Brock, R.: Devil's Penny

On 1876-03-03, flakes of meat fell over an area 100 yards long and 50 yards wide near the Kentucky home of Mr. and Mrs. Allen Crouch, not far from the Olympian Springs in the southern Bath County. The sky at the time was cloudless. The flakes were from one to three or four inches square and looked like fresh beef. However, according to the opinion of "two gentlemen" who tasted it, the substance was either mutton or venison (Scientific American, 34:197, March 25, 1876).

But in July, according to a Mr. Leopold Brandeis writing in the Sanitarian, the Kentucky meat-shower was explained: the substance that fell was nothing more than Nostock, "a low form of vegetable existence" (though how this had dropped from a clear sky remained a mystery. Unfortunately (for the squeamish) this less alarming description did not prevail for long. Dr. A Mead Edwards, president of the Newark Scientific Association, called on Mr. Brandeis to see if he could obtain a specimen of the original material. Mr. Brandeis kindly gave him the whole sample, with the information that he had himself obtained it from a doctor in Brooklyn, who had in turn been given by a Professor Chandler.

Shortly after this a letter from Dr. Allan McLane Hamilton appeared in Medical Record, stating that he and Dr. J.W.S. Arnold had made a microscopic examination of material from the Kentucky meat-shower supplied to them by Professor Chandler. He added that he had identified the substance as lung tissue from a human infant or a horse ("the structure of the organ in these two cases being very similar.")

After reading this letter, Dr. Edwards called on Dr. Hamilton and was again rewarded with the sample in question, this time with the information that two samples had been sent from Kentucky to the editor of the Agriculturist, who gave them to Professor Chandler. The Professor had given one to Dr. Hamilton and one to the Brooklyn doctor who had passed it on to Mr. Brandeis.

Dr. Edwards now had possession of both samples. He confirmed Dr. Hamilton's identification and identified the sample given to Mr. Brandeis as also being lung tissue, although it was less well-preserved. Soon after, Dr. Edwards was shown a microscopic slide of a third sample of the Kentucky meat, which had been given to Professor J. Phin of the American Journal of Microscopy by a Mr. Walmsley of Philadelphia, who had in turn received it from Kentucky. This slide revealed to the observer that the material was "undoubtedly striated muscular fibre."

Subsequently Professor Phin showed Dr. Edwards a fourth specimen, this one sent to him a by a Mr. A. T. Parker of Lexington, Kentucky. This sample also proved to be muscle tissue. Still not satisfied, Dr. Edwards now wrote to Mr. Parker, who sent him three more samples, two in their natural state and one prepared for the microscope. Of these, two proved to be cartilage, and one was muscle tissue with "what appears to be dense connective tissue."

Thus, of the seven samples examined, two were of lung tissue, three were of muscular tissue, and two were of cartilage.

As a postscript to the story, Dr. Edwards relayed a theory of the event passed on to him by Mr. Parker: according to the local people of Kentucky, the meat was probably disgorged by buzzards, "who, as is their custom, seeing one of their companions disgorge himself, immediately followed suit."

As to how many buzzards would be required to cover 5000 square yards with disgorged meat, or at what height they must have been flying to be invisible, was not suggested.)