Pat Shingleton: "An Oak Tree and a Bell..."
In ancient times,the oak tree was hit by lightning more than other trees and became the symbol of the thunder god. The bay laurel was thought to be immune to deadly lightning hits. Roman generals would wear laurel wreaths as they victoriously entered the Eternal City and believed the wreaths would protect them from the jealous anger of the god Jove. The emperor Tiberius wore laurel during a thunderstorm, while Augustus would don his sealskin coat during inclement weather. The ancient practice of awarding a laurel wreath to the champions of athletic competition stems from the same belief and continues today at the annual Boston Marathon. On April 15, 1718, 24 churches in St. Pol de Leon in Brittany, France, started ringing bells to keep away lightning. All 24 were struck, six churches that weren't clanging, weren't. "Poor Richard's Almanac" included an article in 1753 entitled "How to Secure Houses from Lightning." An inventor explained the success of his experiments with rods attached to the homes of fellow Philadelphians. In 1760, merchant William West's home was hit by lightning. The rod attached to West's home performed just as its inventor had predicted, and the house remained unscathed. As people in Europe hailed the invention, others were antagonistic to the idea. In addition, church leaders rejected the idea of protecting the church steeples from lightning, believing that these strikes were an act of God. In Italy, military authorities would store explosives in church vaults, feeling they were secure. In 1767, the church of St. Nazaire in Brescia was hit by lightning exploding 100 tons of gunpowder. As you probably know, the inventor of the lightning rod was Benjamin Franklin, still keeping us safe today.