With summer here I’ve been a little lax about posting on this blog. But when I woke up and saw the headlines about the devastation caused by a severe storm that passed through our area yesterday, I knew that I had to write about another storm that wreaked havoc some 136 years ago…
It was Sunday evening, June 27, 1875 when severe thunderstorms hit southeastern Pennsylvania. The next day the Reading Eagle led the story with this description: “The elements were in high glee in this vicinity last evening. About seven o’clock the heavens became overcast with inky black clouds, and a few minutes later such a storm of wind, rain, lightning and thunder broke upon us to cause the strongest to tremble and the weak to quail with fear. At times the sky would be one sheet of fire, and the next moment the earth would be shrouded in Egyptian darkness. Rain fell as though the very flood gates of Heaven were open, and our streets were turned into miniature rivers. The lightning was sharp, vivid and blinding, and at time terrifically grand. The electric fluid leveled trees, destroyed buildings, scattered fences to the four winds, and left death in it’s wake.”
One of the casualties of the horrific storm was the Shaner family of Limerick in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Their house was destroyed and two family members left dead. The June 30th edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer provides these details. ” When the storm commenced Mr. John Shaner was at the barn. His wife, Mrs. Rose Shaner, his father, Mr. George Shaner, his two daughters, and a nephew, were in the kitchen of the house. The mother sat near the middle of the room, and the youngest daughter, Lizzie Shaner, about 12 years old, sat near the fireplace. The bolt of lightning that struck the house seemed to divide in the second story, one portion passing down near the fireplace and killing the little girl, and the other coming down through the floor above Mrs. Shaner, and striking her. The peal of thunder that followed the flash of lightning was terrific. The other inmates of the room were slightly stunned, but not hurt. The death of Mrs. Shaner was instantaneous; that of her daughter nearly so.”
The Reading Eagle account claims the lightning bolt struck an upstairs window, shattering the shutter and setting fire to a bed. There was also a hole two inches in circumference in the ceiling above where Mrs. Shaner was standing, presumably where the bolt of electricity passed through from the upper story before striking her dead. The walls on one side of the house were cracked and broken and the posts holding the porch roof were “forced from their places.”
John Shaner, the husband and father of the two who died, was my first cousin, 5x’s removed. The maiden name of his wife Rose was Hetzel. She was 48 years old when she died. In addition to 12-year old Lizzie the other daughter mentioned in the article was 15 year-old Ida. The Shaners also had three sons: Franklin H., William Milton and Henry Warren. They were older than the girls and were not at the house when the tragedy occurred.
George Shaner, John’s father, was my 5x’s great-uncle. He was married to Mary Hartenstine who had passed away in 1850. George died March 22, 1881 – less than 3 months from his 90th birthday. He had just turned 84 at the time of the lightning strike. John Shaner died in Pottstown, PA at the home of his daughter Ida and her husband John Gensch in July of 1892. He was 69.
As always, if you have any connection to this family, I would love to hear from you.