strong, lusty farmer

7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point
7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point

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.

7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point
7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point

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!

7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point
7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point

afflictive dispensations

7.15.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
7.15.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Yesterday I was thinking about posting a few recent pictures taken on another walk with Bernie when a morning thunderstorm came through, kind of unusual for these parts. Off went the computer and off I went to enjoy the storm while paying bills – ugh – and finishing reading The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. The book was set in Provincetown, and although the story took place in a time period previous to our days there, it was enjoyable reading a book and being able to picture so clearly the streets and the dunes and the fishermen…

7.15.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
7.15.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

A few years ago while researching my ancestors, I came across a story about the sudden death of one of my 8th-great-grandfathers, William Shurtleff, who was born in 1624 in England, and died on 23 June 1666 at Marshfield, New Plymouth Colony, now Massachusetts, age 42. Whenever there is a thunderstorm I think of him, and his wife Elizabeth, who lived on to marry two more husbands. To me, the story illustrates how precarious life is, and that people in other generations have also had strings of incredibly bad luck. Helps to keep life’s annoying chores in perspective…

When William came to America he was apprenticed as a carpenter, and later became a surveyor. Early in the year 1666, William & Elizabeth’s house was destroyed by fire. Their neighbor, John Phillips, gave the couple and their two sons, William and Thomas, shelter in his home. Elizabeth was pregnant with their third son. According to Benjamin Shurtleff, in his book, Descendants of William Shurtleff of Plymouth and Marshfield, Massachusetts, Vol I:

While [William Shurtleff] was partaking of the hospitality of Mr. Phillips, it appears that one of those dreadful droughts occurred which were so very distressing to our early planters and which threatened to destroy all the the fruits of their spring labor. On this account the good people of several neighboring congregations observed a day of fasting and prayer as they were wont to do in those days when suffering afflictive dispensations. Soon after this, on June 23, 1666, happened the terrific thunderstorm which is so graphically described in a letter of Rev. Mr. Arnold. At the time of this storm there were fourteen people in the common sitting-room of the house of Mr. Phillips. … They were mostly seated around the room. Mr. Shurtleff was sitting beside his wife, holding her hand in his and having one of their children in his arms, the other being between him and a table, under which was a dog. The storm of rain came on with great violence and Mrs. Phillips requested to have the door closed. Whereupon a stroke of lightning passed down the chimney, which it rent to pieces, smote down most of the people if not all, instantly killing Mr. Shurtleff, Mrs. Phillips and Jeremiah Phillips, and then passed out through the door, splitting it into fragments. This occurred on Saturday and they were buried on the following day, being the twenty-fourth, according to an entry made in the Marshfield town records.

The third son, Abiel, was born soon after this tragedy.

Abiel Shurtleff was born soon after the untimely death of his father and there was a considerable debate as to what his name should be. By some it was thought that he should be called after Boanerges (Children of Thunder), as mentioned in the New Testament; but the difficulty of converting the plural name into the singular number fortunately prevailed against the infliction of an appellation which was far from being euphonious. The scriptural name Abiel, which interpreted into English from the Hebrew, signifies ‘God, my father,’ was adopted as the most satisfactory, since it was sufficiently indicative of his posthumous birth.

So the bills got paid and the ancestors were remembered by this descendant… Thank you, Mother Earth, for your electrifying reminders.

7.15.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
7.15.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Fathers Day

~ Papa and me ~

Tomorrow is the 100th Anniversary of Fathers Day, a day set aside to honor and remember our fathers and forefathers. This year music is on my mind.

My father discovered his passion for music when he heard Woody Guthrie on the radio for the first time. He learned how to play the guitar as a young man and when I was little, apparently I loved to dance when he was singing and playing. Dad also taught himself how to play the piano, and many nights I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of his simple tunes. We had Peter, Paul & Mary records in the house, and his favorite piece of classical music is Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

~ me ~

I look at the picture of me next to my father playing his guitar, and even though I don’t remember that far back, I somehow think that this is where it all began. My love of troubadours playing their guitars and singing their own songs… My dad’s gift to me.

My paternal grandfather was twenty-eight years old on the first Fathers Day, and in this country only a year. He was a Ukrainian immigrant who bitterly regretted coming to America. He lived with us until he died, when I was in third grade. I have no memory of Pop ever showing us any affection. He spent his days cutting and clearing the brush in the woods around our house. My sister and I were afraid of him because if we bothered his neat piles of wood he would furiously wave his axe at us and shout at us menacingly in Ukrainian. I suspect it was a good thing that we had no idea what he was saying.

So… I was very surprised several years ago, when my father happened to mention one day that when his father was a young man in the Ukraine he crafted his own fiddle and played it at the weekly dances in his village. (I wonder if this was what attracted my grandmother?) It gave me a new dimension of his personality to consider…

John Philip Sousa

The difference between a fiddle and a violin? There’s really no difference, but the old saying is that the violin sings and the fiddle dances.

My adored maternal grandfather was five years old on the first Fathers Day. I wonder how his family celebrated the new holiday? Oh the questions we never think of asking until it is too late! He played the trombone and his favorite musician was John Philip Sousa. When Grandfather was a young man living in New Canaan, Connecticut, he played the trombone in a marching band and he often spoke of those days as some of the happiest ones in his life. It was always a treat when he pulled out his trombone to play a few notes for us. When he hummed he even sounded like a  trombone!

Woody Guthrie

As Dad slips further into dementia I am happy for the days we spent listening to Woody together. I gave him The Asch Recordings, a box set of 105 Guthrie songs. We also watched at least four different Guthrie DVDs over the past few years. Good memories for both of us…

I’m looking forward to seeing my dad tomorrow. I hope he will be having a good day, but even if he isn’t we will make the best of it. Play some music… Talk about the things he can remember…