Part 2: “We had a little excitement around here today.”
Hewlett Hodges, the tree surgeon, arrived home from work around six p.m. He walked into his house and immediately noticed the hole in the roof. Ann Hodges greeted him. She smiled at her husband and with practiced understatement said “We had a little excitement around here today.”
As Alonzo Arnold watched the heavens explode a cadre of ROTC cadets marched across the University of Alabama campus. Cadet Donald Loveless gazed at his watch. It read 12:45pm. November 30, 1954, was a dull day. Then something like “a Roman Candle falling to Earth” barreled across the sky above Tuscaloosa.
By this time people from Atlanta to Mississippi knew something was on fire and the Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, deployed search and rescue helicopters to identify what they assumed to be a “missing plane reported to have exploded.” Their search quickly drew them towards Sylacauga.
A man stood at the bottom of a marble quarry, 125 feet down. He surveyed groundwater and right now he engaged himself in measuring the cleanliness of Sylacauga’s water supply. The man stared at the ground for a living, he’d noticed neither the fire roaming the skies above Alabama nor the great noise that accompanied it. A head appeared over the rim of the quarry and a voice echoed down.
The man looked up at the distant figure that called his name.
“Yeah?” his reply echoed up from the quarry floor.
“It’s me, Chief Ashcraft, the mayor needs to see you.”
George Swindel rode with W.D. Ashcraft towards town. Ashcroft said something about a stone that nobody could identify and Swindel sighed, someone found “just another “unusual” piece of rock,” he thought to himself. Of course they immediately needed him to identify it. Such is the life of the geologist.
The pulled into the B.B. Comer Memorial School. A helicopter rested nearby with “US Air Force” emblazoned upon it in white. This was no normal “unusual” rock.
Two Air Force personnel waited inside. They pulled George Swindel into a classroom and asked him to identify the stone. He gazed at the thing; seven inches long and five inches wide, 8.5 pounds, and coated in “a satiny, black” substance about a millimeter thick. George Swindel chipped off a piece and doused it with some hydrochloric acid he kept in his satchel. There was no effervescence. Desperate for an answer he whipped out his copy of Kemp’s A Handbook of Rocks. After several minutes he looked up.
“Gentlemen, this is a..”
“Meteor Hits Alabama Woman.” The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, AL), December 1, 1954.
Swindel, George W. and Walter B. Jones “The Sylacauga, Talladega County, Alabama, Aerolite: A Recent Meteoritic Fall that Injured a Human Being,” Meteoritics: The Journal of the Meteoritical Society and the Institute of Meteoritics of the University of New Mexico 1, no. 2 (1954): 125-132.