1835, January 5: Mr. H’s Odd Wound

 In May 1835, Dr. James Overton addressed the Medical Society of Tennessee at their annual meeting regarding a very strange case he had encountered. The address was entered into the records and published in the November 1835 edition of their journal.

        According to Overton, the subject of the strange event was a man he referred to only as 'Mr. H,' whom he described as a thirty-five year old Professor of Mathematics at the University of Nashville, with "a constitution considerably enfeebled from long and zealous devotion to the sedentary and exhausting labour of scientific investigation." [I'm not sure if that's an insult or compliment... -- Garth.] Mr. H also had a history of stomach ailments, and at the time of the event he was using antacids and aperients for his stomach and kidneys.

        January 5, 1835, was a very cold day in Nashville. Mr. H had taken special measure to stay warm; when his morning classes were done around 11:00AM, he walked the three-fourths of a mile back to his residence briskly to stay warm. Once home, he added dry wood to the fireplace, where there were still three glowing embers of coal, then retired to the other side of the room where he occupied the next half-hour with observations and notations of his barometer and thermometer; then he stepped outside to check his hygrometer and to check the direction and velocity of the wind.

        He'd been at these activities outside for about ten minutes when he felt a sudden and sharp pain on his left thigh, similair to having a hair pulled. Mr. H instintively put his hand on the spot, and the pain suddenly increased to feel more like a hornet's sting. He began to slap the spot, in case it was an insect to blame, but the pain continued to grow in intensity until he cried out. Unable to pay attention to anything else anymore, he examined the spot... and saw a round flame the size of a ten cent piece forming a tiny flattened dome over the pained location on the surface of his pants.

        Thinking quick, Mr. H cupped his hands over the flame, cutting off its air supply, and it was quickly extinguished. The pain decreased... but continued, now feeling like a "slight application of heat or fire to the body." Mr. H pinched the surface of his pantaloons that was above the spot and lifted them away from the surface of his skin, while attempting to crush out any continued burning that might be happening within the material of the clothing itself. The pain stayed in the same spot, but as it decreased Mr. H became aware that the area around it also felt abnormally warm; and it felt as if the pain had sunk about an inch into the depth of his leg.

        Once the pain had greatly subsided down to feeling like a slight burn, Mr. H untied the ankle of his pantaloons, and untaped his long underware from his wool socks -- I did mention he had gone to some great effort to stay warm that day, remember? -- and then rolled up his pants and underware to view the effected area of his thigh. He discovered what looked like a abrasion on his leg, about three inches long and three-fourths of an inch wide; the surface layer of skin had rolled down to the lower part of this odd wound. It looked exactly as if he had simply scraped himself against an object, excepting that the newly exposed surface was extemely dry and more livid than a mere scrape would be.

        His underware, which was a mix silk and wool, had a hole burned out of it that exactly corresponded with the location of the wound on Mr. H's leg. The hole was very precise; the cloth was not scorched in anyway past the hole, but all material within the hole was completely destroyed. His broadcloth pantaloons were unburnt, but the inside surface of them that coresponded with the location of the wound and the hole in the underware was "slightly tinged by a thin frostwork of a dark yellow hue." This coloration did not penetrate through the material, and a penknife was used to just scrape it off the inner surface of the pantaloons leaving no trace of the apparent combustion they were in contact with.

        Despite the fairly inexplicable way the injury appeared, Mr. H decided it wasn't very serious so didn't do anything to treat it. By the following evening, the wound had become inflamed and painful so he treated it with a salve; five days later, Mr. H resorted to a professional doctor to continue the care of the strange injury. The wound was acting precisely as if it was a burn from ordinary causes but took much longer to heal, possibly because it had penetrated deeper than a burn generally would. It took a full thirty-two days for the wound to fully heal, though with considerable scarring. Overton explained that the the skin had regenerated some less perfectly than would have been expected for a normal burn.

        Overton labeled this odd incident as a 'partial spontaneous combustion,' though truthfully this incident is completely one of a kind to my knowledge; therefore I'm adding it to my 'Particularly Paranormal' list of reports, and keeping an eye out for anything else like it. As to the nature of the report itself, Overton declared that "the facts have been stated as nearly as practicable in the words of the sufferer himself, and are consequently entitled to all the credit attributable to any statement of a similar character, which is or can be supplied by the annals of the profession."

Secrets Revealed

        Overton's mysterious Mr. H had been tenatively identified by Michael Harrison in his 1976 book, Fire From Heaven, as a professor named James Hamilton, which he had been told by staff at the University of Nashville. I did a little digging that confirmed that the Professor of Mathematics at the University of Nashville in early 1835 was a man named James Hamilton, so this appears to be the correct identification of our victim in this odd case.