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In 1665 Athanasius Kircher included a short paragraph in his Mundus Subterraneus about a flamy spire and the collapse and disappearance of a high mountain following a ‘horrible earthquake’ on Timor in 1638. Although Timor has been known to have no volcanoes for at least the last one hundred years, Kircher’s story has been repeated for 350 years, generally without acknowledgement, and often with the addition of embellishments and/or errors. This report traces the various accounts and the ways in which the story has morphed, particularly in the early 19th century, when the emphasis in Kircher’s story changes from a ‘flamy spire’, a ‘horrible earthquake’, and the collapse of the volcano into a continuing Stromboli-like eruption with no mention of an earthquake. Strangely, the fiction that the flamy spire could be seen from a distance of 300 miles is maintained and other embellishments added up to the present day.
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