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Meteor Destroys Pub September 25, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Several months ago Beachcombing became interested in incidents of meteors intervening in history or, at the very least, scaring the eeby jeebies out of humankind. He was particularly interested in the way that the perception of meteors changed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This text comes from the key period when scientists were rapidly altering their patterns of belief and coming to accept that a rock could fall from the sky. It is also unusual because it is an example of a meteor doing serious damage to a property, though it didn’t – the grail of meteor bizarrists – actually hit a family member.

Note the way that the meteor is a Biblical ‘ball of fire’ and yet the stone is described and analysed in a scientific fashion. If this had happened fifty years before Beachcombing’s guess is that the morals of Mr John Hubbard or better still his wife would have been called into question by the local press.

‘Whoring Publican’s Wife Judged by Fire from the Heavens…’

You get the idea.

(Wonderful 272) On 4 July 1803, a ball of fire struck the White Bull public house, kept by John Hubbard, at East Norton [UK]. The chimney was thrown down by it , the roof in part torn off, the window shattered to atoms, and the dairy, pantry etc converted into a heap of rubbish. It appeared like a luminous ball of  considerable magnitude ; and on coming into contact with: the house, exploded with a great noise and a very oppressive sulphurous smell. Some fragments of this ball were found near the spot, and have been subject to chemical analysis by a gentleman in that neighbourhood, who has found them to consist of nearly one half silicious clay, 35 parts of oxidated iron, 12 of magnesia, and a small portion of nickel, with some sulphur. The surface of these stones is of a dark colour, and varnished as if in a state of fusion, and bearing numerous globules of a whitish metal, combining sulphur and nickel. From some indentures on the surface, it appears probable, that the ball was soft when it descended, and it was obviously in a state of fusion, as the grass is burnt up where the fragments fell. Its motion while in the air was very rapid, and apparently parallel to the horizon. This ball appears to agree in most respects with those which have fallen in Portugal, Alsace, Yorkshire, Sienna, Bencres, Bohemia, France,etc; and which have for some time engaged the attention of philosophers in all countries.

[Note that a slightly different version of this can be found on East Norton history site.]

Any other obscure meteor falls? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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26 Sept 2011: Invisible immediately trumps the original post with this impressive list. Can anyone add to it? ‘Where to start? I have a couple dozen meteor fall/strike stories in my files, having been fascinated by the subject since being shown a rough stone in an Ohio cemetery, claimed to be the meteor that killed the man buried beneath.  Here is an alarming site about the damage that can be caused by things falling from the sky, with some historic examples. The 1880s newspapers are particularly full of meteor reports as well as spoofs. Starting even earlier (from the 1870s onward) several men were claimed to have been killed by meteors: David Misenthaler (several variants on his last name like Melsenthaler and many different locations given), also Leonidas Grover and Roman Cruz, a Mexican sheep-herder, Julius Rabb/Robb and “M. Garcia” and family. The New York Times archives are especially rich in meteor tales, some told as spoofs and some more plausible. A gentleman in London is hit by a meteor.  A Cleveland , Ohio man’s smoke disturbed by an aerolite (Perhaps Prof. Morley was included to add verisimilitude to a spoof, but he was the very real chemistry professor Edward Morley of the Michelson-Morley experiments on the speed of light and Adelbert College eventually became Case Western University.)  And this amusing article about Meteoric Lotteries.  Then there is this 1890s account of a ship being struck. When I read the name of the schooner, I thought this must be a hoax to drum up business for Barnum’s Museum. It may still be, but the schooner was reported to have been built in 1890 with Mr. Barnum as principal owner; the ship bore a figurehead of the great showman. Barnum died in 1891. And there really was a Captain Blake. I can’t find any record (in an admittedly quick search) that any meteors were ever on display at his museums, nor a follow-up article about the “bushel-sized” fragments. The New York Times 11-20-1894 TOPMAST WAS TRUCK BY A METEOR A Connecticut Skipper’s Story of an Incident in Squad Inlet. Bridgeport , Conn. , Nov. 19 Capt. Blake of the schooner P.T. Barnum, hailing from this port, has returned from a trip to Philadelphia with a story about the vessel being struck by a meteor. The schooner was plowing along under good sail and wind in Squad Inlet, when suddenly the decks of the vessel were illuminated as bright as day, and the crew were thrown to the deck, stunned. The topmast had been struck by a meteor and flames were thrown in every direction. Harry Neilson, one of the crew, was aloft taking in sail at the time. He says he heard the hissing sound preceding the contact with the ropes. The rigging where the meteor struck was instantly set afire and though Neilson made all haste to reach the deck, before he could do so he was badly burned about the legs. The sailor had a narrow escape. If he had been a little lower in the rigging he would have been hit. When the meteor struck, it broke and fell to the deck in pieces as large as bushel baskets. The crew were panic-stricken for a time, but order was secured, and the flames put out. The only damage done was to the rigging, and the vessel continued on her voyage. Capt. Blake says that in all his seafaring experience he never heard of such a thing before. This meteor-fire tragedy was reported in several papers: The Ogden Standard-Examiner 12-23-1928 Ogden , Utah Woman, Babe Killed by Meteor Blaze Greendale , N.Y. , Dec. 22 (UP) Residents of Greendale reported today that a meteor fell from the sky last night and set fire to a farm house, burning a woman and year-old baby to death and injuring six others painfully. Scientists say such a thing happens once in 500 years. J.R. Hicks, storekeeper, related today that he stood in front of his store and saw a ball of fire shooting from the sky. It landed on the roof of William Peator’s house, he said. Mrs. William Peator, 43, and Raymond Ford, Jr., her on-year-old nephew, were killed. Others in the house, Minnie and Doris Peator, 5-year-old twins; Ruth Peator, 16 and Mrs. Raymond Ford, 28, were painfully burned. Two tales of animals reported killed by “meteors.” Bakersfield Californian December 11, 1915 Three Dogs Killed By Meteor in Alaska Dawson, Y.T. Dec. 14 Three dogs which were drawing Andrew Johnson, a telegraph lineman, were killed by a giant metear [sic] which fell on the Yukon telegraph line, south of Atlin, according to word reaching here yesterday. Johnson, who was traveling 50 feet behind the animals, was stunned for several hours as a result of the impact. The meteorite made a hole almost 50 feet in diameter. The [sic] earth all about appeared subjected to intense heat. Sterling, IL Standard July 29, 1887 Was the Horse Killed by a Meteor? From the Galveston Daily News: Last night about 9:30 o’clock as Mr. Cain, who lives about four miles east of here, was going home in his wagon, and about 600 yards from his house, something like a meteor struck one of his horses. It struck the horse on the right side of the ribs, making a hole the size of a hen’s egg, and breaking some ribs loose from the spine, going forward up the spine till nearly the head. Mr. Cain says at the report he fell or dropped in the wagon bed and the horses ran home. The horse was taken out of the wagon before he died. Parties cried for more [illegible] thinking someone had tried to waylaid [sic] Cain and shot the horse, but upon close inspection of the ground no sign of any one being secreted could be found. The horse was dissected, and no lead or anything that would go to show the horse was shot could be found. Two parties say they saw the meteor, and say it made quite a display of colors, and they heard the explosion. A French scientist suggests meteors can be deadly in a number of ways: Florence Morning News, 12-15-1929 Florence , South Carolina Meteors Cause Plane Crashes is French Idea Paris, Dec. 14 (AP) Meteors may be to blame for mysterious airplane accidents, strange explosions, forest fires and even bad weather, a noted French authority, General Frederic Chapel, retired, has affirmed in a special interview with The Associated Press. He is the author of several works on meteors and astronomy and evolved his theory from investigation of many queer occurrences. Red-hot meteors, or “falling stars,” he thinks probably set up electrical disturbances as they sizzle through space. To illustrate their power he has calculated that a little two-ounce meteor, the size of a hazel nut, would travel thirty miles a second when approaching earth and have the force of a 500-ton train. Meteors, says the general, are so numerous that they often form “bombardments.” Most of them go into space or hit other planets but on earth enough arrive to cause accidents such as that at Budapest recently when a Hungarian girl was killed by a meteor on her way to a wedding. [have not tracked down this reference.] In such fashion, the general reasons, airplanes may have been struck down or ships destroyed. He suggests also that meteors might explain many other phenomena such as the recent explosion at Toul of an army magazine when fifty tons of powder blew up without any apparent cause. [nor this.] Note the late date for this lethal shower: Lowell [MA] Sun 8-16-1951 p. 19 12 Killed by Meteor “Shower” Tehran, Iran, Aug .16 (UP) A “downpour” of meteorites killed 12 persons, injury 19 and flattened 62 buildings near the south Iranian city of Shiraz last Monday, Terhan [sic] newspapers reported today. About 300 cows, sheep and donkeys also were reported to have been killed in the meteoric shower. And lastly, (meteors no respecter of persons) La Nona Ora by Cattelan‘ Thanks Invisible!

28 Oct 2011: Now it is the legendary Ed Murphy’s turn. ‘Re: your item on meteorites striking buildings, one such just happened here recently.  It was in Lorton, Virginia, a few miles from Washington DC and my home in Arlington. A small meteorite plunged through the roof of an office building and landed in the suite of some doctors (fortunately harming no one).  The docs donated the rock to the Smithsonian Institution.  But then the owner of the office building claimed that the object belonged to him, not the MDs, since they were only renters, and he claimed that as property owner he had the mineral rights.  This left the Smithsonian in the embarrassing middle, and the last I heard, all 3 parties were still trying to work things out.   Also, here’s a link on the Meteorite that killed a dog.’ Thanks Ed!