Walter Summerford isn’t a household name, but is widely considered to be the world’s most unfortunate man. Not only was he struck by lightning multiple times in his life, but once more after his death for good measure. It didn’t take long for many to suggest that Summerford may not have simply been unlucky, but cursed.
The first time Walter was struck by lightning, he had already experienced the horrors of war. During WWI, Summerford was serving as an officer in the British army and had led his men through several battles before his own injuries in the field. As he rode his horse on the Belgian front, a lightning bolt struck him, knocking him clean from his saddle. Although he was thrown from his horse, he survived, but was paralysed from the waist down, leaving the former officer confined to a wheelchair. According to reports, Summerford was more distraught that he couldn’t lead his men into battle rather than any concern for his own welfare.
Many years after the war, Summerford had left the battlefield behind and started a new life in Canada. He had started afresh, made a family of his own and was enjoying the outdoor pursuits of rural living. He had fallen particularly in love with fishing, dedicating much of his time to the lakes and enjoying the successes of competitive fishing. He had adapted to life with paralysis, and found that fishing offered him the freedom that other sports could not. Finding respite in sedentary pursuits, he didn’t consider that lightening could indeed strike twice. When out on a fishing trip in 1924, Walter was sat with his rod beneath a tree when a bolt of lightning hit the tree, with the current travelling down the trunk and into Walter’s body.
Curiously, the second lightning strike didn’t badly injure Walter, but reportedly helped ease his paralysis. Two days after lightning struck, he regained some use of his legs.
The final lightning strike came in 1930, six years after the last. This time, Walter was moving on his own two feet once more, having enjoyed the new found freedom that came with his recovery. He had taken to walking around his local parks, enjoying the scenery and taking familiar routes around his neighbourhood. On one such walk, the weather suddenly changed and clear skies turned to black. For the last time, a familiar crack shook the ground and Walter was hit once more. This time, Walter survived, but was left completely paralysed. The final lightning strike had left Walter with severe medical problems and he remained in his paralysed state until his death two years later. His family said that Walter became so terrified of living following this final strike, that he tortured himself with thoughts of curses until his final days.
Walter was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver where his family erected a simple headstone and mourned his passing. However Walter was not to rest soundly for long. In 1936, four years after his death, a storm began to brew over the cemetery and, once more, Walter was struck by lightning. While his body rested beneath the ground, his gravestone shattered upon impact.
Walter was struck by lightning every six years from between 1918 and 1936. A curse? Perhaps. One of the unluckiest men in history? Definitely.
Was it all true? Eh, maybe.
It’s an exciting headline, that’s for sure. A man hit by lightning once is enough to click a headline, twice is a shocker (pardon the pun) and three…? You get the picture.
But what of the headstone? Headstones have indeed been struck by lightning – I’ve seen one myself in Snelland, where the grave of Thomas Peel was split down the centre. However, the grave attached to the story of Walter has one small issue. Our Walter Summerford died in 1932. The Walter on the shattered grave died in 1912. of course, this could just be a stonemason’s mistake…
Nothing in life, or death, is ever simple. Shocking, isn’t it?
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