Thursday, April 13, 2006

Interesting pre-1947 UFO Cases, Vol. I

I was chatting with a ufologist friend last night, and in the course of our conversation he mentioned a UFO case that I was heretofore unaware of. A Google search later, and I found this:

"The following brief account of a recent strange meteorological occurrence may be of interest to your readers as an addition to the list of electrical eccentricities:

During the night of the 24th of October last [1886], which was rainy and tempestuous, a family of nine persons, sleeping in a hut a few leagues from Maracaibo [Venezuela], were awakened by a loud humming noise and a vivid, dazzling light, which brilliantly illuminated the interior of the house.

The occupants, completely terror stricken, and believing, as they relate, that the end of the world had come, threw themselves on their knees and commenced to pray, but their devotions were almost immediately interrupted by violent vomitings, and extensive swellings commenced to appear in the upper part of their bodies, this being particularly noticeable about the face and lips.

It is to be noted that the brilliant light was not accompanied by a sensation of heat, although there was a smoky appearance and a peculiar smell. The next morning the swellings had subsided, leaving upon the face and body large black blotches. No special pain was felt until the ninth day, when the skin peeled off, and these blotches were transformed into virulent raw sores.

The hair of the head fell off upon the side which happened to be underneath when the phenomenon occurred, the same side of the body being, in all nine cases, the more seriously injured.

The remarkable part of the occurrence is that the house was uninjured, all the doors and windows being closed at the time.

No trace of lightning could afterward be observed in any part of the building, and all the sufferers unite in saying that there was no detonation, but only the loud humming already mentioned.

Another curious attendant circumstance is that the trees around the house showed no signs of injury until the ninth day, when they suddenly withered, almost simultaneously with the development of the sores upon the bodies of the occupants of the house.

This is perhaps a mere coincidence, but it is remarkable that the same susceptibility to electrical effects, with the same lapse of time, should be observed in both animal and vegetable organisms.

I have visited the sufferers, who are now in one of the hospitals of this city; and although their appearance is truly horrible, yet it is hoped that in no case will the injuries prove fatal." [See Science Frontiers Online, here]

The author of this report?

Warner Cowgill, U.S. Consulate, Maracaibo, Venezuela

The date?

November 17, 1886.

Where was it first published?

In an article titled "Curious Phenomenon in Venezuela" in Scientific American, 55:389, 1886.

Possible explanations (besides aliens etc)?

Ball lightning.

However, my ufologist friend doesn't think so. He points out, as have others, that radiation-type effects from ball lightning would not occur, especially when they developed several days after the incident occurred.

On the other hand, the exact nature of what causes ball lightning is still a subject of considerable debate amongst scientists. Some theorize that the phenomenon involves radiation. In 1997, John Lowke, a plasma physicist at the Institute of Industrial Technologies in Australia wrote in Scientific American:

"There have been hundreds of papers, and at least three books, discussing ball lightning. Most theories raise more questions than they claim to solve. Probably the most famous theory was advanced by the Russian Nobel Prize winner Pyotr Kapitsa, who claimed that ball lightning is caused by a standing wave of electromagnetic radiation. But why should there be a standing wave of electromagnetic radiation? Other theories assert a variety of sources of energy for ball lightning, including atomic energy, antimatter, burning material or the electrical field from a cloud."

The multitude of theories cited by Lowke - including electromagnetic radiation and atomic energy, indicates that ball lightning remains a plausible explanation for the 1886 Venezuela incident - especially as some of the injuries incurred by the villagers were immediate. Also, the characteristics of the phenomenon described by Cowgill do seem relatively consistent with the general descriptions one finds for ball lighting.

If anyone has any thoughts on this, drop me a line, or leave a comment. I'm not an expert on ball lightning, so I'd be interested to hear from someone who has more knowledge about the subject than I do.

Paul Kimball


MKJessup said...

Might be interesting to review Cash Landrum with this in mind.


Don Maor said...

May be scientist are having problems analizing the Ball Lighting phenomena just because the fact that some balls of lights are not simple ball lightings.

some balls of light may be extraterrestrial probes, and some may be (some electromagnetic phenomena), the last one being the most boring ones.

Ray said...


Did you ever see the movie Burnt By The Sun (Utomlyonnye solntsem) (1994)? One of the fictional "characters" in the film is ball lightning. It's shown hovering, slipping into homes, and at one point whizzing away and blowing up in a field. All the classic features of ball lightning.

There's also the SF novel, Sinister Barrier, by Eric Frank Russell, about invisible energy beings, vitons, co-existing on the earth. Sometimes humans glimpse them as ball lightning, especially when they are dying (exploding). Vitons live by feeding on human emotions.

Putting aside the ultraterrestrial speculation, another idea is that a few alien abduction reports are delusions created by encounters with ball lightning / energy plasma. Someone sees the energy form, thinking it's a ET craft. Then he gets zapped, passing out or wandering away. Suffering from shock, he hallucinates a typical abduction scenario because he has been perceiving the encounter in terms of ETs, not ball lightning.


Paul Kimball said...


I have to admit, that's an explanation for alien abductions that I've never heard! Thanks.

I've never seen Burnt by the Sun. However, my own family has an experience with ball lightning, as recounted to me by an uncle:

"I, along with my mother, several brothers and sisters (and possibly your dad included) were first-hand witnesses to such an event in the mid 1940's. My recollection is seeing a bright blue-white sizzling ball at least the size of a grapefruit enter the kitchen where we were, from the dining room to our left, at about 1 or 2 feet below the ceiling, and moving along the wall from left to right, then diving down and exiting out through the small gap at the bottom of the front door."


Anonymous said...

My mom was hit by ball lightning when she was a kid, in the '50s. It was a blue electrical sphere that came through the window and hit her in the back of the head. She thought my uncle had hit her with a book so she turned around a punched him.


Jeff said...

I Experienced ball lightning in 1962 when I was 5 years old. We were experiencing a very bad thunder storm with a lot of lightning and thunder. My mother used to make us sit in a chair with our feet off the floor during a thunder storm. I was sitting with my mom and sister in the same chair. A ball of fire came down the chimney of the house and rolled across the floor like a carpet unrolling. It was attached to a strand of light going up the chimney. It then rolled back up the chimney. This all took place in just a couple of seconds. The house had wood flooring and the wood was scorched where the lightning passed. My mother and sister all remember this as vividly as I do. To this day I can picture it as clearly as if it was yesterday. It was frightening and I had nightmares for years about it.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience as Jeff and it has stuck with me to this day. In the summer of 1978 I was standing in our garage watching a mid-afternoon lightening storm. Two balls of light came out of the top corner of the wall and entered into to cement floor at my feet. The thing that amazed me was the slow speed. They almost hovered and were spaced about six inches apart.

I also remember the noise. Almost like a "sparkler" as it burns.

tech_marine_electric said...

Does anyone know what the symptoms are of very high dosages of x-rays? If the ball lightning is some type of electrostatic discharge then consider this. I built a vandegraph? generator that could make 30 inch arcs. I read somwhere that these electro-static discharges emit x-rays when the voltage is at or over 300000 volts. I know that the rule of thumb is electricity will arc 1 inch through dry air at 70000 volts. Therefore I was generating x-rays when the arcs were a little over 4 inches long. All that being said if the ball lightning were substantially higher voltage what might the x-ray exposure and damage be?

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert in the field of ball lightning but have expirienced it in a manner that could be called up-close and personal. This happened in about 1989 in Hartford, CT. I was living at the time on the top floor of a four floor walk up on the corners of Prospect and Farmington Avenues. It was, I believe, in Mid-August and the area was undergoing a violent thunderstorm. My firends and I were sitting in our living room watching T.V and talking. I was in a chair directly across from a window. There was a cabel that ran from a power line directly outside the window and attached to the outside sill...I believe it was for our phone. The air in the room started to steadily build a noticible charge. I could sense the ionization for a good half-hour. Suddenly, I saw a thin blue finger of electricity appear and touch the cable about half way between the poll and the building. This finger travled down the cable, arched to the wire mesh screen on the window, travled in a straight line around the edge of the screen and even seemed to turn at ninty-degree angles when reaching the corners of the window frame. After the current went all the way around, it seemed to travele to the exact center of the screen where it formed a ball, about the size of a soft-ball, that shot out across my living room and missed my head by inches. The ball apperently hit the wall behinde me and dissipated.There were no marks on either the screen or the wall and no one in the room was adversly affected although we were all very freaked out. Ther are a few othewr details about this event that I'm not including here but will be glad to share if anyone is interested. I can be reached at

jolenetamura said...

I wonder how odd it is to witness ball lightning 2 years and 300 feet apart? I have in 1998, and again in 2000. This happened in the town of Ramona, California. Is there anything linked to seeing ball lightning in the same area?

Paul Kimball said...


That does sound a bit odd, but probably not unheard of - it wouldn't surprise me that ball lightning would appear in the same general areas, in much the same way that fog appears in the same general areas (like Nova Scotia's South Shore), but less so, or not at all, in areas where the conditions are not right.

Thanks for popping by!