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December 10, 2017

Photo is courtesy of www.chacha.com

Sylacauga Meteorite


When I was a high school student, one of my classmates wrote a research paper on the number of people killed or injured by ballast sandbags that had been dropped from hot-air balloons.  If I recall correctly there were no deaths or injuries and the paper was confined to the documents he researched.  I can’t locate the odds of being killed or injured in such a manner, but there are some others that are interesting.  

The following are the odds of dying by the method stated:  

CauseOdds are 1 in
 Motor Vehicle Crash113
Drowning1,183
Air and Space Incidents9,737
Cataclysmic Storm (earthquake, flood, hurricane or tornado)63,679
Contact with Hornets, Wasps and Bees64,706
Being Bitten or Struck by a Dog114,622
Lightning Strike174,426
Fireworks340,733
Shark 3,748,067

I will also state that the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery are over 292 million to 1.  With all of these odds in mind, Can you imagine the odds of a person being struck by a meteorite, and NOT being killed?  

Within the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian is the Hodges Meteorite.  This is the common name for the Sylacauga Meteorite.  A meteorite is the part of a meteor that survives its passage through the earth’s atmosphere and strikes the ground.  

Sixty-two years ago, on November 30, 1954, people in three states reported seeing a fireball as it streaked across the sky in the early afternoon.  Some people described the sight as a Roman candle trailing smoke.  There were also loud noises which may have come from the sound barrier being broken.  The meteorite split into at least three pieces.  At about 1:45 PM local time, one fragment hit the ground in Oak Grove, Alabama, a suburb of Sylacauga.  This fragment was about the size of a softball and did not hit the ground directly.  It crashed through the roof of a frame house, bounced off a large wooded console radio, and hit a woman sleeping on the couch.  That woman was Ann Hodges for whom the meteorite is commonly named.  This is the only documented case of a human being hit by a rock from space in the Western Hemisphere.  

Mrs. Hodges had been taking an afternoon nap and was covered with quilts when she was hit in the side by the meteorite.  It seemed like the entire population of the town converged at the Hodges home.  There were disagreements about the source of the object.  Was it from an aircraft that had broken up; something from the Soviets (This was the height of the Cold War.); or a meteorite?  With the crowd that formed at her home, and the attention she was getting from the crowd, Mrs. Hodges became very uneasy.  

The Hodges did not own the house; they were renting this home from Bertie Guy who made claim to the object as she owned the property it had fallen on.  Ann Hodges believed that the object should belong to her.  When Ann’s husband Eugene returned home he had to force his way through the crowd of people.  Between the argument over the ownership and the emotional pressure of the crown, Mrs. Hodges became overwhelmed with anxiety.  She was transported to the local hospital for treatment.  

A local geologist confirmed the object was a meteorite although many people still disagreed.  The police chief confiscated the object and turned it over to the Air Force.  The Air Force confirmed the object was indeed a meteorite.  Bertie Guy who had been recently widowed hired an attorney and sued the Hodges for ownership.  The law was certainly on Bertie’s side, but there was enormous public sentiment on the Hodges side.  The lawsuit was eventually settled with the Hodges pay Bertie Guy $500 and retaining ownership of the meteorite.  

The Hodges received a substantial offer for the meteorite but felt they could do better and held out for more.  A second piece of the meteorite was found by a local farmer who sold it for enough money to purchase both a house and a car.  The Hodges were unable to sell their piece and eventually donated it.  

Ann Hodges was plagued by emotional issues.  She and Eugene separated in 1964.  Ann died in 1972 at the age of 52.  

Doc Halliday can be contacted at w_halliday@yahoo.com

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