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 , 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
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)?
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.