TODAY in HISTORY: The Sylacauga or Hodges Meteorite

The Meteorite that Struck, but Didn’t Kill

Mrs. Hodges shows the bruise on her side, after she was hit by a meteorite that fell through the roof of her home while she slept. – www.chacha.com

by William “Doc” Halliday

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 odds of dying by the following method:                                                     

  • Motor Vehicle Crash, one in 113
  • Drowning, one in 1,183
  • Air and Space Incidents, one in 9,737
  • Cataclysmic Storm (earthquake, flood, hurricane or tornado), one in 63,679
  • Contact with Hornets, Wasps and Bees, one in 64,706
  • Being Bitten or Struck by a Dog, one in 114,622
  • Lightning Strike, one in 174,426
  • Fireworks, one in 340,733
  • Shark, one in 3,748,067    

I will also state that the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery are more than 292 million to one.  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. 

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. 

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 p.m. 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 was it a meteorite?  With the crowd that formed at her home, and the attention she was getting, Mrs. Hodges became very uneasy. 

The Hodges did not own the house; they were renting it 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 gathered there.  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. 

Mrs. Guy, the landlady 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 paying 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.  Then in 1972 at the age of 52, Ann died.

For Mrs. Hodges, it seemed being hit by a meteorite was hardly a lucky strike.

William “Doc” Halliday, an historian and writer, can be contacted at w_halliday@yahoo.com . 

William "Doc" Halliday

Historian, Political Commentator

2 thoughts on “TODAY in HISTORY: The Sylacauga or Hodges Meteorite

  • December 17, 2016 at 10:25 am
    Permalink

    Hi William,

    I’ve just been reading your post about Ann Hodges on theYOUjournal.

    I love this story and how you compared the odds of different ways of dying. I’ve actually researched similar recently and came across a figure of one in 100,000 to die after being struck by a meteorite.

    However, this obviously seems far too low. The justification I remember reading was that a meteor strike could cause so much potential devastation to so many people, that even a single event could result in thousands/millions of deaths. It still seems wrong to me though!

    Also, I thought you might like to see an interactive infographic I’ve just released which also references Ann’s story. It’s about the 10 most unlikely events ever to happen.

    You can see it here: https://theperchmag.co.uk/10-unlikely-events/

    It might make a nice reference for your post : ) I hope you like it.

    Cheers!

    Phil

    Reply
    • December 17, 2016 at 4:23 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks for your comments, Phil.
      The statistics fascinate me and the other stories in the link are captivating. 
       
      Doc

      Reply

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