1777 (pre): A Deadly Burp

In 1843, author Ralph Barnes Grindrod noted that the famous German physician Haller had related his experience with a "notorious drunkard" who belched near a candle, had his breath catch fire, and was "suddenly destroyed" in one of the few cases of a witnessed death by Spontaneous Human Combustion [SHC], the proposed possibility of a human catching fire from inside their body and being reduced to ashes. In this case, the cause is not a mystery... just the death and destruction is, as it has not been reported since.

Reality Check

        Let me note that the above was related by Grindrod in his 1843 book Bacchus: An Essay on the Nature, Causes, Effects, and Cure of Intemperance, which is literally an extended argument for why it is bad to drink alcohol of any sort. He only deals with the topic of SHC in one chapter, and only because it's another horrifying thing he can list that drinking too much alcohol might do to you... so there is some reason to believe Grindrod didn't check his facts too closely, as he had a distinct goal in mind for his book.

        It's clear that Grindrod got this account from a lecture series on 'temperance' (abstaining from alcohol) that was written by Nathaniel Thurston and delivered in 1841 to Lowell City Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA, as he simply lifts the story almost word for word from this earlier source. Thurston does not attribute this matter to SHC, but does claim the man was "suddenly destroyed," and lists this as an example of "frequent and disgusting belching" on a list of diseases and illnesses that can be attributed to drinking alcohol.

        Thurston credited the account to a "Dr. Haller;" Grindrod expanded this to "Dr. Haller, who is well known as a learned German physician of the last century," which appears to be a reference to Albrecht von Haller [1708-1777], a famous Swiss anatomist and physiologist, a suitable person to add authority to such an odd claim. There doesn't appear to be any reference to this event earlier than Thurston's 1841 account, however, so i very much doubt von Haller was involved.

        It's still possible that Thurston was refering to a different 'Dr. Haller,' but unless another source turns up I can't say much more. As is, there's really not enough information to prove this event happened... so I'm marking it as 'Unreliable' as evidence of the paranormal (or strange) until more can be found.

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