Lunar Lunacy: Does the full moon bring out the worst in people?

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By Beth Braden

 Nobody can quite put a finger on it, but there’s just something different when the moon is brightest in the sky. 

A full moon occurs roughly once a month when the earth is directly between the moon and sun. It has often been blamed for strange happenings. In fact, the word “lunacy” comes from the word “lunar.”
 While empirical evidence doesn’t support theories about full moon follies, the anecdotal evidence is compelling.

“It does tend to be full and crazy on a full moon,” said Megan Hill, obstetrics director at Jellico Community Hospital. 

The rural hospital has a maximum of five labor and delivery areas, and on many full moons, each room has ended up full. Hill said she didn’t believe it until she saw it with her own eyes.  

“You think, ‘Oh that’s silly and people are exaggerating that,’ and once I started working, I quickly realized that is not the case, it’s the truth,” Hill said. 

A baby was even delivered in the parking lot one full moon night, she said.

In Caryville, court recorder Pat Donahue said that the more interesting characters visit the municipal building on a full moon. Across the hall, librarian Robyn Turner told of having her son on a full moon, and of the OB ward being full before the night was through.

Caryville Police Chief Stephanie Smith thought for a moment before she answered. “Usually call volume is up,” she said. “They seem a little bit crazier.”

Science, however, calls it just an urban legend, pure folklore and wives tales. 

“The full moon is not a time of unusual crime reports or bizarre activity. In fact, if it were crime, you’d expect quite the opposite because it’s a little brighter and criminals would prefer not to be seen,” said Mark Littmann, a science writing professor and physics and astronomy lecturer at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. 

Any statistics that back up the myth of the moon and lunacy are probably not credible, he said. 

Still, people use the moon to plant their crops, cut hay, begin logging, plan their surgeries, and wean children or livestock.

The Farmer’s Almanac, published for more than 200 years, features an astronomy section telling the moon’s phases, but also a section of astrology – defined as the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs. 

The almanac itself counters that those planetary movements “do not cause events; rather, they explain the path or “flow” that events tend to follow. Still, there’s an entire table of the best days for 25 activities. For example, plan on quitting smoking on May 31 during Gemini, when the signs are in the arms. Get your dental work done on May 18 or 19 (Taurus, neck), or just wait until June 14-16 (Cancer, breast). Have cows to slaughter? Best hold out until May 23 or 24. 

Despite the charts and tables, true data has never backed up any claims about the moon’s effect on the earth. 

In Campbell County, everybody has a story, but data gathered by the LaFollette Press didn’t reveal anything remarkable about the full moon.

Campbell County’s E-911 Center shared the number of calls dispatched on days of a full moon (brightest moon) versus calls dispatched during the new moon (moon is shadowed and invisible) each month for the last year. Director Charlie Hutson couldn’t specifically say if full moons meant crazier shifts, but instead said they typically see higher call volumes during the first weeks of the month. 

Between April 2012 and April 2013, full moon dispatches surpassed new moon dispatch in seven of the 12 months. Overall, there were 1,170 calls dispatched on full moon days, versus 1,110 on new moon days. The statistics don’t take into account when the full moon occurred during the first weeks of the month. 

Some of the LaFollette Press’s 1,900 Facebook fans acknowledged full moon follies, but couldn’t always name specifics either. 

“I read some data once and discovered that some of it was true,” wrote Timothy Savage. “More babies are born on the full moon, People with mental problems become more difficult, some folks without mental problems become more difficult, crime has a tendency to rise, and strange animal behavior has been noted.”

Littmann dismisses even anecdotal evidence. 

“If you are expecting people to behave bizarrely, you see bizarre behavior on a night,” he said.

At the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department, numbers were again pulled to chart the number of book-ins during full moons and new moons. They showed higher book-ins in eight of 12 months with 125 arrested during full moons and 105 arrested during new moons for the April 2012 through April 2013 timeframe. 

Still, other Facebook fans were more fascinated with concrete lunar phenomena. 

“Moon bows,” wrote Lisa Bishop Casey. 

A moon bow is a rare occurrence when light is reflected off the surface of the moon and refracts off of moisture in the air, displaying a faint rainbow. It is most likely to happen when the moon is full, low in the sky and it is raining directly opposite of the moon. Additionally, they are only visible in the two to three hours prior to sunrise. 

There are also spray moon bows that occur at a waterfall because the spray serves as the moisture in the air. There are only two places in North America to see a spray moon bow – Yosemite National Park in California and Cumberland Falls near Corbin, Ky, about 50 miles from LaFollette. The only other place to see a spray moon bow is Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia in Africa. 

The next full moon is May 24 and again on June 23.