On the evening of July 29th, 1871, a thunderstorm popped up much like the storms we have been experiencing over the past few weeks and tragedy struck. From the 5 August 1871 edition of the Cecil Whig:
“On Saturday evening, the 29th July, Mr. Clement Boyds and wife, residing on Stephen Mahoney’s farm, about one mile or more beyond Mechanics Valley, in this county, were almost instantly killed by lightning. The fatal shaft struck the chimney, knocking off a number of bricks, thence to the roof, lifting two or three rafters at least six inches from their bed, and then passed down outside the stone wall of the house to a window of the first story, where it entered, dealing its death-blows as stated. The unfortunate parties were standing near the window at the instant the flash occurred, and Mrs. R. was in the act of sewing on a suspender button for her husband. There was nobody in the house at the time of the terrible visitation but the parents and three children, the latter of whom, though in the same room, were not hurt. Mr. Scarborough was seated on the porch of Mr. Stephen Mahoney, a short distance from the scene of the fatal occurrence, saw the lightning strike the chimney, and ran immediately to the house, and found the father quite dead, the mother expiring a moment after his arrival. There were no visible marks of violence on the deceased bodies, except a couple of dark stripes on the woman’s breast, and her eyebrows and the hair of head were singed. […] They leave four children, the youngest being eighteen months, and the oldest eight years of age. Mr. R. was thirty-six years old, and his wife twenty-nine. They have been living in this county about three years, having come from Philadelphia, where their relations and intimate friends all reside. Mr. Royds’ parents and mother-in-law have taken the children home with them. The electric bolt seems to have separated into three or four prongs at the chimney, pursuing as many eccentric courses to the earth. One rafter was completely splintered, and panes of glass in the windows on the side of the house, on which the lightning came down, were shattered to pieces. The house is only a story and a half high, standing much below the height of many contiguous trees.”
A contributor going by “M’C” added details about previous lightning strikes in the county, specifically in the North East area in the same edition of the paper.
“There have been but a few eases of death from lightning, in this county, within my recollection. Many years ago, but I cannot fix the time; a man named John Short was killed by lightning, in Elk Neck. He came in out of the storm, and laydown on a bed, with his head to the wall, and it was said that a hand-saw was hanging against the wall above his head, and that the charge which struck him ran down the blade of the saw. “
“About 1835, Elisha Mahoney, then living near North East, at what was known as the White House, on the Russell property, now owned by H. D. M. Howard, came to the back-door of the house to look out, as the storm seemed to be over, and put his hands up against the casing of the door, when be was instantly killed by a flash of lightning. Often when passing by this house on the cars, I have looked at the mark of the lightning on the plaster above the door, and thought of the unfortunate case of this man, whom I had known from my earliest youth, and who was one of the stoutest men in the county.
Several years after this, William Alexander was killed by lightning, at Bull’s Mountain; but I do not recollect the particulars of his case. He was also a large and stout man.”
“James Pugh, in the act of putting his horse in the stable, was struck by lightning and considerably injured; but recovered. Several links of his watch chain were melted, and I think his shoes were torn off.”
For me, coming across this article was a little troubling, as I like to watch the summer storms pass from my window or out on the porch. However, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), over the last 30 years (1989-2018) the U.S. has averaged only 43 reported lightning fatalities per year. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed. Still the NWS recommends “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors”. Safe shelters are buildings with electricity and plumbing or metal-topped vehicles with the windows closed. Picnic shelters, dugouts and small buildings without plumbing or electricity are not safe.
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