The Woman Who Was Hit by a Meteorite

Oct 26, 2021 0 comments

At the Alabama Museum of Natural History located in the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa, there is a small chunk of black space rock that created history on November 30, 1954, when it came crashing through the roof of Ann Hodges’s home in Sylacauga, Alabama, and landed on her as she napped under quilts on the sofa. The 8.5 pound, 4.5-billion-year-old space rock, after poking a hole through the roof of her rented house, bounced off a big console radio, and then hit Ann on the left side of her body at around 2:46 PM, and at that very moment the 34-year-old Alabama woman became the first verified human being to have been struck by a meteorite.

Ann Hodges meteorite

Moody Jacobs shows a giant bruise on the side and hip of his patient, Ann Hodges, in 1954, after she was struck by a meteorite.

Before the meteorite slammed into Ann's living room, people in Sylacauga and across eastern Alabama reported seeing “a bright reddish light like a Roman candle trailing smoke.” Others saw “a fireball, like a gigantic wielding arc.”

After the meteorite landed and struck Ann, she and her mother tried to figure out what had happened. The house was filled with dust, and they initially believed that the chimney had collapsed or the space heater had exploded. But after spotting the rock on the floor and the big pineapple-sized bruise on her body, they called the police and the fire departments. With the arrival of emergency vehicles, word began to spread that something unusual had occurred at the Hodges house. When Ann’s husband, Eugene Hodges, a utility worker, returned home from work, he had to push his way towards the house. Ann greeted her husband on the porch and reportedly said “We had a little excitement around here today.” In fact, Ann was so overwhelmed by the crowds that she had to be hospitalized the following day. "I haven’t been able to sleep since I was hit," she told reporters.

Because the origin of the rock that hit Ann was still undetermined, the Sylacauga police chief confiscated the black rock and turned it over to the Air Force, who called a geologist to look at the rock. After the rock’s identity was confirmed, the question arose what to do with it. Usually, things like meteorites belonged in a museum, but Ann demanded that the rock be returned to them. “I feel like the meteorite is mine,” she said. “I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!” But Ann lived in a rented house, and the landlord, Birdie Guy, also laid claim to the meteorite.

Ann Hodges meteorite

Sylacauga police officers hold the meteorite while inspecting the damage to Ann Hodge’s roof.

After months of legal wrangling, the case was settled out of court, and Ann and her husband paid their landlady $500 for the meteorite. Perhaps Ann and Eugene Hodges hoped they could earn a fortune by auctioning off the meteorite, but to their disappointment, nobody offered them anything. For a while, the family used the rock as a doorstop before donating it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History, where it remains.

The meteorite that hit Ann Hodges was a fragment of a bigger piece of rock that shot across Alabama’s sky that afternoon. One piece fell a few miles away where another resident of the Sylacauga area, a farmer named Julius Kempis McKinney, found it on the street while driving a mule-drawn wagon. Not realizing it was a meteorite, McKinney, pushed the rock out of the mule’s path and continued home. That night, after hearing about Ann Hodges’s experience, he retrieved the rock and took it home, and let his children play with it. Unlike Ann Hodges, McKinney made enough money from the sale of the rock to buy a house and a car. Shortly afterward, that meteorite was donated to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

Meanwhile, Ann Hodges became a minor celebrity. Her story along with her photographs appeared on the cover of the Life magazine. The stress from the national attention she received led to a nervous breakdown and exacerbated her ongoing health problems leading to the couple’s divorce. She died of kidney failure in a local nursing home at the age of just 52.

Ann Hodges meteorite

Eugene Hodges, Ann Hodges husband, holds the infamous meteorite in his hand.

Ann's story is incredibly rare because most meteorites fall harmlessly into the ocean or strike one of Earth's vast, remote places, according to Michael Reynolds, a Florida State College astronomer and author of the book Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites.

“Think of how many people have lived throughout human history,” Reynolds said. “You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”

While improbably rare, such incidents do occur. The earliest claim of a person being hit and killed by a meteorite comes from 1677 in a manuscript published at Tortona, Italy. The passage reads:

It seems evidently demonstrated that thunder ought to be attributed to a solid and stony substance, and not to an exhalation of any kind; as is proved by one of those stones projected from the clouds, which struck with sudden death a Franciscan friar of Santa Maria della Pace, at Milan, and which is open to the inspection of every body in our Museum. I will relate the circumstances of this event, that no one may doubt its authenticity. All the other monks of the convent of St. Mary hastened up to him who had been struck, as well from curiosity as from pity, and among them was also the Canon Manfredo Settala. They all carefully examined the corpse, to discover the most secret and decisive effects of the shock which had struck him. They found it was on one of the thighs, where they perceived a wound blackened either by the gangrene or by the action of the fire. Impelled by curiosity, they enlarged the aperture to examine the interior of it; they saw that it penetrated to the bone, and were much surprised to find at the bottom of the wound a roundish stone which had made it, and had killed this monk in a manner equally terrible and unexpected.

The passage then gives a description of the stone:

This stone weighed about a quarter of an ounce, it had sharp edges, and its surface resembled one of those silver coins which are currently at Milan under the name of Filippo. It was not, however, perfectly round, having on one side of a rather obtuse angle. Its colour varied so, that on part it was that of a burnt brick, and on the other it seemed to be covered with a thin ferrugineous shining crust. Being broken in the middle it emitted an insupportable smell of sulphur.

In 2009, a 14-year-old German boy, Gerrit Blank, was hit in the hand by a pea-size meteorite. While he wasn't seriously injured, the rock did leave a scar and gave the boy quite a fright.

“When it hit me it knocked me flying and then was still going fast enough to bury itself into the road,” Gerrit Blank told reporters.

In 1992, a meteorite exploded over eastern United States and one of pieces struck a parked Chevrolet automobile in Peekskill, New York. More about the story here: the Peekskill Meteorite.

Also in 1992, a tiny meteorite fragment, about 3 grams in mass, hit a young Ugandan boy in Mbale. The meteorite struck a tree first and was slowed down causing no injury.

Again, in 1994, a Spanish couple was driving near Madrid when a 3-pound meteor crashed through his windshield, bent the steering wheel and ended up in the back seat.

# Alice George, In 1954, an Extraterrestrial Bruiser Shocked This Alabama Woman, Smithsonian Magazine
# Alabama's Housewife-Whacking Meteorite, Roadside America
# Justin Nobel, The True Story of History's Only Known Meteorite Victim, National Geographic
# Boy Hit by Meteorite,
# The Journal of Science and the Arts, Volume 14, Google Books


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