Now known as the “Kentucky
“Flesh Descending in a Shower,” read the headline in The New York Times. “An astounding phenomenon in Kentucky—Fresh meat like mutton or venison falling from a clear sky.”
We’ll get to the “mutton or venison” line in a moment.
The now-defunct local newspaper, Bath County News, carried a stirring account of the event: “On last Friday, a shower of meat fell near the house of Allen Crouch, who lives some two or three miles from the Olympian Springs in the southern portion of the county, covering a strip of ground about one hundred yards in length and fifty wide.”
Allen’s wife, whose first name doesn’t appear in the Bath County News story, was first on the scene.
“Mrs. Crouch was out in the yard at the time, engaged in making soap, when meat which looked like beef began to fall around her. The sky was perfectly clear at the time, and she said it fell like large
“One piece fell near her which was three or four inches square. Mr. Harrison Gill, whose veracity is unquestionable, and from whom we obtained the above facts, hearing the occurrence visited the locality the next day, and says he saw particles of meat sticking to fences and scattered over the ground.”
“The meat when it first fell appeared to be perfectly fresh.”
The article ended with an analysis of the meat, courtesy of two adventurous Bath County residents.
“Two gentlemen, who tasted the meat, express the opinion that it was either mutton or venison.”
But scientists weren’t content to leave it at that. What caused the meat shower—and would it happen again?
Several theories were offered to explain the mystery.
Helpful bystanders saved several pieces of the strange meat-like substance, preserving them in glycerin for scientific study (or, perhaps, a hearty meal).
According to Scientific American, a man named Leopold Brandeis gained access to several of the samples, and he quickly announced a conclusion: The meat was not, in fact, meat.
“At last we have a proper explanation of this much talked of
Nostoc is a type of cyanobacteria capable of forming large colonies in lakes and springs. Brandeis’ hypothesis sounded believable: Winds swept a colony of
Nostoc showers are, in fact, a known natural phenomenon. The bacteria is sometimes referred to as “witch’s butter” or “star jelly” for its strange texture, and while it’s not typically mistaken for meat, it could conceivably pick up some coloration that would compel observers to believe that the sky was raining meat.
There was just one problem: Numerous witnesses reported that the sky was completely clear during the shower. Nostoc couldn’t have been the culprit.
The next theory seemed equally plausible on first glance.
“A flock of gorged, heavy-weighted buzzards, but far up and invisible in the clear sky—They had disgorged,” wrote writer Charles Fort, quite poetically, in a book on strange phenomena published in 1919.
Fort was not a fan of this theory (or any conventional science, for that matter). He noted that the buzzards would have been visible in the clear sky, and that the small bits of meat were atypical of the birds’ diet.
Fortunately, several of the original samples were still available. Dr. A. Mead Edwards of the Newark Scientific Association identified the materials as the lung tissue “of a human infant or horse.”
Dr L. D Kastenbine threw more weight behind the theory, writing a lengthy analysis of several of the meat samples in an 1876 edition of the Louisville Medical News. “The connective and fatty tissues were also clearly shown,” Kastenbine wrote. “As the specimen was not placed in alcohol the odor was retained, which a number of meat experts pronounced without hesitation mutton.”
No word on what the exact “number of meat experts” might have been, but Kastenbine was thorough in his examination, even setting fire to a sample in order to correctly identify the meat.
“Since my examination I have learned that others have arrived at the same conclusion [that the samples were mutton],” he continued, “some even asserting that the wool of the animal was distinctly seen.”
“The only plausible theory explanatory of this anomalous shower appears to me to be that suggested by the old Ohio farmer—the disgorgement of some vultures that were sailing over the spot, and from their immense height the particles were scattered by the then prevailing wind over the ground.”
“The variety of tissue discovered…can be explained only by this theory.”
Buzzards are known to engage in group, ahem, expulsions, as this behavior allows them to make themselves light enough for flight. However, witnesses noted that the meat was quite fresh, which doesn’t quite fit.
Ultimately, we may never know what caused the Kentucky meat shower, as we can’t be sure that the witnesses’ accounts were entirely accurate. A modern analysis would likely clear up the mystery, but alas, the “meat” samples aren’t much use anymore (although one is on display at Transylvania University).
We will say, however, that there’s a significant chance that two hapless gentlemen accidentally ate buzzard vomit in 1876—keep that in mind before you complain about your day.