26 January 2010

Cause of Death: Struck by Lightening

There is nothing notable or unusual about this tombstone located in the Allen Chapel Cemetery, Jackson Township, Pike County, Ohio.

However, there is an interesting story concerning the death of this young man who was literally struck down in the prime of his life.

My paternal grandmother was Leona Myrtle Allen Campbell (12 Jul 1896-23 Feb 1980). The Allen family used to hold regular reunions. I attended one in the late 1960s when I was around 9 years of age. I was told we were going "down to the hills."

After lunch, my aunt drove some of us a short distance to a cemetery. Across the road was a church.

I remember we came to the stone for Kirk Allen. I was told that he was killed by lightning while in the church.

Fast-forward to September 1996. I was going to Ohio on my first genealogical research trip and my sister Holly was coming with me. Earlier that year, I had discovered that my father’s oldest cousin, Mildred Irvin, was still alive and living in Columbus. I made arrangements for a visit.

Mildred was 82 years of age, but her mind was much younger. I asked her about family information and mentioned the story about someone being struck by lightning.

She knew exactly what I was talking about and remembered it well. She said it happened on Memorial Day in 1926. There was a Memorial Day program at the church and she was reciting a poem. A bolt of lightning came through an open window and hit a young man sitting in a pew. She said his name was Kirk Allen. She said no one realized that he was dead right away. He was taken outside and they tried to revive him by throwing water from rain puddles on his face.

Mildred had many old photos of the Allen family that she let me have. One photo was of a house which I recognized as the place where the reunion was held.

It sounded like the story I heard could be true, but I needed some facts.

During my research of my grandmother’s Allen family, I had found that the Allen Chapel Cemetery was located in Jackson Township, Pike County, Ohio, and a number of her relatives were buried there.

So Holly and I headed “down to the hills” ourselves. Once we reached Waverly, we did go through the hills to get to the area where my grandmother was born and lived as a child.

We saw an old, dilapidated house that looked like the house in the photo. I had discovered that this had been the home of my grandmother's youngest brother, George Washington Allen and his wife Bertha.

A short distance from the house was the church and the cemetery across the road (located on Wickline Road). For some reason, the church door was unlocked. We went in and looked around and tried to imagine that Memorial Day many years ago.

We then went to explore the cemetery. I saw many stones with the names of Allen, Grow, Hafer, and Hartley there. Those were names I had been researching for the past 18 months and I felt like I had hit the jackpot.

We then started looking for the stone for Kirk Allen. We found him next to the fence, close to the road. So there was indeed a person by this name. But did he really die as the result of being struck by lightning? A tombstone with a death date of 1926 was not enough evidence. Further research was needed.

After I returned home, I looked for his death certificate. I could not find one for that year for a Kirk Allen who died in Pike County in the death index of the Ohio Historical Society. I thought maybe Kirk was a middle name so I searched for Allens who died in Pike County in 1926. I found an Ulysses Allen listed so I ordered a copy of it.

The death certificate arrived. It stated Ulysses Cirkus Allen died 30 May 1926 at 2:30 p.m. Cause of death: struck by lightening, and death was instantaneous. Burial was listed as the Jerusalem Cemetery which was the former name of the Allen Chapel Cemetery. I then began to search for his obituary.
I found an article in the 3 June 1926 issue of The Republican Herald published in Waverly, Ohio.
CHURCH, FLASH THROUGH WINDOW Then Grounds on the Side of the Building—Service Was Continued after the Excitement, FUNERAL HELD ON TUESDAY."

The article stated that a bolt of lightning struck a tree at the corner of the church, ran down the side of the building, and came through an open window striking Allen. Everyone sitting near the path of the bolt was severely shocked. The bolt was followed by a deafening crash of thunder. It was several minutes after the strike that it was discovered that he had been killed.

It said the service continued briefly and then was dismissed with a short prayer by the pastor.

I did a little more research and found an article about the history of the church. It was originally made of logs and I have some old photos of it. I do not know where the name Lucretius came from, possibly the reporter misunderstood the name Ulysses Cirkus. Or maybe Lucretius was part of his name. I need to locate his birth record to see what it states. He was my grandmother's first cousin.

Don't dismiss those family stories as urban legends. Do some research and discover the facts for yourself. My aunt told me another story about 2 people in this cemetery and I am still trying to prove that one.

@ 2010, copyright Yolanda Campbell Lifter.  All rights reserved.


  1. Great story, Yolanda, and a great kickoff to your new blog! Welcome to the geneablogging community!


  2. Yolanda,
    Congratulations on becoming a Graveyard Rabbit! I would like to feature you in the "Meet A Rabbit" column over at the Graveyard Rabbit Association.

    Please contact me at:


    Sheri Fenley