Lighting struck the tree under which the woman and the cow took refuge- and left an exact image of the cow impressed upon her body.
by Henry Winfred Splitter
The Indians of the Purgatoire River in southeastern Colorado were well acquainted with the mysterious picture long before any white man entered the country.
There it was, the detailed portrait of the huge animal, on the face of the cliff, overhung by a wall of rock 100 feet high—the short tail extended, ears visible, claws standing out in bold relief, the heavy-lipped mouth open showing rows of ferocious teeth, teeth that easily could crunch bones together with flesh. The picture was not an accidental semblance, but actually more perfect and lifelike than any human art could produce—it was the life-sized representation of a grizzly bear, brute king of the Rockies. At least nine feet in length, this picture showed the terrible yet majestic creature in full stature and strength.
The Indians considered the picture sacred; groups of braves and the medicine men of their tribes often came there to make protective medicine. Not that they were interested in luring the original of the picture into a trap, or even that they desired to have their weapons strengthened for the hunt. Not even the gods of the Indian could protect him against the ruthless beast whose portrait was there on the sandstone cliff. In general, Western Indians never hunted this animal; to them he was a kind of symbol, almost godlike in the terror he inspired.
No one knew in 1871, when the story first was related in a Pueblo newspaper, no one knows today, who or what impressed that picture on the rock. For it was no painting, no sculpture; yet its lifelike color stained the rock for a quarter of an inch in depth.
There were theories, however. Some persons have suggested that while the face of the rock was in a state of hardening a stroke of lightning, during a storm, impressed the likeness. For it was said by many that electricity, a marvelous force, was capable of many miracles. This, however, was mere speculation, and no human eye had witnessed the event.
Equally strange, although in small proportions, was the appearance of a permanent rainbow on an ordinary window pane in Kentucky. It was in full color, perfect in every detail.
Jesse Smith, an elderly farmer, had lived six miles west of Demossville, Kentucky, all during the Civil War, having been in residence there since 1857. There was nothing out of the ordinary about his window until the early spring of 1865, just before the close of the war. Suddenly, after a severe storm, the strange phenomenon appeared—a rainbow about six inches wide, extended from one side of the window to the other, involving all three panes of the lower sash. The colors from the top downward were yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet—the blue and green varying somewhat, in position, from the natural. The colors were bright, clear, and plainly visible as far as 50 yards from the house.
Singularly, however, it was visible only from the outside of the house. From within not a tinge of color was noticeable. The rainbow was in the glass and not an illusion, for on hoisting the sash the rainbow moved with the glass.
When the rainbow first appeared on the glass it created a near-panic in the neighborhood, for at that critical period it seemed to many that the phantom bow must foretell some dreadful calamity. Indeed, a Southerner might have seen his fears realized when soon after, General Lee was forced to surrender and the Southern cause collapsed.
Mr. Smith was advised to remove the sash but, being either less superstitious or more fatalistic than most, he left it where it was. Almost 20 years later, in the summer of 1882, the rainbow was as brilliant as ever and its story appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer that year.
Supposing we believe the grizzly portrait and the rainbow impression to be the work of lightning, what are we to say about the gradual appearance of a face on a window pane in Santa Ana, California, during the summer dry season, when there is no possibility of lightning?
On a Tuesday morning in July 1878, early-rising citizens of Santa Ana were startled to behold the face of some unknown person on the window glass of the office of Doctor Elffindorf, a local dentist. More extraordinary still, gradually a second spectre face made its appearance on the adjoining pane, and by six o’clock in the evening the two faces were visible from the opposite side of the road. “There they still are,” said the reporter, “and as to the Doctor, he says he has seen such faces before. What he means by that, he refuses to say.”
These mysterious faces in the window at Santa Ana reminded the editor of a like occurrence he had witnessed in San Francisco some three or four years earlier. At the time, he said, the lineaments of mysterious faces had appeared on the window panes of a house on Mason Street, near North Beach. Large crowds gathered to see the phenomena. The faces were unmistakably there but unaccounted for. Many theories were broached: there were flaws in the glass, they were photographs of passing people, taken by the unaided sun (this also was during the dry season).
The faces remained indelible in the glass day after day. Finally Mr. Woodward, owner of the well-known Woodward’s Gardens, a local recreational enterprise and museum, bought one of the panes for $500, putting it on display for the edification of astonished crowds. When standing at a certain angle with this pane, the spectator could plainly see therein the face of an old man.
A woman’s face appeared indelibly on window glass in Lawrence, Massachusetts, as told by Charles Fort in Books 960. The occupant of this house was so annoyed by the crowds of sightseers that, not having succeeded in washing off the picture, he finally removed the window sash.
Difficult to account for is the mysterious appearance and disappearance of a face on a window pane at New Albany, Indiana, in 1891. On December 2, 1891, a Mrs. Sophia Scharf, wife of Anton Scharf, had died at her home at East Fifth and Spring Streets, New Albany. The funeral took place several days later. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Frank Zoeller, a daughter-in-law of the dead woman, residing at East Eighth and Sycamore, came to the house and was surprised, even horrified, to observe on a front window a perfect representation of the head of her deceased mother-in-law.
Following this the apparition seems to have vanished but after a time it reappeared, this time to stay. This reappearance coincided with a visit of Mrs. Peter Weinman, Fritz Weinman, two daughters of officer Dennis Gleason, and various others. Several persons attempted to rub it off, by different means, without success. Finally one evening, Joseph Scharf, a son of the dead woman, who had come from his home in the Far West to attend his mother’s funeral, passed his handkerchief over it and it disappeared. So far as we know it was never seen again.
In the summer of 1854, a land survey was being made in San Joaquin County, California, during the course of which a surveyor’s instrument was left standing in the hot sun while the men ate their lunch. The instrument was set facing a woodland. When the men came back they found imprinted on its front lens a beautiful landscape in natural colors. The woodland and details of the surrounding landscape were as real as in life. This phenomenon was reported in 1869 by Tuolumne City News.
A similar instance was reported in 1878 from the Death Valley area, just across the mountains from the San Joaquin. Field glasses which were supposed to have belonged to Hahn, a lost guide to Wheeler’s expedition had been found in the desert near Death Valley. They were brought into town by an Indian. Every object within range of where the glasses had lain for a year was distinctly outlined or “photographed” upon both of the object lenses. On both glasses were, so to say, etched by a master hand the nearby desert shrubs, with branches, twigs, and leaves in the utmost and meticulous detail. There was no fuzziness of outline, all being distinctly traced upon the clear glass. The picture seemed to occupy approximately the center of each of the object glasses, though perhaps a little nearer the plane than the convex side. The editor of the Inyo Independent (Independence, California), who tells the incident, remarks that he had heard of such phenomena before, but that this is one of the most striking examples.
In France in 1689, the text of the consecration prayer was found impressed on the altar cloth of the Church of St. Sauveur, after that edifice had been struck by lightning. The strange impression was beside the book which lay open to this particular prayer. The prayer remained on this altar cloth for many years thereafter, a miracle to all beholders. It was assumed at the time, by those persons conventionally scientific of mind, that the altar cloth was damp at the time of exposure, perhaps contained some metallic salts, and since the lightning bolt struck at night, the photographic impression had time to become dry and permanently fixed in the cloth “plate” before morning. Yet this hardly explains the mystery of the impression being received by the portion of the cloth beside, rather than under or above it.
A comparable occurrence took place in Mount Olive, North Carolina, late in the year 1890. A photograph of a certain John Taylor, formerly resident in the community but deceased before this event, stood on the mantelpiece of J. H. Smith, merchant in the village, when lightning struck the building. The bolt entered at the chimney head, traversed the mantel and demolished the frame of the Taylor portrait, leaving the picture itself unharmed.
Nevertheless, something strange had happened to the picture. Now there appeared the clearly defined impression of an angel, with outstretched wings overshadowing the deceased Mr. Taylor’s head, arms encircling his neck. The right hand of the angel held a nosegay of flowers; the pose suggested protection and benediction. A dark line showing the lightning’s journey along the cardboard turned abruptly just above the face of Mr. Taylor, as though the angel had turned aside the course of the electrical fluid.
Some people of the community believed it to indicate that Taylor was safe and blessed in heaven. Mr. Smith, however, declared that the mystery picture of the angel corresponded exactly with an engraving on the back of another photograph standing nearby. By some electrical freak, he believed the picture of this angel had been transferred to the Taylor portrait.
This photograph with its angel “protector” was exhibited for some time in J. H. Smith’s store in Mount Olive and caused a great deal of comment.
The human body itself seems subject to such “lightning” impressions. Somewhat ludicrous, but carefully authenticated, is the odd result of a lightning flash in Hilldale County, Michigan, in 1887. On a summer evening a tremendous thunderstorm passed over that region, during which the play of lightning was vivid and almost incessant. Just before the storm broke, Amos J. Biggs, a farmer living about midway between Hillsdale and Jonesville, a man who was quite bald with a smooth and shiny pate, went out into his backyard to frighten away some cats who were fighting on the woodpile. He made various feints and gestures, but so intent were they upon their mutual hatred that they allowed him to come within a few feet of them. Just as he was about to cudgel them with a large stick, there came a tremendously bright flash and simultaneously a crash as lightning struck the woodpile, annihilating the cats and scattering blocks of wood in every direction. The fluid passed down Mr. Biggs’ body breaking the cover of his watch and neatly extracting his left trouser leg from top to bottom and finally bursting his left boot, tearing the sole cleanly away from the upper. But apart from a prickly sensation and a sudden contraction of the muscles Biggs suffered no unpleasant effects.
When Biggs reentered the house after this experience his wife took one look at him and fainted. Her first words upon recovering consciousness were, “Oh, Amos, the devil has set his mark on you!”
Biggs looked into the mirror and was disconcerted to find the image of a black cat silhouetted on his shiny pate. The cat’s whiskers, teeth, even the hair on its tail were reproduced in exquisite, minute detail. Biggs and his wife tried to remove the obnoxious portrait using such homely stain-removers as soap, scouring bricks, vinegar, ashes, all to no purpose. The simple passage of hours effected what scouring blocks could not and by the next morning the picture was much faded. By noon it had disappeared completely.
A quite impressive number of these so-called lightning imprints upon the human body have been recorded. In 1857 the San Francisco (California) Chronicle cited several interesting examples. Many said a country-woman, recently arrived in Paris from the Department of Seine et Marne, should be presented to the French Academy of Sciences. This woman had, a short time before, been watching a cow in an open field when a violent storm arose. She, together with the cow, took refuge under a wide-spreading tree which at that instant was struck by lightning. The cow was killed by the bolt and the woman fell to the ground unconscious. When she was found some time later by neighbors and her clothing removed to revive her, the exact image of the cow killed at her side was found impressed upon her bosom.
In this connection, the Chronicle recalls that Benjamin Franklin mentioned the case of a man standing in the doorway of his house during a thunderstorm, looking at a tree some distance in front of him, when this tree was struck by lightning. On the breast of the man was imprinted a perfect daguerrotype of the tree.
About 1841, a magistrate and a miller’s boy, in France, took refuge from a storm under a poplar tree. The tree was struck by lightning and on the breast of each of the two were found spots exactly resembling the leaves of the poplar.
At a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences in January 1847, continues the Chronicle, the statement was made that a woman of Lugano, Switzerland, seated at a window during a storm, was suddenly shaken by some invisible power. She experienced no inconvenience from this and did not immediately connect it with a lightning stroke. Soon afterward, however, she discovered that a blossom apparently when torn from a tree by lightning was faithfully imaged upon one of her limbs. There it remained until her death.
In September, 1852, the brigantine Il Buon Servo was anchored in Armiro Bay at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Here she was struck by lightning. In obedience to a superstition, the Ionian sailors had attached a horseshoe to the mizzenmast as a charm against evil. When the lightning struck a sailor seated by this mast was instantly killed. There were no marks or bruises upon his person, but the horseshoe was perfectly pictured upon his back.
The Chronicle concluded with the account of a Spanish brigantine which was struck by lightning while in the roads at Zanta. Five sailors were at the prow, three of them awake and two of them sleeping. One of those sleeping was killed and when he was undressed the figures 44, plain and well-formed, were found imprinted on his breast. His comrades swore these figures were not there before his death, and their original was found in the rigging of the vessel.
Perhaps most important of all in this case were the facts brought forth in the report of the physician Dicapulo, who attended the unfortunate sailor. He says: “After undressing the young man we found a band of linen tied about his body in which were gold pieces done up in two paper-wrapped parcels. The parcel on the right side contained a letter from Spain, three guineas, two half-guineas and one smaller piece; the parcel on the right side contained another letter, four guineas, a half-guinea and two smaller pieces.
“Neither the gold coins, the paper, nor the linen were in the least damaged; but upon the sailor’s right shoulder were six distinct circles, appearing as though traced upon his skin. These circles, which all touched at one point, were of three different sizes and exactly corresponded with the gold pieces in the right side of his belt.”
Another example of a body imprint by lightning occurred in Americus, Georgia, some time before 1886. A little girl, says the San Francisco Bulletin, was playing under a cherry tree when a thunderstorm came up. Following a particularly vivid flash of lightning the child fell and when picked up was found to have a perfect and beautiful representation of a limb of the cherry tree photographed upon her right hip. Every twig and leaf was delicately yet distinctly traced in light red lines. The child recovered and bore the imprint of the branch for at least a month.
A young woman, in 1872, while standing behind a window at Morgantown, Butler County, Kentucky, received a slight shock from a flash of lightning. Thereupon it was found that an ailanthus tree standing near the window had been identifiably and accurately photographed upon her breast by the electric flash.
A concluding instance of the body imprinting by lightning occurred at Whalley Range, near Manchester, England, in 1866. Three boys had gone out for a walk in the Range. Their names were Edwards, Greenhough, and Jones, the first two residing on Cedar Street and the latter on Erskine Street, in Manchester. Overtaken by a severe storm, they took refuge under a tree with large over-spreading branches. They had not been long in this shelter when a vivid flash of lightning circled the tree in a curiously serpentine fashion. All the lads were partly stunned by the shock. Edwards, who was the most seriously affected, presented on his left side the perfect image of a tree, the trunk, leaves, and branches of which were outlined with photographic accuracy. The impression of the tree was reproduced less distinctly on the boy’s right side, but both pictures graduated from the knee, terminating and joining at the apex of the chest.
Reputedly haunted houses sometimes contain lightning window-glass portraits. An elderly Mrs. Rodman, living in a New York town, several years prior to 1892, was killed by lightning in her home. About a month later, the daughter of the deceased woman was passing the house where her mother had lived, when she saw her mother’s face in one of the windows. The house at once was said to be haunted. For almost a year the face was not seen but one day a citizen of the town passing by saw the face once more. It did not change as he approached. Upon investigation, he found that the dead woman’s likeness was imprinted on the pane of glass. It appeared there very faintly, it is true, and it was noticeable only when the sun was in a certain position, but nonetheless it was universally declared to be the most lifelike portrait of Mrs. Rodman ever seen.
There was a house in Washington, D.C., said to be haunted by the ghosts of its former occupants, Commodore Meade and his mother. After their death, many persons declared they saw ghosts about the place. No servants lived there. Finally the palatial house was rented. Mr. Smith, the lessee, one day gave a great dinner. The guests wandered about, praising the size and beauty of the rooms. One of the men, glancing through the long plate glass window of the back parlor, overlooking the garden in the rear, started, dropped his cigar, and turning to Mr. Smith, his host, exclaimed, “Look there!” One after another of those present stared at the window. “Why, there is the old Commodore, big as life! And his mother” they exclaimed. “By all that’s holy!” said the host. “That’s Meade! Dead long ago.” Scarcely waiting to give their excuses, the guests rushed for the cloakroom and speedily left.
Mr. Smith had the glass examined. An expert from New York copied the faces. A committee of photographers waited upon the best electricians, the electricians waited upon the scientists of the Smithsonian Institution. Scientists cut out the pane of glass, thereby preserving the impressions.
The conclusion of all this investigation was as follows: The panes were of the finest French plate glass brought from overseas more than 100 years previously. They were made of a flinten sand and possessed a softer, finer finish than glass made at a later date. Most important, it seemed, of all was the recollection that Commodore Meade and his aged mother had shortly before their death been sitting near this window during a violent thunderstorm. They had thus been photographed upon the glass, as the reporter put it, “by a brilliant flash light from the heavens by a process known only to the Maker of all mankind.”
Finally there is a story from the little Tennessee village of Ooltewah, on the road from Chattanooga to Cleveland. In 1887, a crowd of people gathered at a humble farmhouse by the roadside and a passerby, asking the meaning of the assemblage, was told, “Old Mrs. Osborne is dead.” This lady, the mother of Farmer Osborne, had been a bed-ridden invalid for many years. Shortly before her death Mrs. Osborne, lying in her bed near the window in the same little room she had occupied for years, watched a terrific thunderstorm come up. As she lay in bed she saw the lightning strike and shiver to fragments a tall pine tree standing nearby. She was so frightened that she rapidly sank into unconsciousness and only lingered on until the next day when she died.
When the neighbors came to lay her out, they discovered to the great astonishment of all, and the dismay of many, that on one of the eight by 10-inch panes in the window beside her bed was a photographic likeness of the old lady in her neat cap and gown.