[meteorite-list] Arizona Highways Issue and Holbrook
From: Bernd Pauli HD <bernd.pauli_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:48:55 2004
On Aug 16, Mike Farmer wrote:
> Just a quick note, in the August issue of Arizona
> Highways, there is a very nice article about the
> fall of the Holbrook meteorite.
Just in case someone missed it (Thank you, Twink!). Here it is:
Arizona Highways (20 August 2001)
The Day It Rained Rocks: A Rare Meteor Shower Over Holbrook in 1912
Hurled Fragments Up to 6 Miles Across the Desert (Text by Leo W. Banks,
Illustration by Mike Benny)
For a few moments on July 19, 1912, the sleepy railroad town of Holbrook
witnessed one of nature's most thrilling shows. It began early in the
evening when residents of the northeastern Arizona community spotted a
meteor streaking across the sky, leaving a cloud of "smoke" in its wake.
The space rock traveled so fast that one writer said it "would make a
swift-moving express train seem as though it were standing dead still."
The sight was followed by a tremendous boom as the meteor exploded into
some 14,000 pieces that showered the surrounding desert.
The "Holbrook Argus" of July 26 reported that the big blast was followed
"by a fusillade of smaller explosions, which terminated in a thunderlike
rumble of approximately two minutes in duration. People ran out into the
streets and gazed at the sky."
The blast occurred when the meteor seemed directly over town. But
because of its speed, many of the falling pieces landed in a narrow band
of desert, beginning 6 miles to the east.
The heaviest concentration of debris fell at the Aztec railroad yard
along the Santa Fe line, where thousands of fragments pelted the metal
roofs of buildings.
In an article published in the "American Journal of Science" four months
after the event, Philadelphia mineral collector Warren M. Foote reported
that falling stones hit the ground like bullets, throwing up puffs of
dust for a mile or more across the desert.
A boy who lived near the Aztec yard ran into his house screaming, "It's
raining rocks out there!" One chunk knocked the limb off a tree.
Seventeen years old at the time, Pauline McCleve stood outside her home
with her family members as the meteor descended.
"We were watching the sky and talking about shooting stars when Papa
pointed up and said, 'Look, there's one!"' recalled McCleve, now 105 and
living in Tempe.
A long string of sparkling bright light trailed the enormous mass, which
McCleve described as similar to a Fourth of July sparkler, only much
bigger and more intense.
"It was heavenly; something that belonged to God's realm," said McCleve.
"But I was frightened because it was coming straight toward us. Maybe
the others were standing up facing the danger, but I was cowering,
getting closer and closer to the ground.
"I saw it explode in the air and send masses of itself in all
directions. It was like shrapnel. The noise was the loudest I've ever
heard in my life, and when it landed, it shook the ground like an
After it hit, McCleve's father matter-of-factly remarked, "Well, it
missed us," then told the children they could wait until moming to go to
the landing site.
"The Argus" reported that the explosion, which probably occurred when
the meteor was about 1 to 2 miles above the ground, was "heard at
Whiteriver to the south and Keams Canyon to the north, or about 100
miles both north and south of Holbrook."
Carleton Moore, director of Arizona State University's Center for
Meteorite Studies, said the incident ranks as the only observed
meteorite fall to occur in Arizona history.
"They're rare to see and even rarer to recover," said Moore. A known
meteorite fall "happens about once a year in the entire country, and
that's partly a function of population density," he said. "In a sparsely
settled place like Arizona, there's lots of woods and desert for it to
fall into. If you have a sheepherder facing the wrong way, he doesn't
The largest piece of debris found near Holbrook weighed 14 pounds and is
on display today in the Physical Sciences Building at Arizona State
University in Tempe. Several other rocks weighing about 5 pounds each
also were recovered.
The bigger fragments hit the Earth with such force they were buried in
up to 6 inches of sand and blazed too hot to pick up. But most measured
about the size of a grape seed, and were a light-gray color with a black
In "Rocks From Space", a book about meteorites and meteorite hunters, O.
Richard Norton wrote that red ants carried away many of the Holbrook
fragments and placed them around their nests. Years later, H.H. Nininger
recovered a number of them by dragging a magnet over the anthills.
In the days immediately after the July shower, Holbrook residents and
other people from as far away as Albuquerque descended on the scene to
collect pieces. They were spurred by collector Foote, who hired locals,
to gather rock fragments and ship them to him by train.
McCleve said her father earned $2,000 for the pieces he retrieved and
her younger brother made $450. James Cyrus McCleve the man Pauline
married in 1913, earner $4,000, she recalled.
Since the initial rush, 2,000 additional pieces of Holbrook's falling
star have been recovered in the landing area, including one in 1991.
"They're still picking up little piece out there," said McCleve.
Mike Benny is a Texas-based illustrator who
looks forward to his Arizona visits every year.
Received on Tue 04 Sep 2001 02:08:56 PM PDT