The chances that an American will be struck by lightning is 1 in one million any given year, but in 1943, the deadliest year on record, those odds were dramatically increased. 432 people died that year due to lightning related incidents.
My family was not left unscathed…
To set the stage, I must introduce you to maternal grandmother. Her name was Arlene Brownridge (1938-1977). Arlene was born in Macon, Noxubee County, Mississippi in April of 1938 during the brewing stages of World War I, and waning era of the Great Depression. She did not stay in Mississippi long. Arlene moved with her mother’s family to Essex County, New Jersey in the early 1940’s where they made a permanent home.
|Arlene Brownridge (Age 4, 1942 in Mississippi)|
Arlene’s biological parents were my great-grandmother Ruth (who I’ve already acquainted readers with in my first post Who Was Eliza Hubbard) and her first husband Ollie Brownridge. Ruth and Ollie were married on June 3, 1937 in Macon, Mississippi.
|Ollie Brownridge + Ruth Page Marriage (1937, MS)|
|Ollie Brownridge c. Early 1940’s|
Ruth and Ollie lived together in Macon where they raised Arlene for the first couple of years of her life. Ollie was a laborer at a car repair shop and Ruth a teacher at the Colored School in town. I confirmed this after finding them in the 1940 census living in Macon.
|1940 Census, Macon, District 3, Noxubee, Missisippi|
Brownridge Ollie (25)
Ollie and Ruth split after a few years, and he left for Nashville, Tennessee assuming a new job as a railroad worker. Then in the Spring of 1943, tragedy struck….
As my great-grandmother described it, Ollie was doing some road-work in a manhole when it started to storm. Despite the prodding of his co-workers, Ollie stayed in the hole, likely submerged in a significant amount of water. Ollie was determined to finish what he started. While in the hole, Ollie was struck by lightning, which stopped his heart. Ollie was only three months away from his 30th birthday. He was rushed to the Army Hospital in Nashville and was pronounced dead on scene. As the coroner described it in his death certificate, this incident took place in the matter of 100 milliseconds…quicker than the blink of an eye.
|Ollie Brownridge Death (1943); TN State Library and Archives|
Finding Ollie’s death certificate was quite sad, after seeing it on paper for the first time. It confirmed my great-grandmother’s story about her late husband, but also gave a window into researching the family that my grandmother did not know too well. Ollie’s parents names were given on the death certificate: Jonas Brownridge and Zulee Quinn, My 2nd great grandparents! With two new paths to follow, I had a lot more guidance in finding my Mississippi roots.