“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy.”
“Success is simply a matter of luck.
Ask any failure.”
There has always been a fine line between bad luck and stupidity.
I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as luck. Some people say you make your own luck and to a great extent I think I would go along with that.
There are the people who seem to have “good luck” but who are in fact people who have just had the courage and the confidence to take advantage of an opportunity when they saw one. Even lottery winners wouldn’t have won anything if they hadn’t taken the chance and bought a ticket in the first place, despite knowing that the odds were firmly against them.
Then there are the people who complain about having “bad luck” but who are in fact people who just do stupid things and when they inevitably go wrong blame bad luck instead of their own stupidity.
I had an uncle like that. All his life he kept using that saying, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”, but the truth he was just dumb and did dumb things. I have a feeling he’ll feature in future blogs.
For now, however, we’ll use another much more famous example. If ever there was a good illustration of both good luck and bad luck wrapped up in the same person it was in a man called Roy Cleveland Sullivan.
Roy was born in Greene County, Virginia on February 7, 1912. He was described as a brawny man with a broad, rugged face, who resembled the actor Gene Hackman.
In 1936 he started working as a ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginina in 1936. Nothing very unusual in that, in fact a nice job if you like the outdoors and nature and all that good stuff. You could say in that regard Roy was a lucky man.
But Roy’s nickname was the “Human Lightning Conductor” or “Human Lightning Rod” because, between 1942 and 1977, he was hit by lightning on seven different occasions (unlucky) and survived all of them (lucky). For this reason he was a proud entrant in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being. Two of his ranger hats are on display at two Guinness World Exhibit Halls in New York City and in South Carolina.
The first documented lightning strike on Mr Sullivan occurred in April 1942. He was hiding from a thunderstorm in a newly built lookout tower that hadn’t yet been fitted with a lightning rod. The tower was hit seven or eight times and set on fire. Roy ran out of the tower, but just a few feet away received what he considered to be his worst lightning strike. It burned a half-inch strip all along his right leg, hit his toe, and left a hole in his shoe.
The second bolt of lightning to hit him happened in July 1969. This one was extremely unusual because he was hit while in his truck, driving on a mountain road. Normally in a lightning storm one of the safest places to be is in a vehicle, the body of a car or truck normally protects people as long as they are not touching any metal parts. In this case, however, the lightning first hit nearby trees and was deflected into the open window of the truck. The strike knocked Roy Sullivan unconscious, burned off his eyebrows, eyelashes, and most of his hair. The uncontrolled truck kept moving until it stopped near a cliff edge.
The following year, in 1970, Roy was again struck by lightning, this time while in his front yard. The lightning hit a nearby power transformer and from there jumped to his left shoulder, searing it.
The fourth strike occurred in 1972, while Roy was working inside a ranger station in Shenandoah National Park. It set his hair on fire; he tried to smother the flames with his jacket. Then he rushed to the rest room, but couldn’t fit under the water tap and so used a wet towel instead.
Not unnaturally, after the fourth strike Roy began to experience a degree of paranoia and believed that some “force” was trying to destroy him and, although he had never been a timid man, he acquired a fear of death. For months, whenever he was caught in a storm while driving his truck, he would pull over and lie down on the front seat until the storm passed. He also began to carry a can of water with him and believed that he would somehow attract lightning even if he stood in a crowd of people.
On August 7, 1973, while he was out on patrol in the park, Sullivan saw a storm cloud forming and drove away quickly. But the cloud, he said later, seemed to be following him. When he finally thought he had outrun it, he decided it was safe to leave his truck. But soon after he did so – you guessed it – he was struck by a lightning bolt. He said that on this occasion that he actually saw the bolt that hit him. The lightning set his hair on fire, moved down his left arm and left leg and knocked off his shoe, although he said “it did not untie the lace”. It then crossed over to his right leg just below the knee. Still conscious, Sullivan crawled to his truck and poured the can of water, which he always kept there, over his head.
On June 5, 1976, lightning bolt number six hit him, this time injuring his ankle. It was reported that he saw a cloud, thought that it was following him, tried to run away, but was struck anyway.
On Saturday morning, June 25, 1977, Sullivan was fishing in a freshwater pool when he was struck for the seventh time. The lightning hit the top of his head, singeing his hair, and traveled down burning his chest and stomach. Sullivan turned to his car and then another unexpected thing happened — a bear appeared and tried to steal trout from his fishing line. Sullivan had the strength and courage to strike the bear with a tree branch. He claimed that this was the twenty-second time he hit a bear with a stick in his lifetime.
All seven strikes were documented by the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and were verified by doctors. Sullivan himself recalled that the first time he was struck by lightning was not in 1942 but much earlier. When he was a child, he was helping his father to cut wheat in a field, when a thunderbolt struck the blade of his scythe without injuring him, but because he could not prove the fact later, he never claimed it in his total.
Roy Sullivan’s wife was also struck once, when a storm suddenly arrived as she was out hanging clothes in their back yard. Yes, her husband Roy was helping her at the time, but this time he escaped unharmed.
Understandably in later in life Roy was avoided by people because of their fear of being hit by lightning, a fact that he said saddened him. He once recalled “For instance, I was walking with the chief ranger one day when lightning struck way off. The chief said, ‘I’ll see you later.’”
So, ‘bad luck’ to have been hit so many times by lightning or ‘good luck’ to have survived them all, take you pick.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t have a happy ending. On September 28, 1983, Roy Sullivan died at the age of 71 from self-inflicted gunshot wound over an unrequited love. It is not know whether the love was unrequited because the other party did not have the same feelings for Roy or whether they just feared getting hit by lightning!
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There is a similar tale about a British cavalry officer, a Major Summerford, who was fighting in the fields of Flanders during the last year of WW1, when a flash of lightning knocked him off his horse and paralysed him from his waist down.
Summerford moved to Vancouver, Canada, and six years later, whilst out fishing, he was again struck by lightning, this time paralysing the right side of his body.
After two years of recovery, one summer day he was out in a local park, when a storm suddenly blew up and Major Summerfield was again struck by lightning. This time he was permanently paralysed.
He died two years after this incident.
Four years after his death, his stone tomb was destroyed.
Yes, it was struck by lightning!
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All a bit too morbid? Maybe we need to end on something a bit more light hearted. As “luck” would have it I remember a suitable (and clean) story. It’s a little bit funny, I hope.
Anthony S. Clancy of Dublin, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the century, which also happened to be the seventh day of the week.
He was the seventh child of a seventh child, and he had seven brothers
That makes seven sevens.
On his twenty-seventh birthday he went to the race track.
The seventh numbered horse in the seventh race was named Seventh Heaven, and was handicapped seven stone.
The odds against Seventh Heaven were seven-to-one.
Clancy bet seven shillings anyway.
You guessed it, Seventh Heaven finished seventh!