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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Harner Family Misfortune In Lebanon

Dallas Bogan on 30 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Perhaps in no other incident in the history of Warren County has so tragic a circumstance been revealed. An act of God had so shaken the citizens of Lebanon and nearby that each was aroused with the most intense shock and horror.
On the afternoon of Thursday, May 30, 1844, lightning reached down in all its intensity, struck and instantly killed the four Harner sisters.
A newspaper reporter, from The Lebanon Gazette, in March 1887, traveled to the location in which the misfortune happened some 43 years earlier. Jacob Harner was the lone survivor at this time.
Henry, the older brother, and Jacob had lived in this dwelling, built in 1848, alone for many years. Neither had married and both tended to the household chores.
The Gazette reporter as a little, one-story frame building of two rooms described the dwelling in which they lived. As he entered the gate he spotted an open old fashioned well, at least 75 years old, the water being drawn by a windlass. A coffee-nut tree had been planted near one corner of the house by one of the unfortunate sisters, shortly before her death. A large dog, a number of fowl, and a horse were the extent of the farm stock.
The house of Jacob and Henry was described as a plain, uncarpeted, sparsely furnished apartment with no ornaments. It contained a stove, three chairs, a cupboard and much bedding lying on the floor, on which Jacob slept. Jacob and Henry's eleven acres were sufficient for cultivation, and from this they harvested enough for their modest needs.
Their fashion of life caused them to seem rather eccentric. Perhaps the sadness inflicted upon them by one huge fireball may have created this episode.
The house so described was located on the exact site of the former dwelling onto which the lightning strike descended.
The original house, in which the tragedy happened, was a two-story log home, having two rooms on each floor, and facing to the south. Attached in the center was an impressive old fashioned, stone-lined chimney with a fireplace in each room.
The property was located on the top of a gentle hill, about one mile west of Lebanon, near the foot of Shaker Hill on the Shaker Pike. The reporter described the view from the spot as "magnificent, the green valley stretching for miles before the observer, surrounded on all sides by gently rising hills."
Henry died in February, 1887, and made some strange requests regarding his funeral. He wished his body to be enclosed in a plain pine coffin, drawn in a spring wagon to the old inactive Methodist burial grounds, and interred beside the remains of his father, mother and four sisters.
Henry was an ardent student of the Bible, with perhaps more knowledge concerning this subject than anyone in or near Lebanon. He could repeat hundreds of chapters from memory, and quote the Book, chapter and verse of any noteworthy passage and Scripture.
Upon inspection of the two Bibles in the residence, one was found to be an 1804 edition, while the other was a German version of 1763, both blackened by age and use.
Henry Harner, Sr., was born in Maryland on July 19, 1776. He located in Ohio in 1806 and lived for a short time near Cincinnati. He moved to near Lebanon in 1807, where he acquired a small tract of eleven acres. His profession was that of a blacksmith.
Henry and Elizabeth had seven children. Their names and their birth dates are: John, born March 13, 1802; Sarah, October 16, 1803; Mary, March 2, 1806; Elizabeth, November 12, 1808; Henry, August 8, 1811; Jacob, October 26, 1813; and Ann, September, 14, 1817.
Henry Sr. died on October 3, 1851. He was married in Virginia to Elizabeth Pence.
At about 3 o'clock, on the afternoon of May 30, 1844, the family was completely unaware of the circumstances that were about to unfold. The entire family was present in the house, except John, who had sometime previously moved away, and Henry, who was visiting a neighbor.
The father was sitting by a window in the downstairs west room reading his Bible, along with Jacob who was also in the same room, reading. Ann was in the adjacent room sitting by the window observing the oncoming storm. On her lap was a little nephew, the three-year-old son of John.
Mary and her mother were in the same room performing some household chores. The other two girls, Elizabeth and Sarah, were upstairs, tending to ironing and putting away clothes, the former being in the west room, and the latter in the east room.
The day was described as a mild, pleasant, sunny May day, with no concern for an upcoming spring shower. The clouds were of no special interest, and work throughout the house proceeded as usual.
Jacob related to the reporter the events as he remembered them. He explained that as the unapparent ball of lightning struck, he suddenly lost consciousness; he saw no flash, heard no noise, but instantly he was completely stunned. He remained in this condition for about five minutes, until he gradually began to recover. The lightning shock had delivered a blow that made him weak and shaky, but as soon as possible, he rose to his feet.
Mary, who was moving from room to room tending her chores, was found lying on the floor in the west room downstairs, on her face, significantly dead.
Ann, in the east room, had fallen from the chair in which she had been sitting, and was found lying with her face to the door, also dead from the dreadful strike. The child Ann had been holding was violently thrown against the wall, it screaming in pain and fright.
The mother was on her hands and knees on the floor, conscious, and trying to stand, was wholly unable to move. She probably had been in this position before the strike, scrubbing the floors.
Jacob helped his mother and father to rise, and all proceeded upstairs, only to find a more shocking revelation before them. Sarah, who had been engaged in storing the clothes that her sister, Elizabeth, had previously been ironing, was found in the same condition in the east room, notably dead. Elizabeth, in the adjoining room, met the same fate as her three other sisters.
William H. James, a farmer, was working along the road when the storm collected. He fled to the protection of the bridge across the old Warren County Canal, less than 200 yards from the Harner home. As an observer of the storm, he stated, "an immense ball of fire seemed to fall from a dark overhanging cloud, and disappear down the great chimney."
He immediately rushed to the house, and found the conditions as previously mentioned in this article.
Every effort was made to revive the four sisters, but all attempts failed. Within a short time, all seven doctors in Lebanon were sent for and arrived. All agreed that death had been instantaneous and decidedly painless, and that each had fallen to the floor from where she had been sitting or standing.
Neither marks of fire nor physical impressions had been inflicted upon them, except the breast of Sarah, which was somewhat discolored, and on the front of her calico gown, a spark of fire, about the size of a silver dollar, had been embedded.
Other details of the lightning strike were recorded. The floor of the east downstairs was covered with large stones, some as large as a peck basket. They had been loosened and thrown awry from the chimney by the violence of the lightning bolt.
Woodwork had been splintered, these splinters being thrown and embedded throughout the premises. The rafters and joists were impaired from the strike.
A loaded shotgun stood along the wall upstairs in the east room. The lightning strike had discharged the gun, leaving a black trail up the whitened wall. The stock and wooden parts of the gun were splintered, flying all over the room, with nothing remaining of the gun but the barrel and a broken lock.
Neither tree nor any other tall buildings were on the premises so as to attract the lightning; also there was no trace of any iron or conductor from which the lightning followed. The storm was hardly noticeable in Lebanon, and did no damage elsewhere.
It seems that fate had intervened and transformed a normal spring shower into a ball of fire that descended upon the Harner home and killed four sisters, all in different rooms, in an instant of time.
Because of this misfortune, necessity of interment was arranged as soon as possible. Services were held the following afternoon at the Methodist Church of which they were all members. Many folks came from miles around to attend the funeral. All Lebanon businesses were closed.
The bodies were taken to the old Methodist graveyard on a crude flat wagon, especially prepared for this purpose. The sisters were buried in a single grave, fourteen feet wide, side by side, on the southeast portion of the cemetery.
Within this graveyard are buried the bodies of seven Harners; the father, the mother, the remains of Henry, and, in a row, lie the bodies of Sarah, Mary, Elizabeth and Ann. Individual monuments are marked to comply with the name and age of each.

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This page created 30 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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