Her arm and hip were throbbing with pain. Already, giant bruises were forming. There was dust everywhere.
Thirty-one year old Ann Hodges was asleep on the couch in the living room of the house she was renting in Sylacauga, Alabama. Her mother, Ida Franklin, was in the next room. Her husband, Eugene, was in nearby Alexander City, clearing trees from telephone lines.
That day, November 30, 1954, the Sylacauga neighborhood was quiet. Most people were at work or school. A few, like 5-year-old Billy Field, were outdoors when at 12:47 p.m precisely, the normal day turned upside down.
“All of a sudden, a giant rocket of smoke crossed the sky,” Billy would say years later. “I remember the white smoke and then an explosion.”
At almost the same moment, Ann Hodges woke up with a start. She’d heard a bang. Her arm and hip were throbbing with pain. Already, giant bruises were forming. There was dust everywhere.
A few seconds later, Ida dashed into the room. She, too, had heard the sound, and like Ann she looked for a reason. Had the chimney collapsed? Had the space heater exploded?
Then they spotted a rock on the floor. It was black, the size of a pineapple, hefty, too – about 4 kilograms. When they looked up, they noticed a ragged hole in the ceiling. Darn those neighbour kids, they both thought. They’ve been throwing rocks again.
Ida raced outside to catch the culprits. There were no kids around, but she did see a strange black cloud in the sky. Figuring they should report the incident, the two women phoned the police and the fire department.
Authorities arrived shortly after. There had been urgent calls from others in town. Some reported hearing an explosion, others a fireball streaking overhead. Had an airplane gone down? Had there been an attack of some sort?
An investigation was started. The chief of police showed up. The town mayor, too. He called a state geologist to look at the rock. This is no ordinary rock, he told them. You’ve got a meteorite here.
Now it all made sense in a strange way. A meteorite had streaked through earth’s atmosphere. Burning hot and bright, it had crashed through the Hodges’ roof, ricocheted off a console radio beside the couch, bounced off Ann’s arm, then struck her hip as she slept peacefully.
The news spread. No one, records showed, had ever been struck by a meteorite before. As far as anyone could tell, Ann Hodges was the first in all of history. Reporters showed up ten, twenty at a time, all eager to interview Ann, all wanting a slice of the story. Confused by the attention, Ann retreated to the bedroom, her arm and hip swollen.
By the time, Eugene Hodges returned home at the end of the day there was a long line of cars outside and 200 reporters roaming about the yard and through the house.
“I had a time getting in,” Eugene said. “I had to push some out of my way.”
The next day, Ann Hodges was admitted to hospital. She wasn’t badly injured, but her doctor felt it would be best to give her privacy and protect her from the media.
While Ann recovered, a full-scale bidding war developed. Eugene figured the meteorite was his and worth big money. The Smithsonian Institute put in an offer. So did an Arizona museum. In the end, the parties settled out of court. Ownership of the meteorite was assigned to the Hodges.
In 1956, against her husband’s wishes, Ann donated the meteorite to the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Today, the Hodges Meteorite – the only meteorite proven to have struck a human being – is on display at the museum. A patch of tar from the Hodges’ roof is still visible on its charred surface.
For Further Reading:
National Geographic News: The True Story of History’s Only Known Meteorite Victim