One of the joys of doing family history research in newspaper archives are the startling stories you occasionally run across – stories you would never expect, and seem to prove truth is stranger than fiction.
Digging through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives the other day, I found this article by weatherman Pat Shingleton about Walter Summerford, a man struck four times by lightning – three times while alive, and once after he was lying in his grave!
According to the story, Walter Summerford was a major in the British Army during WWI when he was struck by a lightning bolt on a battlefield in Belgium in 1918. Paralyzed from the waist down, Summerford retired to Vancouver and slowly rehabilitated back to the point where he could walk again.
Six years later, while fishing in 1924, lightning struck him again! This time the right side of his body was paralyzed, and Summerford began another long, slow period of rehabilitation.
Then, 10 years after that (and here’s where the reader can’t help but feel a bit of incredulity), Summerford was struck by lightning a third time, while walking in a park in 1934. This time he was left completely paralyzed, never recovered, and died two years later in 1936.
The final detail is either the most incredible of all, or the hardest to believe: shortly after his burial, Summerford’s gravesite was struck by lightning!
That’s a total of four lightning strikes, three during his lifetime and one shortly after his death.
According to the National Weather Service’s How Dangerous Is Lightning? webpage, the odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 15,300.
Here’s a research challenge to our readers: look into Shingleton’s story about Walter Summerford. Could it be true? Let us know what you find.