"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Here's one for the Mystery Fires file.  This account of a red-hot puzzle in New Brunswick, Canada, appeared in the Bangor, Maine, "Daily Whig," August 10, 1887:
Woodstock, N.B., is greatly excited, says a "Boston Herald" dispatch, over the strange and inexplicable scenes which have been enacted in a little, two-story frame house on Victoria street, occupied by Reginald C. Hoyt, a picture frame dealer, who does business on Main street, a few doors above the Wilbur House. His family, consisting of his wife, five children and two nieces, are in a state of mental fear, dread, and anxiety, and will probably vacate the house at once. Between eleven o'clock, Friday morning, and noon, Saturday, no less than forty fires broke out in various parts of the house, and bedding, furniture, window shades, clothing, and various household articles were partially destroyed. Only untiring vigilance has prevented the house and its contents from burning to the ground, and this would also have caused the destruction of other wooden buildings in the vicinity.

These fires can be traced to no human agency, and even the scientists are staggered. Without premonition and with no lamps lighted or stoves in use, various articles would burst out in flames. Now it would be a curtain, high up and out of reach; then a bedquilt in another room would commence to smoke and smoulder, and as if to still further nonplus the theorists, a carpet covered lounge was found to be all afire underneath, among the jute stretched above the springs.

A basket of clothes in the shed burst into flames, and the basket itself was partially consumed. A child's dress hanging on a hook, a feather bed, a straw mattress, no two articles in the same room were ignited and would have been consumed but for water copiously poured on them.

News spread quickly that Hoyt's house was haunted, and great crowds flocked there. One of the visitors was a leading physician and druggist, whose only theory was that of electrical or gaseous combustion. But the fact that the fire burst forth in rooms, the windows of which were wide open, seems to refute this supposition. Mr. James Walls, editor of the Carleton "Sentinel," the leading newspaper in town, went to examine into the strange affair, and while standing in the parlor talking with Mrs. Hoyt, was astonished to see a white cotton window curtain burst into flames at a point near the ceiling, and when no one was present. He rushed to the spot, climbed a chair, and with his hands, which were somewhat burned, extinguished the fire, only to see it break out anew at a point far removed from the original blaze. He came away puzzled and completely nonplussed.

Mr. William S. Jones, of Boston, in company with Mr. Jarvis, of the Halifax Banking Company, called at the fire haunted house this morning, and, while seated in the front room talking with Mrs. Hoyt and Mr. George Connell, the lawyer, a child's shriek was heard in the adjoining room, and the party rushed in to find a basket of clothes in a blaze. Like all the others, they came away mystified.

The house presents a strange appearance. In every room, partially burned garments, sheets, and articles of furniture were lying around drenched with water, and walls and ceilings blackened and smoked. The children were huddled about their mother, everyone dreading a visit of the fire spook and anxiously glancing about.

No evidence of human agency was discovered in any of these fires. On the contrary, it was discovered that on one occasion fire had broken out when no one was in the house. Mr. Hoyt returned from a neighbor's, where he had taken his family, to find a bed on fire.

Mr. Hoyt is a sober, industrious man and bears a good reputation. His property is not insured. The house is insured, but is not owned by Mr. Hoyt.

The best anyone could do for an explanation to the mystery was that, "A few weeks ago an inmate of the house is said to have been attacked with typhoid fever and after recovery, quantities of sulphur were used as a disinfectant up to a recent period. The fumes from the burning sulphur impregnated the cotton articles around and bad ventilation and the peculiar state of the atmosphere contributed to bring about the mysterious breaking out of fire in sundry articles. "r A parallel case occurred in a provincial town in the north of England some years ago."

[Note: In response to an article on the Hoyt mystery published in the "Woodstock Press," a Hanford Wolhaupter wrote the paper with his own similar experience. He said, "In your issue of the 9th instant I read with much interest of the mysterious fire that occurred lately in the house of R. C. Hoyt, Woodstock. It brings vividly to my mind a subject of which I was an eye witness. My father's family consisted of seven persons. I was at the time I have reference to nearly twenty years of age, and remember the circumstance as well as though it happened yesterday. It occurred in the year 1834, I think; we resided in Richmond, Carleton County. There would be fire start up in four, five or six places, all at once, in different parts of the house, up in the chamber and in different rooms. We all took part in extinguishing these at the time, and in a few minutes we would observe a number more in different parts of the house. At last we all became quite alarmed, and could not arrive at any conclusion of the cause. Rev. Samuel Joll was stationed Wesleyan Minister at Woodstock at the time, and expressed the belief that these singular fires would be followed by strong spiritual manifestations, which soon proved to be the case."

Unfortunately, Wolhaupter apparently did not elaborate on these "strong spiritual manifestations."]


  1. That would indeed be frightening. How could someone even sleep, for fear of fire breaking out in the bed right under you?

  2. I have a vague recollection of reading about a similar series of events which happened to another family. I think it was in Australia sometime during the 1950s...


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