The recent fall from the sky of thousands of dead birds in Arkansas and Louisiana appears to be a disturbing development. However, incidents of unexpected substances falling from the sky have a long, long history. Here is a sampling.
The famous Kentucky meat-shower took place in southern Bath County on Friday, March 3, 1876. Mrs. Allen Crouch was in her yard making soap when pieces of fresh meat the size of large snowflakes began to fall from the cloudless sky. Two gentlemen who tasted it said that it was either mutton or venison. Scientists who examined the material found the first samples similar to lung tissue from either a human infant or a horse. Other later samples were identified as cartilage and striated muscle fibers. The local explanation was that a flock of buzzards had disgorged as a group while flying overhead.
Fish falls are common enough that an “official” explanation has been developed to cover most of them. It is theorized that whirlwinds create a waterspout effect, sucking up water and fish, carrying them for great distances, and then dropping them somewhere else. Of course there can be other causes. In one recent case, on June 21, 2010, a striped bass fell into a flowerbed in the yard of Paul and Eileen Walsh of Milton, Massachusetts. Two seagulls had been observed fighting in the sky above the house.
On October 8, 1976, a light plane buzzed the Piazza Venezia in Rome and dropped 500-lire, 1,000-lire, and 10,000-lire bank notes on the startled people below. The mad bomber was not found.
4. HUMAN WASTE
On Sunday, October 18, 1992, Gerri and Leroy Cinnamon of Woodinville, Washington, were watching the Seattle Seahawks lose to the Los Angeles Raiders on TV in their den with Gerri's parents when something crashed through the roof of their living room. “I expected to see Superman soar through the hole,” said Leroy. Instead they found several baseball-sized chunks of greenish ice. As it melted it began to smell bad. Two days later the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that the Cinnamons' roof had been damaged by frozen human waste from a leaky United Airlines sewage system. “It's a good thing none of us was killed,” reflected Leroy. “What would you put on the tombstone?”
Unfortunately, falls of waste blobs are not uncommon. On April 23, 1978, for example, a twenty-five-pound chunk landed in an unused school building in Ripley, Tennessee. Other attacks have occurred in Denver and Chicago.
5. MYSTERIOUS DOCUMENTS
The July 25, 1973, edition of the Albany, New York Times Union reported the unusual case of Bob Hill. Hill, the owner of radio station WHRL of North Greenbush, New York, was taking out the station garbage at 4:15 P.M. when he noticed “twirling specks” falling from a distance higher than the station’s 300-ft. transmitter. He followed two of the white objects until they landed in a hayfield. The objects turned out to be two sets of formulas and accompanying graphs, which apparently explained “normalized extinction” and the “incomplete Davis-Greenstein orientation.” No explanation has been made public. The Davis-Greenstein mechanism is used in astrophysics.
6. HUMAN BODY
Mary C. Fuller was sitting in her parked car with her 8-month-old son on Monday morning, September 25, 1978, in San Diego, California, when a human body crashed through the windshield. The body had been thrown from a Pacific Southwest Airlines jetliner, which had exploded after being hit by a small plane in one of the worst air disasters in U.S. history. Mother and son suffered minor lacerations.
A great cloud of hay drifted over the town of Devizes in England at teatime on July 3, 1977. As soon as the cloud reached the center of town, it all fell to earth in handful-size lumps. The sky was otherwise clear and cloudless with a slight breeze. The temperature was 79°F. On July 28, 1992, large clumps of straw fell from the sky in two other places in England: Basildon, Essex, and South Wonston, Hampshire.
8. A 3,902-LB. STONE
The largest meteorite fall in recorded history occurred on March 8, 1976, near the Chinese city of Jirin in Manchuria. Many of the 100 stones that were found weighed more than 200 lb.; the largest, which landed in the Haupi Commune, weighed 3,902 lb.
9. SILVER COINS
About 1,000 14th century silver coins fell on a village near the city of Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod) in the U.S.S.R. on June 17, 1940. The official explanation was that a landslide had uncovered a hidden treasure, which was picked up by a tornado, which dropped it on the village. No explanation was given for the fact that the coins were not accompanied by any debris.
10. JUDAS TREE SEEDS
Just before sunset in August, 1897, an immense number of small, blood-colored clouds filled the sky in Macerata, Italy. About an hour later, storm clouds burst and small seeds rained from the sky, covering the ground to a depth of ½ in. Many of the seeds had already started to germinate, and all of the seeds were from the Judas tree, which is found predominantly in the Middle East and Asia. There was no accompanying debris—just the Judas tree seeds.
11. ICE CHUNKS
There have been numerous reports of large chucks of ice falling from the sky, but the one that gained the most attention was an ice fall that took place in Manchester, England, on April 2, 1973. That’s because one of the witnesses, R. F. Griffiths, happened to be a physicist who specialized in observing lightning. In fact, a 21-ounce lump of ice came within ten feet of hitting him. Griffiths raced home and preserved it in the freezer compartment of his refrigerator. Although there was speculation that it had fallen off of a passing airplane, Griffiths determined that it was composed of cloud water and was probably an exceptionally large hailstone.
12. DEADLY WHITE POWDER
On Saturday, July 10, 1976, the citizens of Seveso, Italy, were startled by a sudden loud whistling sound coming from the direction of the nearby Icmesa chemical factory. The sound was followed by a thick, gray cloud, which rolled toward the town and dropped a mist of white dust that settled on everything and smelled horrible. It was ten days before the people of Seveso learned that the white dust contained dioxin, a deadly poison far more dangerous than arsenic or strychnine. By then it was too late. The effects of dioxin poisoning had already begun. The area was evacuated, surrounded by barbed wire, and declared a contaminated zone. Exposed animals were killed, ugly black pustules formed on the skin of young children and at least 30 panicked pregnant women had abortions. Long-term studies of exposed humans showed an increase in diabetes and an increase in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
13. NONDAIRY CREAMER
White powder of a more innocuous kind began falling on the small town of Chester, South Carolina, in 1969—shortly after the Borden company started production of a corn syrup–based nondairy creamer in its local plant. Whenever the plant's exhaust vents clogged, the creamer spewed into the air and landed on people's homes and cars. Although basically harmless, the powder would mix with dew and rain and cause a sticky mess. Said homeowner Grace Dover, “It gets on your windows and you can't see out. It looks like you haven't washed your windows for a hundred years.” In 1991 Borden paid a $4,000 fine for releasing Cremora beyond plant boundaries. By that time the company had already taken steps to reduce the low-fat rain.
14. SPACE JUNK
In September, 1962, a metal object about 6 in. in diameter and weighing 21 lb. crashed into a street intersection in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and burrowed several inches into the ground. The object was later identified as part of Sputnik IV, which had been launched by the U.S.S.R. on May 15, 1960. On July 11, 1979, Skylab, the 77-ton U.S. space station, fell out of orbit over the South Indian Ocean and Western Australia. The largest piece of debris to reach land was a one-ton tank.
The most extensive space debris incident in history occurred on January 11, 2007, when the Chinese government used an anti-satellite weapon to destroy a weather satellite, dispersing more than 2,000 pieces of debris that were at least as large as a golf ball. Space debris is now so common that NASA has established an Orbital Debris Program Office.
15. THE LARGEST METEORITE
The largest known iron meteorite, weighing more than sixty tons, crashed to Earth approximately 80,000 years ago. It was discovered by a farmer who was plowing his land in the Hoba district west of Grootfontein in northern Namibia. The first scientific report on the Hoba meteorite was published in 1920. It was declared a national monument in 1955 and is visited by thousands of tourists each year. A minor international incident occurred in 1989 when thirty-six Malaysian soldiers serving in a U.N. peacekeeping force tried to cut pieces from the boulder for souvenirs.
Falls of frogs and toads, although not everyday occurrences, are actually quite common, having been reported in almost every part of the world. One of the most famous toad falls happened in the summer of 1794 in the village of Lalain, France. A hot afternoon was broken suddenly by such an intense downpour of rain that 150 French soldiers (then fighting the Austrians) were forced to abandon the trench in which they were hiding to avoid being submerged. In the middle of the storm, which lasted for 30 minutes, tiny toads, mostly in the tadpole stage, began to land on the ground and jump about in all directions. When the rain let up, the soldiers discovered toads in the folds of their three-cornered hats.
…and last but not least…
17. THOUSANDS OF BIRDS
Like toad falls, mass bird falls, although not common, are certainly well-recorded. For example, hundreds of birds fell onto the streets of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July 1896. In another Louisiana incident, on March 20, 1941, hundreds of blackbirds suddenly landed on Barksdale Air Force Base (then known as Barksdale Field) near Bossier City.
During the night of March 13-14, 1904, at least 750,000 migrating Lapland Longspurs smashed into buildings and the ground in southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa. The tragedy was centered on Worthington, Minnesota. More recently, between 5,000 and 10,000 Lapland Longspurs, disoriented by fog and the lights from a communications tower, died during a snowstorm in Winfield, Kansas, on January 22, 1998.