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The Spark Ranger


In case you are wondering, the odds of your getting struck by lightning are about one in 280,000,000.  The odds of getting struck by lightning seven times are, well, almost un-measurable. However, try telling that to Roy C. Sullivan who was a United States park ranger in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  Mr. Sullivan is recognized by Guinness World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being.


Between the years of 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them.  For this reason he was nicknamed “Spark Ranger” by some and “The Human Lightning Rod” by others.  In fact, his co-workers shunned him when a storm cloud rolled in.  They would usually say “I’ll see you later, Roy” and off they would go.  This saddened him severely.


Sullivan swore that he was actually struck an eighth time when he was very young, but this one could not be verified.  He states that he was working in his father’s garden when lighting struck a scythe without injuring him.


The following are his stories, all verified:


Strike One - It was April, 1942 when Sullivan had been with the park service for about six years.  He was stationed at a brand-new Miller’s Head tower when a storm blew in.  The tower was so new that lightning rods had not yet been installed.  Sullivan decided to get the heck out of the tower, but only made it a few feet away before the lighting found him.  “It burned a half-inch strip all the way down my right leg, and knocked my big toe off”, he said.  “My boot was full of blood, and it ran out through a hole in the sole”, he added.


Strike Two - Nearly thirty years later, in 1969, Sullivan was driving a park truck when lightning struck two trees on one side of the road, then jumped to another tree on the other side.  Sullivan’s truck was in the middle, with both windows rolled down.  As a result, the ranger lost consciousness and very nearly drove his truck off the edge of a cliff.  When he came to, Sullivan was missing his eyebrows and eyelashes.


Strike Three -  The third strike, a year later, happened while Sullivan was off-duty.  He was tending to his garden at home when lightning hit a nearby transformer and jumped to his shoulder.  It knocked him to the ground but was burned only slightly.


Strike Four – This strike set poor Sullivan on fire. He reported, “There was a gentle rain, but no thunder, until just one big clap.  It was the loudest thing I ever heard.”  Sullivan reported, “When my ears stopped ringing, I heard something sizzling.  It was my hair on fire.  The flames were up six inches.”  Luckily, he had been registering people at a camping station, so he was able to use wet paper towels from a nearby bathroom to smother the flames.  He was not severely burned.

Strike Five -  The fifth strike occurred on August 7, 1973.  Again, Sullivan was in his park truck when he saw storm clouds coming.  The ranger tried to outrun the lightning.  Once he felt he was out of harm’s way, he stopped to have a look.  This was a big mistake.  “I actually saw the lightning shoot out of the cloud this time, and it was coming straight for me,” he said.  He was struck, not injured, but it knocked off one of his shoes with laces still tied.


Strike Six -  Sullivan was a strike victim again on June 5, 1976.  He reported that he saw a cloud and thought it was following him.  He tried to run away from it but was struck anyway, injuring an ankle.  This was the final straw for the Spark Ranger – he retired five months later.

Strike Seven – Unfortunately, though retired, the lightning found him again anyway.  On June 25, 1977, Sullivan was trout fishing when the hair on his arms bristled.  He was struck by a lightning bolt on the head which burned his chest, stomach, and caused hearing loss in one ear.

Sullivan’s wife was also struck once when a storm suddenly arrived as she was hanging clothes in their back yard. He was with her, but was unhurt.


It is said that seven is a lucky number, but Roy Sullivan, a.k.a. the “Spark Ranger”, probably would have disagreed.  He was apparently a natural conductor of electricity.  When Sullivan did pass away, it was a bullet, not a bolt, that did him in.  He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1983 at the age of 71, perhaps tired of constantly fearing a fatal lightning strike.

Two of his ranger hats are on display at two Guinness World Exhibit Halls in New York City and South Carolina.  




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