Hole in the Clouds
Nov 1, 2014
Back in the '80s, when Kelley was a little girl growing up in Mobile, Alabama, the camera caught up with her and her giagia (yaya) as they settled down into the couch for a game of chess.
We are told that Kelley turns 36 this month. Her giagia, Coula, lived to the age of 95, long enough to get to know her great-grandson, Kelley's son Thomas.
Is there anything more adorable than a grandmother-granddaughter chess match? Let's not overthink that. It's perfect.
(h/t: Tina L)
Nov 2, 2014
Baby Jake catches Game 7 of his first World Series, along with mom Caitlin. It's educational for Jake, we're told; as young as he is, he might as well start learning that the good guys don't always win.
(h/t: Janet Goldwater)
Nov 3, 2014
Back in June, the women working behind the counter at this ice cream place in Germany took a break to watch the German national team win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Next June, there will be another soccer World Cup competition, this time hosted by Canada and featuring women's national teams. Last month in Philadelphia, the U.S. women officially qualified for the 2015 tournament by beating Mexico 3-0 and then Costa Rica 6-0 to claim the regional CONCACAF Cup. A clear majority of the 12,000-plus spectators cheering them on were women and girls.
(Image credits: top, Sang Wenjin; bottom, Fuji T)
Nov 4, 2014
Around the middle of every October comes a day declared Philly Photo Day by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Anybody who happens to be in Philly that day with any kind of camera, even a cellphone, is invited to submit a snapshot that captures a smidgen of what's going on, on that day, in this city.
The nineteen hundred photos turned in this year, for the fifth iteration of the event, will be displayed next April in the new Dilworth Park plaza at City Hall.
Above is Katrin Maldre's submission, showing the action behind the back counter at Gavin's Cafe in Fitler Square. Below is my entry, featuring Grand Opening balloons outside a new pet-supply store on South Street.
Philly Photo Day
(Image credits: K. Maldre, Fuji T)
Nov 5, 2014
Shorpy tells us the hundred-plus-year-old glass plate that produced this photo is something he bought on eBay. Apparently, nothing is known about the image, except that it features photographic technology, and perhaps also props and fashion, that date it to approximately 1910.
The brand of the stove, Peninsular, suggests the location may be southern Michigan or northern Ohio.
All in all, what we've got here are two unknown people in an unknown kitchen, taking a moment from their unknown lives to look us right straight in the eye, from the distant shores of the early twentieth century.
Note that they've been saving old newspapers up on top of the cabinet.
Nov 6, 2014
Two cranes get their act together high in the sky above New York City's High Line promenade.
Many, many cranes are hard at work these days in that neck of the woods; apparently, real estate developers are firmly of the opinion that people will pay even more than the usual Manhattan rates to live in an apartment or condo near the High Line. They may be right; nobody's yet found the ceiling on what New Yorkers will pay for anything.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Nov 7, 2014
All the cool kidz nowadays–all the cool kidz who have a little too much money–or is too much money one of the requirements for cool kidz status?–anyways, what they're playing with these days is the latest and greatest in technology for drone photography.
Little plastic remote-controlled flying saucers carry cameras aloft and point the lenses back down at us. Sometimes the things crash–for example, onto the balcony of an apartment on a high floor of a New York skyscraper–but sometimes they capture astonishing views of life here on the surface of earth.
To get the shot above, Greg McCary flew a drone up over the hills and rivers of Bartow County, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta. Below, Mauricio Lima's venture into drone photography attracted the attention of a wary neighbor.
(Image credits: Greg McCary
Nov 8, 2014
Our last look at Iceland's ongoing volcanism touched on matters of earthquakes, a collapsing caldera, magma, lava, and tectonic rifting. But we failed to discuss the issue that has come to preoccupy Icelanders in recent months: poison gas, which spreads across the island as a blue haze, threatening the health of people, livestock, crops, and vegetation.
The gas belches out of the lava as sulfur dioxide, SO2, which is the odor we sniff in minute amounts when we strike a match. Around the site of the eruption, in barren terrain near central Iceland's Bardarbunga volcanic complex, the sulfur dioxide is so intensely concentrated that a single breath could be fatal. Fortunately, no one lives nearby; researchers approaching the volcanic vent wear elaborate gas masks and stay in the vicinity for only a few minutes at a time.
In addition to being dangerously sulfurous, the air near the eruption is also extremely turbulent. Steam from the vent and heat gusts from the surface of the lava lift and disperse the SO2 quite quickly. Early in the eruption, huge pulses of steam pushed the gas so high into the atmosphere that it was entrained in the jet stream and carried in low but measureable concentrations across the sea to northern and western Europe.
Within a few days, however, as the volcanic vent opened fully, the lava spilled out less forcefully. Sulfur dioxide was no longer blasted into the upper atmosphere; instead, it has settled as a smoggy blue haze, rolling along the surface of Iceland. The haze is steered by winds; an east wind blows it into Reykjavik, as seen above, while winds from other points of the compass blow it to every nook and cranny of the island.
When the haze is bad, Icelanders are told to stay indoors, close their windows, and run their heat full blast. Measured concentrations are well above known hazard levels, and people with weak lungs or compromised immune systems face serious health risks. Even healthy people experience burning eyes and throats, headaches, fatigue, and various degrees of breathing difficulties. Those who have to stay outdoors try to keep nose and mouth covered and are warned to avoid heavy exertion.
But the symptoms are temporary; the wind changes, the blue haze disappears, and everybody feels better. Children are allowed back outside to play.
The haze is not pure sulfur dioxide. It's more insidious than that. The SO2 combines with water vapor in the volcanic steam and the general atmosphere to produce aerosols of sulfurous acid, H2SO3, one of the principal components of acid rain.
And that's not the worst of it. The H2SO3 reacts with oxygen in the air to create a much more corrosive, extremely dangerous compound: sulfuric acid, H2SO4.
People can protect themselves from the worst of all this, but animals and plants, of course, are entirely exposed. They will suffer long-term effects. Iceland's last high-sulfur volcanic eruption, known as Laki, killed three-quarters of the country's livestock in 1783 and led to massive crop failures. Thousands of people died of starvation.
The volume of lava and sulfur spewed forth by Laki, however, is believed to be about fifteen times the amount currently erupting from Bardarbunga–500,000 metric tons daily from Laki, as opposed to 35,000 tons daily from Bardarbunga.
The current sulfur emissions are roughly comparable to the amount already entering the air every day from all the smokestacks in Europe. Iceland is a tiny place to be dealing with as much poison in the air as the entire continent of Europe.
The eruption is now two and a half months old. There are no signs that it is winding down just yet; it could continue for many more months, or years.
For what it's worth, sulfur dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; in fact, it blocks sunlight and has an overall cooling effect. As winter darkness envelops Iceland now, there's less and less sunlight to be blocked; if the sulfur is still hanging around next spring, the chill of an Icelandic winter may persist even longer than usual.
(Image credit: Skapti Hallgrimsson)
Nov 9, 2014
On August 13, Hank and about a dozen other climbers summited Yanaphaqcha, an 18,000-foot peak in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes. As they neared the top of the mountain, they were engulfed in thick clouds spitting snow. "What you see around me in the picture," Hank says, "that was the view from the top."
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Nov 10, 2014
Self-portrait of the artist as three young girls, in Athens, Greece.
(Image credit: Ozyxy)
Nov 11, 2014
'Tis not the season yet for Philly's New Years Day Mummery on parade, but mums of spectacular colors and colorful spectacle are already among us, at the Longwood Gardens Chrysanthemum Festival.
Above, the Longwood horticulturists grafted more than a hundred varieties of mums onto a single stem and somehow got them all blooming at the same time.
Below is a single bloom of the 'Nijin Bigo' cultivar, which we are told translates as 'Irregular incurve' Chrysanthemum morifolium.
And below that is the festival scene, in Longwood's main conservatory in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Nov 12, 2014
On this date in 1962, as the ad below announces, this store in Rockville, Maryland, first opened its doors. It was called a Super Giant; it was the world's first Super Giant, and it was my Super Giant.
It was a supermarket, of course, and also a department store, selling raincoats and tennis rackets and desk lamps and windshield wiper blades as well as produce and candy and cigarettes. In other words, it was a WalMart before its time, and people came from all over, even from across the river in Virginia, to check it out.
Like any ordinary non-super supermarket in our regional Giant chain, it had those plaid plastic inflatable elephants up near the ceiling. All the fish on ice in the seafood section still had their heads on them and all their bones inside them, and while you waited for the guy to fillet them, you could watch the lobsters swimming in their tank.
In the produce section, somebody would weigh your produce and bag it in a paper bag and write the price on the bag with a grease pencil. At the register, the cashier would key in every single price–no scanning back then–and calculate your change. There were no credit or debit cards and no ATMs; people paid cash or wrote checks. With a local address, you could write a check for $25 over the purchase price.
Just inside the door was a row of gumball machines and usually a mechanical pony you could ride if you could talk your mother into giving you a nickel, which was not likely.
Just outside the door was the corral where you left your grocery cart–we called it a basket–while you found your car in the parking lot and drove back around to pick up what you'd purchased. A store employee loaded your car for you; he identified which groceries were yours by looking at a number on a plastic card you'd been given, which matched the number on your basket. Printed on those plastic cards, in addition to the number, were the words "No Tipping." Every time I looked at one of those numbered cards, I daydreamed a little about tipping over grocery carts.
But the best thing about Giant food shopping, better even than the Frosted Flakes and the Hostess cupcakes, was what came out of the little brown boxes near the end of each checkout lane. In the picture above, a man is writing a check on top of the box in Lane 7.
Those boxes were stamp dispensers. After your order was rung up, yellow Top Value Stamps would automatically start spitting out of the dispenser. If you'd bought a lot of groceries–the average family of four spent $12 a week on food–then you'd get a lot of stamps.
When you got back home, your mother might let you lick the stamps and stick them onto the pages of the stamp books. There were stamp catalogues showing what you could get for your filled-up stamp books: a picnic set with plastic plates and nubbly plastic glasses, a poker caddy full of wooden chips, a striped beach umbrella.
Try talking your mother into buying stuff like that. You'd be wasting your breath. But with enough yellow Top Value Stamps, all that and more could be yours–for free.
I still have a folding card table that my cousin Toby bought with cigarette stamps, found inside the cellophane wrapper on every single pack of cigarettes. And I knew families growing up that saved green stamps. But we were a Top Value Stamps family, loyal, in the marketing sense of the word, to the Giant Foods chain of stores.
We bought groceries from the Giant store closest to our house. The Super Giant was a few miles away, so we went there mostly for non-food shopping. But that was okay; you could get stamps for socks and underwear, too; you didn't have to be buying food.
With all those stamps, all that loyalty, and the great marketing innovation of WalMart-like one-stop shopping with a "spacious 3,000 car parking area"–well, where have all the Super Giants gone?
They came and went in a flash, arriving in 1962 and closing down within a few years, certainly before 1970, despite drawing huge crowds. The picture above was taken in 1964.
Today at this location on Rockville Pike, there's a regular old non-super Giant grocery store occupying a small part of the building. The rest of the shopping center features an Old Navy, a Sports Authority, and suchlike.
And Top Value Stamps have been replaced by airline miles, credit card points, store cards that give you discounts on gasoline.
Someday, even WalMart will bite the dust. Will that be a good thing? We can't know, I suppose, till we see what takes its place.
(Image credit: Life magazine via Shorpy)
Nov 13, 2014
Picking up the pieces last summer in the plaza at downtown Seattle's Westlake Mall.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Nov 14, 2014
Night of the Loy Kratong festival in Thailand.
(Image credit: KKJohn)
Nov 15, 2014
20 months old
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Nov 17, 2014
The dome and minarets of Istanbul's Ottoman-era Ortakoy Mosque flank the bridge towers at the European end of Turkey's Bosphorus Bridge; to the right is the superstructure of a ship passing through the strait.
(Image credit: K. Maldre)
Nov 18, 2014
The gnarled little trees called wallum banksia thrive in the sandy heathlands along Australia's east coast, from Queensland down into northern New South Wales around Sydney. Tall spikes of yellow-green flowers linger for months on the branches, drying out and turning brown and then gray; the knobby fruits–seed follicles–may hang on the plant indefinitely, at least until a brush fire sweeps across the countryside, which is something that happens there about every seven to twelve years.
Wallum banksia are not harmed by fire, nor by salt spray or nutrient-starved sandy soil or extended drought. The species has evolved to thrive in extremely harsh conditions, in a habitat which, like the species itself, is known as wallum.
Fire may burn up the leaves and branches, but it also pops open the seed follicles, allowing new little wallum banksia to sprout up all around the old ones. Also, the roots often push up new growth after a fire, helping the species reclaim the territory from other opportunistic seeds that might be trying to spread thereabouts.
The specimen pictured here is not in Australia at all, but in the Australian garden area of Wellington Botanic Gardens in New Zealand. The climate in almost all of New Zealand is cooler and far moister than in most parts of Australia, and wallum banksia does not grow naturally in New Zealand. In fact, it is said that the healthiest, largest, fastest-growing specimens are in dry, sunny, fire-prone locations with poor soil comprised mostly of sand.
Wellington Botanic Gardens
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Nov 19, 2014
"Deep in the Guangxi Province of China," by Trey Ratcliff.
(Image credit: Trey Ratcliff via StuckInCustoms)
Nov 20, 2014
All 1,903 pictures snapped for Philly Photo Day last month can now be viewed online. We've selected a few to post here from time to time, just to remind y'all that things were really jumping that day in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philly Photo Day
(Image credit: Ellie Brown)
Nov 21, 2014
Fulton Center, a new transit hub connecting four subway lines in lower Manhattan, opened to the public last week.
New York City
(Image credit: Bob Tullis)
Nov 22, 2014
The musical instrument in the 1928 photo above is a contrabass tuba, considerably larger and lower-pitched than a regular tuba. It is designed to be strapped onto a musician in a marching band and played in its strapped-on position, without need for lifting or rearranging.
The extremely rare instrument in the photo below from Greenwich, England, is a sub-contrabass tuba, which emits sounds an octave lower than those produced by the contrabass tuba. It is probably not intended for use in a marching band.
Harris & Ewing via Shorpy; below
Greenwich Int'l Early Music Exhibition)
(Image credits: above
Nov 23, 2014
The posture of number 6, who's been playing football this season for the Electrons of Ben Franklin High School, is ambiguous. Perhaps he's a kicker focusing on the ball on a tee; perhaps he's just unhappy about something in the game, or something unrelated to the game. Certainly, he's not celebrating.
But the evening the picture was taken, on Philly Photo Day in mid-October, the Franklin Electrons won a big game; they beat perennial city powerhouse George Washington–at G.W.–on their way to an undefeated regular season and a Philadelphia Public School AAAA championship.
Had the picture been snapped this weekend, however, interpretation would be straightforward. Yesterday, Franklin, the public high school champion, faced off against Saint Joseph's Prep, the city's Catholic school champion and last year's state champion. The Hawks of Prep crushed the Electrons, 44-27.
The magic is over now; there will be no trip to states, no undefeated miracle season. Still and all, they made a pretty good run of it, those Electrons of 2014.
George Washington High
(Image credit: Denise Johnson)
Nov 27, 2014
I would be thankful if we could get all these Thanksgiving myths sorted out. In the meantime, I am thankful for Thanksgiving, and for family and friends and our furnace.
(Image credit: unknown)
Nov 29, 2014
Stars fall on Alabama. In song, in meme, in license-tag slogan, in life and in legend. What follows is a long story about a good star and a bad star that fell on Alabama after lunch one day, out of a clear blue sky, sixty years ago this week.
One of the stars would bring a little good fortune into the life of a poor farm family in the east-central part of the state. The other would bring fifteen minutes of fame and a whole lot of grief to a neighboring family, a husband and wife who were living, appropriately enough, across the road from the Comet Drive-In Theater.
The story of the good star was written up at the time in Ebony magazine. The story of the bad star was on TV and in all the newspapers, as well as Life magazine and National Geographic. That was the way it was.
Technically speaking, of course, the two stars were not stars at all; they were pieces of rock–meteorites–chips off of a meteoroid that had traveled millions of miles through the solar system before entering Alabama airspace. The meteoroid's orbital path had been much larger than, and at odds with, the earth's. Because it smashed into the sunlit side of earth near midday, it must have been headed away from the sun at the time. Astronomers calculate its likely origin as an asteroid they call 1685 Toro.
But that November afternoon, when the stars were falling on Alabama–when a bright white fireball and bone-jarring explosions were shattering the sky–nobody was thinking meteorites. They were thinking Soviet attack. Maybe an airplane was exploding, possibly because of flying saucers but more likely because of Russians. The U.S. Air Force base at Maxwell Field, near Montgomery, Alabama, was alerted to search for airplane wreckage and to protect Alabama from Soviet aggression.
The explosions and fireball had been generated when the meteoroid, traveling at about 30,000 miles per hour through empty space, suddenly impacted the top of the earth's atmosphere. The friction from air molecules vaporized most of the rock, blasted and charred the bits that remained, and slowed down the flight to a few hundred miles per hour.
It is estimated that for any significant fragments of a meteoroid to survive the flaming 40-second journey down through the atmosphere, the original size must be quite large, at least 150 pounds. The two known surviving chunks of this one weighed in at about 8 pounds and 3.5 pounds.
The smaller chunk fell onto a dirt road in the rural community of Oak Grove, five miles northwest of the town of Sylacauga. Late in the afternoon, it was spotted by a team of mules pulling a wagonload of firewood. The mules shied at the rock in the road, perhaps because it smelled of sulfur. Julius McKinney, the farmer who was driving the wagon, could not convince his mules to move on; figuring that they'd encountered a snake, he grabbed a stick of the firewood and climbed down into the road.
But it was only a black rock. McKinney tossed it off into the weeds at the side of the road and went on home.
By the next day, the other star that had fallen on Alabama from that meteoroid was the talk of the town. The other black rock had landed a couple of miles away from the one found by McKinney's mules; almost immediately, it had been confiscated by the police, who had locked it up for safekeeping and then turned it over to the air force.
But first, the police had brought it to a nearby gravel pit, where a state geologist, George Swindel, happened to be working that day on a groundwater survey; Swindel suspected it was just a piece of the local limestone, but after consulting his reference books he tested a chipped surface with a drop of acid. The rock didn't bubble the way limestone would, but it did emit a rotten-egg odor, the way a meteorite might. Swindel also noted a charred "crust" and numerous "thumbprint" indentations in the surface, two characteristic features of rocks that have made a fiery, turbulent plunge through the atmosphere.
Swindel's identification of the object as a meteorite changed the thrust of public conversation–forget about the Cold War; the space age had arrived in Sylacauga. Even though there was no such thing yet as an official, government-sponsored space age, people around town knew that this rock from outer space had put them on the map.
And the scent of money was in the air. There is a worldwide market for meteorites, with collectors and traders and speculators and scientific organizations all competing for the same few pieces of rock. Prices were rumored to be . . . astronomical, of course.
Based on all the gossip about the meteorite that Swindel had tested, Julius McKinney suspected that his mules had located a piece of the same stuff. He went back to the spot, found it in the underbrush, and carried it home.
But now what? McKinney wasn't sure what, if anything, his meteorite was worth, but he was sure of one thing: he'd never see a dime from it unless he found a white man to represent him, to make inquiries and pursue negotiations.
The only white man he trusted was the postman. McKinney turned the rock over to him.
Meanwhile, the other chunk of meteorite had the town in an uproar, and for good reason. Instead of showing up quietly on a lonesome country road, this other one had arrived in Alabama with a spectacular flourish.
It had hit the roof of a 140-year-old frame house along the Birmingham highway about three miles northwest of Sylacauga. God had willed it to go there, some said, because of the Comet Drive-In Theater across the street.
The meteorite had penetrated the asphalt shingles and wooden roof decking atop the house, grazed a rafter and joist in the attic, and burst through the three-quarter-inch tongue-in-groove wooden ceiling.
In the living room, it had smacked down onto a large Philco radio console, fracturing the laminated wood of the cabinet. The radio deflected the rock's trajectory, ricocheting it across the room, to the sofa where Ann Hodges lay wrapped in two quilts, trying to take a nap.
The rock hit her hard, severely bruising her left wrist and hip. And with that blow, Hodges became the only human being in modern times to take a direct hit from outer space.
There have been vague tales of similar occurrences in ancient and medieval days, but the names of no other victims have come down to us. And even today, sixty years later, Hodges's story is still a singular one; last year, people in Siberia were injured by flying glass from a meteorite-induced sonic boom, but no one other than Ann Hodges is known to have been actually touched by a falling star.
Hodges's mother, who was sewing in the next room, called the police. The women assumed something in the house must have exploded. Maybe the heater? Could the black thing be part of some machine? The first officer on the scene, Sylacauga's police chief W.D. Ashcraft, had been an eyewitness that afternoon to the pyrotechnics in the upper atmosphere–"like a gigantic welding arc," he said–and he had his own theories about the rock. It must be part of an airplane, he figured, or else part of a bomb that had made an airplane explode. It looked pretty plain and simple for any of that, however. He wondered if airplanes carried rocks for ballast, the way ships do?
Chief Ashcraft called for backup from the air force, which sent a helicopter carrying a couple of officers from Maxwell Field. The copter landed on the lawn in front of the high school, where the chief met the officers and showed them the rock. They were able to dismiss it immediately as unrelated to any aircraft, and they were also able to report that no planes were unaccounted for that day.
A helicopter at the high school, plus a mysterious black rock, plus a hole in the house across from the Comet Drive-In, plus whatever it was that had happened to Ann Hodges–this was one welding arc in the sky that had left Sylacauga in something of an uproar. Although Hodges's injuries were not severe, they were uncomfortable, and she was shaken and flustered and more than a little upset, both by what had happened to her and by the commotion. People were peeking in her windows and crowding her front door, straining to see the damage. Radio and newspaper reporters were hounding her for interviews. She was said to be a shy woman and prone to nervousness. The police said she begged them to make everybody go away, and so they whisked her off to the hospital, as much for privacy as for medical attention.
That evening, when her husband Eugene came home from work–he was a crew boss for a utility contractor, setting poles and clearing brush from the right-of-way–he found such a crowd on his front porch that he had to shove people aside to open the door. Inside, he found the hole in the ceiling, but both the rock and his wife had disappeared. Ann Hodges was hospitalized for five days, which was plenty long enough for the doctor to pose for a newspaper photographer while rearranging Hodges' clothing to reveal the nasty-looking bruise on her thigh. She averted her eyes awkwardly.
Meanwhile, the air force had whisked the rock off to its lab in Ohio "for further study." And the Hodgeses, who had quickly been made aware of the meteorite's potential monetary value, wanted it back. "I feel like the meteorite is mine," Ann Hodges told reporters. "I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me."
God's intentions aside, the meteorite wasn't clearly hers. The public thought it was, but the way the law triangulates these things, rocks and minerals that show up naturally on private property belong not to the finder but to the owner of the property. Ann and Eugene Hodges didn't own the house they were living in at the time; they rented it from a woman named Birdie Guy, who was recently widowed and apparently quite anxious about her finances.
Guy quickly came forward to make her claim in the media. The meteorite was hers, she said, and she needed it badly; she was strapped for cash and would have to sell it to raise money to fix the damaged house.
Guy and the Hodgeses argued back and forth in the newspapers and on TV, and then they all lawyered up and filed suit.
Julius McKinney's rock, in the meantime, sat quietly with the postman, who had conducted a little discreet research into the meteorite market and had made contact with a few potential customers and agents, including a lawyer in Indianapolis who would represent McKinney in commercial negotiations. But in the early days of the meteorite frenzy, while the furor raged over the Hodgeses' piece of the rock, McKinney and the postman kept their secret.
Ann Hodges was taken to New York to appear on national TV. Back at home, she and her husband posed in bed with the rock for photographers from Life magazine. They may have made a little money off their notoriety, but they had lawyers to pay. It took them two years to get the landlady's lawsuit off their backs, which they finally did by paying her $500 to drop her claim.
By then, all those eager meteorite-buyers that the Hodgeses had been dreaming about were nowhere to be found. The legal fuss had left some potential customers reluctant to get involved with such litigious sellers. And public attention had moved on; even in Sylacauga, people were no longer particularly interested in that rock. The Hodgeses couldn't find a soul willing to pay good money for it.
They'd gotten one offer, back in the beginning, from a representative of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. They had dismissed it then as ridiculously low. But now that title was finally clear and they could go ahead and sell the thing, they discovered that the Smithsonian was no longer interested.
Why? Because the museum had already purchased the McKinney chunk of the Sylacauga meteorite.
For how much? The price has never been made public, but it is reported that after the sale, McKinney and his family bought a house and a car and possibly also ten acres of farmland.
The Hodgeses finally gave their rock away. In 1956, they donated it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa, where generations of schoolchildren have made it by far the most popular exhibit in the museum.
It is said that Ann Hodges never fully recovered from all that fell on her that day from out of the clear blue sky: not just her injuries, but the unwelcome attention, the media manipulation, and the stress and expense of the protracted legal battle, with its disappointing outcome.
Within a few years, she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Her marriage ended. She became a recluse and an invalid. Sixteen years after being touched by a star, she died of kidney failure. She was 52 years old.
Julius Kempis McKinney was already older than that on the day he found his chunk of the meteorite; his date of birth is not recorded but is believed to be approximately 1897. He had joined the army in 1917 and fought in World War I. When he and his wife, Callie O'Neal McKinney, posed with the meteorite for a photographer from Ebony magazine, they included two of their grandsons in the picture.
A thin slice from his piece of the rock has been examined under a microscope by Smithsonian geologists, who were able to classify it as an H4 chondrite, one of the most common types of meteorites. It contains so much iron that it will deflect a compass needle by a degree or two. It also contains spherical crystals, which form only when mineral crystallization occurs in weightless outer space.
Meteorites are the oldest rocks ever found. Almost all of them are close to five billion years old, dating back to the early days of the solar system, when collisions between what we might call baby planets sometimes ejected chunks of planetary matter into wild and crazy orbits.
These rocks can fly through space for billions of years, it seems, but the minute they fall on Alabama, they make a ruckus.