The next time you settle in for a cozy nap, you may not want to think about today’s post. Why? 34-year-old Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama had been feeling a bit under the weather, so she decided to take a nap on her living room sofa. That nap, in the afternoon of November 30, 1954 would drastically change her life.
Ann was covered up in quilts, taking her snooze, when suddenly, at 1:46 PM Central Time, a chunk of hot black rock pierced the roof and ceiling, bounced off of a console radio, and struck her on the left thigh near the hip. Her left hand also received a bruise. For many reasons, Ann Hodges was left emotionally scarred for life.
Hodges became the only known American to have ever been hit by a meteorite. The attending physician, Dr. Moody Jacobs, by default, became the only doctor to treat a person hit by a meteorite.
The incident ballooned out of proportion and victimized, not only Ann Hodges, but also included her husband, Eugene, and their landlady, Birdie Guy. All three had been swept up by the mindset of southern American culture of the day.
Just prior to Hodges’ assault, witnesses in three states reported seeing a bright fireball and streak of light as the meteor fell through the sky. There were also reports of explosions and a “sonic boom” as the object zoomed by. Luckily for Ann Hodges, the whole meteorite didn’t hit her. Another part of the meteorite had landed in the countryside, a few miles out of town.
Soon after the object had hit the house, local residents gathered around the property. There was such a crowd that, when Eugene Hodges arrived from his job as a utility worker, he had to push rubber-neckers away from the porch so he could get inside his house. Ann felt intimidated by the large crowd, so she was transferred to the local hospital.
Rumors quickly spread that the Soviets were somehow involved with the incident. Because of the nation’s Cold War paranoia, the Sylacauga police confiscated the meteorite and, in turn, surrendered it to the US Air Force. After the military confirmed the rock was a meteorite, the public insisted that it should be returned to Mrs. Hodges. According to the Alabama Museum of Natural History, Ann agreed. She reportedly said, “I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!”
This is when the landlady enters the story. The recently widowed Birdie Guy was the owner of the Hodges’ house. Guy hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit that claimed the meteorite belonged to her because it had fallen onto her property. Even though the law was technically on her side, public opinion was overwhelmingly against her. Guy agreed to an out of court settlement and gave up all claims to the rock in exchange for $500.
The Hodges were convinced they could collect a sizable reward for the meteorite, so they waited for offers. It turns out that the Smithsonian Institute offered the Hodges a modest sum, but the couple turned down the offer. After interest in the meteorite story faded, the couple simply donated the rock to the Alabama museum, in 1956.
After the situation died down, Ann Hodges suffered a “nervous breakdown”, that was blamed on the incident and all the repercussions that had followed it. In 1964, the couple separated. At the age of 52, Ann passed away in 1972 from kidney failure at a Sylacaugan nursing home. Her ex-husband believes that the meteorite and the hoopla that followed had taken its toll. He said that she never recovered from it.
The tale doesn’t end with the death of Ann Hodges. On December 1, 1954, the day following the meteorite crash, the other part of the rock was discovered. Julius McKinney was driving his mule-drawn wagon down the road from Sylacaugan, carrying a load of wood. His mules balked at the sight of an odd, black rock on the road. McKinney pushed the rock to one side of the road and continued on his way. By evening, gossip about the Hodges meteorite filtered his way. He returned to the side of the road and retrieved the meteorite and brought it home.
That Saturday, McKinney told his mailman about the rock because the postman was the only reliable person who could be trusted with such information. The mailman did turn out to be a good ally. He helped locate an attorney to negotiate sales terms for the rock.
After scientists confirmed the rock was indeed a part of the Hodges meteorite, McKinney accepted an offer from an Indianapolis, Indiana lawyer to purchase it. The buyer then donated the piece of meteorite to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Although the purchase price was not made public, historians say the funds were enough for the McKinney family to purchase a new farm place and a car.
Some Alabamans are fond of saying that the Hodges meteorite was the biggest thing to ever hit Sylacauga, literally.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes this bit of irony. The Hodges’ rented house was located across the road from the “Comet Drive-In Theater”. The drive-in sported a neon sign that depicted a streaking comet.