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The case of A.W. Underwood

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In the case of A.W. Underwood, a 19th-century African-American who achieved minor celebrity with the purported ability to set items ablaze, scientists suggested concealed pieces of phosphorus may have instead been responsible. White phosphorus ignites in air at about 30°C; as this is slightly below body temperature, the phosphorus could be readily ignited by breath or rubbing.[6]

A.W. Underwood - Supernatural Fire-Breather

In 1882, in Paw Paw, Michigan, a remarkable human enigma was brought to the attention of Dr L. C. Woodman. The 24 year-old man, named A.W. Underwood, had to take great care whenever he breathed, apparently to avoid causing fires. At first the doctor thought the stories were mere exaggerations, but one day there was a knock on his door, and in walked A.W. Underwood himself, looking for help.

Dr. Woodman was persuaded to make tests in the presence of himself and some of his colleagues, and to their amazement Underwood performed incredible feats which they could not explain. Doctor Woodman told the Michigan Medical News (n.17; September 11, 1882):

'He will take anybody's handkerchief and hold it to his mouth rub it vigorously with his hands while breathing on it and immediately it bursts into flames and burns until consumed. He will strip and rinse out his mouth thoroughly, wash his hands and submit to the most rigid examination to preclude the possibility of any humbug, and then by his breath blown upon any paper or cloth envelop it in flame. He will, while out gunning and without matches desirous of a fire lie down after collecting dry leaves and by breathing on them start the fire...'

Dr. Woodman stated publicly that he was sure that Underwood's phenomena were authentic.

The doctor also noticed that Underwood would hold the cloth or other material against his mouth so that he could force his breath through it, thus condensing whatever strange process it was. The doctors washed Underwood's mouth out with various mixtures, and obliged him to wear surgeon's rubber gloves - but it made no difference - the phenomenon carried on as normal.

This is an exceptional case, especially as the subject allowed himself to be tested and investigated for months, and, although the report was published in the Michigan Medical News and other similar journals, no one ever came forward with an explanation for Underwood's bizarre fire-breathing talents.

A similar case was reported In 1927, when Vice President of the U.S., Charles Dawes, personally investigated the case of a car mechanic in Memphis, Tennessee, who supposedly had the mysterious ability to set inflammable material alight merely by breathing on it. The man took General Dawes' handkerchief, breathed on it, and it caught fire. Dawes and his colleagues decided that it was no trick, and since no reasonable explanation could be found, it was left unexplained.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrokinesis

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