Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Lightning Bolt Out of the Blue - Electrical Storm in 1895

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J. Gardner Minard was a local historian who took great pride in the Town of Pelham and its history. He began a little newspaper in the 1890s that he operated out of the building that housed Lyman's Pharmacy. The building still stands at One Fifth Avenue.

For many years Mr. Minard wrote about his reminiscences of Pelham during the late 19th century. The articles were published in The Pelham Sun. One such article published on April 17, 1942 recounted, among other things, an electrical storm during which lightning twice struck the Brickner home located behind Lyman's Pharmacy. The text of the article appears below.

I have yet to do the careful research necessary to confirm my theory, but I suspect that the Brickner home is the structure pictured in the lower left of the post card picturing Lyman's Pharmacy (referencing it as the "Post Office, Pelham, N. Y." because Seth Lyman also ran the Post Office located in the same building). The post card, printed in about 1910, appears below, with a magnified view of the structure that appears on the lower left of the post card placed to the left of the post card image. If I am correct that this is the Brickner home about which Mr. Minard writes in the reminiscences set forth below the image, then the home still stands. Today it is behind the main structure of the Marbury Corners condominiums located along First Street.

"Old-Time Soldier And Reporter Garner Minard Tells A Couple Of Incidents In Old Pelham Life

Forty-seven years ago I opened a real estate office in the old post office building on the northwest corner of Fifth avenue and First street, Pelhamville. A year later I abandoned the real estate field for journalism. Frequently the question has been asked me what, in all those years, gave me the greatest thrill. There is no occupation that produces more thrills than journalism. Police may question this, but the police reporter has all the thrills of the police and then some. You are not only constantly seeking them, but they are seeking you. How many times have I uncovered a scandal that would have thrilled my readers but reserved the thrill for myself by smothering it rather than disrupt innocent and happy families? Imagine the thrill at uncovering, quite accidently [sic], that two prominent residents who had been elected and re-elected to high office, had criminal records. In amazement I checked and re-checked. The proof was there. They had since married and their families did not know anything about it. Since they were administering their offices conscientiously and were apparently trying to live down the past, why should I extinguish the spark of honest, sincere remorse burning within them by exposing them? Both have since died believing they were carrying their secret to the grave.

Tricks of Lightning

But here is something different. One Summer morning in 1895 I was standing on the rear porch of the old post office building looking across lots at the Medhorn house standing across the street from where the Catholic Church now stands. It was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Brickner and their infant son. Brickner had just sold his interests in the White Hotel, Wolf's lane and Third street and was then managing Merritt's livery stable, Fourth avenue and First street. Mrs. Brickner was a frail, sickly, nervous woman who thought little else but her house work. A severe thunder storm was in progress and as I watched, two bolts of lightning descended in rapid succession with ear splitting claps of thunder and struck the chimney. With each stroke it seemed the sides of the house expanded and contracted sending out clouds of smoke and dust from the open windows and doors. Hurrying inside I pulled on my rubber boots and rain coat and hurried to the Brickner house. The steps leading up to the front porch were blown all the way out to the front gate. There was no sign of fire or smoke, but through the open front door I could see a cloud of dust from the fallen plaster hovering about.

As I started to climb over the steps I heard Mrs. John H. Young who lived in the next house to the north, about 50 yards away, calling me. She was standing on her front porch beckoning. I ran there and found her holding the Brickner baby and Mrs. Brickner was lying on the porch floor. Mrs. Young explained that when she heard the thunderclap, she knew the lightning had struck close. She hurried to a window and saw Mrs. Brickner running through the rain with her baby. She went out the front door and Mrs. Brickner ran upon the porch, placed the baby in her arms, and fell in a faint. We examined the baby and found it all right [sic]. We next brought Mrs. Brickner around and assured her the baby was not hurt. Mrs. Brickner said that when the lightning struck she first thought of her baby on the front porch and ran out and picked him up. She could remember nothing further. I asked her how she got off the porch with no steps there and she could not answer. It was the first she knew the steps were missing.

Another Mystery

A few weeks later I was in Lyman's Drug Store on Fifth avenue at First street, talking with Dr. Lyman, when the door opened and Mrs. Brickner rushed in, placed her baby in Lyman's arms and fell unconscious to the floor. The child's left hand was covered with blood. Lyman washed off the blood and found a slight cut. He revived Mrs. Brickner and after telling her the child was not badly hurt, asked her what had happened. She said she had been doing her house work and on looking up saw the child had gotten the carving knife and cut his hand. She grabbed him up and from that moment her mind was a blank. She did not remember reaching the drug store.
What has puzzled me to this day is how that frail little woman, in a semi conscious condition, made that long trip and saw her child safe before entirely losing consciousness. There is today a steep hill along First street from Third to Fifth avenue that would tax the strength of any husky woman carrying a child; but the hill Mrs. Brickner climbed was much steeper as three years later, in 1898, the Village of North Pelham cut down the crest of it five feet just west of fifth avenue."

Source: Old-Time soldier And Reporter Gardner Minard Tells A Couple Of Incidents In Old Pelham Life, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 32, No. 1, Apr. 17, 1942, p. 5, col. 1.

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