Luella's Lightning Shoe
By David L. Bristow, Editor
Carol Pearson was browsing an estate sale in California when she found an old shoe containing a yellowed newspaper clipping and a handwritten slip of paper. In the article, an elderly Mrs. Luella Brown of Chico, California, recalled the day in 1902 when she was struck by lightning near Lakeland, Brown County, Nebraska. The slip of paper gave a different year. It read, “I was born in 1894. This happened 1904.”
Brown said the family had gathered for her grandfather’s birthday. She was inside sitting on a cousin’s lap when suddenly “the house was in shambles” and she “was on the floor covered with plaster.” The lightning apparently followed a clothesline to the house, passing through Brown and her cousin and exiting through her left foot. Her foot was blistered and the shoe damaged. Brown said she was once offered $100 for the shoe but refused to sell it.
We tried to learn more when Pearson donated the shoe to History Nebraska in 2013. We searched Nebraska newspaper databases for 1902 and 1904. Because Brown’s paternal grandfather, Frederick Albert Cox, had a June 8 birthday, we focused especially on that month in the hope that he was the correct grandfather.
We didn’t find the story, but we found many others.
Consider June 1902. A severe storm on the 5th burned down a barn in Leigh, tore a hole in a farmhouse near Gretna, “severely shocking the family, although not seriously” (whatever that means!), and knocked the North Bend telephone exchange manager out of his chair and tore plaster from the wall. On the 13th a young man was struck fatally near Peru while crossing a wire fence; the report concludes cheerfully that “Nemaha County has the best prospects for crops ever known before.” Two days later a Lexington farmer was killed by lightning while on horseback; the report didn’t mention the horse’s condition but said the crops were promising “a mighty fine yield.”
June 1904 was even worse. On the 10th the Red Cloud Chief claimed that “Probably more than a score of persons have been killed or dangerously injured by lightning the last two weeks in Nebraska alone.” A day earlier the Valentine Democrat reported one dead from lightning in Fullerton and four killed by lightning or drowning during flooding in Greeley and Nance counties. Other Nebraska papers reported horses killed, fires started, and a rancher named Sam Lane struck dead while riding fence near Hay Springs; he was still mounted on his dead horse when neighbors found his body.
Now at least we understand how Luella’s story might have been overlooked at the time.
Our homes and buildings are better protected these days, but Nebraska weather is still Nebraska weather. While enjoying the great outdoors, keep an eye on the sky.
This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of NEBRASKAland magazine.
Photo: History Nebraska 13290-1