The October Almanac


’This month the March of Dimes, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Georgia Department of Human Resources, will begin setting up the first statewide study of cocaine use among pregnant women. CDC technicians will use a routine filter-paper test on a spot of blood taken from the heel of each newborn Georgia infant to detect traces of cocaine in the infant’s bloodstream. Because all states currently rely on a blood test to check infants for such disorders as phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism, the Georgia study, which is to last one year (the actual testing starts next January), will cause no additional trauma and will be relatively inexpensive to conduct. Test results will be correlated with the demographic characteristics of mothers, but information linking specific results to specific women will be destroyed. Current estimates of cocaine use among pregnant women range from two to 10 percent.


October 7, New Moon. 21-22, Earth encounters debris from Halley’s Comet; one result is the Orionid meteor showers, named for the constellation Orion, whence they appear to emanate. 23, Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter’s Moon. 27, this morning at 2:00 A.M., Daylight Saving Time comes to an end: clocks in most parts of the country should be set back one hour. Daylight Saving Time was first introduced during the First World War as a conservation measure, decreed by Congress, and was initially called Scrambled Time or Wild Time.


October 31, All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. To judge from a recent Gallup poll, Americans entertain a growing belief in various forms of supernatural agency. For example, more than half of all Americans say they believe in the existence of the Devil (up from 39 percent in 1978). One American in four believes in ghosts (up from 11 percent in 1978). And vampires? In Elmhurst, New York, an organization called the Vampire Research Center assesses by means of lengthy interviews and questionnaires the claims of people who say they are vampires. (The physical need for blood is, of course, a sine qua non.) The center reports that for the first time in 20 years female vampires make up a majority of “confirmed” vampires worldwide, who number some 700. In the United States, California, with 33 vampires, has the highest vampire population,

Q & A

If history buffs want to make a pilgrimage to Columbus’s first New World landing site a year hence, what should their destination be?

Columbus’s log was lost to history almost from the start, and the question of where he first set foot has kept investigators busy. At least a dozen sites have been proposed. The naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison’s opinion, in favor of Watlings Island, in the Bahamas, was sufficiently weighty to quell dissent for a while. With the quincentennial fast approaching, though, partisans of other sites have again come forward, basing their claims on archaeological findings, new translations of historical documents, and, in one case, a computerized simulation of Columbus’s route. The current front-runners appear to be Watlings (now called San Salvador), Grand Turk (whose case was bolstered in a recent issue of American History), and, a distant third, Samana Cay (the candidate of National Geographic but of few others). The fifth Ibero-American Quincentenary Conference has thrown its support to San SalvadorWatlings. But since no one really knows, why not buck the crowds and go to Grand Turk or Samana Cay instead?


In rivers from Labrador and Greenland to the Gulf Coast, American eels ready to reproduce are moving this month down to the ocean, beginning the long swim to the Sargasso Sea, southeast of Bermuda, where they breed and die. After a year or more in the ocean, tiny young eels return to freshwater. More remarkable than this annual odyssey, perhaps, is how little is known about it. No one has actually seen an adult eel beyond the continental shelf. The location of the breeding ground has been inferred from the presence in the Sargasso of larval eels. How many years it takes eels to reach breeding age is another mystery, as is the fate of their spent bodies after the migration is completed. European eels make a similar trip to the Sargasso; they are closely related to American eels, and some biologists have postulated that they are really American eels that got lost on their return journey.


October 8, Christo, the artist who is famous for wrapping large structures in various materials, will today unfurl two large clusters of umbrellas that he has planted in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan, and in Kern and Los Angeles counties, California. Each of the 3,100 octagonal umbrellas (1,340 blue ones in Japan, 1,760 yellow ones in California) is 19'8" tall and 28'6" in diameter; the umbrellas are laid out in a variety of configurations. The cost of this work of art, which will exist for three weeks, is about $26 million. The cost is borne by the artist.