[meteorite-list] Park Forest Article in Chicago Tribune

From: Adam Hupe <adamhupe_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:32:55 2004
Message-ID: <00a801c41391$c6d43c40$ad971018_at_attbi.com>

`Park Forest Meteorite Fall': One year, many deals later

By Sean D. Hamill
Special to the Tribune

March 26, 2004


An instant before a light lit up the sky over Chicago's southern suburbs
just before midnight on March 26, 2003, a sonic boom walloped the air.

Then came dozens of flourishes in quick succession, as if it were the finale
of the 4th of July fireworks.

"Ka-POW! Ka-POW! Ka-POW! Ka-POW!"

At the time, no one could have known that these sights and sounds, centered
over the middle-class town of Park Forest, foretold a whirlwind of greed for
some, salvation for others and an education for all.

"It was definitely unique in that it was the most populous area ever struck
by a fall of this size," said Menakshi Wadhwa, the Field Museum's meteorite
curator. "For a meteorite curator, what better thing could you ask for?"

Meteorites hit the Earth all the time. And through history some have hit
cars, homes and even cows. But, in large part because 70 percent of the
globe is covered in water, never before have so many meteorites hit all at
once in such a densely populated area.

Still, it might have been easy to miss the story. Coming a week after the
beginning of the present Persian Gulf war, it played on the inside pages of
most newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, and generated small reports
on local television and radio. Soon, the story faded from view.

In the simplest terms, meteorites are fragments of a meteor that has broken
up as it entered Earth's atmosphere. Meteors are generally considered
smaller than asteroids, and both are stony, metal-laden objects with
important stories to tell.

"The processes that formed this meteor are the processes present at the very
beginning of the solar system," said the Indian-born Wadhwa, one of the
world's foremost meteorite authorities. "If you can understand what went
into it, you can understand the building blocks of what went into the
creation of our own planet."

Peter Brown, assistant professor of astronomy at Western Ontario University
in Canada, refers to the Park Forest object as a "meteoroid" because he now
believes, based on his studies over the last year, that when it entered the
atmosphere it weighed up to 10 tons and was about 5 feet in diameter.

While Wadhwa has focused on trying to figure out what the meteor is made up
of and how it was made, Brown has been trying to figure out exactly where it
came from. The Park Forest meteor "is pretty important," Brown said. "It's
only the eighth time ever where we've made an accurate orbit of a

Brown and his colleagues are convinced it came from the asteroid belt
between Mars and Jupiter, but, at some point in its 4.6 billion-year life,
it was struck by something that threw it into a much longer elliptical

"Once that happened, it's just a matter of time before it hits the Earth, or
heads into the sun, or gets knocked out of the solar system," he said.

Despite astronomical odds, this meteor headed here.

Fortunately for residents of the southwest suburbs, this meteor was an "L5,"
or low iron, chondrite meteor, said Wadhwa, who recently completed a
scientific paper on the meteor with University of Chicago assistant
professor Steve Simon.

These are among the most common meteors, and unlike some heavy iron meteors,
they largely disintegrate before they hit the Earth.

44,000 m.p.h.

When it hit the Earth's atmosphere Brown estimates it was traveling up to
44,000 m.p.h. Thousands of pieces were scattered over a six-mile-wide field
that stretched from Olympia Fields to Crete, but centered over Park Forest.

"Three things make meteorite collectors excited," said Michael Blood, a
meteorite dealer from San Diego. "If it was a witnessed fall, if it hit
something, and if it's a rare petrographical type."

"This wasn't [petrographically] rare, but it was witnessed and hit a number
of things," said Blood, 58, who has been dealing in stones from space for 15
years. "This was the biggest event in modern times among the meteorite
collecting community."

Within a few hours of the fall, about 30 major meteorite collectors and
dealers from around the globe were headed to Chicago.

"People thought they were going to be millionaires," said Adam Hupe, a
meteorite collector from Renton, Wash., who made it to Park Forest the day
after the fall but left just a few days later because the price was too
high. "I told people to call us when all the hype died down."

Within days after the "Park Forest Meteorite Fall" as it has become known,
the price quickly rose from $1 a gram (meteorites are always sold by the
metric weight of grams) to $20.

It wasn't just collectors and dealers driving the price up, either.
Scientists like Wadhwa joined the fray.

She eventually bought five meteorites, but one that she and many other
museums would love to have is one Blood is trying to sell on consignment for
brothers Adam and Greg Hupe.

Garzas gain reknown

Known as "the Garza Stone," it is the most famous of all the fragments that
crashed to Earth in Park Forest.

It was named after the family whose home the 5-pound rock smashed into,
creating a hole in the roof before it bounced around the second floor and
came to rest a few feet from the head of the homeowners' 14 year-old son.

(It's the habit of meteorite collectors to give unofficial names to some
stones that have a history behind them, so that, in addition to the Garza
Stone, other large meteorites from Park Forest have been tagged "the curb
smasher" and "the fence buster" among others.)

The Garza Stone gained fame not only because it crashed through a roof, but
because it had a great public-relations machine behind it in homeowner Noe
Garza, who spent nearly all of the day after the meteorite fall talking to
everyone and anyone who showed up to interview him.

"I enjoyed it," said Garza, a steelworker who works in Chicago Heights. "I
wasn't camera shy at all. I like to talk."

He also likes to deal.

For more than a month after the fall, Garza played four of the world's most
prominent meteorite dealers against each other before accepting an offer for
the stone.

Though Garza won't say exactly what he was paid, other meteorite dealers
believe he received about $20 per gram for the stone from the Hupes, which
works out to $46,000 -- a figure Garza didn't dispute.

But the buying didn't stop there. The Hupes and another dealer, Jim Lang,
bought just about everything the meteorite touched, including the roof and
ceiling with the hole in it, the window sill it dented, the shards of glass
from the mirror it broke, even the window blinds it ripped through.

"My $10 blinds I bought at Menards, they gave me $200 for them," Garza
recalled. "I'm like . . . I'll take it!"

The idea, said Adam Hupe, was that with the stone and the pieces of the home
it hit put together, the Hupes and Lang could re-create the home in an
interactive exhibit that they could tour around the country to make money.

But earlier this year, after Lang and Hupes couldn't agree on the
parameters, the deal fell apart and the Hupes -- who haven't fulfilled
Wadhwa's prediction of slicing the meteorite up -- put it up for sale
through Blood at $25 a gram, or $58,000. It has yet to sell.

Though Adam Hupe said he could get up to $125 a gram by slicing up the rock,
he said he'll never do that -- "That's like cutting into history."

Though Hupe doesn't intend to cut up his rock, others have. Slices of a gram
or less -- cut in thin slices to make it easier for regular collectors to
buy -- of Park Forest meteorites continue to show up for sale on the
Internet and eBay, routinely selling for about $40 to $50 a gram.

The Illinois Department of Human Services still owns two large rocks: a
2-pounder found the morning after the fall, and a 5-pounder found on a
department roof in August during a regular inspection.

And the largest chunk yet -- an 11-pounder -- was found two months after the
fall in a back yard on the edge of the Olympia Fields Golf Course.

Steve Arnold, a meteorite broker from Kingston, Ark., is trying to sell the
11-pounder for the man who found it, at a price of $50,000.

In the hunt

The discovery, though, has only enticed more meteorite hunters to return to
look for the "main mass," a stone weighing perhaps hundreds of pounds, which
some believe still lies out there somewhere in one of the many forest
preserves in the south suburbs.

"Everyone would love to find it," said Arnold, who intends to return this
summer to look for smaller stones. "But, nothing else has shown up lately,
and a year later, odds are that it won't unless it's accidental."

After the fall last year, it took more than a month for the major ruckus to
die down in town. But even now, meteorite enthusiasts, and simple curiosity
seekers, continue to stop by asking for directions to particular locations,
said Police Chief Francis DioGuardi.

"It was crazy," said the 33-year veteran of the department. "When we were
holding most of the meteorites [while investigating what they were], it was
like we were the keepers of the royal jewels."

The first few hours of that event will forever stay with DioGuardi, who was
home sleeping when he got a call just after midnight.

"They called to tell me there was this large flash in the sky and some
citizens say something hit their house and we think it might be a meteorite.
Well, OK," he said with a laugh.

"But then there's this realization that this was a once-in-a-lifetime
experience," he said. "And it definitely was."

Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune

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Received on Fri 26 Mar 2004 07:23:48 PM PST

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