Netflix has a series called Top 10 Secrets & Mysteries. Season 2 was recently released. And since I watched Season 1, I was notified about it. Because my allergies have been brutalizing me, I have been slowly making my way through Season 2. Most of the episodes are a mixture of the real and urban legends. I accept that, so I don’t take it too seriously.
Then I got to an episode called Big City Mysteries. And the episode included something called The Paris Time Gap. My history degree is in 20th Century European Political & Military History. Which is a mouth full, so I just tell people it’s military history. This segment talked about how on December 29, 1902, all the pendulum clocks in Paris stopped and everyone woke up sick at 1:05 am.
Here’s the thing, I’ve heard about most of the stuff on that show and I had never heard of that. Furthermore, even though I have a 20th Century European history degree, I’ve never heard of that, ever. Which made me scratch my head. I feel like that would be something covered in a history class or two that I had to take. Especially since it was only pendulum operated clocks, and not spring operated clocks.
Now, it’s true that earthquakes will stop pendulum clocks and some people due experience something called earthquake sickness when a massive earthquake is about to happen. It makes sense, considering an earthquake is a large release of energy stored in the Earth’s crust. If it can cause dazzling light shows, it can cause people to become sick. Dogs are also sensitive to it and will bark like mad just before and during an earthquake.
But there wasn’t a localized earthquake in Paris in 1902, not even a minor one. An earthquake in Paris, even a small one, that made half the population sick, would be something for the history books. I didn’t go research the topic, because by the end of the episode, I’d already decided the writer’s of that episode had pulled the story out of thin air.
A few days later, a question about the episode showed up in my Quora feed and in a subreddit I follow. The subreddit had a response that it might be based on an HG Wells story published in 1898. Which seems just as plausible as any other source for it.
Interestingly, it’s more believable because some of the other stuff in the episode is real. There’s a segment about the Metro 2 line in Moscow (which I was taught in my Soviet History of the first half of the 20th century is real for example). Perhaps there’s a cautionary tale to be learned from it. Not everything in a documentary or docuseries is 100% real. And you still have to look at them with a critical eye.