The Meteor - Part I
Special to the Battle Point Astronomical Association
As a .local. historian, I once engaged John Rudolph, BPAA cofounder, in a fun idea.let.s combine the Island.s historical society and BPAA to create .Our Neighborhood Museum. featuring both the Island and the Solar System.our bigger neighborhood. I dedicate this story to John and Ed Ritchie, too. What a blessing to have known them, spirits bright as a falling star.
When .Meteor Falls Into Sound. appeared before my tired eyes as I was researching another story in an old Kitsap County Herald, I woke up. Whoa! Unbelievable. How could this be forgotten? When a following week.s
headline reported a forest fire raging on south Bainbridge, I wondered. Wham! Hot meteorites landed here? Gravity anomalies in Rich Passage? A meteor impact? And...and...and...
Though I put reins on my imagination, the story grew as I researched further. We.ll share it in installments. Part 1.overview and the first news reports. Part 2. other observations. Part 3, perhaps a fourth.have you renewed your membership?.a synopsis and any new findings. I am learning much about meteors and hope you.ll contribute discovories to this story about...The Meteor.
Sunday evening, July 15, 1928, was warm, still and moonless around Puget Sound. Radio programing ended at 11 PM. Most had gone to bed. a weekend behind them, a new week ahead. For a few, the week began at midnight.July 16. <
Telephone operators sat before quiet manual switch-boards on graveyard shift. A sailor in the Bremerton Navy Yard stood midnight to 4 a.m. watch aboard his battleship. A tugboat skipper used a flood tidal current to help carry him south around Point No Point with a barge in tow. Bottles rattled in the bilges of a purring Prohibition rumrunner sneaking its way up Sound in the darkness. The crew of the ferry Kitsap docked at Vashon. A sheriff made the rounds near Port Angeles. A security guard fought sleep at Dupont.s dynamite storage facilities. A young couple shared a late night drive in Manette. A beach cottage owner enjoyed the gentle sound of waves and distant city lights. Some still walked city streets.
None would claim to see it first. It all happened so fast. At 12:18 a.m., many saw it. If they were outside, they darn well couldn.t miss it!
This was the first generation of earthlings to experience flight. A few dreamed of spaceman Buck Rogers, the attempt to break the high-altitude balloon record, transcontinental dirigible travel or the upcoming visit of The National Air Tour. Lofty dreams were interrupted as the Earth, speeding around the Sun, had a head-on collision! Nobody fell out of bed.at first. Most awoke a few seconds later.
At least one meteoroid journeying through space.s vacuum was diverted by gravity and plunged into Earth.s atmosphere. The space debris began to burn up from the high-speed friction. It left the endless day of space and headed into the planet.s shadow.
It was first seen in the upper atmosphere traveling faster than most could conceive. thousands of miles an hour. up to 89,000 mph (40 km/sec). Estimates would vary. It began to glow bluish white, so bright that it could be seen hundreds of miles away. For five to seven seconds, people froze in their tracks. Seattleites said it was bright as day. Even in its bright light, folks ob-served a comet-like tail. Something was racing across the sky. Some could not trust their eyes. Were they hallucinating? Was it near? Was it far away? Should they duck? ....METEOR!.
Some heard it roar, hiss and scream overhead! Many heard thunderous explosions. A few saw it crash on land while others said it splashed into water. a lake, rivers and Puget Sound. A few saw it break apart in the sky into fragments. Was .it. more than one?
Seattle area front page news stories immediately de-scribed the encounter. Early reports came mostly from the city and points south. In days, sightings were reported from outlying areas and to the north.
UW scientists checked their seismic activity monitor and found no abnormal disturbances at the time of the alleged meteor impact. Was it plugged in? College deans, librarians and scientists were quoted in calming articles and editorials, providing general education about meteors. The world was not ending. The following Sunday, one religious leader worked the meteor into his sermon. The old world may be ending.
UW and US government scientists eagerly organized to find evidence. Did it impact the earth? Treasure hunting amateurs scoured the landscape, too, with visions of metallic meteorites studded with diamonds or laced with platinum. The most astronomical gift may have been meteoric public lessons in the art of observation.
The Seattle Times was one of the first to tell the story: .Meteorite Blazes Path Of Fire Over Northwest. Seattleites See Heavenly Visitor .Half as Big as the Moon. in Flaming and Noisy Descent.. They reported .an intense blue light as bright as day... .
The Times and police headquarters were deluged with calls. The time of appearance over Seattle was generally fixed at 12:18 a.m. The course was slightly west of north, and the duration of (its) presence was five to seven seconds. From that premise, reports of observa-tion of the phenomenon began to vary widely...Seattle.s experience was repeated up and down western Washing-ton and Oregon. Late motorists on the Columbia River Highway near The Dalles, OR, were certain that the meteor fell to earth just across the river in Skamania County, WA. At Portland, many were certain it landed within or near the metropolis. .
An Associated Press dispatch from Tacoma said .a meteorite so large that its light filled the sky for miles and the roar of it hitting the earth or the water rattled windows of houses in many parts of the city and woke many from their sleep, buried itself somewhere in this community... .
An official record of the meteorite was made in the log of the battleship Idaho at Puget Sound Navy Yard (Bremerton). Ensign R. L. Adams, officer of the deck from midnight to 4 AM made the notation. Adams saw a shooting star about 12:20 a.m. that appeared half as large as the moon, about 20 miles in the air. It traveled in a south to north direction and had a tail like a comet. It was brilliant and lighted the whole sky with a pale blue glow for about seven seconds, then faded out. He BPAABPAA Newsletter May-June 2004Mheard three blasts like distant gunfire as the meteorite disappeared..
Monday.s Bremerton Daily News Searchlight added to Adam.s account: ....A shower of sparks accompanied the explosion..
The Times also noted .Observers at Kent were sure ...(it) landed between Kent and Seattle. Seattle observ-ers put its landing a few miles northward. .
The seismograph at the UW showed no record of any disturbance of any kind that would indicate a collision of the flying body with the earth. Some observers were positive that the meteorite disintegrated in the sky over Seattle. .
Reports from many points...indicated the meteor had a tail, that following the flight there were one or more explosions, and a prolonged ghostly phosphorescence lighting the sky. UP, AP and special correspondents of the Times had reports pouring in from up and down the coast. .
Some in downtown Seattle were sure the meteorite passed within 200 feet of the L. C. Smith Building (Smith Tower) and sank in Puget Sound to the north-ward. Some put the diameter at 30 inches. An observer on 12th Ave. thought it was 500 feet above him and had a diameter of five or six inches. A motorist at White Center put the height at ten miles and the diameter at .twice that of a Roman candle ball.. The US Weather Bureau had no official record.... Weren.t they .meteo-rologists.? .
Some Tacomans at first thought the DuPont powder works had exploded! Some Tacomans were positive it fell into Lake Steilacoom, four miles south from there. .
William Holmes told Tacoma police that he had attended a campfire picnic at Lake Steilacoom and that at 12:30 a.m. he had suddenly noticed an unearthly light in the sky. A few seconds later, he said he heard .crack-ling. noises on the lake and then a sizzling sound as if the waters were being burned. Then heavy waves washed ashore. He concluded the meteor had plunged into the cold waters of the lake and exploded..
The Times. Monday story was followed by an editorial. Seattle was abuzz, .Meteor. Meteor. Where the heck is the meteor?.
Fred Niendorff at the morning Seattle Post-Intelligencer had a day to collect stories. His article was accompanied by two illustrations. The larger showed the meteor crashing into Puget Sound as witnessed by a family; the other showed the path of the meteor into Puget Sound. Niendorff reported: .It was observed as far away as The Dalles, OR...and believed to have ended its awe-inspiring flight in Puget Sound off the NE shore of Vashon Is.
.It fell with a boom that was heard miles away, awaken-ing Vashon residents and sending huge waves thundering against the western shores of the peninsula at Manches-ter and Harper. .
Small boys playing on the beaches (on Monday) reported seeing numbers of dead fish washed ashore on the incoming tide. Mrs. Jessie Carter, living in a nine-room house on Maury Island (at the south end of Vashon Is.) reported that after the meteor crashed, sending out a peal like thunder, her home trembled on its foundations fully two minutes. .
The crew of the ferry Kitsap, just completing its run between Fauntleroy and Vashon Heights, say they watched the flight...and saw it come closer and closer to earth with a sickening swish, then with a roar, plunge into Puget Sound in the shallow waters near Blake Island. .
At his Manchester summer home, Carlton Fitchett, a P-I columnist, reported that at about 12:20 a.m., the time he later learned the meteor had crashed, tremendous breakers pounded the beach far beyond the high water mark, despite the lowering tide, and threatened to drive residents from their beach cottages. ....
Romantic residents were organizing search parties...spurred by memories of the famous prehistoric meteor found in Canon Diablo, AZ,...found to be mixed with diamonds and precious metals of great value...platinum at $115 per ounce per ton of meteorite. .
How large the local meteor may be is problematic. Estimates of eyewitnesses ... varied all the way from six inches to sixty feet in diameter... .
While observers differed as to size and color, all agreed it came out of the Southern skies. Many who didn.t see it were awakened from sleep when it crashed nearby.... .
From Tacoma, Olympia, Chehalis and Vancouver, WA, came reports. There were no (initial) reports from the north tending to confirm the belief that the meteor ended its flight here (near Blake Is.).
And Bainbridge?...to be continued ....
Gerald Elfendahl is a lifetime resident of Puget Sound, a local historian and author of an environmental history and geomorphology of Bainbridge Is. He was a longtime curator/director of the B.Is. Historical Society and once studied astronomy with George Z. Dimitroff. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.