Crinoline Struck by Lightning!

From The Medical Times and Gazette: A Journal of Medical Science, Literature, Criticism, and News, Volume 2, page 185, 1869

Dr. Benjamin W. Richardson on Lightning-Stroke

“Fever of Reaction — In some instances where the body has been struck by lightning with the production of severe external injury, recovery from the prostration has been followed by severe reactionary fever and delirium. My friend Mr. Erasmus Wilson has favoured me with an excellent illustration of this condition taken from the American Journal of the Medical Sciences for April 1869, the reporter being Dr. William Holton, of New Harmony, Indiana. According to this report a tree was struck with lightning on March 26, 1868.

“‘From the tree the shaft of electric fluid darted through the wall of a shed and lighted on the knot of hair at the back of a woman’s head, attracted by the hair-pins with which the knot was fastened; it then passed on to an earring; thence to the busk of her stays; next it flashed along the wires of her crinoline to the steel clasp of her garter, and ultimately burst through the heel of one of her boots. In its course it made a semi-spiral turn, striking the left ear above, reaching the right leg by the intervention of the crinoline wires, and issuing through the heel of her right boot.

“‘The break of the current was in each instance accompanied by a burn of the skin; the first of these burns. and the most severe, occurred on the scalp, where the hair was singed; the second occupied the lobe of the ear; the third. the upper part of the chest, which presented a blistered surface three inches in diameter, with a broad crythematous areola beyond; the fourth, which was next in severity to that of the head, was a foot in length, and extended from the left side of the abdomen to the pubes; the fifth was situated on the patella immediately above the garter buckle; and the sixth along the leg below the garter buckle, the intermediate space having escaped. Her clothing was s little burnt here and there, and the lower end of the steel busk and some of the crinoline-wires partially melted.

“‘After the shock, the woman, who was 61 years of age, and had been suffering previously from indigestion. vertigo, and numbness of her limbs, remained insensible for twenty minutes, uttering an occasional groan. When consciousness returned, she stated that she felt nothing at the time of the accident; but, on the recovery of her senses, she complained of nausea and oppression about the chest, which were relieved by vomiting. Her skin at this time was cold and clammy from perspiration, and her pulse extremely weak. Subsequently she was attacked with fever, accompanied with delirium, and not until the end of ten weeks was she reported as having recovered her usual strength, the burns being at the same time healed. At this time it is stated that ‘she is quite cheerful, except when left alone. when she is disposed to sleep too much; a feeling of great lassitude announces to her the approach of a thunderstorm before its coming is perceived by others.’

“‘The case,’ adds Mr. Wilson, ‘is one of deep interest in its illustration of the influence of nervous shock, an its phenomena arc most suggestive;~ — for example, a concussion of the nervous system, the loss of consciousness, the sickness of the stomach, the oppression of the lungs, the prostration of the heart. the reactionary fever, and last, but not least, the morbid sensitiveness of the nervous system to electrical impressions, enduring for a time, and probably for life.’”

A while ago I came across a very interesting booklet, anonymously publshed in London in 1858, titled “The Dangers of Crinoline.” The frontispiece, reproduced above, luridly illustrates a fashionable woman being struck by lightning, while other images in the book show the ubquitious crinoline fire and a young woman hanging on for dear life to avoid being blown off a cliff top. As I mentioned in this earlier post, there are a LOT of crinoline related articles out there. And yet, until now, I had never heard of the crinoline as a lightning conductor. Hundreds of cautionary articles on its inflammability, its propensity to get caught in machinery and wheels and stiles and things, the dangers posed to passers-by (including a report where a small child was swept into a river by a passing crinoline — fortunately the infant was rescued!) and virtually every possible danger and hazard that disapproval could throw at the fashion.

The Dangers of Crinoline is essentially anti-crinoline propaganda; a collection of cautionary tales that are probably fictitious, although many of them do certainly reflect real-life hazards. The unfortunate ladies in the stories contract chills and rheumatism from not having their legs safely swathed in multiple petticoats. They lose their loveliness from injuries sustained following their gowns catching fire and are compelled to become cloistered nuns. They get struck with lightning for daring to wear steel hoops that offend their paramours’ sensibilities. There is some really quite vicious anti-French sentiment, with claims that wearing the French fashion of crinoline is unpatriotic and unBritish. It’s hard to say whether the stories in the booklet are based on factual incidents, but my feeling is that while such incidents — certainly crinoline fires are well reported — did occur in real life, the actual stories in The Dangers of Crinoline are probably lurid fabrications.

But I was intrigued. How had I not seen the suggestion that crinolines might be lightning conductors before? So I did some hunting, just to see whether there were any credible reports describing such occurrences. The above came to light.


A woman in a crinoline being struck by lightning! How could I not use this image, even allowing for it being 10 years earlier than the actual event described, and the young woman depicted being some 40 years younger than the victim? It just fits too well. The image is hosted by Wikimedia Commons.

Note: This was originally posted on Wordpress in 2015. It is here transferred as a test post to see how successfully my posts can be relocated