Greene County Arkansas

Paragould, Arkansas

Centennial Edition Section 5

                                                                                                                                                                                            Monday, August 29,1983

                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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Paragould's Pet Rock

The meteor that fell from space

   In these days of space shuttles, nuclear missiles and satellites to the stars, it may be hard to understand all the fuss over a rock that fell to earth.
   But anyone who can recall the Paragould meteor of 1930 can also confirm that the excitement was real and justified.
   People for whom dates and years usually meld can still vividly recollect when the bril-liant stone hurtled through the sky and set fire to the night. The meteor made an imprint on their memories as surely as the meteorites it cast off made imprints in Greene County farm land.
   Not all of their memories match exactly; memories are like that. They vary with their keepers. Details aside, however, all agree the meteor's fall and its aftermath rocked the community.
   A 1955 article published by the Field Mus-eum of Natural History in Chicago, which owns the largest recovered fragment of the meteor, gave this version:
   It was 4:08 a.m., Feb. 17. An object some witnesses described as resembling a ball of fire with a glowing tail appeared in the north-east. Accompanying detonations were com-pared to an "explosion like a sharp peal of thunder," or "a blast of dynamite."
   The article sought to provide a typical ac-count of witnesses by quoting from a 1930 paper by two scientists, C. C. Wylie and Stuart H. Perry:
   "Near Gainsville, Arkansas, Marvin Penny, a farmer, was dressing when he heard the crash of an explosion, seemingly right over his house. He was outdoors at once and heard a noise like thunder rolling, as it seem-ed, to both northeast and southwest, the roll to the northeast being more pronounced and lasting longer. He saw, in spite of the moon-light, a trail "like the milkmaid's path' extend-ing from about 30 degrees altitude in the southwest through overhead to near the horizon in the northeast. The trail was visible for perhaps five minutes in the northeast, where it could be seen the longest. The explosion stampeded Mr. Penny's stock."
   Two-legged creatures were spooked as well. Interviewed for the 50th anniversary of the meteor in 1980, Roy Tyner of Walcott remembered, "Some of us thought that some of the other countries were going to bomb us and start a war. That was my first reaction." World War I "hadn't been over too long," he pointed out, and an enemy attack seemed possible.
   Others shaken by the heavenly body's arrival believed it was the first glimmer of judgment day. They thought, "Well, this is it. The good Lord's coming for us," Tyner said.
      County residents weren't the only ones startled when night flashed to day. People in other parts of Arkansas Missouri, eastern Kansas and western Tennessee also saw or heard the meteor, according to the Field Museum article. Some St. Louis residents mistook the stone for a burning plane.
   It didn't take local folk long, though
to realize they had hosted an event of great scientific importance. The same day the meteor fell, Raymond Parkinson, a farmer near Finch, found the first of two major fragments that would be recovered.
   The 80-pound meteorite was embedded about 34 inches deep in a hole it made after grazing the ground's surface for a short dis-tance. The next day, Parkinson allowed a physics class from Paragould High School to
take it to school for display and examination. A Daily Press account at the time said Parkinson "donated" the meteorite to the school.
   Parkinson soon would take a different view. Word of the discovery spread quickly, and inquiries poured in from scientists want-ing to know more about the event and obtain the meteorite. When the local school board agreed to sell the fragment for $300 to help pay for laboratory equipment, Parkinson demanded his piece of the rock.
   The brunt of Parkinson's efforts, and his fist, fell on L. V. Rhine of Paragould. In 1930, Rhine was a young science teacher who allowed a dozen of his students to re-trieve the meteorite from the Parkinson property.
   In a 1980 interview, Rhine recalled that Parkinson was angered by the sale of the fragment and filed suit for the $300. Later, Parkinson assaulted Rhine on the street. "He pulled back his arm and squared off and hit me in the face as hard as he could," Rhine
said.
   Parkinson paid a $2.50 fine on an assault and battery charge stemming from the inci-dent, but he made up for that loss by winning the suit -- and the $300. Thus introduced to the legal system, Rhine went on to a long career as a lawyer and circuit judge.
   The path of the meteorite since it left Para-gould is not entirely known, but it eventually landed in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D.C., where it keeps company with such famous stones as the Hope diamond. The meteorite was donated to the Smithsonian by Stuart Perry, one of the authors of the 1930 paper.
   The Smithsonian also owns a small frag-
ment, weighing about 3 pounds, that is mak-ing a return engagement in Paragould for the Sesqui-Centennial Celebration. The frag-ment is on display at First National Bank and will also be shown at Security Bank
    before being returned to Washington.
   Little is known of this tiny meteorite, but it certainly is a chip off the old rock.
   It's biggest brother wasn't disc-vered until a month after it smashed into the farm land of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Fletcher southwest of Finch, about two and one-half miles from
where the 80-pound fragment was found.
   A neighbor hunting for a lost cow found the stone buried nine feet into hard clay. It weighed 820 pounds and required a derrick and a dozen men to dislodge it. When finally hoisted onto a wagon, the wagon buckled beneath the weight. Souvenir seekers chip-ped away at the meteorite until it was re-
duced to about 745 pounds.
   The stone was displayed in the front win-
dow of the Daily Press, where it attracted a steady stream of visitors.
   Meanwhile, the Fletchers had a bidding war on their hands. They were beseiged by universities, museums and scientists, including some from abroad, all interested in acquiring the meteorite.
   The winner was H. H. Nininger, a profes-sor at McPherson College at McPherson, Kan., who bought the meteorite April 30 for $3,600. Within a month, however, Nininger sold the stone to the Field Museum, where it
could be seen by more people.
   Museum officials promptly labeled the rock the "largest single meteroric stone ever seen to fall." The key phrase is "ever seen to fall." Far bigger meteorites have survived the friction of the earth's atmosphere, but it is
rare for a meteoric stone to be so well doc-
umented and observed.
   As received by the museum, the meteorite had overall dimensions of about 22 inches in height, 28 inches in length and 24 inches in breadth, and was 100 pounds heavier than any previously recorded meteorite which was seen to fall.
   It displaced a meteorite which dropped on Hungary June 9, 1866. The Paragould mete-orite didn't keep the record as long as it Hungarian cousin, however. On Feb. 18, 1948, 18 years and a day after the big event in Greene County, Arkansas, a shower of
stones fell over Norton County, Kansas.One of those stones weighed about a ton, a hard knock for the Paragould rock.
 


                                                David Dees

Related Articles pertaining to this story:

Famous Meteorite

Cash Bid for Meteorite

Uncovering Paragould Meteorite

 

 

About the Meteor

 

Transcribed by: PR Massey

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