Most of us try really hard to avoid being struck by lightning…for obvious reasons, and I really don’t think anyone would ever enjoy setting a world record for the most time struck by lightning. Nevertheless, Roy Sullivan, a park ranger in Virginia for decades, spent a lot of time outdoors, a requirement of the job. During that time, Sullivan was struck by lightning multiple times. Sullivan, who holds the world record for being struck by lightning, was first hit in 1942…resulting in the loss of a big toe. The next occurrence was in 1969, during which he lost his eyebrows, and subsequent strikes in 1970, 1972, and 1973 caused burned hair and skin. Sullivan was hit twice more in 1976 and 1977. All seven strikes were documented by the superintendent of the Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and verified by doctors, making he claim to “fame” legitimate, and earning him a spot in the Guiness Book of World Records…a spot that he has held for 45 years. As I said, I don’t think anyone is really very interested in beating that record. Of that last strike, Sullivan relates that he was “fishing on Saturday morning, June 25, 1977, when lightning hit the top of his head, burning his hair, chest and stomach. He turned to his car when he spotted a black bear, trying to steal his trout. Sullivan summoned the strength to whack the bear with a stick. He’d later claim it was the twenty-second time he’d had to whack a black bear with a stick.” Sullivan’s long career as a park ranger was what put him in the path of the bears those 22 times. I’d say that is another record, I would not want to attempt to beat, not that it is in the Guiness Book of World Records. Nevertheless, I’ll leave that one right there.
People who have struck by lightning will tell you things like your hair stands up on end, and that you need to get away from that area or hit the ground and stick your rear end in the air, which is supposedly the best place to take the hit, with the least amount of damage. Nevertheless, Sullivan described the moments before getting struck by lightning for Field and Stream, saying “You can smell sulfur in the air, and then your hair will stand on end, and then it’s going to get you. You don’t have time to do anything.” I don’t know if the people, who had time to get out of the area were, for some reason, less susceptible to lightning, or what caused them to be able to get away, but for some reason, Sullivan had no escape by the time these things happened. It makes he think he would have wanted to run for cover the minute he saw a dark cloud, but maybe he couldn’t really leave his post. Sullivan might have been struck by lightning eight times. You see, somewhere along the way, Sullivan earned the nickname “Human Lightning Rod,” something that upset him in his later years, because people avoided being in his presence…especially when a storm was brewing. After so many strikes, it would really be human nature to avoid him. Sullivan’s own wife was struck once too. She was hanging clothes in their back yard, and Roy was helping her at the time. For all we know, the bolt might have been aimed at him, and she got in the way.
With all that going on in his life, you might expect that Sullivan would eventually have died as a result of lightning or the bears, but sadly, his death on September 28, 1983, was not from lightning or from a bear attack, but as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Such a sad ending for a man who had “weathered” so much.