Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Behold, the rain man cometh --- but not the rain

Something was said in church Sunday morning to this effect: "If you've been praying for rain, please stop." Goodness only knows Lucas County has had plenty of precipitation in recent days.

But that was not the case during the long, hot --- and dry --- summer of 1894. It was so dry that when a rain man rolled into town from Nebraska on the C.B.&Q. quite a few reputable citizens of Chariton bit --- although very carefully and with their cash guarded by an iron-clad contract.

The practitioner was Ursa Swisher, 23-year-old son of William B. Swisher (1825-1914), known as Dr. Swisher --- a Civil War surgeon and practicing physician. He was one of several professional rain makers Nebraska had generated during the 1890s and widely known across the Midwest.

Here's The Chariton Herald's account of the rain making operation, as published on Thursday, Aug. 2, 1894. The photo, from the Nebraska Historical Society collection, shows one of that state's rain making operations --- although no Dr. Swisher's.


It was rumored about town Thursday of last week that a veritable "rain maker" was in town anxious for a job, and in response to a call a meeting was held at the courthouse Friday morning at 10 o'clock, attended by a large body of citizens, to listen to what the rain maker had to say. The gentleman's name is Ursa Swisher, and he represents the Swisher Rain Company of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Being called to the stand, Mr. Swisher said they did not claim to make rain --- they only produced it. That they had made nine operations this season, one being a failure and two partial failures. After replying to numerous queries propounded by those present, the answers to which failed to disclose the theory or plan of operation, Mr. Swisher proposed to the meeting that he would produce one inch of rainfall over a radius of 10 miles in every direction from Chariton within five days from the beginning of operations for $500. No rain, no pay. Additional rain thereafter, over the same area, at $250 per inch.

A committee composed of Thomas Gay, G.J. Stewart and T.M. Stuart was appointed to draw up a contract covering the above stipulations, which was done and signed. A subscription paper was passed and the necessary $500 raised.

After consulting a barometer, Mr. Swisher announced that he would begin operations to produce rain at 5 o'clock on Friday evening. He secured a small room on the second floor of the post office building for the work and at the appointed hour began shooting chemicals into the air in the form of gasses. During the first night's operation the usual rain symptoms began to appear, since which clouds of varying density have partially obscured the sky. A few drops of rain fell each day except the last --- Wednesday --- leaving pock marks in the thick bed of dust, and on Tuesday morning we had a nice sprinkle that superseded the use of the street sprinkler for a few hours, rain falling to the depth of one-sixteenth of an inch as reported, while in some other parts of the county copious showers are reported.

Believing Herald readers would be interested in knowing something of the theory upon which the company works, a representative interviewed Mr. Swisher one day this week, and although finding him quite weary from loss of sleep he cheerfully furnished us the following information.

The operating utensils consist of two large earthen air-tight jars, two 8-foot lengths of one-inch gas pipe, funnels, a china pitcher, a one-gallon measure, and a quantity of chemicals, the names of which are unknown to all except the operators. The gasses which are generated in the jars by chemical action are liberated through the gas pipes to the atmosphere.

Mr. Swisher says, "We all know that air is composed of oxygen, hydrogen and a small proportion of nitrogen. We believe dry weather is caused by the excess or deficiency of one of these elements and in order to equalize these we produce a vacuum in the atmosphere, concentrate the moisture and produce precipitation in the form of rain."

Mr. Swisher uses three kinds of gasses, though only two are used at a time. The jars are recharged every two hours continually, day and night, from the time contract begins. 

In reply to our query as to the cost of chemicals used during his work here, Mr. Swsher said they had cost him about $80. He seemed well pleased with his success here, is satisfied he produced the rains that have fallen during the past week and says it has rained every day except one since he began operations and that it has covered the entire county.

The contract time was up yesterday afternoon at 5 o'clock. The rain producer has spent his time and cost of chemicals, the people have still their money and the principal part of the county is still suffering for the want of moisture, while the heavens are as clear as a bell.

The general impression among our people is that the same clouds and rain would have appeared had the rain-maker never been heard of. While it may be within the scope of science, to be developed by someone at some future day, to condense the moisture in the air and produce rainfall, that Mr. Swisher has sufficiently mastered the forces of nature as to accomplish that object may well be doubted.

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