s unique musical tastes, “checkerboard floor” and cranked-up sound system. There’s a Facebook page dedicated to its memory and, thanks to the power of the internet, you can witness the club’s most legendary live set: Nirvana’s first and only Connecticut show, which landed in 1991.

In 2018 New Haven, the moon, albeit not The Moon, continues to amuse and be a muse. It’s inspired not one but two cookie shops: Hamden’s Moon Rocks Gourmet Cookies and late-night downtown spot Insomnia Cookies, whose logo fashions a crescent moon out of half-eaten chocolate chip. Near Insomnia, iconic head shop Group W Bench sells metal hanging moons, moonstone jewelry and crystals whose powers local Wiccans purport to “charge” using the moon itself. Across downtown, coming up on February 17, the Yale-China Association hosts its next annual LunarFest, celebrating the Lunar New Year with Chinese cultural displays and enrichments.

For the next few weeks especially, it’s a moon’s world, and we’re just living in it.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Image has been embellished with artificial colors.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories, helped very much by a small team of dedicated contributors.

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