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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

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In Living

Getting struck by lightning is a terrifying experience. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com)

Locals struck by lightning share shocking stories


When Marc Tasman was a very young child, he unscrewed the light bulb from his bedside lamp, put his thumb in the socket and flipped on the switch so he could, in his words, "feel the juice."

"I have been able to feel electric currents as a kind of velvety vibration in lots of ungrounded electronics and appliances that nobody else seems to be able to feel," says Tasman. "Perhaps I've always had an electric, magnetic personality?"

Tasman is joking, but the fact he was also struck by lightning while living in Louisville, Ky., further completes the fascinating-but-unsettling connection Tasman has with electricity.

In 1994, Tasman was gardening outside of his home which he shared with his girlfriend. She was inside sleeping and he was sticking tomato stakes into the ground.

"I now refer to those as lightning rods," he says.

It had been a moody summer day with periods of sunshine mixed in with bouts of thunderstorms and Tasman, while puttering in the dirt during one of the sunny patches, was lost in thought.

"I was trying to think of some witticism to describe erratic Louisville weather," he says.

All of a sudden, Tasman was surrounded by bright light and a bang. He let out a primal scream and dropped to the ground. "Like a marionette whose strings were cut," says Tasman.

Tasman told himself to squat down – something he'd read to do if struck by lightning — and then realized he was already squatting, suggesting that perhaps the jolt scrambled his thoughts.

"I felt shaky, clammy. I was shivering, quivering," he says. "I'm not sure how much time passed — maybe one minute, maybe five minutes — but I was afraid to stand up. I was terrified."

Tasman called out to his girlfriend, but because she was asleep, she did not hear him. Eventually, he ambled indoors and looked in the bathroom mirror. His face was porcelain white. Every hair on his body was standing up and prickly.

"For the first time in my life I could feel every hair on my forehead," he says.

He also discovered a red area on the back of his right shoulder.

Tasman's upstairs neighbor later told him the house had been struck by lightning first — the bolt fried her answering machine — before electrocuting him.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, about 51 people die annually from lightning strikes, most of whom were directly struck by lightning. Last week, a man was killed while swimming after lightning struck the ocean at Venice Beach. Survivors, like Tasman, are usually struck indirectly.

Tasman says he was distressed after the incident, but, unfortunately, two other tragedies took place the same summer and pushed his electrocution out of the tumultuous emotional limelight.

A few weeks before he was struck, Tasman and his girlfriend were sleeping in bed in the middle of the night and Tasman awoke to find a stranger lying on top of his girlfriend, claiming to have a gun and threatening to rape her. The couple offered him money, which the man took and left.

The robbery left the couple traumatized, so much so that Tasman's girlfriend couldn't sleep at night –which is why she was sleeping during the day and did not hear him calling to her for help after he was struck.

And because bad luck might actually come in threes, the couple decided to move into a new place after the intrusion and the electrocution, but within a few weeks they were robbed again in the new place. They weren't at home when it happened, but they became extremely distraught and, in the fall, they broke up.

"Too much crazy stuff had gone on and we couldn't find comfort in each other because we were both so shaken up by what happened," Tasman says.

In the summer of 1968, Glenn Bartsch returned to Wisconsin after serving in the Vietnam War. To reconnect with his family, they rented a cabin up north. While fishing with his sons on the pier, Bartsch saw a storm rolling in.

He took the children inside, but was still struck by lightning while standing in the living room, next to an open window.

"The lightning struck the pine tree in the yard first, and the current traveled down the tree and then hit me through the window on the knee," he says.

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