In 1866 the great crater of Kilauea presented a new and unlooked-for spectacle in the sinking and vanishing of its great lava lake. In March of that year the fires in the ancient cauldron totally disappeared, and the surrounding lava rock sank to a depth of nearly 600 feet. Mr. Thrum, in a pamphlet on “The Suspended Activity of Kilauea,” says of it:
“Distant rumbling noises were heard, accompanied by a series of earthquakes, forty-three in number. With the fourth shock the brilliancy of New Lake disappeared, and towards 3 A. M. the fires in Halemaumau disappeared also, leaving the whole crater in darkness.
“With the dawn the shocks and noises ceased, and revealed the changes which Kilauea had undergone in the night. All the high cliffs surrounding Halemaumau and New Lake, which had become a prominent feature in the crater, had vanished entirely, and the molten lava of both lakes had disappeared by some subterranean passage from the bottom of Halemaumau. There was no material change in the sunken portion of the crater except a continual falling in of rocks and debris from its banks as the contraction from its former intense heat loosened their compactness and sent them hurling some 200 or 300 feet below, giving forth at times a boom as of distant thunder, followed by clouds of cinders and ashes shooting up into the air 100 to 300 feet, proportionate, doubtless, to the size of the newly fallen mass.
“This remarkable recession of the liquid lava in Halemaumau was probably due to the opening of some deep subterranean passage through which the lake of lava made its way unseen to the ocean’s depths. The Rev. Mr. Baker, probably the most adventuresome explorer of Hawaiian volcanoes, actually descended into that crumbling pit to a point within what he judged to be fifty feet of the bottom. But Halemaumau had only taken an intermission, for in two short months signs of returning life became frequent and unmistakable, and, in June, culminated in the sudden outbreak of a lake that has since then steadily increased in activity.”
We cannot close this chapter without some reference to the Goddess Pele, to whom the Hawaiians long imputed the wonder-work of their volcanic mountains. When there is unusual commotion in Kilauea myriads of thread-like filaments float in the air and fall upon the cliffs, making deposits much resembling matted hair. A single filament over fifteen inches long was picked up on a Hilo veranda, having sailed in the air a distance of fifty miles. This is the famous Pele’s Hair, being the glass-like product of volcanic fires. It resembles Prince Rupert’s Drops, and the tradition is that whenever the volcano becomes active it is because Pele, the Goddess of the crater, emerges from her fiery furnace and shakes her vitreous locks in anger.