The world is a weird, weird place. There are many things that happen here that, although not outside the realm of natural law, nevertheless cause a “WTF?” reaction when first encountered.
Via journalist and Twitter friend Robert Loerzel, I learned today of the “Kentucky meat shower” of 1876. My first reaction? “I know what all those words mean, but together they don’t make any sense.”
The story, in short: in 1876, a shower of meat fell from a clear sky near a home in Kentucky. Note that this is well before airplanes. We’ll let the New York Times give the details, from their original March 9, 1876 report, quoting the Bath County News:
On last Friday a shower of meat fell near the house of Allen Crouch, who lives some two or three miles from the Olympian Springs in the southern portion of the county, covering a strip of ground about one hundred yards in length and fifty wide.
That is a pretty huge area to have meat fall over!
Mrs. Crouch was out in the yard at the time, engaged in making soap, when meat which looked like beef began to fall around her.
Because nothing is a better ingredient in one’s soap than raw mystery meat.
The sky was perfectly clear at the time, and she said it fell like large snow flakes, the pieces as a general thing not being much larger.
So, really, it was more of a “meat snowfall” than a “meat shower.”
One piece fell near her which was three or four inches square. Mr. Harrison Gill, whose veracity is unquestionable, and from whom we obtained the above facts, hearing of the occurrence, visited the locality the next day, and says he saw particles of meat sticking to the fences and scattered over the ground. The meat when it first fell appeared to be perfectly fresh.
So what could cause such a bizarre shower of meat? According to Wikipedia, the likely culprit is a pack of buzzards flying overhead!
(“Hi. I’m a turkey vulture, also known as a buzzard.” Via Wikipedia.)
Buzzards, more technically known as turkey vultures, feed on any dead carcasses they can get their beaks on. That isn’t even the grossest thing they do, however: they are also known to poop and pee on their own feet! The evaporation of water from the waste helps cool them.
Most relevant for our purposes, though, is the vulture’s primary mode of defense: vomiting on threats! To quote Wikipedia:
Its primary form of defense is regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes.
Vultures will also vomit to “lighten the load” if they feel threatened and need to make a quick getaway (skydivers like myself often joke about using the bathroom just before a jump for the same reason). The most likely theory of the Kentucky meat shower is that a group of vultures barfed in flight, raining bits of freshly-eaten horse meat down on Mrs. Crouch. Why did they vomit in flight? It may be that one of them spontaneously vomited, causing the others to do so reflexively — just in case!
This isn’t even the worst part of the story, however. The NYT piece ends as follows:
Two gentlemen, who tasted the meat, express the opinion that it was either mutton or venison.
Two “gentlemen,” encountering raw mystery meat that fell from the sky, decided that the best course of action was to eat it. Now, turkey vultures have an incredible digestive system that has evolved to handle any sort of diseases carried by their prey. People, however, do not.
Human beings doing demonstrably stupid things in the name of curiosity reminds me of another event that resulted in an incredible scientific discovery… that, however, will be the topic of another post.