CLEVELAND, Ohio — Kathy Simone put a torch to her husband Saturday night and watched him burn.
"It was a little gratifying,'' she said as she smiled at her husband, the Rev. Mark Simone. "Not really. To pour the (lighter) fluid all over and then to light it was pretty scary.''
Mark Simone, a minister at the Federated United Church of Christ in Chagrin Falls, was set on fire with 20 other people for 32 seconds, setting a Guinness World Record along the Cuyahoga River as part of a promotion by Cleveland business Hotcards that also benefited the Cleveland Foodbank and Brick by Brick, a nonprofit the Simones work on to help impoverished women and children in South Africa.
More than 1,500 people stood in the parking lot at Shooters in the Flats and braved a harsh wind to watch the human candles. Stuntman Ted Batchelor of Chagrin Falls coordinated the event, provided the safety apparel and watched over the most minute detail. He oversaw and took part in the old record, where 17 people were set on fire at one time in South Russell in 2009. That broke a Spanish-held record of 12.
Hotcards' owner, John Gadd, was torched. He and Simone came up with the idea. Cleveland mayoral candidate Ken Lanci went up in flames, as did Archie Berwick, the upbeat morning host on 87.7 Cleveland Sound. Others included Scot Lowry, the chief executive officer of Fathom; Jenna Conforti, the director of marketing at Scene Magazine; and Tony Madalone, the leader of Fresh Brewed Tees.
"It's all about bringing positives to Cleveland, and if we have to set ourselves on fire to do it, then so be it,'' Berwick said.
Lanci looked relieved when it was over. His black, fire-retardant safety suit was singed.
"This is what we have to do,'' he said. "We need to bring the good things out.''
With the harsh wind and dipping temperatures, it was hard to determine if a spark would ever be seen, let alone fire.
At 8 p.m., two school buses drove into Shooters' parking lot. They contained the people about to be lit up. After a brief introduction, the 21 walked into a cordoned-off area the size of a basketball court.
A second group, including Kathy Simone, poured lighter fluid over the 21, then used 3-foot torches to set them off.
Those ablaze walked back and forth across the parking lot, waving their flaming arms and legs. Soon, they were on the ground. The people, who moments earlier had set them on fire, were now coating them in the foam of a fire extinguisher. Dousings with wet towels followed.
Afterward, some of the people set on fire said they never felt anything; others said they began to feel warm. Cleveland police, fire and EMS workers stood by throughout the event. Gadd paid to have them on hand. Turns out they weren't needed.
Batchelor, who has been put on fire more than 200 times, was amazed at the process.
"It looked great to me,'' he said.
It also looked great to Philip Robertson, the judge from the Guinness World Records. He spent more time looking at video after the event than a befuddled NFL referee on a Sunday afternoon as he timed the burn and made sure it was continuous.
When he proclaimed a new record was set, the crowd roared.