The Metor - Part III
... At 12:18 a.m., Monday, July 16, 1928, a meteor roared bright across the skies of Puget Sound. For five to seven seconds, night became day; explosions were heard; huge waves washed ashore near Harper and Manchester where dead fish floated ashore the next day. The Seattle Times and P-I’s first stories were told in Part I, other Monday and Tuesday stories were shared in Part II. Were meteorites found? Could the spectacular meteor become old news so quickly...
Seattle Times readers heard, “Tacoma residents were quite sure that meteor-like fragments picked up on a fairway of the Tacoma Country and Golf Club were from the astral caller though positive identification was held impossible by Prof. F. A. McMillan, head of the geology department at the College of Puget Sound (CPS), to whom specimens were submitted.” (McMillan pointed out that 15,000 to 20,000 meteorites daily reach the atmosphere but that most “burn to dust” before reaching earth.)
The Tacoma News Tribune’s reporters may have dug deeper—or stretched the story— when they boldly announced, “Meteor Pieces Found— Belief That Sky Visitor Exploded Over or Near Tacoma Grows.” The prevalent thinking was that large parts of the meteor exploded before impact and showered the region with fragments. Did any survive? Tribune reports from the professor did not dismiss the idea.
“Several fused fragments were found on the golf course of the Tacoma Country & Golf Club on Monday by Lee Johnson Jr. and it is believed they may be fragments from the exploded meteor. An investigation by Prof. F. A. McMillan of the CPS disclosed the formation to be iron and rock mass that had been subjected to intense heat, such as might be cast off by the meteor explosion.”
“That the flashing meteor resembled a huge sky rocket and blew up while still 40 miles from Tacoma is the belief of C. W. Taylor, 1498 Stevens St. who, Tuesday, gave the most complete picture of the phenomenon to date. Taylor was walking home when he was attracted to the strange light. He soon spotted the falling star and watched it for several seconds. As it approached the earth...it suddenly exploded, he said, sending a shower of particles downward, just like an exploding skyrocket....
In the mass were several large sections, surrounded by innumerable sparks. Taylor continued his walk and had gone a block and a quarter before the explosion was heard. He estimated the elapsed time at two minutes and from his calculations, he estimated that the meteor was 40 miles away ...when it burst. The low rumbling noise following the explosion, Taylor believes was made by the meteor as it zipped its way through the earth’s atmosphere before it exploded. The fact that the explosion was heard first would be explained by the fact that the meteor was probably traveling faster than the speed of sound waves.”
“Residents of the north end of Vashon Island told of a great splashing noise and high waves pounding the beach shortly after the meteor flashed. Dead fish were also seen on the beach leading to the theory that the main body of the meteor may have fallen in the Sound just west of the northern tip of Vashon. This theory was borne out by Capt. Domingo Scarponi of the ferry Tacoma. The boat was just pulling into the Point Defiance slip when the meteor passed over. Capt. Scarponi watched it and was of the opinion that it burst somewhere over the West (Colvos) Passage and its remains crashed into the water there.”
A Seattle Star Tuesday editorial, “Something About Meteors,” presented readers with a primer on shooting stars and “...what must have been a huge chunk of some forgotten world, long ago blasted into space.” Editors urged all to keep an eye out for the annual August meteor shower suggesting, “You will find the speculation it arouses a refreshing relief from the humdrum cares of this little world.”
Ho, hum...but in Tacoma, “The most thrilling spectacle ever witnessed in the PNW” grabbed headlines and was greeted by 20,000 people on Wednesday morning. It touched down with a roar at Tacoma’s Airport. It was no meteor: It was The National Air Tour— twenty-one planes, motors screaming at top speed and piloted by some of the day’s most famous aviators.
In a “Special to Wednesday’s Seattle Times,” Elmar White of Lynden, WA, told a vivid story. He saw the meteor at about 12:15 a.m. Monday morning from the “sudden lighting of the sky.” He saw the “blazing trail of fire moving toward the southwest. The object seemed to be traveling slowly. No earth disturbances were noticed. ”
In another Wednesday Times’ story, two Bellingham residents said they saw the meteor Monday morning. Harbormaster Art Hook saw it from Eliza Island. C. L. Taylor, a taxicab driver, reported seeing it at 12:20 a.m. while taking a passenger to Mt. Vernon. He was “in the vicinity of Sunset” and his impression was that the brilliant meteor fell near Edison. He judged it traveled ten miles across the sky, just above the horizon. He said, “It looked like an airplane with its gasoline tank afire.”
By Friday, the weekly Kitsap County Herald repeated the P-I’s story to Peninsula and Bainbridge Island farmers and steamboat passengers under the banner, “Meteor Falls Into Sound.” The Vashon Island News Report, a farm newspaper occupied with more earthly matters, made no mention of meteorites in their island soils or waters. No copies of the Port Orchard Independent or Bainbridge Island Review survive — or do they?— to record sightings from their vantage points. Rev. Dr. H. S. Templeton addressed his University Presbyterian Church congregation at 11 a.m., Sunday,
July 22 with a sermon entitled, “God’s Reminder in the Sky— The Message of the Meteorite.” He described the phenomenon and suggested “...The suddenness and brightness of the meteorite are timely reminders of a coming event in the earth’s history. The return of the Son of Man...”
Forest fire, Pacific Northwest
The next day, a week after the meteor impact, a forest fire erupted along the south shore of Bainbridge Island between the Country Club and Fort Ward. It was across from Manchester and Blake Island where some had reported a meteor splash down. The fire made the news a week later. Its cause was unknown. Was it started by smoldering meteorite fragments?
The meteor fell past the bedtimes of 1928 south Bainbridge residents Jack Klamm, 9, of Pleasant Beach and Elmer Anderson, 14, of Toe Jam Hill. Both had early morning chores. “In those days,” Anderson says “most farmers would not have paid much attention to meteors.”
Both remember the forest fire that raged on the high, steep, windy hills above the south shore. It threatened forests, several homes and, to the west, the gravest danger— Fort Ward’s ammunition magazine. Upwards of 500 volunteers helped contain the fire including Seattle’s fire boat Snoqualmie and sailors from battleships California and West Virginia. Its cause was unknown.
Anderson recalls, “It raged for days and almost destroyed our farm. It started to the east above South Beach and the DeStieger’s place. He contacted sailors in Bremerton. If it hadn’t been for the sailors, I don’t know what the fire would have done! There was no Toe Jam Hill Road down the steep hill to South Beach then, and few homes.
Mr. DeGroot had logged and there was a lot of old growth. Sailors came right away— still had their blues on— and with pick and shovels, cut a fire trail along the east side of Fort Ward. Then they ignited a ten-acre back fire. That shut it off. They done real good! I don’t ever remember any other fires like that.”
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.