Episode 36 - Kentucky Meat Shower

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March 3, 1876 was a clear, sunshiny day in Bath County, Kentucky. A local farmer’s wife, Mrs. Crouch, decided to go outside and make some soap. Around noon, a large piece of meat fell out of the sky and landed right next to her, making a snapping sound. Then, all of a sudden, pieces of meat were falling from the sky all over the farm. Mr. and Mrs. Crouch watched for several minutes as pieces of meat in all sizes came down on their land. Mrs. Crouch said some pieces were “delicate shreds as light as a snowflake” while others were “a solid lump three inches square.” The largest piece that they saw was about six inches long and half an inch wide. Mrs. Crouch said “it looked gristly, as if it had been torn from the throat of some animal. Another piece that I saw was half round in shape and about the size of a half dollar.”

The Crouch’s cat was ecstatic and immediately began eating as much meat as he possibly could. After it was all over, their farm had an area 100 yards long and 50 yards wide that was covered in raw meat. They found meat sticking to their fences and scattered all over the ground. The Crouch’s couldn’t figure out if this was either a miracle or an omen.

The next day, neighbors and journalists came to the farm to check out the results of the meat shower and try to figure out what had happened. Several people agreed that it looked like beef. One neighbor, a hunter named B.F. Ellington came to examine the meat. Ellington told reporters “I have seen some of this meat that fell on old man Crouch’s farm and if it’s meat at all it’s bear meat…This meat that fell from the heavens on Allen Crouch’s farm has got that uncommon greasy feel that I am so well acquainted with…I know bear grease when I see it and that’s the kind of fluid what come out of that meat at old Allen’s and got all over my hands when I was examining it. I smelt it, too, and I know that smell as well as I know the smell of liquor. Gentlemen, it’s bear meat certain, or else my name is not Benjamin Franklin Ellington.”

A couple of local hunters decided to try a few bites of the meat, even though it had been sitting on the ground for over a day now and was spoiled and dry. The hunters said it was either mutton or venison. Then a local butcher tried a piece and “declared that it tasted neither like flesh, fish, or fowl. It looked to him like mutton, but the smell was a new one.”

Since nobody could agree on what the meat was, large samples of the meat was sent to scientists all over the country. One scientist named Professor J.L. Smith had a hypothesis that the meat was actually just dried frog spawn that had been picked up out of a pond by a wind gust, but after looking at the sample and thinking about it more, he decided that that wasn’t probable.

William Livingston Alden wrote an article for the New York Times that read “According to the present theory of astronomers, an enormous belt of meteoric stones constantly revolves around the sun, and when the earth comes in contact with this belt she is soundly pelted. Similarly, we may suppose that there revolves about the sun a belt of venison, mutton, and other meats divided into small fragments, which are precipitated upon the earth whenever the latter crosses their path.” At the time, some scientists theorized that meteors were the remnants of exploded planets, so meteor belts could have pieces of exploded alien lifeforms. Alden then continued with his theories when he suggested that if the meat shower wasn’t caused by a space meat shower, then it could’ve been the flesh of “finely-hashed citizens of Kentucky, who had been caught in a whirlwind while engaged in a little ‘difficulty’ with Bowie knives and strewn over their astonished State.” So he basically hypothesized that a couple of men were slicing each other up with Bowie knives when a tornado picked them up and flung their cut up corpses all over the Crouch farm.

Alden concluded his article by suggesting that scientists needed to create technology that could predict future meat showers and could give out forecasts like “light showers of beefsteak may be looked for in the New England and Middle States during the morning, followed by a heavy rain of mutton in the afternoon.”

Scientist Leopold Brandeis claimed that “the Kentucky Wonder” ,which was what this phenomenon was going by now, was “nothing more or less than the ‘Nostoc” of the old alchemist. The Nostoc belongs to confervae; it consists of translucent, gelatinous bodies, joined together by threadlike tubes or seed-bearers. When these spores work their way out of the gelatinous envelope, they may be wafted by winds here and there, and may be carried great distances. Wherever they may fall, and find congenial soil, dampness or recent rains, they will thrive and spread very rapidly, and many cases are recorded where they have covered miles of ground in a very few hours. On account of this rapidity of growth, people almost everywhere faithfully believe the Nostoc to fall from the clouds.

All the Nostocs are composed of a semi-liquid cellulose and vegetable protein. The edible Nostoc is highly valued in China where it forms an essential ingredient of the edible bird-nest soup. The flesh that was supposed to have fallen in Kentucky is the flesh-colored Nostoc; the flavor it approaches the frog or spring chicken legs, and it is greedily devoured by almost all domestic animals.”

While this seemed like a good explanation at first, the Nostoc only turned into a substance that looked like meat when it rained, and it had been a completely clear day when meat rained down on the Crouch’s. Dr. A. Mead Edwards, a histologist and the president of the Newark Scientific Association, received a sample and he determined that it was probably the lung tissue of either a human baby or a horse. A different histologist named Dr. J.W.S. wrote about his findings of the mystery meat in the The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science where he concluded that the meat was a mixture of animal cartilage and lung tissue.

Then seven samples were looked at by several scientists together. Two of the samples were found to be lung tissue, three samples were muscular tissue, and the other two samples were cartilage. The question was now how did all of these different types of meat fall from the sky. Dr. L. D. Kastenbine acquired his own sample. Once he received his sample he set it on fire and made the observation that is smelled like rancid mutton. He then wrote in the 1876 edition of the Louisville Medical News that “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, from their immense height, the particles were scattered by the prevailing over the ground. The variety of tissue discovered – muscular, connective, fatty, structureless, etc – can be explained only by this theory.”

There are two different types of species of vultures in Kentucky, the black vulture and the turkey vulture. Vultures eat all kinds of gross meat from rotting carcasses, but they don’t usually puke it up because they have extremely acidic stomachs that will digest all of the gross meat that they eat. When vultures find a lot meat, they usually eat as much as they possibly can because they never know when they will be able to eat again. Vultures usually sit around for a while after they eat so they can digest their food, but sometimes they get scared and have to become airborne soon after eating. If the vultures are too heavy, they will puke so they can lighten the load to make it easier to fly and they also use their projectile vomit as a bio-weapon against predators and if one vulture in the flock pukes, the other vultures usually join in.

So there was probably a large group of vultures near the Crouch’s farm having a large feast when they got scared. While trying to fly off, the vultures puked all over the farm and Mrs. Crouch.

If you want to see a piece of meat from the meat shower, there is a preserved piece at the Monroe Moosnick Medical and Science Museum at Transylvania University in Lexington. In 2007, a professor of art at Transylvania University named Kurt Gohde had a taste lab based out of Cincinnati analyze flavor compounds found in the preserved piece of meat and then recreate the taste of the meat in jelly bean form. When Gohde tried one for himself, he said “The taste, frankly, is so vile. I remember thinking it was really strong. The first one I ate tasted like chemicals and sugar.” Gohde took these jelly beans to Kentucky Court Days, the larges outdoor festival in Kentucky, to have other people try the dark red jelly beans. Some people said the jelly beans tasted like raw bacon, while some said it tasted like a strawberry pork chop.


“The Kentucky Shower of Flesh” by Leopold Brandeis in Sanitarian

“The Great Kentucky Meat Shower Mystery Unwound by Projectile Vulture Vomit” by Bec Crew

“The Mystery of the Kentucky ‘Meat Shower’” by Kaleigh Rogers

“Revisiting the Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876” by Katie Serena

“That Time it Rained Flesh in Kentucky” by Matt Soniak

“The Artist Trying to Explain Kentucky’s ‘Meat Shower’ of 1876” by Marina Wang

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