Meat fell from the sky in Kentucky 140 years ago

Emma Austin of the Courier Journal asks, what would you do if chunks of raw meat rained down from the sky?

Hopefully you wouldn’t eat it, but apparently some people did when “a horse wagon full” of hunks fell from the sky on March 3, 1876, covering the yard of a confused farmer’s wife in Bath County.

What was described as “flakes” of meat rained down around Mrs. Allen Crouch, who was making soap in her garden at the time.

An article in The New York Times a week later published the account of Harrison Gill, “whose veracity is unquestionable.” The article said some pieces were three to four inches square, and others stuck to the fences. When the meat first fell, it “appeared to be perfectly fresh.”

The two unidentified men who tasted the meat said it was either mutton or venison.

Over the next two days, curious neighbors and scientists flocked to the Crouches’ farm to try to determine what had caused the strange phenomenon.

There is no definitive agreement about what happened that day, said Kurt Gohde, an art professor at Transylvania University who has researched the incident. There are, however, plenty of theories.

Gohde’s favorite theory is one that he said was presented later in The New York Times that it was “cosmic meat” — flesh of animals from an exploding planet. People were familiar with meteors at the time, but they didn’t know that it would’ve been impossible for the meat to fall through the Earth’s atmosphere without being incinerated. So the explanation was certainly plausible to them, no matter how absurd it sounds today.

One scientist who tested the meat said it was tissue from the lungs of a child or goat, which drew a lot of attention, but didn’t stick.

One theory that didn’t get a lot of attention, Gohde said, was by Robert Peter, a scientist at Transylvania University: vulture vomit.

Peter knew, or at least theorized, that when vultures are startled or need to take off quickly, they may need to lighten their load so they can fly. In such cases, the birds vomit food they’ve recently eaten, possibly even while flying.

This theory is believed today to be the most likely, though Gohde pointed out it has a big hole: To believe the vulture vomit theory is to disbelieve the account of the only person who saw it happen. Mrs. Crouch said when she looked up, the sky was clear, and if vultures were vomiting enough meat to scatter across a football field, Mrs. Crouch presumably would have seen vultures overhead.

The Kentucky Meat Shower is not a historical event taught in classrooms, but there is a children’s book about it, and no, it’s not “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”