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Unsolved, full moon mystery continues to captivate


Thirteen days before Halloween, the hunter’s moon, briefly and partially eclipsed by the outer edges of Earth’s shadow, could be seen in the sky over the north country, reawakening a centuries-old attempt to understand the mysterious influence of our planet’s sole natural satellite.

Does the moon affect the behavior of humans and animals?

It’s a debate that scientists, psychologists and casual observers have had for centuries with no convincing conclusions.

The subject was broached locally about a month ago, when Jill D. Jones and Torri Richmire, who both work in the Jefferson County administration office, said they noticed a marked change in the volume and character of calls as the moon waxed and waned.

The strangest and most frequent calls came within three or four days of a full moon, they said.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that there may be a link between the full moon and, well, odd behavior.

Heather J. Kelley, front desk manager at the Watertown Ramada Inn, Arsenal Street, said she has observed the behavior of her regular customers change when the full moon comes out.

“I believe that stranger things happen when there’s a full moon,” said Ms. Kelley, whose desk is across from the hotel bar. “People tend to not think things through. They get a little drunker, a little wilder than normal. ... I have to say, I brace myself. I know it’s going to make for an interesting night.”

People exhibit less inhibition than they normally do, Ms. Kelley said.

A guest once went crazy and tried to attack a bartender with a wet-floor caution sign; there also seem to be more cross-dressers than usual, Ms. Kelley said.

Jeffrey M. Miller, bartender at Savory Downtown in the Best Western, 300 Washington St., said that when he worked in Atlanta, he saw a woman hit her husband on the forehead with a shoe before throwing a pint glass across the bar during an argument about household chores while the moon was full.

“I’ve always noticed that men seem to be affected more,” Mr. Miller said. “The alpha male syndrome comes up a lot. Maybe that’s where the whole werewolf thing comes from. Guys want to go out and howl at the moon or beat their chests like gorillas. I don’t know.”

In Cleveland, Ohio, Mr. Miller said, he saw a man take two shots of liquor, strip down to his boxer shorts, tie a tablecloth around his neck and run through the bar declaring himself to be Superman.

“Something about it makes people act differently,” Mr. Miller said.

Medical professionals have noticed a difference as well.

Jeffrey M. Smith, co-owner of QuikMed Urgent Care Center, 727 Washington St., and a Watertown city councilman, said his business sees more patients and fields odd complaints when the full moon is out.

“You see it in the emergency room, too. Odd, strange complaints,” he said. “It’s one of those things; you accept it as ‘There’s a full moon out. It’s going to be a long night.’”

luna-cy prevails

Attempts to understand the moon date back more than 30,000 years, according to Rick Stroud, author of “The Book of the Moon,” a comprehensive compendium of studies pertaining to all aspects of the moon.

The full moon has been linked to medicine, madness, childbirth and lycanthropy, or the transformation of humans into wolves, according to Mr. Stroud.

In fact, the word lunatic comes from “luna,” the Latin word for moon.

The link between the moon and the mind even made it into mental health law in England and Wales via the Lunacy Act of 1845.

Mr. Stroud quotes from Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England:

“A lunatic is indeed one that has lucid intervals and, sometimes enjoying his senses and sometimes not and that frequently depends on the change of the moon,” Sir William wrote.

That definition was used in framing the Lunacy Act, and those deemed “lunatics” often would be restrained during new and full moons, according to Mr. Stroud.

“It isn’t anything with any kind of hocus pocus,” said Gael J. Steele, high priestess and founder of the Bordean Order of Druid and Feryllt, who goes by the name Dea. “It’s the tide and the moon and people and their thinking process.”

more feeling than fact

The dispatch center at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building does not cross-reference its calls according to the cycles of the moon, according to Joseph D. Plummer, Jefferson County director of fire and emergency management.

But Mr. Plummer said he has often observed strange calls begin three or four days before the full moon and continue three or four days after the full moon.

“The call volume stays constant. The context is what’s different. It’s nothing you could ever quantify,” Mr. Plummer said.

Tracking calls at the county administration office for the last month revealed interesting but inconclusive results.

During the week of the full moon, the number of calls was above the average — 14 — for the first half of the month. With 25 on Tuesday, 15 on Wednesday, 16 on Thursday and 18 on Friday, the number of calls spiked, fell precipitously and then steadily increased through the full moon.

But the highest number of calls actually came on a random Wednesday earlier in the month.

Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Richmire logged 31 calls on Oct. 9 with no ready explanation. And there were other spikes as well, on the 1st and the 8th of the month. Without spreading the tally over a much longer period — a year, for instance — it seems it would be impossible to establish a correlation between the fullness of the moon and the strangeness of people’s behavior.

And while some law enforcement officials express skepticism about the idea that the full moon affects people’s behaviors, others are more apt to believe.

“No. We don’t put extra patrols out because the moon is full,” Jefferson County Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau said, matter-of-factly.

But Chris L. Cuppernell, supervisor of the Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force, said that while he hasn’t noticed any change in drug activity because of the moon’s phases, he personally thinks there may be a connection.

“People seem a little more crazy around the full moon,” he said.

And Jefferson County Legislator Robert J. Thomas, R-Glen Park, a former police officer and police chief, said that while on duty during a full moon, he and his fellow officers knew they were in for a wild night.

“There’s a full moon out; we’re going to have some action,” Mr. Thomas recalled saying.

a long-standing mystery

This isn’t the first time a Times reporter has attempted to solve the mystery.

After a violent patient attacked medical staff and police officers at Massena Memorial Hospital the night before a full moon in 1993, Times staff writer Matt Smith spoke with a state police lieutenant who lent some credence to the theory.

On a night in early January, a 25-year-old Massena woman was being treated for mixing prescription painkillers with alcohol.

Suddenly, she jumped from a stretcher, punched an emergency room nurse in the back of the head, kneed a police officer in the groin and pulled an intravenous unit from her arm, spraying hospital personnel and police officers in the emergency room, according to police.

An increase in police blotter reports was noted, and state police Lt. Peter J. Burns of the Pamelia barracks was asked his opinion.

“I don’t want to believe in it,” Lt. Burns said at the time. “But I have to. Something happens on moonlit nights. And any police officer will tell you that.”

Scientific studies on the subject have yielded contradictory results.

A 2004 article in National Geographic News compared two studies on the relationship between animal bites and the full moon published in the same issue of the British Medical Journal.

A study at the Bradford Infirmary in Bradford, England, found that the chances of being bitten by an animal were twice as high on or around a full moon.

But a study undertaken by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia found no correlation between the full moon and dog bites.

Jefferson County Dog Control Office Supervisor Todd L. Cummings said he has never noticed a relationship between the full moon and the behavior of dogs in the county.

On Friday, with the hunter’s moon in the sky, calls to dispatch centers in the three-county area revealed that opinions on the full moon effect were similarly divided.

Three out of eight dispatchers said that they have personally witnessed the effect or joked about the effect with colleagues, four expressed skepticism about the effect and one dispatcher said she had been expecting more calls to come in because of the full moon and was surprised that the volume of calls had been so low.

Some north country residents are undecided about the theory.

“Well, it’s always been a slang, you know, ‘it must be a full moon out.’ But I wouldn’t be able to agree to it because it’s crazy all the time, full moon, half moon, no moon,” said Robert J. Dalton, owner of the Paddock Club.

And some choose to ignore it.

“I’ve never noticed a relationship between the number of calls we get in relation to the phases of the moon,” Deputy County Administrator Michael E. Kaskan said. “But on the other hand, I’ve never paid any attention to the phases of the moon.”

Whatever the answer to the question may be, it’s unlikely we will know it anytime soon. Locked in a gravitational bond established over billions of years, the moon’s relationship to Earth and its dwellers will continue to defy explanation, even as the link between us changes and evolves.

The moon, which is slowly moving away from us at infinitesimal increments each year, exerts a pull on the tides of the oceans, the sea slug’s sense of direction and the stress level of cockroaches, according to Mr. Stroud’s “The Book of the Moon.”

And early Saturday, when the full moon was at its height, Watertown police charged a 24-year-old man with disorderly conduct for standing in the middle of Mill Street and yelling at oncoming vehicles. Yelling, howling — same idea.

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