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SHC - Spontaneous Human Combustion
Well, in H. L/A, we had to prepare for ISTEP+, our standardized test, and we had to read an article and answer questions. The article was really cool, in my opinion, and I just wanted to share it. ^^
Spontaneous Human Combustion
Looking for a hot date? Well, Billy Clifford, a young Englishman, found out that there are hot dates and then there are really hot dates. While he was dancing with his girlfriend in a London disco in the late 1950s, she suddenly burst into flames. Fire spread from her back to her head and hair. Billy and other dancers tried to put out the flames, but it was too late. The girl died on the way to the hospital.
The cause of this mysterious fire was never explained. No one had been smoking in the area. There had been no candles on the tables. In short, there had been no source of fire.
This case is just one of some 200 such fires that have been reported over the past 400 years. In each case, a human body was consumed by flames when there was no known source of fire present. Often, it was only the person's body that burned. Nearby objects such as curtains, paper, and chairs were left untouched. This strange phenomenon is known as spontaneous human combustion, or SHC for short.
Perhaps the most famous case of SHC was the 1951 death of Mrs. Mary Reeser of St. Petersburg, Florida. She was reduced to a small pile of ashes. Yet, her room was left largely undamaged. Many experts on arson were called in to investigate the case. They tried to identify the cause of the fire. None was found. Even the FBI couldn't come up with anything.
Dr. Wilton Krogman, an expert on the effects of fire on the human body, finally gave up his search for a cause. The doctor said, "I regard it as the most amazing thing I've ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on the back of my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the Middle Ages, I'd mutter something about black magic."
The facts of the case are scary enough to make the hairs on anyone's neck bristle. Mrs. Mary Reeser was a 67-year-old grandmother and widow. On the evening of July 1, 1951, Mary was prepared for bed by 9PM. She was dressed in her nighgown, black satin slippers, and a housecoat. Her landlady, Mrs. Carpenter, had said that she saw Mary briefly around this time and that Mary had been smoking a cigarette while sitting in a chair.
Around 5AM, Mrs. Carpenter was aroused by the smell of smoke. She thought it was coming from a water pump that had been regularly overheating. She shut down the pump and returned to bed. When she got up an hour later, the smell was gone.
At 8AM, a telegram arrived for Mary. Mrs. Carpenter signed for it and took it to Mary's apartment. But when Mrs. Carpenter got there, she discovered that the doorknob was hot. Frightened, she called for help. Two painters who were working across the street came running. They opened the door to Mary's apartment and rushed in, but Mary was nowhere in sight.
Firefighters soon arrived to put out the small fire. That was when they found Mary. It was a sight that none of them had ever seen before. In the middle of the floor they discovered a charred area about four feet wide. Inside that area were the ghastly remains of a human body. The found a shrunken skull, one foot still wearing a black satin slipper, and a pile of ashes.
A thorough study of the remains was conducted. How could a fire so completely consume Mrs. Mary Reeser and yet not affect the rest of the room? How could newspapers on a nearby table be undamaged? Why was the skull shrunken? And how could the one foot in the black satin slipper have been left unburned?
The questions came easily. The answers, on the other hand, all fell short. Dr. Krogman stated that a temperature of over 3000 degrees Fahrenheit would be needed to reduce human bones to ashes. Such intense heat, however, would cause the skull to explode into many small pieces. Instead, Mary's skull had shrunken dramatically. Such heat would also destroy all nearby objects. Yet, outside the mysterious four-foot circle, little harm had been done.
It appears that Mary's foot had remained unburned because she was in habit of stretching it out to relieve some leg discomfort. The foot was found just outside the four-foot-wide circle. The FBI's final report said that the fire was "unusual and improbable." A top arson expert said, "I can only say the victim died from fire."
Many theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon of SHC. They include everything from laser beams to microwaves to flammable human gases. Some people say that certain chemicals can combine in the body and become explosive. Some point out that body oils and fats make good fuels. Some say that static electricity, in rare moments, might do the trick. The list of possible causes goes on and on.
The world of science rejects them all. It does not accept the idea of spontaneous human combustion. People do not just burst into flames for no reason at all. Each case, we are told, could be explained if we only studied it more. The case of Mrs. Mary Reeser, however, was studied in great detail, but still investigators were baffled. And so the mystery of SHC remains.
Taken directly from the reading packet...
I dunno about you, but I thought that was pretty cool.