It was a Dark and Stormy Night

Münchener politische Zeitung Issue 162, July 1813

Weather has always been big news, and the more severe the weather, the bigger the news. I was surprised to discover that the media obsession with weather-related events isn’t new – it also happened in my Bavarian ancestors’ hometown back in 1813. I recently found this newspaper account of a violent storm that occurred in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm and the fire that resulted from lightning strikes. It reads:

Bavaria. Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, 3 July 1813.  The big storm that occurred in our town on 30 June caused a great havoc, since the lightning that accompanied him seems to have uniquely discharged only here. The clouds stood so low that one flash of lightning followed another, and almost every flash fell down on earth but mainly fell on the high-pointed tower of the town’s church. A lightning flash hit a barn filled with straw in a side alley, which immediately ignited nine other hay and straw-filled barns that were mostly very old already and not well built.

Despite very nearly all the possible obstacles of nature united so that even the most determined men gave up all hope of rescuing even one single house throughout the city, every attempt was made with the greatest consternation to stop the fire line that was spreading with enormous speed during the continuing storm, which turned in all directions in rapid alternations, and with the rain pouring down where you could barely see what was in front of you.

Miraculously, after the toughest six-hour battle against the violent storm wind, the flames were pushed down on the floor and prevented from spreading further; the fire itself could only be put off today.  The courage in the apparent dangers,  the skill and presence of mind of Master Carpenter Nigg and Master Mason Pickl, which both have distinguished themselves so often in similar cases, could not be praised enough.

The fire would not have burned down so many buildings if these old buildings were not built so badly and if they had been equipped with proper fire walls. As lucky as the town was with this great misfortune, the damage that was suffered on the buildings and the carriages can be estimated at approximately 80,000 fl., not considering the fire insurance sum of 14,000 fl. for a total of 5 houses, 4 stables and 9 barns.  Several smaller building nearby were enflamed which included the buildings of three farmers, that of Franzbräuer, Kreitmaierbräuers and Zuhammers. However, no one was seriously injured during their work.

According to news received from the state court, this terrible thunderstorm was spread over many miles and caused great devastation in the forests and woods. The lightning hit very often, but nothing else was set on fire. Highly remarkable is the strange fact that two years ago on 01 July, a similar thunderstorm along with a tornado-like storm caused great devastation when a lightning strike hit the church tower of Pfaffenhofen, set a farm in the area on fire, and caused a damage of at least 50,000 fl. due to a severe rainstorm and hail.

On 30 June between 9 and 10 in the evening, a severe thunderstorm and hailstorm developed in the area of Regensburg, but it caused no significant harm in the area near the city. The storm that accompanied the thunder storm, however, destroyed century-old lime trees along the surrounding walk ways and tore down many fruit trees in the gardens within the neighborhood.  Two hours later, a torrential thunderstorm erupted in the area of Karlovy Vary (Bohemia).

The reason I was drawn to this story? Master Carpenter Nigg, one of the two named men credited with fighting the fire, is my 4th great-grandfather. Since I have difficulty finding my 20th century ancestors in newspapers, imagine my surprise when I found an ancestor in the press who lived from 1767 to 1844! I’m happy to know that he was well-regarded in the town for his courage, skill, and “presence of mind” and that it did not appear to be the first time he distinguished himself in that manner.  The storm of 30 June 1813 and the resultant fire must have been terribly frightening for his family.  At the time, Karl Nigg and his wife Maria Höck had eight young children. While I am not entirely sure if all eight children were still living since infant mortality was high at the time, at least one child was alive – my 3rd great-grandmother, Magdalena, who was six years old at the time of the storm.

SourceMünchener politische Zeitung: mit allerhöchstem Privilegium. Page 757, Issue 162, July 1813.  Publisher: Wolf, 1813. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized Sep 17, 2010.  Accessed via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=DidEAAAAcAAJ

Many thanks to my friend Marion for the translation.  I broke up some of the paragraphs and sentences for easier reading. And I can’t believe I was able to find a perfect post to actually use “It was a dark and stormy night” for the title!

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4 thoughts on “It was a Dark and Stormy Night

  1. This may be the most amazing newspaper find I know of. Less spectacular if you lived in Germany and it was a hundred years ago, but here, now? I’m blown away by your storm. Delicious title, btw.

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