On March 3, 1876, a bizarre weather event occurred which still can’t be explained 144 years later.
For several minutes, on a bright, sunny afternoon, flakes of meat up to four inches across fell from a clear sky onto farmland near the settlement of Olympia Springs in Bath County, Kentucky.
The wife of local farmer Allen Crouch later told reporters that she was making soap on her porch that afternoon when the the meat pieces started falling from the sky.
“Between 11 and 12 o’clock I was in my yard, not more than forty steps from the house,” Mrs Crouch said.
“There was a light wind coming from the west, but the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly.”
She continued: “Without any prelude or warning of any kind, and exactly under these circumstances, the shower commenced.”
She said she was merely 40 steps from her house when the meat started to “slap the ground,” and she described the pieces of meat as looking “gristly”.
One of very few to eat the mysterious meat was the Crouch family cat, who reportedly enjoyed a large quantity with no ill-effects.
The event was reported at the time by Scientific American, the New York Times, and several other publications – bringing investigators from across the US to study the bizarre phenomenon.
The Oakland Tribune reported: “The meat was served in the shape of hash, and its particles ranged in size from a delicate shred as light as a snowflake to a solid lump three inches square.”
Those who tested the meat a few days later said it tasted like beef or possibly venison – but of course by that time the unexplained “manna from heaven” would have spoiled by that time, accounting for the gamey flavour.
A local hunter, Ben Ellington, opined: ”I have seen some of this meat that fell on old man Crouch’s farm and if it’s meat at all it’s bear meat.
“This meat that fell from the heavens on Allen Crouch’s farm has got that uncommon greasy feel that I am so well acquainted with – I know bear grease when I see it and that’s the kind of fluid what come outen [sic] that meat at old Allen’s and got all over my hands when I was examining it.
“I smelt it, too, and I know that smell as well as I know the smell of liquor. Gentlemen, it’s bear meat certain, or else my name is not Benjamin Franklin Ellington.”
The local butcher also tried a bite, and pronounced that “it tasted neither like flesh, fish, or fowl”.
Leopold Brandeis took a sample of the substance and gave it to the Newark Scientific Association for laboratory analysis.
Dr Allan McLane, who tested the sample, said that the meaty substance was lung tissue, either from a horse or a human baby.
One theory, popular at the time, was that the “meat” wasn’t meat at all.
A bacterium called nostoc, often present in damp soil, can form a meaty-looking jelly-like mass after a rainstorm and has sometimes been believed to have come down with the rain.
But that theory is contradicted by Mrs Crouch’s testimony – that it wasn’t raining at the time and that she heard the flakes of meat “slapping” against the ground.
It’s been suggested that the meat somehow came from outer space, or had a supernatural origin like the manna mentioned in both the the Bible and the Quran as being provided to the Israelites by God as they wandered the desert in search of the promised land.
A more convincing rational explanation was that vultures, when startled, will often vomit their last meal in order to lighten their bodies for a quick take-off.
Dr L. D Kastenbine wrote in a 1876 edition of the Louisville Medical News: “The only plausible theory explanatory of this anomalous shower appears to me to be that suggested by the old Ohio farmer – the disgorgement of some vultures that were sailing over the spot, from their immense height, the particles were scattered by the prevailing wind over the ground.”
He added: “The variety of tissue discovered – muscular, connective, fatty, structureless etc – can be explained only by this theory.”
The fact that the meat rain persisted for several minutes in one small area does make that seem unlikely, however.
Investigator Kurt Gohde, a professor at Transylvania University, managed to find a jar of the unknown substance last year.
It was in a jar marked “Olympia Springs” gathering dust in the university’s archives.
But the meat was too decayed to be reliably tested.
That didn’t stop Professor Gohde’s inquiry though. He managed to produce a sort of jelly-bean flavoured with the meaty essence from the sample and handed samples out at Kentucky’s Court Days festival in October.
Some people thought the flavour of the dark red jelly beans was similar to raw bacon.
Others said they tasted like “strawberry pork chop”.
Professor Gohde, says the flavour was most like “a heavily sugared bacon, with a metal aftertaste.”
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this incredible tale is that in the 21st century, a college professor managed to persuade hundreds of people to taste jelly beans that may or may not have been 140-year-old bear meat that had even vomited up by vultures.