As another batch of strong thunderstorms pass through Connecticut this evening I’ve got a bit of time to post another death by lightning account. I know the subject doesn’t match the pictures, but I have no pictures of Elmer, and I have no words for the pictures, except for a caption. The pictures were taken on July 11, a lovely sparkling evening to be near or on the water.
When I married Tim I was thrilled to be given a copy of the autobiography of his great-grandfather, Charles Amos Hamilton. Charles was born when his mother was 47 years old, and she died when he was three weeks old. He had an 18-year-old sister, Addie, and a 26-year-old brother, Elmer. The following account of Elmer’s death was written many years later by his little brother, Charles, who was 4 years old when it happened:
One of my most vivid recollections of this period is the death by a stroke of lightning on July 20th, 1870, of my only brother, Elmer Alonzo. He was my father’s first born, and had grown up into a strong, lusty farmer. He and father were more like brothers than like father and son. He was very fond of his little brother, and used to romp with me and at times good naturedly teased me. To me, there was no one in the world like Elmer. After dinner, on the day of his death, as he was starting for the hay field, I begged him to take me with him, but, as a thunder storm was looming in the west, he told me I couldn’t go. He went alone to the hay field, cocked hay until the storm came up, and a bolt of lightning ended his activities forever. His body was not discovered until the next forenoon, all covered with hay. His untimely death was a terrible blow to the entire family.
Several years ago we took a trip to western New York state to do some research on the Hamilton family. I found an article in the archives of a newspaper, Cuba True Patriot, 22 July 1870, Vol 9, No 4. The reporter got his age wrong, Elmer was actually 29 when he died:
Killed by Lightning. On Wednesday last, Mr. Elmer Hamilton, son of Charles Hamilton, residing on Keller Hill, in this town was killed by lightning. The particulars as near as we have been able to learn them, are as follows. Just before the terrible thunder-storm of Wednesday Mr. Hamilton went over to his father’s farm, adjoining his own, and just across the Hinsdale town line, to grind his machine knives and repair his mower. Towards night as he did not return his relatives began to wonder at his long absence, and a search was instituted. They looked in every place where it might be possible he might be found, but failed to find him. A large number of neighbors were informed, who searched diligently for the missing man till about 2 o’clock A. M., when the hunt was given up till morning. Thursday morning the body of Mr. Hamilton was found, partly screened by a haycock. By his side, and protruding from the cock of hay was his pitchfork, with the tine end sticking out. Close by was his hat, which led to his discovery. One side of the head was scorched almost to a crisp, plainly indicating the cause of his death. It is supposed that Mr. Hamilton crept under the hay-cock to protect himself from the severe storm, and that the lightning struck the fork which he held in his hand. Mr. Hamilton was about 21 years of age, and a young man generally esteemed by all who knew him.
Very sad and very sobering. According to the National Weather Service Lightning Safety website, in the United States, “an average of 58 people are killed each year by lightning. To date, there have been 15 lightning deaths in 2010.” Our local weatherman advises that if you can hear thunder or see lightning, then the storm is close enough for lightning to strike you.
Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod in 1752. Too late to have helped the folks in Marshfield in 1666. Perhaps by 1870 they were on most homes, but I wonder about barns… It’s good to have a healthy respect for thunderstorms and they are exciting to watch and listen to. But let’s all stay indoors or in our cars!