New Hampshire: Peculiar Freaks of Nature

New Hampshire has recently had its fill of strange weather

but it is not the first time.  While reading some dusty old newspapers about New Hampshire’s past, I found a plethora of bad news relating to lightning storms and strikes.  Reading about weather during the “Good Old Days” made me feel much better about coping with today’s.

All of the following notices are from “The Farmer’s Cabinet,” with the events occurring between 1856 and 1879, most of them during the month of July.

29 July  1879
At Contoocook the lightning struck a house of Gilman J. Straw, smashed the bedstead where Mr. and Mrs. Straw were sleeping, and paralyzed Mrs. Straw. The house was considerably damaged.  Mrs. Straw, who is under the care of Dr. Blaisdell, will probably recover.

13 August 1878
The lightning Wednesday afternoon struck the steeple of the Catholic Church in Nashua, on which G.W. Badger and his assistants were at work. They were partially paralyzed by the shock, but held on to the ladder, which was 150 feet from the ground.

24 July 1877
Tuesday, during a heavy shower, the Central House, of Jaffrey, kept by H.B. Wheeler, Esq., was struck by lightning, causing damage to the extent of about $100.  There were about twenty-five persons in the house at the time, nearly all of whom received a severe shock. One of the employees, a Miss Towne, was knocked down but not seriously injured.  Several had very narrow escapes.  A brother of Mayor Prince of Boston, and his wife were stopping at this house. Mrs. Prince was lying on her bed at the time the lightning struck, and the electricity passed along the timbers within a foot of her bed without alarming her.  Her watch, lying on a small table near by, was turned over, the crystal taken out and rolled upon the floor without breaking; neither was injury done the watch.  Two looking glasses were shattered, while another, a large one close to where the electricity passed, remained intact.

28 August 1877
–A stroke of lightning the other day tore a boys boots all to pieces and didn’t harm the boy.  The reason was that he had placed the boots under a tree and gone in swimming.

28 August 1877
Cow Killed–A cow belonging to Minot Harvell was killed by lightning in the pasture on Chestnut Hills [Amherst] in this town, on the 18th inst.

31 July 1877
During the thunder storm at Lyndeborough on the 17th lightning struck near the residence of Mrs. Edward Spaulding, who experienced a peculiar feeling. The next morning on rising she fell to the floor. She was helped to the bed, when it was discovered that her left side was helpless. Her hearing, which had become impaired many years before, was restored, and she remained very comfortable until Friday night, when she was sleeping a feeble groan was heard and she was found with her eyes closed and in an unconscious state. She lingered until Sunday morning when she died.

10 July 1877
The barn of Mr. John Foster of Merrimack, was struck by lightning, during the thunder storm Sunday evening, killing a cow and two sheep. Mr. Foster was milking a cow only two cows being between him and the cow killed, at the time. The barn was not set on fire.

23 August 1877
A Natural Curiosity–We have received from a friend a chip taken from the heart of an oak tree, which is half oak and half quartz rock. The tree, a red oak, grew up on the farm of P. W. Jones, at Chestnut Hills, in Amherst. It was four feet and three inches in diameter, and seemed to possess some strong powers of attracting lightning, as Mr. Jones says that to his personal knowledge, the lightning has struck this tree, or within twenty-five rods of it, every year for twenty-five years.  To prevent the cattle and colts from being killed by the lightning which it attracted, it was decided to cut the tree, and in the center of it, nearly two feet from the bark, the choppers struck a stone a foot in diameter. The stone is a granite quartz, and had become so firmly embedded in the tree that it seems to be part and parcel of the wood.  Judging from the rings which mark the annual growth, the tree was about 175 years old.  It was perfectly sound and the heart nearly as hard as the rock it contained.–“Mirror”

12 September 1876
Damage by Lightning at Lyndeboro’
During the storm Friday lightning struck a chimney to the residence of Kilburn Curtis of Lyndeboro, passing down through the house, tearing out the door and windows, smashing dishes and furniture and throwing heaps of brick in all directions. Mrs. Curtis was thrown prostrate to the floor and a string of gold beads was melted, leaving the imprint burnt on her neck. The sink was thrown upon a little girl, who was found under it unharmed. A pile of brick was thrown top of both of them. The lightning passed to the bar, knocking down an ox and killing a hog. The house is hardly worth repairing.

22 August 1876
Lost A Horse–A fine stallion colt, two years old, belonging to Frank Newton of Amherst Station, was killed by lightning recently on Temple Mountain. The lightning completely stripped the flesh off of him.

1 August 1876
Sunday morning, the lightning struck the house of Mr. G.F. Livingston, in Peterboro; it passed through a chamber where a lady was sleeping, tearing the ceiling and shattering the mirror and the windows and passing down into the lower part of the house, killed a dog, and nearly prostrated the family.

18 July 1876
Mrs. James H. Holt, residing at West Wilton, was instantly killed by lightning during a severe thunder storm on Tuesday afternoon. She was engaged in sewing in one of the rooms in the second story of her dwelling, and when killed had opened the closet door for some purpose. The lightning shattered the woodwork somewhat, but otherwise the house was not damaged.

14 July 1875
–During a heavy thunder shower, which passed over the South part of Alton, on Tuesday evening, the lightning struck the house of Mrs. Stephen Philbrick. It entered at one end, passed between Mrs. P. and her son into the pantry, where it got into the coffee pot, piercing holes in the top and bottom, jarred a dipper into a tin water pail and soldered them firmly together. The cat was singed as smoothly as though she had been clipped without other-wise injuring her.  Mrs. Philbrick was so back was so badly shocked that she was unable to see the next morning.

21 July 1875
On the 10th the lightning paid its compliments to the well-known tree on Bunker Hill, in Lancaster, completely destroying it. It was the subject of one of Hart’s finest pictures, which sold for $2,000.

26 June 1856
A Freak of Lightning. During a severe thunder storm, a few days ago, the lightning came down upon a pasture of Charles Titcomb, Esq., of Kensington, N.H., descending perpendicularly into the earth for about thirty feet, so as to form a good well of water.  The hole is about as big as a barrel, and it was formed without throwing out any earth. [Newburyport Herald]

Oh, did I mention that “NASA-funded scientists…learned that cloud-to-ground lightning frequently strikes the ground in two or more places and that the chances of being struck are about 45 percent higher than what people commonly assume.”

I don’t think I’ll ever sit out on my front porch during a lightning storm again.


*Additional Reading*

Lightning, The Shocking Story– (National Geographic)

New England Severe Weather Guide

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