1905, February 28 (ca.): Barbara Bell’s Fiery Death

In his 1931 book LO!, Charles Fort made note of an article he claimed to have found in the Blyth News of Blyth, Northumberland, England, for February 28; strangely, Fort didn't specify what year, but other topics in the same chapter range between 1904~1905.

        In the town of Blyth, smoke was seen streaming from the windows of a house occupied by 77 year old Barbara Bell. Alarmed, neighbors broke in; they found Bell's body lying on her sofa. As Fort described the matter:

"Her body was burned, as if for a long time it had been in the midst of intense flames. It was thought that the victim had fallen into the fireplace. 'The body was fearfully charred.'"

        Of course, there is some question about how a 77-year-old woman can fall into a fireplace and then make it back to a sofa while apparently on fire.

The Story Lives

        Charles Fort is well-known for having actual sources for the accounts he included in his books, but he's also notorious for not giving away all the details... such as not sharing the year of the article, for example.But he also tends to leave details from his sources out, to enhance the weirdness of his accounts; so he must always be double-checked before being trusted.

        Unfortunately, a quick survey for "Blyth News" archive on the internet, as well as local libraries that might hold copies of said periodical have not found much I can act on yet, so for the time being this account must be considered 'Unreliable' as proof of a paranormal event. Of course, just because I hesitate doesn't mean any one else would... and in this case, the story has appeared in every major work related to spontaneous human combustion since Charles Fort's book was published, though with a few changes. That all of these later retellings start with Fort is clear, as all of them quote in some part the line I presented from his book above.

        Probably the most influential of this retellings was in Harry Price's 1945 book, Poltergeist Over England, where he basically asserted Bell's death as an example of a poltergeist setting a human on fire! That part wasn't repeated so much, though, as the fact that Price definitely states the fire happened in 1905. A similar change happened in 1967 when Vincent Gaddis, in his Mysterious Fires and Lights, stated that Bell died on February 28... rather than that being the day the matter was reported. Between these two books, Bell's death is not routinely reported as having happened on February, 28, 1905, when that's actually the wrong date.