The Meteor - Part II
(Continued from previous issue...)
At 12:18 a.m., Monday, July 16, 1928, a meteor roared bright across the skies of Puget Sound. For 5 to 7 seconds, night became day, explosions were heard, huge waves washed ashore near Harper and Manchester: dead fish floated ashore the next day. The Seattle Times and P-I’s first stories were told in Part I.
The Bremerton Daily News Searchlight noted other reports, including one from Manette which echoed Seattle and Tacoma reports that the meteor came to earth toward the SW. An Olympia report said it came to earth in an easterly direction (with) “a tremendous concussion and many called newspaper offices thinking there had been a great explosion.
“Dean Morken, driving in Seattle, heard a strong hissing sound.... Everything was lighted up light as day, with a brilliant blue light,’ he said. ‘I jumped out of my car to look up and as I did so, the meteor seemed to disintegrate and fall. It came from slightly east of south and appeared about 500-feet above the earth.’
“Chief of Police Walter Barowski noticed the glare after midnight as he cruised through the streets of Bremerton in the night prowler car. ‘It looked like a huge ball of fire— the sky was lit up with a bluish tinge and suddenly the thing seemed to explode making a triple detonation and earth rumble.’
“Acting (Kitsap) Sheriff Amos Corliss (saw the meteor) while riding his automobile near Horseshoe Lake. Don Young and Miss Muriel Rogers and a party of other Manette youth were out riding. They said it looked as though the meteor were directly over Bremerton and about to fall on the city.”
“A meteor so bright that its light filled the sky for miles and the roar of it hitting the earth or water rattled the windows of houses in the city and woke many from their sleep” made page one, column one of Monday’s Tacoma News Tribune. “It buried itself somewhere in Pierce County or to the NW.”
Most reports reaching the News Tribune offices and police station were from residents of South Tacoma, McKinley Hill and from American, Gravely and Steilicoom Lakes: “It appeared at first as a dull glow, rapidly increasing until the light filled the whole sky.
The light then died out rapidly and a moment later came the roar of an explosion. This resembled a giant cannon of some kind with a series of deep reverberations following which lasted 10 or 15 seconds.
“While many saw the glare and heard the explosions, few saw the meteor itself. Among those who saw (it) falling, perhaps the best view was obtained by Dr. G. A. Wislicenus, 3502 North 29th St., who, with his wife, rushed to their bedroom window, attracted by the glare.
‘After the brightest glare passed, I saw what appeared to be four fiery balls, close together, falling rapidly towards the earth,’ said the doctor. ‘The direction was just a little west of north and the meteorite seemed to be traveling from south to north. The four balls rapidly died out as they approached the earth and soon all was darkness again.’
“Dr. Wislicenus’ observations indicated that the meteorite might have exploded into a number of parts and burned out before it hit the ground. In that case, the noise might have been that of the meteorite blowing up, rather than it striking the earth. “J. J. Lynn, attendant at Western Washington State Hospital ... saw a red ball with a trail of fire pass over the hospital toward the northwest and thought it landed in the Sound.”
The noise of the explosion caused rumors that there had been a horrible accident at the DuPont (dynamite) facility. Authorities at DuPont said there were stories of the explosion coming from every direction on the compass “making it impossible to tell its direction.”
The Seattle Star in a Monday front page story “Meteor Darts Over Seattle,” reported: “Police and telephone operators in nearly every town and city along the coast were kept busy for hours explaining what many thought to be a great fire or quake. ...It lighted up the city nearly as brightly as the sun. ...It resembled a great flaming skyrocket.”
The Star shared wire service stories from Portland, Tacoma, and Steilicoom adding, “Near Lincoln beach, south of Seattle, and the Tacoma Golf and Country Club, the blast was reported felt.” The spot where it landed was still a mystery. Academicians were not quick to leap to any conclusions. UW Dean Henry Landes told The Star “...Very possible that the flaming body seen this morning was a meteor. Such things occur.... It is very possible that it fell into the Sound, but it could have fallen on the ground without being noticed.”
With a second day to reflect upon what happened, journalists shared more observations and editorials on July 17 and 18. A tugboat captain got his story into Tuesday’s Bremerton Daily News Searchlight—
“Tugboat Man Sees Meteor Strike Water— John Hefner returning from Anacortes to Bremerton declares fiery meteorite landed near his boat at Point No Point. “...He noticed an unusual light fastly (sic) approaching his boat. The glare was intense and Hefner was unable to look directly at the phenomena. According to the captain, the flaming mass of rock struck the water about 200 feet in front of his boat. It was accompanied in its descent with a swishing noise and gave off a hissing sound as it struck the water.... The tugboat captain was alone in the pilot house...and believing that he was experiencing something unusual, awakened others on the boat to substantiate what he felt might have been an hallucination.
“R. E. Mullin of the (Bremerton) Garland Hotel...was walking on Warren Ave. near the Navy yard fence when he first noticed the meteor. Thinking it was a skyrocket, he paid it no attention than to marvel at its unusual color and brilliance of the glow.... Shortly after, about fifty seconds, Mullin heard the explosion, what he thought was the exhaust of a large diesel engine. By his calculations, Mullin thought the meteor was about 12 miles overhead and traveling at a rate of 1,200 feet per second.”
An AP story noted that Port Angeles shared the meteor display: “Earl Sanderson and Jake Pollanz both saw (it). Sanderson was returning from Beaver by automobile and was forced to pull off of the road because of the brilliancy of the light on his windshield. The growling of his dog, Prince, attracted his attention and he turned in time to see the meteor breaking into two pieces. ‘Each one was as large as the moon,’ he said but with brilliancy ‘that rivaled the sun.’
“Pollanz said the meteorite seemed to dissolve when it came about level with the top of Mt. Angeles and left a trail of sparks in its wake. Both men remarked on the ghastly green light thrown off.”
On Tuesday, a new Time’s story was accompanied by a cartoon. A dapper fellow says, “I tell you, I saw it and heard it land just off Alki.” A sailor replies, “Who’s your bootlegger?” Another man insists, “I saw it break up in the air!” And another, “I was in Portland that morning and saw it land in the Willamette!”
The Time’s “Widely-Scattered Areas Say Meteor Fell There” let it be known that “eyewitnesses” from throughout the PNW declared “positively” that the meteor landed “nearby.” There was no lack of experts to interpret events.
W. G. Wells, UW Library staff superintendent with a “hobby of astronomy” told readers that the meteor seen in the region “was an unusually large one... probably” and that it “first became visible at an elevation of eighty miles and came gradually lower.” Without reporting seeing it, he estimated its diameter at three feet, its weight at 100 to 200 pounds and its speed at twentymiles- per-second— “five or six times faster than a bullet.” He deduced that its course “indicated that it was likely to have become detached from the Aquila of the Eagle constellation.”
Unnamed astronomers told the Times that perhaps the meteor disintegrated near the earth and that pieces did land in both Lake Steilacoom and Puget Sound, accounting for varying contentions. Other “astronomical authorities” said they “smile at these reports, saying that a meteor reaching the earth’s atmosphere leaves a deceptive impression as to its landing place.”
Authorities were sceptical of a reports such as the one that came from the AP in Vancouver, BC: “J. B. Murphy, a prospector from Mount Squeah, shortly after midnight, Monday, saw a strange light in the sky and heard a whistling noise. He was amazed to see a meteor close above him. In a moment it plunged down into the Fraser River a short distance from where he stood. Mr. Murphy was convinced that the meteor fell into the river because of the splash he heard as the meteor disappeared from sight.”
Were meteorites found?
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 Island. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org