The Story Behind the Great Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876

You've heard of the movie Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs? Well, meat rain is a real thing, or at least it was for a few minutes in 1876. The Great Kentucky Meat Shower is one of those weird stories that you're sure is just a tall tale. And you might want to wait to eat lunch until after you read this mystery meat story.

The Mysterious Kentucky Meat Shower 

To set the stage: Allen Crouch and his wife lived few miles outside Olympia Springs, a small town in Bath County, Kentucky. One day in early 1876, Mrs. Crouch was outside making soap when flakes of red meat started to fall out of the sky.

The local Bath County News reported on the event:

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. 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. 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. 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.

The New York Times also wrote about the weird happening. "The meat, which looked like beef, fell all around her. The sky was perfectly clear at the time, and she said it fell like large snowflakes."

Okay, granted, that makes the event sound more like meat snow rather than meat rain, but either way, it's still a Kentucky meat shower.

Reportedly, two men stopped by to see the meat shower and were brave enough to taste the raw meat. (And you just know that act was preceded by one of those men saying, "Hey y'all, watch this!") Their verdict? The meat flakes tasted like mutton or venison.

So why did meat fall on Kentucky? There are two plausible theories, both put forth right after the event. The first was published by Leopold Brandeis in the American Journal of Microscopy, who analyzed some meat samples from the event.

...The specimens of the "Kentucky shower" reached New York well preserved in glycerin, and it has been comparatively easy to identify the substance and to fix its status. The Kentucky wonder is nothing more or less than the "Nostoc" of the old alchemist.

Nostoc is a type of cyanobacteria that clumps up in a gelatinous mass which swells when it rains, earning it the nickname "star jelly." It floats around, too small to be noticed, until it rains, then it falls like hail. Nostoc is flesh colored and tastes like (believe it or not) chicken. Or meat flakes.

So Brandeis was sure the Kentucky meat shower was just nostoc, but there was one problem with that theory: Mrs. Crouch noted that the sky was completely clear at the time of the event.

Additional examination of the same meat samples from others, including histologists Dr. J.W.S. Arnold and Dr. A. Mead Edwards, who was at the time president of the Newark Scientific Association. Both concluded that the meat was some kind of animal cartilage and lung tissue.

Dr. L. D. Kastenbine confirmed that finding in the Louisville Medical News and added the likely source of the meat: vulture vomit.

The only plausible theory explanatory of this anomalous shower appears to me to be... the disgorgement of some vultures that were sailing over the spot, and from their immense height the particles were scattered by the prevailing wind over the ground.

Basically, the best explanation for the Great Kentucky Meat Shower Mystery is this. The turkey vulture, which is found in Kentucky, has a unique defense mechanism. It regurgitates the contents of its stomach, rapidly and forcefully, when it is threatened. So Mrs. Crouch was most likely standing in a rain of buzzard vomit.

There really isn't a moral to this story, except maybe keep an umbrella handy if you see any vultures around. And definitely don't eat any mystery meat that falls from the sky.

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