Are you being dogged by a run of bad luck? Then I urge you to look at the case of Ann Hodges. If it doesn’t immediately make all your troubles fade into insignificance, it may at least serve as a cautionary tale against daytime napping.
Ann entered the history books as the only human known to have been directly injured by a meteorite. But was she? More about that later.
Ann was napping on the sofa in her Alabama home on November 30th, 1954 when a meteorite came hurtling through her roof. The 4.5 billion-year-old piece of rock, about the size of a large grapefruit, ricocheted off a radio and bounced on to her body, causing an enormous bruise on her left side. Clearly a woman not prone to hyperbole, she told Associated Press that “we had a little excitement around here today”.
Surviving a meteorite hit sounds like a great piece of luck and if it happened today, she would have her own reality show and a range of daytime napping apparel on sale within a week. Unfortunately for Ann and her husband Eugene, things rapidly spiralled downwards, much like the meteorite. The Smithsonian museum in Washington offered to buy the specimen but it had been quickly whipped away by the Air Force for examination, just in case the Russians were engaging in some Cold War shenanigans.
Eugene got a lawyer on the case to retrieve the rock and get the best possible price for it. The lawyer duly returned from Washington triumphantly holding the meteorite aloft. Back in those halcyon days, airlines didn’t mind if you carried meteorites in your hand luggage.
Another snag came when the Hodges’ landlady, Birdie Guy, tried to claim it. After all, she had a gaping hole in her roof. Eventually they paid her $500 to withdraw her claim. But by then, no one wanted to buy the meteorite. The Hodges used it as a doorstop for a while before donating it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History where it can still be seen today. Eugene later told the Tuscaloosa News that Ann may have ended up with $25, at best, after all her trouble.
Another Alabaman, Julius McKinney, was luckier. He had discovered a smaller chunk of the meteorite when his mules stopped in front of it as he was driving his wagon home. He sold it to a meteorite enthusiast who passed it on to the Smithsonian Museum. No one knows how much he received but it was enough to fund a new house and a car.
All that stress took a toll on Ann and Eugene Hodges’s marriage and the couple later divorced. And then Ann died, aged 52, after a run of poor health. But could there be one final piece of bad luck to befall her? Could it be that she wasn’t actually the first human to be injured by a meteorite? Did a Mr Woods in Birr, Co Offaly beat her to it? After all, Birr once held the record for having the world’s largest telescope, and for being the scene of the world’s first automobile fatality.
According to Thomas Lalor Cooke’s book The Early History of the Town of Birr, or Parsonstown, Mr Woods was in the mill on the Birr-Banagher road in the 1800s when “a fireball or meteorite stone ... descended upon the mill and, having broken through the roof, blew out all the windows, threw down the lofts, and killed Mr Woods, the proprietor, who happened to be there at the time”.
Dr Patrick Roycroft is a man who has forgotten more about meteorites than most people will ever learn, as he is the curator of geology at the National Museum of Ireland. He says he would take this report with a large pinch of salt. But he doesn’t dismiss it entirely. “It is a report that needs a proper follow-up to determine what, if anything, really happened at this mill and why a meteorite was the ascribed cause of death of Mr Woods.”
If you want to hear more about a meteorite that definitely exists, watch out for the new Hidden Treasures series on RTÉ next spring when Dr Roycroft will be talking about the rock star of Irish meteorites. The Brasky Mass is the largest fragment of the Limerick Meteorite, which landed with a bang in the county in 1813. It’s the size of a football but you would have a sore toe if you kicked it as it weighs 27kg. The Brasky Mass is not currently on display in the National Museum of Ireland so this will be a rare chance to see and hear about it. I’m told it’s out of this world.