Church Linked to Harriet Tubman Damaged by Lightning

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Currents News Staff

On August 18, a lightning strike hit the steeple of Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church in Auburn, New York, a historical church that Harriet Tubman helped to establish.

It was the site of her funeral in 1913, and on that Sunday, Mother Nature came extremely close to burning it down.

Tim Race lives right across the street from the church, and heard a powerful bolt of lightning strike the ground close by. “I heard a very, very loud boom. It shook me in my shoes,” he said. 

Race then went out and captured video of smoke pouring out of the steeple. 

Fire crews were on the scene quickly, and now a national park team of historical architects are inspecting the church and assessing the damage.

“You can see that there’s significant damage to the spire,” said Andrea Dekoter from the National Park Service. 

According to Dekoter, the church opened in the late 1800s. Tubman, a national historic figure, was a member of the congregation for three decades.

“My first thought was a huge amount of concern for the structure itself, and hoping that the damage could be mitigated that it wouldn’t be significant,” Dekoter said. 

“Your initial thoughts are horror,” said Stephen Spaulding, a historical architect called in to assess the damage. 

“You can’t replace that historical fabric. What was there when Tubman worshipped here, what was there when during her memorial services, is what the parks service is most concerned with,” he explained. 

While attempts are being made to dry the inside of the building, a top concern remains: preservation of the original finishings. 

The church community is now dealing with this difficult process while in the middle of planning a restoration.