Hightstown, NJ Lightning Hits Church, Jun 1911


Second Cry of Fire, However, Too Much for Audience.


Lightning Hits Church in Which Peddie Institute Commencement Is Being Held – Score of Persons Faint in Dash for Door That Had Been Stayed by Playing of “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Trenton, N.J. June 12. -- The playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” served to stave off a panic in the Baptist Church at Hightstown, into which more than a thousand persons had crowded themselves tonight to hear the commencement exercises of Peddie Institute. The proceedings were scarcely under way when a bolt of lightning that preceded a terrific clap of thunder rent the steeple above the church and instantly extinguished every light in the building.
The inevitable cry of “Fire” was raised in the rear of the church, but almost before it was uttered the orchestra struck up in the darkness the opening strains of the popular anthem.

Frightened Persons Calmed.
The effect was magical. Principal R. W. SWEETLAND, who occupied the center of the platform, spoke reassuringly to the frightened audience, calming the fears of the timid by telling them there was no danger.
Lamps were lighted and the chances of an orderly exit from the church seemed bright, when there came again the terrified cry of “Fire!” By this time the excitement of the audience could not be staved and there was a feverish rush for the rear of the church. Men and women made a wild dash for the exits, which the few cool heads found it impossible to prevent. During the panic more than a score of persons fainted, and many of them had to be carried from the building. Dozens were bruised and hurt, but miraculously, as it seemed, not one was seriously injured.

Steeple Quickly Ablaze.
While the audience was jamming its way through the rear exits a fire kindled by the lightning was eating up the steeple that reared itself 185 feet from the ground above the church. The fire was too high for anything in Hightstown to reach, and a call for help was sent to Trenton. Apparatus from this city was sent out at once but by the time the sixteen intervening miles had been covered there was little left of the church. The building was practically destroyed, the loss being estimated at $50,000.

The Washington Post District of Columbia 1911-06-13