1847, February 27 (pre): A Drunkard’s Fiery Death

The February 27, 1847, edition of Scientific American summed up an account of a strange fire death that was reported in a lecture by a Dr. Nott... and this is a very strange matter indeed.

        According to Nott, the victim had been a man of about twenty-five years of age, and "had been a habitual drinker for many years." Dr. Nott himself saw the man alive around 9:00PM on the night he was to meet his bizarre fate, and Nott stated the man "was then as usual, not drunk, but full of liquor." It was around 11:00PM that same night that Nott was summoned to come assist the man.

        The man had been discovered in the blacksmith's shop; the owner saw his shop suddenly light up completely, as though the whole structure was aflame, and ran to investigate. The man was discovered standing erect and completely engulfed by "a widely extended silver-colored flame" which clung to the man as a flame does to the wick of a candle. The owner of the shop grabbed the man by his shoulders and pulled him towards the door... and at the exact same time the strange flames completely extinguished.

        By the time Nott attended the man, he found the victim "literally roasted, from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet;" despite this, the man was still alive! Much of the poor man's remaining flesh started to fall off his body as dressings were changed, leaving bones and larger blood vessels exposed. Nonetheless, the man lived on for a further thirteen days in utter agony. Sagely, Nott informs us:

"He complained of no pain of body; his flesh was gone. He said he was suffering the torments of hell; that he was just upon the threshold, and should soon enter its dismal caverns; and in this frame of mind he gave up the ghost.

There had been no fire in the shop, and no known source of fire that could have caused what the man suffered. Nott concluded that the man was "purely a case of spontaneous ignition."

Not Exactly Spontaneous Combustion

        Though this case is now included in the catagory of "Spontaneous Human Combustion" -- the proposed possibility of a human body igniting from inside itself and burning to ashes -- this whole matter appears to be something far weirder than what is generally attributed to said phenomena.

        It could not have been a flame that started inside the man's body, or he simply wouldn't have lived past the event at all; nor does it make any form of scientific sense that the flame would simply vanish because the man was moved. Overall, the details as given are extraordinary.