As far as I know, the tales of telegraph wires starting fires and aurora visible around the world were taken from contemporary nineteenth century accounts, and are true. I've heard this story for a long time, and seen references to 1859 newspaper accounts. This would make an interesting subject for historical research.
This reminds one of the old stories about EMP (electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear blast) in warfare, and the vulnerability of solid state vs. old vacuum tube technology. In the Cold War, one side felt that their military hardware, in fighter jets for example, with modern solid state electronics was far superior to the other side, which may have used older designs with vacuum tubes. But it was pointed out that vacuum tubes are much less vulnerable to an EMP blast. The simpler, hardier design may be superior in a real life battlefield environment that has escalated to the unthinkable level. Thank goodness it was never tested with EMP in a real battle.