1. Harrison (1976; 17). Cf. Harrison (1978; 3).
2. See Arnold (1976).
3. This report appears as “Observation CXVIII-Sur l’enbrassement spontane d’une vieille femme, par Mat. Jocobaeus [sic].” Small pieces of charred or burned wood. The Transactions for 1744-1749, along with Lair (1812; 165), Pierquin (1829) and Sanderson (1972), misspell her name as “Pitt.”
6. Harrison (1976; 40. 1978; 25) declares that, outside of one newspaper report, “the first mention of this case is in Sir David Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic (1823).” To the contrary, besides the Transactions (1744-1745), there are references to Pett in Hamburg Magazin Bd. (1748), Annual Register (1763), Thornton’s Medical Extracts (1796), Lair (1812), and LeCat (1813).
7. Credit is due Peter Christie of Sussex, whose diligent research recently uncovered this heretofore overlooked information about Pett in its original archaic English.
8. Hergt (1837) dates the episode on 22 February 1749, but this is too late.
9. Harrison (1978; 142) spells the priest’s name “Boineau.”
1. Harrison (1978; 17) names her “Clewes”; Godfrey (1870) names her “Clies.” Her age varies among accounts, with Lair (1812; 163 and 173) assigning both figures in different parts of his essay.
1. Beck (1851; 98) wrongly dates it on January 15.
2. Joly (1837), Hergt (1837) and other sources do not give Bernard’s surname. Hergt does mention a Bernard Lariviere, age 75, who fatally burned in Surville on 6 October 1836. I believe the two episodes are, in fact, one episode, which early sources-A. S. Taylor (1865; 507-508) and Medico–Chirurgical Review, (XXX: 500)–date for September.
3. Sanderson (1972; 274) dates this case on February 25, 1851.
1. Russell (1955) erroneously assigns the deaths of Pegler, Wright, Ridge, and Hardrill to December 28, 1938. Harrison (1976. 1978) perpetuates the error.
1. Foam rubber can combust spontaneously, as I discuss elsewhere, but only when it’s repeatedly washed and stored damp-something not likely to be done with an overstuffed chair.
2. Two seconal tablets is a “considerable amount”
3. A slightly expanded version of Krogman’s original article on “The Cinder Woman” appeared in The General Magazine and History Chronicle of the University of Pennsylvania; all citations are to this version of Krogman’s article.
4. The smoke and smell (what little there was) produced by the fire needed time-a few hours-to dissipate, because by eight o’clock the telegraph messenger “noticed nothing amiss” when he walked up to the apartment building and Mrs. Reeser’s door.
“Smoke smelled at 5 A.M. was thought to be coming from an over-heated water pump,” reported Jerry Blizin in the St. Petersburg Times (9 August 1951). “Mrs. Carpenter turned off the pump and went back to bed.” The landlady never confirmed her suspicions. More likely in her drowsiness, she smelled an odor that seeped from Mrs. Reeser’s apartment and attributed it to the pump-having no reason to suspect another source.
The electric clock stopped at 4:20, probably due to excessive heat or electromagnetic phenomena associated with the fire’s peak energy that temporarily froze its motor. This evidence points to 4:20 A.M. on 2 July 1951 as the most probably time of death for Mrs. Reeser.
5. I have been unable to identify who first characterized the head as shrunken, nor the basis for this determination. Dr. Richard Reeser Jr. disagreed with the popular description of this alleged artifact: “There were no identifiable facial features present, but only a portion of the skull bone was found.”
Regrettably the FBI report, which presumably detailed the skull’s condition, is unavailable to us; nor does the one photo I have of her remains allow a firm conclusion. So this much publicized and disconcerting mystery may be explained at last. Then again, maybe not.
6. Under the original FOIA (1966), certain categories were exempt from disclosure, among these the “investigatory files compiled for law-enforcement purposes.”
However, the revised FOIA (February 1975) “stipulated that such files as those kept by the FBI would have to be furnished on request unless disclosure would interfere with a pending proceeding, violate an individual’s privacy or compromise a confidential source or investigatory technique.” Since the Reeser case is public domain and none of the other restrictions apply, the FBI file on Reeser qualifies for release without preconditions.
Nevertheless: “Concerning autopsy reports and/or Laboratory services performed for our Department by another agency,” says Sgt. R. G. Kerlikowske of the St. Petersburg Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, “these are not released without authorization from the Medical Examiner and/or the laboratory which performed these services.”
7. That information in 1915 consisted of one newspaper reprint and a woefully inaccurate one-page article by Morrison Colladay titled “They Called It Spontaneous Combustion” from Blue Book (March 1951). Colladay says that the victim of SHC in a Charles Dickens novel is “Crook”-it is Krook; he says a Dr. Frank published in Berlin information about SHC in “1943”-it was in 1843; he says “victims were brandy-drinkers in a state of intoxication”-history clearly refutes this. “There have been no cases of death from spontaneous combustion for nearly a hundred years,” he concludes.
8. Jerry Blizin, reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, followed the Cinder Woman investigation closely: “While people may discuss the Reeser case at still greater length than has already been done, we must not overlook the tremendous amount of work poured into the baffling case by investigating officers. Police Chief Jake Reichert, Detective Lieut. Cass Burgess, Detectives R. H. Lee and Ross Boyd and others all did back-breaking work. Whether the verdict convinces arm-chair sleuths or not, City police were not lax in their pursuit of answers.” Lax, no. But not solving it, either, since Reichert would not close the case.
1. Super = “above; beyond; to an especially high degree.”
Hyperthermic = “abnormally high fever; application of heat.”
Carbonization = “to char; the formation of carbon from organic material.”
2. Raymond Davis Jr. of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, attempted to capture evidence of neutrinos with an ingenious detector installed in a deep mine shaft at Lead, SD. Of the trillions of neutrons Passing through his apparatus every second over two-month periods, he would find evidence for only 30 collisions caused by neutrino impacts (Discover, March 1981).
3. A light-year is the distance light travels at its own speed in one year: six million million miles.
4. If this is so, it means the neutrino-heretofore believed to be massless-must have a tiny bit of mass, or weight. This possibility, which disturbs some physicists, has profound implications for cosmogony as well as particle physics. To quote Reines, speaking to the APS: “If this is true, the universe is not the way we thought it was.”
5. This amount of currency could never be printed, by the way, and is about the only comparison that makes the federal deficit look inconsequential.
6. Georgi says that a distance of only 10-29 centimeters can be sufficient to trigger a reaction. So a shift of the energy orbits within the hydrogen atom (and its leptons and hadrons) need not be very big at all.
7. H2O -> H+ + OH– or H + O2 -> O + OH.
8. The pyrotron-X fundamental particle can resolve a significant challenge to physics today: the problem of the universe’s missing mass. It also offers an explanation for the apparent predominance of matter over antimatter.
9. The Superconducting SuperCollider (SSC) approved in 1989 for construction in the Texas desert at a cost of $5 billion was designed to produce only 4 X 104 GeV (or 40 X 1012 electron-volts).
1. Sanderson (1972; 274) and Moffitt (1956) spell the name “Peacock.”
2. The case is also found in Hugh Gaine’s New York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury (7 January 1771).
3. Harrison (1978; 80) misnames the coroner Dr. Floyd Clemens, incorrectly places Mr. Rooney “sitting dead in a chair” and wrongly gives Mrs. Rooney’s weight as “over 190 pounds.”
1. As early as the thirteenth century, Zen schools developed techniques that emphasized the role of meditation (dhyana) in producing biological phenomena esoterically. Ko Ch’ang Keng, the principal proponent of Taoist-Zen alchemy, taught that meditation furnished the necessary fluid and the sparks of intelligence the necessary fire to transform the body through this contemplative alchemy. Keng, also known as Po Yu Chuan, told Waley that “By this method a gestation which normally requires ten months can be achieved in the twinkling of an eye.”
Since the body can gradually warm itself for five-score years, might not it by the mental inducement of a too rapid thermogenesis sear itself in the twinkling of an eye?
2. The Carmelite nun St. Maria Magdalena de’ Pazzi (1566-1607) lived an austere life said to be “one long ecstasy.” Along with her ecstacy came agony. Like St. Philip, she often loosened or shredded her garments because of “the excess and abundance of this celestial flame which consumed her,” recorded the Oratorian Translation (pp. 235-237). Even during harsh Italian winters she’d run to Pazzi’s well and douse herself with its water, “so great was the flame that burned in her breast that even externally she seemed to consume.” Often she cried out “I can no longer bear so much love,” according to her biographer Father Cepari. Also like St. Philip, her face at times glowed and her eyes “sparkled like stars” during the ecstatic incendium amoris she endured, recounts Thurston (1952; 210).
St. Peter of Alcántara (d. 1644) echoed the curious wintertime habit of these Italian saints, for the same reason. A Spaniard, he too was often seen uncovering his chest when outdoors in winter, “so torrid were the fires that burned and broiled in his breast.
“The English religious leader George Fox (1624-1691) often walked barefoot in midwinter through the snow-covered streets of Litchfield. “The love of God” gave peace and warmed his body, he said, adding that it inspired him to found the Society of Friends, says White (1990; 12). Superhyperthermia, tumo, incendium amoris, near-SHC: whatever its name and cause, it can have a constructive impact on individuals and society.
St. Benedict Joseph Labre (1748-1783) demonstrated both fire-immunity (when in ecstasy) and internal fire during his brief life. While staying at Santa Maria, Italy, the young priest was observed by colleagues to tear open “his ragged coat at the breast to assuage the fiery flame within.”
St. Gemma Galgani of Lucca (1878-1903) lived a brief life of divine ecstasies and raptures that included clock-like insensitivity to pins and open fire on her skin every Thursday evening and Friday afternoon. “There generally was a forewarning,” said Summers (p. 110) ; “a burning flame of love towards God and Our Lady [that] seemed to blaze more fiercely in her heart and consume her.” Consume her it did, though not to ashes. Only twenty-five years old, she died of premature burn-out, possibly a direct consequence of her incendium amoris.
The Venerable Orsola Benincasa (1547-1618) experienced almost constant trance-ecstasies since childhood. Onlookers would pinch, prick, even cut the girl with lancets; according to Summers’ Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (p.106), they “even went so far as to burn her with a naked flame, but all these injuries affected her not in the slightest, although when she returned to herself she keenly felt the result of such ill-judged, and indeed cruel, maltreatment.” This masochism (and Orsola’s willingness to receive it) reveals a state of transcendent consciousness that is immune to applied pain and to external fire as well.
1. Consensus lists seven chakras, though the count varies (depending on source) from six to as many as thirteen. Six chakras lie along the cerebrospinal column: above the anus, near the genitals, behind the navel at the base of the rib cage, around the heart and the throat, and at the pineal “third eye” behind the forehead. The seventh “crown” or sahasrara chakra near the top of the head is variously ascribed to the pituitary, the anterior fontanelle or, according to Gopi Krishna, the entire brain itself. It is the center most associated with self-reaised illumination-the culmination of Kundalini’s ascent. Refer to Leadbeater’s The Chakras (1927) for classic esoteric tradition and to Bruyere’s Wheels of Light (1989) for modern scientific corroboration of these energy centers.
2. Down through the ages healers and spiritual teachers have produced a body of remarkably consistent testimony for the existence of an invisible, extraphysical galaxy of energies in the human body. Now that frontier-science has begun to verify this “bioenergy philosophy” instrumentally, no longer can it be scoffed at and cavalierly dismissed as primitive belief and superstition. Rather its transcultural framework demands that these traditions be seriously explored by science, indeed examined as credible until demonstrably proven otherwise.
3. Refer to Gopi Krishna’s Kundalini (1971), The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius (1972), and The Awakening of Kundalini (1975a); W. Thomas Wolfe’s And the Sun Is Up (1978; 149-173); and publications by the Kundalini Research Foundation, 10 East 39th Street, New York, NY 10016.
1. Harrison (1976) states incorrectly that the victim “nearly died.”
2. Gearhart (1975) lists an Olga Stephens dying in a mysterious fire on October 24, 1963. Being unable to corroborate this incident leads me to conclude it’s a misrepresentation of Olga Worth Stephens’ fate nearly a year later.
3. Citing the Sheffield Independent, Harrison (1976) identifies the victim as “G. A. Sanderson”… in Harrison (1978) the name changes to Shepherdson without explanation.
1. Norman’s Weird Unsolved Mysteries (p. 105) dates the episode much earlier: 30 July 1937. Sanderson (1972; 275), however, dates it later: 30 July 1938.
2. Harrison (1978; 266) dates it 27 December 1938, referencing Russell (1955).
1. Eg., Beck (1851; 100); Gaddis (1967; 224-225); Harrison (1978; 69-71); Sanderson (1972; 242-243); Reader’s Digest (1982; 83-84).
1. Based on medical documents in my possession, the date has to be Friday, November 15. Dating of the Angel case has always been a challenge; sources give conflicting dates, and one document even contradicts itself several times. I now believe that the span of “November 11-15” represents the correct dating.
1. During this period a friend of Dr. Sullivan’s deceased wife had a dream, which she later told to him. Sullivan recounts it: “During the 24 hours in which whatever it was happened, she had had a dream in which she and I and a third, unidentified individual were on a small boat at the edge of a mist-covered stream. I insisted on being taken across. The other refused. She tried to talk me off the boat, and eventually succeeded.”
Sullivan (1982) thinks the woman in this dream was the dreamer herself and that the anonymous figure was Charon, the ferryman in Greek mythology who guided souls across the river Styx to the land of the dead.
I propose another viewpoint that in no way negates his interpretation. From a metaphysical vantage this dream accurately depicts a near death experience (NDE) by Dr. Sullivan, who argued at some level of consciousness to be released from a world he found distasteful but was instructed in the classic NDE sense that his “time for transition” from the physical was not yet to be. Being “denied” death, he returned to his strangely injured body lying on the hotel bed.
Whether his injuries occurred before this “dream” transpired or coincided with it and his reincarnating, whether the third dream individual was the mythical Charon or instead his deceased wife telling her husband his “time” was not yet, and why his wife’s friend four hundred miles away became involved in the Sullivans’ personal drama will remain unsolvable questions surrounding this case.
2. Researchers of poltergeist-fire phenomena have also noted an emotional aspect with these (usually) nonhuman spontaneous combustions, as I point out elsewhere in ABLAZE! and in works pending.
1. Date based on Keyhole (1973); Stringfield (1978) places the incident on March 19, 1968.
2. The year 1966 seemed to concentrate a variety of fortean phenomena, as did 1938 and late 1904-early 1905; phenomena included several SHC episodes.
3. The U.S. Army, for example, has admitted administering LSD to unwitting American citizens in public places during the 1950s and as recently as 1964.
4. Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, of Tucson, AZ.
5. Episodes involving beams directed from UFOs at people are too numerous to catalog here. Official UFO (July 1976) details a variety of these incidents, as does Jacques Vallee (1990) in his important book, Confrontations.
I detail only one incident here:
- A recent UFO sighting, indeed dozens of them collectively referred to as the Gulf Breeze Incident, occurred to Ed and Frances Walters beginning the night of November 11, 1987. Not only did Ed, a respected contractor in the western panhandle of Florida, and his wife repeatedly see one, two or three UFOs near their home not far from Eglin Air Force Base, it turned out many of their townsfolk were seeing the same things. Ed took dozens of color polaroid photographs of the UFO(s) under varied circumstances. The case has been widely publicized-Fox-TV’s Current Affair (March 16, 1990), PM Magazine (March 27, 1990), Hard Copy (April 27, 1990)-and described in the Walters’ 1990 book, The Gulf Breeze Sightings.
- Of special interest to this discussion is the fact that twice, on 2 December 1987 and 8 February 1988, Ed Walters photographed what so many UFO witnesses had been reporting for years: a bright blue beam emanating from a UFO. On one occasion, the beam seemed aimed directly at him. Only an eave above a doorway and his instantaneous reaction to jump aside probably prevented him from being struck and perhaps burned like so many others had been before that night.
1. In what looks like an typesetter’s error, Ogston (1870; 187) dates Vatim on February 22, 1821.
2. Ring (1984) surveyed only a minute percentage of the 25,000 to 50,000 suicides annually reported in the United States at that time-making for a very limited sampling base.
1. The emphasis Euripides places on the gold raiment and crown in association with death is not inconsequential, I submit. Alchemically and mythologically, gold is noble; it is the bearer of a higher spiritual symbolism; as Mircea Eliade (1971) points out in The Forge and the Crucible, gold is immortality. Gold holds the power for transformation, and ultimately, represents nature in perfection. For King Creon’s daughter, symbolically crowned and gowned with gold, what is intended to be punishment meted by the jilted Medea becomes noble transformation through the purification of fire. The innocence of King Creon’s daughter is rewarded with immortality, whereas, as E. P. Coleridge remarks, “the abortive alliance between Jason and Medea has destroyed them both.”
2. The Hebrew word is ruach, meaning “wind,” “tempest,” and/or “whirlwind,” according to J. Strong’s Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary (1980; 107). In the context of this incident in the Talmud, I suggest “tempest” is the appropriate translation.
3. See, for instance, the comments of A. D. Godley, Herodotus (Leob Classical Library, 1921), footnote to ii:141.
1. One marvels at (or is amused by) the irony of fate: the beginning of spring, symbolizing rebirth, brings death (via combustion) to Autumn Close.
2. Tabulation of earthquake-luminosity relationships through March 1910 by Dr. Ignazio Galli in Bollettina della Societa Sismologica Italiana (XIV-6) runs 184 pages! Yet not until 1964, when earthquake lights were undeniably photographed in the Orient, did most geophysicists give credence to these reports.
3. New Scientist (1978, 78:896) reports that Professor Gold, director of the Center for Radio Physics and Space Research at Cornell University, contends in a 1978 lecture at London’s Imperial College that spark ignition of “outgassing” methane explains all episodes of atmospheric luminosity when “flames shot out of the ground.” I suggest this explanation is not universally applicable.
4. This concept was formulated in 1976; published in 1977 as a three-part article for Fortean Times (nos. 22, 23, 24); and subsequently condensed for Frontiers of Science (January-February 1982).
5. Mircea Eliade, the esteemed modern religious historian, sees lelay as conveying the notion of fire, light, or spirit, and derived from the root lila, meaning cosmic creation. I see leyne as the most recent derivation upon this ancient root, encompassing all aspects of its root meaning into the straight tracks it defines.
6. The association of light, fire, and burning to straight Dragon Lines (lung mei), and legends of fire-breathing dragons slain by St. George, and the preponderance of ley place-names to St. George, suggests a deeper, hidden level to our mythologies-one that embraces physics and physical phenomena as well as philosophy and the subconscious.
7. I discovered this case in 1977 while scanning local newspapers at the Colindale Branch of the British Museum for firsthand information on the Dewar sisters SHC controversy. It appears on the same page with the Dewar story, yet has been overlooked by other SHC researchers, including Charles Fort. In a sense, the fire-leyne led me to it.
8. I visited the Louth town hall in 1979, seeking land deeds or other records that would indicate exactly where Clodd lived. Despite kind help from the Louth staff, that information seems no longer to exist.
1. Elsewhere on the planet, people watched an earlier inflammatory discharge from the Earth that echoes the one proposed for Binbrook.
This exchange (in 1900?) ensued between Keklujek and Ziaret, two peaks in the Taurus Mountains south of Harpoot, Mesopotamia. “The weapons were balls of light,” the respected climatologist Ellsworth Huntington was told by resident natives. “A ball of fire is sometimes seen to start from one mountain and to go like a flash to the other.” This fiery bombardment occurred day or night, but only when the sky was clear. Wrote Huntington in Monthly Weather Review (July 1900): “I became thoroughly convinced of its truth.”
2. E.g., the blazes in the home of Adam Colwell in Brooklyn, New York, in 1895. In front of scores of witnesses, fires spontaneously erupt in furniture and wallpaper; the house eventually burns to the ground. “I do not want to be quoted as a believer in the supernatural, but I have no explanation to offer, as to the cause of the fires,” the fire marshall tells the New York Herald (January 6, 1895). Rhoda Colwell, the family’s young daughter, is above suspicion-but only for two days. Then, firemen and police are said to have been “artfully tricked” by Rhoda’s alleged antics that enabled her to toss matches onto and through walls to ignite seemingly incombustible objects. There shall be no unsolved cases!
1. Beginning January 6, 1922, the Alexander Macdonald farm at Caledonia Mills, Nova Scotia, Canada, likewise played host to an uninvited guest: thirty-one fires spontaneously ignited in six and a half hours, a total of thirty-eight fires by the time the visitation ended fifteen hours later. Flames that were “pale blue… not hot” erupted in wood, at the ceiling, in a chair that smoldered by itself-and in wet paper that burned of its own volition!
2. Small fusion microexplosions are possible by using ablation (compression) techniques similar to that used in laser fusion experiments. Yields of 0.002 kilotons were achieved in 1976, resulting in emission of superthermal x-rays, fast ions, and temperatures characteristic of “thermonuclear burn.” Perhaps Mrs. Conway fell victim to a less efficient fast-ion (pyrotron?) collision than did Mrs. Reeser; that is, the lower resultant energy was inadequate to burn-up and disintegrate her as thoroughly as the St. Petersburg woman. But she came close.
1. I investigated a series of spontaneous combustions that centered on the family of Rev. Gene Clemons in Wharncliffe, West Virginia, between May 27 and early July 1983. No human spontaneously combusted, but just about everything else did: mattresses, bedding, sofa cushions, wall outlets, trash cans, a towel rack, dolls, shoe skates, carpeting, even an artificial Christmas tree inside a cardboard box inside a locked cement-block building!
Most people with rudimentary familiarity about such odd combustions would immediately have labeled these as “poltergeist fires.” But with fine cooperation from the fire chief and Deputy Fire Chief Kendell Simpson, both of whom were mystified (and properly so) by dozens of spontaneous fires, I learned about other enigmatic blazes occurring in their county at the same time that also could not be readily explained.
Plotting the locations of these baffling blazes on a map, revealed that most of the fires fell on the perimeters of two circles. This discovery is published here for the first time.
2. On October 5, 1989 Antony FraserSmith, monitoring very low frequency radio waves around Corralitos, California, noticed a sudden twenty- to thirty-fold jump in background airwaves below one Hertz; his instruments showed a gradual decline from the anomalous high spike until the afternoon of October 17, when a low frequency airquake (my term) two hundred times background jolted his equipment. “We never see signals like that,” said Fraser-Smith, himself jolted by the enormity of the signal leap.
Three hours later San Francisco was rocked by a large quake, its epicenter four miles from Corralitos. Fraser-Smith sees an association. I look at these low frequencies as a window into Earth that hasn’t been considered,” he told Discover.
I know he is right. And I believe that discoveries like his will give new insights to both seismic quakes and fire-quakes.
3. Roy Sullivan was said to be nature’s favorite high-voltage target: Hit 1-lightning passed through his body from head to foot in 1942; Hit 2-July 1969, lightning burns off his eyebrows; Hit 3-1970, lightning left his shoulders raw and burned; Hit 4-16 April 1972, a strike sets his hair aflame; Hit 5-7 August 1973, lightning blasts a hole the size of a 50-cent piece in his hat and then, doctors confirmed, “scorched him inside and out;” Hit 6-5 June 1976, struck while cranking his car window shut, his head catches fire; Hit 7-25 June 1977, lightning interferes with his fishing by burning his chest and stomach.
4. The corollary to fires associated with sites is that certain shapes might also create energy patterns capable of igniting fires within a body or a house. I would have spontaneous combustion as a factor of architecture as well as of geography. Someday fire science may choose to consider further this possibility.
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