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      9-6-12-That's What Karl Says

      Lightning caused great damage and even killed in Upper Michigan around the turn of the 20th century.

      September 6 is a day of freakish and killer lightning in Upper Michigan--specifically in Ontonagon County. Here are the stories:

      ??Severe electrical storms?? hit Rockland in Ontonagon County with ??great frequency?? late in the summer of 1899. The one that struck the small community on September 6 was among ??the most severe?|ever.?? The rain fell in torrents, washing out a section of railroad bed between the village and Ontonagon. The washout delayed train service from Ontonagon until afternoon the next day. The thunderstorm also produced an ??electrical display that was sublimely grand?? and also deadly. A bolt entered a home and killed a woman as she left her upstairs bedroom and attempted to seek shelter on the lower floor.

      Mr. and Mrs. Hull of Rockland were awakened by the storm about 11:00 p.m. Mrs. Hull ??overcome by fear and excitement,?? got up and left their upstairs bedroom. ??Mr. Hull admonished her to remain in the bedroom,?? but she did not listen. Moments later, there was a flash, then a sudden crash of thunder. Mr. Hull reported smelling ??sulphurous fumes?? and immediately jumped out of bed to check on his wife. He entered the hallway and found his wife on the floor ??her apparel burning and smoking.??

      She was dead. The bolt struck the chimney, passed through it and then through the poor woman. The newspaper account, in typical fashion of the day gave a graphic account of how it happened: ??The bolt?|struck her squarely on the head, as her hair, head and shoulders showed, thence passed through the body and went out at the left foot, which had a shoe and stocking on and which must have been placed upon the floor. The other foot must have been raised, the lady evidently being in the act of putting on?|her shoe when struck.??

      The Hull house sustained heavy damage. The chimney was demolished, while the ceiling partitions around it were ??but little better.?? The bolt also knocked out a panel of a downstairs door, while ruining a screen door and breaking out a window. It ricocheted around the house, blasting several large holes on its east side. Finally, it shot through the basement, ??shattering the joist and splintering the foundation posts.??

      Hundreds of people turned out the next day to view the remains of Mrs. Hull and express their sympathy to her husband. They also noted ??the havoc wrought?? by the storm??a storm that found a ??place exclusively its own in the pages of Rockland history.??

      The next one occurred three years later in Ontonagon:

      Lightning struck the home of H. A. Savage on Ontonagon??s south side the evening of September 6, 1902. The strike ??badly frightened?? the Savage family and did considerable damage to the residence.

      The bolt struck the building on the roof near the top of the gable, tearing a small hole. From that hole, it followed down a rafter and poured into the house??s interior. It tore off plaster and singed wallpaper on the second floor hallway. Afterward, it ??played a veritable game of hide and seek in nearly every room of the house.?? A window on the second floor was smashed, while a chair piled with clothes was thrown into another room. Several rolls of wallpaper, stored in an empty room, were cut to threads, resembling ??the work of rats.??

      The most frightening episode came during the bolt??s course on the first floor. There, it entered the front room where the family??s children were sleeping. The lightning singed, scorched and loosened the lath and plaster ??but strange as it may seem, the children were not even stunned.??

      Even more miraculously, the house was not set on fire. However, the structure was filled with smoke that smelled like burning dynamite for several hours after the strike.

      Mr. Savage said later that the sound given off as the bolt hit was "almost deafening." As corroboration to Savage's assertion, a neighbor, who was walking home on the other side of the street when the report came, was "partly dazed" by the thunderous crash.

      There were a number of lightning strikes that caused great damage to homes in the Upper Peninsula during the late 1800s and early 1900s. My hypothesis is that much of the land was clear cut during the logging boom of that era so the buildings were the highest objects. In addition, houses didn??t have electricity back than and most probably did not have lightning rods either. So in effect, the houses weren??t properly grounded; they were often the highest objects and were prone to lightning strikes.