PHOTOGRAPH BY JAY LEVITON, TIME & LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
The Russian meteorite, whose sonic boom damaged buildings and injured more than a thousand last week, is not the first to shatter a human life. (See pictures: “Meteorite Hits Russia.”)
The true story of Ann Hodges, the only confirmed person in history to have been hit by a meteorite.
On a clear afternoon in Sylacauga, Alabama (see map), in late November 1954, Ann was napping on her couch, covered by quilts, when a softball-size hunk of black rock broke through the ceiling, bounced off a radio, and hit her in the thigh, leaving a pineapple-shaped bruise.
Ann’s story is particularly rare because most meteorites usually fall into the ocean or strike one of Earth’s vast, remote places, according to Michael Reynolds, a Florida State College astronomer and author of the book Falling Stars: A Guide to Meteors & Meteorites.”Think of how many people have lived throughout human history,” Reynolds said.
“You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”
Out of This World Before the meteorite slammed into Ann’s living room, people in tiny Sylacauga and across eastern Alabama had reported seeing “a bright reddish light like a Roman candle trailing smoke,” according to the Web publication “The Day the Meteorite Fell in Sylacauga,” which was produced by the Alabama Museum of Natural History in 2010.
Others saw “a fireball, like a gigantic welding arc,” accompanied by tremendous explosions and a brown cloud. (See video: “Predicting Meteorite Impacts.”)
A government geologist working in a nearby quarry was called to the scene and determined the object was a meteorite, but not everyone in town was so sure, according to the museum publication. Many thought a plane had crashed—others suspected the Soviets.
So many people flocked to Hodges’s house that when her husband, Eugene Hodges, a utility worker, returned home from work, he had to push gawkers off the porch to get inside.
Ann was so overwhelmed by the crowd that she was transferred to a hospital. With Cold War paranoia running high, the Sylacauga police chief confiscated the black rock and turned it over to the Air Force. After the Air Force confirmed it was a meteorite, the question then was what to do with it. The public demanded the space rock be returned to Ann, and she agreed.”I feel like the meteorite is mine,” she said, according to the museum. “I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!”
Simple Country People But there was a hitch. Ann and Eugene were renters, and their landlady, a recently widowed woman named Birdie Guy, wanted the meteorite for herself.
Guy obtained a lawyer and sued, claiming the rock was hers since it had fallen on her property. The law was actually on her side, but public opinion wasn’t.
Guy settled out of court, giving up her claim to the meteorite in exchange for $500. Eugene was convinced the couple could make big money off the rock and turned down a modest offer from the Smithsonian.
But no one bit, and so the Hodges donated the meteorite to the natural history museum in 1956, where it’s still on display. (Related: “Meteorites: Best Places to See Them Up Close.”)
Ann later suffered a nervous breakdown, and in 1964 she and Eugene separated. She died in 1972 at 52 of kidney failure at a Sylacaugan nursing home.
Eugene suspects the meteorite and frenzy that followed had taken its toll on Ann. He said “she never did recover,” according to the museum.
Ann “wasn’t a person who sought out the limelight,” added museum director Randy Mecredy. “The Hodges were just simple country people, and I really think that all the attention was her downfall.”