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Kentucky's Celestial Caller, January 12, 1916

It happened a hundred years ago (+ five days). A meteor shot through the sky. Jim has collected observations from South Bend, Indiana to Stanford, KY, from Leitchfield to Earlington, from newspapers of the day.
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By Jim

Early risers in Adair County who were out just before dawn on January 12, 1916 were treated to a spectacular celestial display, short shrift tho' it were given in the News. A brief entry in the next week's edition of the paper reported that

"The meteor which gave such a brilliant light in the element last Wednesday morning a short time before day light, was seen by several persons."


Later that day, the News-Times, an evening newspaper out of South Bend, Indiana, carried a related International News Service item datelined Louisville, to-wit:

"Louisville, Ky., Jan. 12--A flashing meteor startled the Ohio Valley this morning. It appeared in the northeast shortly before 6 o'clock and whizzed through the heavens with a hissing sound, so brilliant that it illuminated the earth. It was visible several moments."

The January 14th edition of The Bee, published in Earlington, Ky., about 75 miles west-southwest of Leitchfield, noted that viewers around there stated "it made a brilliant white light and for a moment or two it was bright as sunshine. No noise or hissing sound accompanied the display in this part of the country." A few days later, the Breckenridge News (Cloverport, Ky.) tersely reported, "A portion of the meteor is claimed to have fallen in a ravine near Georgetown." The Hartford Republican, same issue date, remarked that local folks who saw it claimed it "diffuse[d] a glow of light that illuminated the sky."

The Clay City Times, considerably east of Columbia, in the January 13th paper referred to the meteor as "an immense ball of fire" with a "long flaming tail" and reported "it was visible for several minutes as it crossed from East to West " and that "The light from it illuminated the [t]own in a brilliant manner."

In Maysville, Ky., considerably upriver from Louisville, the Public Ledger (January 12th), called the celestial caller "one of the most beautiful sights ever witnessed around here" and added,

"At that hour [around 5:30 a.m.] a cloud that partly covered the skies seemed to part and a large, brilliant meteor. burst out and whizzed though the air to the ground, striking somewhere. it seemed, near the ice piers [on the Ohio River] at the foot of Limestone street."

The Public Ledger article concluded by saying, "all who saw it were amazed at the size and intense brilliancy of the visitor."

The Stanford Interior-Journal on the 14th stated the earliest report there came from Councilman E.L. Reinhart, "who saw it as he was delivering the morning papers on Danville avenue. He said that it lighted up the heavens as it soared from northeast to northwest." The paper also reported the phenomenon was observed by the brothers Hoffman, who "thought a German airship was dropping a bomb."

On January 13th, the Public Ledger informed readers that the meteor. "collided with Mother Earth near Verona, Ky., a small village near Cincinnati. When the wanderer struck, a tremendous explosion occurred..." The paper also promised the Cincinnati Astronomical Association would in the following week make a scientific investigation.

A second article, found in the same edition of the South Bend Times-News referenced above and datelined January 12th out of Cincinnati, likely spoke of the impact at Verona, some 20 to 25 miles south-southwest of Cincinnati proper. This piece appeared under the headline "Shock is Heard But Cause is Mystery" stated that "A violent shock...heard and felt here at 6 o'clock this morning, accompanied by a vivid flash as though of lightning..." The article went on to state that "it is felt an explosion occurred somewhere in the surrounding country" and that "Kentucky towns across the river also felt the shock."

And yet one more day beyond, the January 14th Public Ledger carried a fairly long article which in part stated that

"There may have been more than one meteor abroad in the skies in this vicinity that morning, but all of them children of the parent mass that startled Maysvillians and thousands of other people by its spectacular plunge through space.

"Prof. J. Uri Lloyd, of Cincinnati, comes to the defense of thousands who claim that the meteor. landed near them. According to him there was a possibility that when the great mass struck the lower strata of air, pieces of it may have been shed and sent hurtling through the air is spots far removed from one another. Each one of them then became a meteor within itself."

This explanation is borne out at least to a degree in an observation report from Mr. John E. Stone of Leitchfield, Grayson County, Ky., who near-poetically described what he saw:

"Near 5:50 a.m. [on January 12th] a very large meteor appeared...above the horizon, circling upward, then downward, somewhat in a rainbow shape, toward the north, apparently exploding about north 10 [degrees] east and near 15 [degrees] above the horizon.

"It made the elements as bright as day, casting off balls or sparks of fire, and left a livid stream of rainbow tinted light, about three or four degrees long and about as wide as the diameter of the full moon, and remaining some seconds." (from Climatological Data for the United States by Sections, Vol III, part 1, Jan.-Feb.-March, 1916, p 74.)

(It's unlikely, but with different reports and viewers giving two relatively distinct times, that is, 5;30 specifically, and 5:50 / "about 6," there possibly were two different meteors, one -- or both -- of which then disintegrated into smaller pieces before burning up in the atmosphere or striking the earth.)

Eight days after the event, the Central Record, Lancaster, Ky., carried a tongue-in-cheek front page piece, solemnly stating that a generally late-rising local businessman "became so alarmed at the bright light diffused by the passage of the brilliant meteor" his good wife had to calm the poor fellow "by telling him that was the way daylight made its appearance every morning."

The grand-daddy tongue-in-cheek report, however, came from the Cynthiana, Ky., Democrat, date unknown, but republished in the January 24 Public Ledger:

"With all the reports in it is evident that the brilliant meteor which passed over Cynthiana Wednesday morning of last week was traveling the route of the Black Diamond railroad. It touched Carlisle, burned the grass between Cynthiana and Falmouth, scorched the varnish off a bureau at North Middletown, fell into the river at Maysville, took a drink out of the Audubon well at Dover, buried itself on the banks of the Elkhorn near Georgetown, kicked up the dust at Verona, shook the foundations of Louisville, and exploded with terrific force at the junction of the Springfield, Ill., Columbus, O., and Indianapolis, Ind. divisions at Jim Logan's barn near Lees Lick [Harrison Co., Ky.]"

- Compiled by Jim


This story was posted on 2016-01-17 12:09:31
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