The Kentucky Meat Shower

Kentucky Meat Shower

On a clear March morning in 1876, strange weather came to Bath County in Kentucky. A local farmer’s wife, Mrs. Crouch, was out in her yard at around midday when she witnessed the event; as she watched, raw meat rained from the sky around her home. Rightly, the Crouch family believed that the grisly weather phenomenon was either a miracle or a warning of things to come. But which was it?

Most of what we know about the Kentucky Meat Shower incident comes from the account of Mrs. Crouch and her husband Allan, the only known witnesses to the actual shower. Mrs. Crouch insisted that the sky was perfectly clear before the meat began to fall, and there was no sound or other warning before the first splat.

The meat itself came down in lumps; the largest were about four inches wide by four inches long, but some were so small as to be microscopic. Neighbors who came to inspect the scene after the meat fell concluded that it was likely beef, but a local hunter stated that it was too greasy and thought that it might be bear meat. In a perhaps ill-advised decision, a few men from the area decided to sample some of the sky meat; these men concluded that it was either venison or mutton. But a local butcher that also ate some meat concluded that it wasn’t that either, stating that it “tasted neither like flesh, fish, or fowl.”

Bath County, Kentucky, the community where the meat shower happened.

Unable to determine what exactly had fallen on the Crouch farm, the community decided to pack and send off samples to chemists and other experts around the country, asking for opinions. However, even with their expertise and advanced equipment, experts disagreed on what the mystery meat had come from. One chemist from Louisville College stated that it was mutton, confirming the original taste testers’ theory. However, other experts disagreed with this finding and suggested all sorts of alternate theories; beef, deer, bear, horse, or possibly even human flesh.  

Dr. Allan McLane Hamilton of the Newark Scientific Association stated that his analysis found that his sample was lung tissue from either - hold on to your hats for this one - a horse or a human infant. Despite all of this expert testimony, the origin of the meat has never been definitively proven.

Scientists were less concerned with the composition of the meat chunks than they were with where they’d come from. One explanation took a turn into science fiction; William Livingston Alden, a writer for the New York Times at the time, postulated the idea that there was a “belt of venison, mutton, and other meats” revolving around the sun in time with the newly discovered Asteroid Belt and that, just like meteors, the meat will occasionally fall to Earth. This is despite the fact that such a phenomenon had never happened before. 

Just to cover his bases, Alden also included another, decidedly less celestial theory in his article. He said that perhaps the meat really was human flesh and that it had come from some “finely-hashed citizens of Kentucky.” He said that it was possible that some people had been caught up in a tornado while using Bowie knives or other blades, and had thus been chopped up and distributed across the state. Of course, the issues with this theory are abundant: there were no reports of a tornado or any other storm passing through Bath County at the time of the meat shower. Additionally, that just isn’t how tornadoes work.

The first real, proper scientific theory came from a man named Leopold Brandies. He wrote an article in The Sanitarian, a medical journal based in New York, that theorized that the “meat” found was actually blooms of cyanobacteria known as Nostoc, which becomes jelly-like when it comes into contact with rain. His theory was that there had just been a small rain shower outside the Crouch home and that when Mrs. Crouch saw the blooms, she thought that meat had fallen from the sky. 

A bloom of Nostoc, a cyanobacterium that's common in soil, on moist rocks, or at the bottom of bodies of fresh water.

Despite the scientific legitimacy of this theory, there are a few problems. The first is that Mrs. Crouch was on the porch when the shower began, and she insisted that there was no rain and that there hadn’t even been clouds. The second is that every other expert who examined the meat chunks agreed that they were definitely meat of some sort, despite their inability to figure out what type of animal it could be from. The greasy, gamey texture of the samples simply did not fit the description of a jelly-like Nostoc bloom. 

The current prevailing theory is that a flock of vultures was flying over the Crouch farm at the time and that they all simultaneously vomited after feasting nearby. Apparently, vultures commonly do this when they gorge too much or when threatened, and that one vulture vomiting can cause the others to follow suit. This theory is agreed upon by the chemist from Louisville who initially identified the meat as mutton, another chemist named Robert Peter, and the Crouch family themselves, as well as other residents of Bath County. However, it has never been officially verified as the cause of the Kentucky Meat Shower. 

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