[meteorite-list] NP Article, George Merrill Comments

MARK BOSTICK thebigcollector at msn.com
Wed Jan 29 01:43:27 EST 2003

Newspaper: The Fort Wayne Sentinel
City: Fort Wayne, IN
Date: Wednesday, December 28, 1910
Page: 22


Curator of Smithsonian Institution Has a Word to Say.


     Washington, D. C. Dec. 22. - "Thirty years experience in connection
with meteorites and the falling of such phenomena, has gone a long way
toward making me a heretic, and has quite unfitted me for duties in which
the credibility of humans testimony is involved, say Dr. George P. Merrill,
head curator of the department of geology at the Smithsonian institution at
     "This department is constantly receiving letters from persons all over
the United States who have actually seen a meteorite fall and want
information in regard to it.  Samples of there which have been sent on for
examination usually prove to be nothing more than masses of furnace slag,
metallic iron, granite, ect.
     "The number of persons actually finding authentic meteorites is hardly
greater than 1 per cent. of the entire number.  This may perhaps be caused
by the low angle of incidence characteristic of the fall of many meteorites,
but it is a fact that even the most experienced of observers have been
mistaken, and stones 'actually seen' to strike the earth in nearby fields
have been ultimately found even miles away.
     "Then, too, the newspapers have in many instances printed startling
accounts of the fall of meteorites, instances where persons were hit and
seriously injured and houses struck and damaged.  As a matter of fact, there
is no authentic record of a meteorite ever having done any damage, its
impact with the earth being scarcely more than that due to gravity.
     "People should realize that meteorites are not to be found with any
amount of frequency.  In all the known collections of the world today there
are specimens of only about 800 meteorites.  The number of specimens
themselves may be much in excess of that number, but these are simply
duplicate specimens of the same meteorite.
     "Since I have been connected with the Smithsonian institution many
cases of the supposed finding of meteorites have come under my notice.  One
of the most startling instances of the fall of a meteorite was chronicled in
a reliable newspaper not long ago.
     "The meteorite, which was reported to be 'immense,' it was said,
exploded with a loud report when within 100 feet of the ground.  The windows
of the place rattled and there was a shower of splintered iron on the roofs.
The country was lighted up for miles and people were terrorized.  Seeing the
report of this, an investigation was at once begun by writing to persons
living in the vicinity of where the phenomenon had occurred.
     "In reply a letter was received from a man to whom the matter had been
referred and who had been recommended to me as 'a man of good reputation.'
In his letter he verified all the points brought out in the newspaper
account and gave some additional data in regard to its color, shape, ect.
     "Further investigations of the matter were undertaken with a view of
obtaining, if possible, a specimen of the meteorite.  None was found
whatever but it was discovered that the 'phenomenon' chronicled had been
caused by the explosion of some dynamite which the boys of the neighborhood
had stolen.
     "Another newspaper clipping which came under my notice reported that a
man had been hit by a meteorite.  It stated that it struck him 'so terrible
a blow that he was found senseless near his home with a crushed and
fractured skull'  In describing the stone the article went on to state that
it was 'the size of an orange, strangely corrugated and marked with
widnamstatten or peculiar crystalline figures.  Mineralogists who saw it
declare it is unquestionably of meteoric origin.'
     "The article also went on to state that the man's condition was
critical, and that he had been removed to a hospital.  Correspondence with
the postmaster of the city in which the accident took place was entered
into.  He in turn communicated with the physician attending the injured man,
who made the statement that the obstacle which had struck the man was an
ordinary stone thrown by a neighbor.
     "A somewhat similar case was that of a report stating that by the fall
of an aerolite a residence was partly wrecked and the neighborhood
panicstricken.  The meteor struck the north end of the house tearing away a
part of the upper story. When this was investigated I received word that it
was 'all a hoax; nothing of the kind struck the house.'"

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