If you are afraid of flying in a passenger jet, then you should be afraid of going outside, or even staying inside, during a thunderstorm. The odds of dying of one or the other are roughly the same. Lightning kills. It has killed some of us for hundreds and thousands of years. Here are some of the more remarkable stories of the bolts of fire, fire in the sky.
It was a muggy hot day on the afternoon of June 25, 1909. A large crowd of mourners gathered near the home of Anderson Whitehead some three and one-half crow-fly miles south of town on Honeysuckle Road. Some stayed inside the Whitehead School fearing that the storm out toward the west was coming all too soon. The preacher spoke the last words over the body of Mrs. Eliza Taylor. The men in black had just laid the boards over her coffin and the mourners bent down to scoop up some sandy loam to fill in her immortal grave. Frank McCall, a Negro man respected by all he knew, was standing in the cooling shade of an old tree, some ten feet from the grave. Charley Gardner, Will Simmons and others were seeking relief from the scorching sun, but it was McCall who was resting one hand on the tree and another on a wire fence.
In the bat of an eyelash it came. Traveling at half the speed of light, the 3000 degree hot bolt struck McCall instantly breaking his neck. Gardner, Simmons, and others were stunned but not hurt. Gardner, standing the closest to McCall, was immediately tended to by Dr. B.D. Perry, who was there to pay homage to the wife of his good friend, Mr. Jim Taylor. After carrying Gardner out of the enclosed plot, Dr. Perry examined and treated several stunned and terrified children who had been standing just outside the fence. It was only then that the doctor discovered McCall was dead. Mrs. Taylor's pall bearers picked up his lifeless body and carefully laid it on the funeral wagon. His body was buried several days later in the old Scottsville Cemetery in northeastern Dublin.
August 7, 1913 was another hot day in Dublin. Harry and John Stanley, sons of Georgia Commissioner of Commerce and Labor, Hal M. Stanley, were out rabbit hunting in the fields and woods north of Bellevue Avenue. The boys had been visiting their aunt and uncle while their parents were on vacation in New York. Harry noticed a bad looking thunder cloud coming up from the west and ran back to the home of his aunt, Mrs. William Pritchett, He reached shelter just before the bottom dropped out. Thirteen-year-old John stayed looking to bag one more rabbit. After the torrent diminished to a drizzle, a man stopped by the Pritchett's home to report that he had found a dead body in the field north of the house.
As Pritchett and the man approached the body, they noticed a couple of hunting dogs standing guard over John's motionless body. Harry, who followed a short distance behind, went into shock when he saw that his brother was dead. An examination of the body revealed little, if any, outward evidence of a lightning strike. A single small spot was burned into the back of his neck. His internal organs, however, were so twisted and disfigured that embalming became impossible. Owing to that fact, the body had to be buried immediately in the family plot in Northview Cemetery, while his grieving parents made their way back home to Dublin to comfort their grieving son.
A year before little John Stanley was savagely killed by lightning, John Purvis and Jim Myers were enjoying a leisurely Sunday evening sitting on the front porch of the Lovett home of Purvis' brother, H.A. Purvis. The men felt safe under cover from the cooling breeze which began to swell into a savage lightning storm. It was just after dinner. Mr. and Mrs. H.A. Purvis were cleaning the kitchen, while their daughter went out to play on the porch.
All of sudden, lightning struck the chimney, splitting it into two portions. Broken bricks crashed into the roof. Flames swept through down through the cracked boards into the kitchen. Another fork of the bolt traveled down the porch post and saturated the veranda with a deadly flow of electrons. Purvis, stunned and dazed, rushed to aid his wife, who was screaming that the house was on fire. After putting out the fire, Purvis ran to the front of the house to check on his daughter and his guests.
He found his brother and friend dead, still sitting upright in their chairs and bearing only a few black streaks on their legs as the only indication that they had been electrocuted. Shock turned into sheer terror when Purvis saw his daughter's lifeless body lying between the two men. With the aid of neighbors, who had rushed to the scene, Purvis put his brother and daughter in the bed. Mr. Purvis prayed. Mrs. Purvis cried. In a few minutes, the little girl rose out of her death bed into her mother's protecting arms.
Turner F. Schaufele was one of the three sons of Mr. and Mrs. W.F. Schaufele who were serving their country in World War I. Pvt. Schaufele was stationed at Camp Harris in Macon, Georgia. Shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon of July 18, 1916, the clerk of the Machine Gun Company of the 2nd Division was on sentry duty talking to his friend, Andrew Key of Augusta. They were there to warn pedestrians to stay away from a tent where George Ford was suffering from a bad case of contagious measles. When the rain began to come down in buckets, Schaufele ran to the Salvation Army tent, where he left his pistol to protect it from ruin. He spotted Key across the street and called to him to seek shelter so that they could both perform their duties in the perceived safety of tents. Key walked over to the Dublin boy to form a plan of action.
At that very instant, lightning came down striking the top of the forward tent pole. Traveling along a guy rope, the lethal electrical charge entered Key's head, killing him instantly. It appeared that the current sought out and found metallic objects, and in particular, the tip of Key's scabbard. Turner Schaufele never saw what hit him. He fell to the ground. When he tried to right himself, Schaufele leaned one elbow on Key's body, causing it to topple over onto him and pin him to the ground. Rescuers rushed in and carefully separated the men, fearing that their bodies contained a deadly electrical charge, which was gratefully an unscientific myth. Col. J.A. Thomas, a former Dublin resident, set his own speed record in coming to the aid of his dazed and stunned soldiers.
There are many stories like this. And, I will tell you about them at another time. For now and during this summer and throughout the year beware of the fire in the sky. The hauntingly beautiful streaks which light up the afternoon summer skies and turn the night skies into daytime are deadly. They electrocute. They don't discriminate. They incinerate. They kill.
For more history of Laurens County and East Central Georgia go to the digital edition of the Courier Herald or see my blog at www.dublinlaurenscountygeorgia.blogspot.com.