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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/454

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446
LIGHTNING-PRINTS.

animals had sought refuge. Although differing in details, these two accounts probably relate to the same occurrence; the latter is perhaps more credible than the former, seeing that we can more readily believe an impression of a tree than of a landscape being thus produced.

In 1846, at Graham's Town in South Africa, a flash of lightning struck the gable of a powder-mill. The building contained a store of twelve tons of gunpowder, in copper-bound barrels packed in a cluster about four feet from the wall. The lightning ran along the wall of the gable, beneath the floor, and out under the door-sill. The mark of the flash, zigzag in shape, and directed at an angle of about eighty degrees, was plainly visible on the whitewashed wall of the magazine, resembling in color the stain produced by the explosion of a very light train of powder; and a small hole or crack was made in the arch where it entered. There was no tree-mark or mystical mark here; the mark produced was evidently the zigzag path of the lightning itself.

Signor Orioli brought before a scientific congress at Naples four narratives relating to lightning-prints. In the first, lightning struck the foremast of the brigantine "Santo Buon Servo" in the Bay of Arriero; a sailor sitting under the mast was struck dead, and on his back was found an impression of a horseshoe, similar to one fixed at the masthead. In the second, a sailor, in a somewhat similar position, was struck by a lightning-flash on the left breast with an impression of the number 44; an almost exact representative of a number 44 that was at the extremity of one of the masts. In the third, a young man was found struck by lightning; he had on a girdle with some gold coins in it; and images of these were imprinted on his skin in the order they occupied in the girdle. In the fourth, an Italian lady of Lugano was sitting near a window during a thunderstorm, and was struck, though in a way scarcely conscious to herself at the time; a flower which happened to be in the path of the lightning was perfectly reproduced or printed on her leg, where it remained permanently.

Among the thunderstorms described as having occurred in the West Indies, one, in 1852, was rendered remarkable by this phenomenon: a poplar-tree in a coffee-plantation was struck by lightning, and on one of the large dry leaves was found imprinted an exact representation of some pine-trees that stood three or four hundred yards distant. Whether this was really an "exact representation," or the product of an excited imagination not well controlled by accurate judgment, is just the point which we cannot determine; the markings on the leaf may have been only the natural zigzagging of the lightning.

In 1853, a little girl was standing at a window, near which stood a young maple-tree; a flash of lightning struck either the girl or the tree, or both, and an image of the tree was found imprinted on her body. In another instance, a boy climbed a tree to steal a bird's nest; a lightning-flash struck the tree; the boy fell to the ground, and "on his breast the image of a tree, with the bird and nest on one of its branches, appeared very conspicuously." Scientific journals, as well as those of more popular character, contain a rich store of incidents more or less similar to the above. Dr. Franklin stated in 1786, that, about twenty years previously, a man who was standing opposite a tree that had just been struck by lightning (or as he called it, by a thunderbolt), found on his breast an exact representation of that tree. M. Poey, who has treated this subject somewhat fully in the French scientific journals, mentions twenty-four cases of lightning-impressions on the bodies of men and animals. Of those, eight were impressions of trees or parts of trees; one of a bird, and one of a cow; four of crosses; three of circles, or of impressions of coins carried about the person; two of horseshoes; one of a nail; one of a metal comb; one of a number or numeral; one of the words of a sentence; and one of the back of an arm-chair.

There is no mention, so far as we are aware, of any imprinting on the bodies of the two hapless lovers mentioned by Gay; but a very little exercise of the imagination, aided by an element of credulity, would have sufficed to produce imaginary crosses, hearts, or trees. Those who know the story will remember that Pope and Gay were visiting at Stanton-Harcourt in 1718; that Gay described the incident in one of his letters; and that Pope memorialized it in verse. Two rustic lovers, John Hewit and Sarah Drew, about a week before the day fixed for their wedding, were at work with other harvesters in a field. A storm of thunder and lightning came on in the afternoon, and the laborers hastened for shelter to the trees and hedges. Sarah Drew, frightened and dismayed, fell in a swoon on a heap of barley, and John Hewit raked up some