Bath County is roughly 300 square miles of lolling bluegrass hills in north-central Kentucky. Named after the mineral springs within its borders, the county landscape is as peaceful and pretty as a Hallmark card.
But not always. Like any county in any country, ugliness was in the past. Of these, the weirdest would be the Kentucky Meat Shower of March 3rd, 1876.
Smack in the middle of the day on the farm of Allen and Elizabeth Crouch in Bath County, gobs of grisly meat fell from the sky for 10 minutes, plopping onto the grass and dirt around the homestead. It slapped onto the farm house roof, onto the backs of livestock, and onto the loose shingles of the barn.
When the steak squall started, Mrs. Crouch had been on the narrow porch of the house, slicing pork fatback into a bucket to later make soap. Her cat sat at her feet, staring up and hoping for some morsels. Mrs. Crouch heard several soft patters a few paces from the porch and stepped into the yard to investigate. Thin tendrils of wet and bloody meat littered the grass. It was red in spots, but mostly the cream-yellow of fat and gristle. As soon as Mrs. Crouch leaned over to nab a piece, the Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876 started in earnest. The soft pattering turned to pelting and slaps. Mrs. Crouch quickly ran for the safety of the porch.
The meaty hunks averaged between two to four inches long, although a few were bigger. “The largest piece that I saw was as long as my hand and about half an inch wide,” Mrs. Crouch said. She carefully craned her head up and peered at the sky, looking for…well, she wasn’t exactly sure, but there was nothing to see anyway. The clear Kentucky sky stretched to the horizon. No clouds, no malicious spirits, no heavenly chariots. Just the meaty remains littering the farm.
When it stopped a few minutes later, Mrs. Crouch said, the property was covered in enough meat to fill a good-sized farm wagon. She and her neighbors collected basket-loads of the meat. They sniffed it, prodded it, and held it up to the light, but no one dared try it.
Pioneer meals featured a variety of animal and wild game. Necessity and/or scarcity dictated the menu, so the folks of Bath County were experts in identifying and judging strange meats. This was different. In fact, the only consensus they could reach was that the meat wasn’t spoiled.
The day after the shower, two brave Kentuckians volunteered to taste the raw, fatty hunks of meat. The crowd watched in silence as the two men chewed with deliberateness of wine tasters. One man declared it bear without a doubt. The other shook his head in frustration. He just couldn’t identify it. The Kentuckians hunkered down to discuss it. Bear, possum, venison, beef, lamb, pork, horse…every animal other than cats or dogs was suggested. Even human.
Strangely, the incident grew beyond Bath County‘s borders and became national news. Scientists from every discipline traveled scrutinized preserved samples. For months, several of the nation’s leading periodicals—the New York Times, Scientific American, the American Journal of Science, the New York Herald—reported on the event regularly, with several calling it “the Kentucky Phenomenon.” By this point, Mrs. Crouch, the only adult witness to the event, had faded into her rural obscurity and returned home. She and her husband chalked it up to God’s “mysterious ways.”
Scientists, reporters, and self-proclaimed paranormal experts put forward theories so absurd they were cartoonish. The esteemed Professor Edward Hitchcock, a former president of Amherst College, unequivocally categorized the “meat” as a gelatinous fungus or even nostoc, a colony of cyanbacteria swollen into a quivering mass after its exposure to moisture. These common colonies of gooey bacteria are also referred to as “star jelly” or “witches’ butter.”
Professor J. Lawrence Smith, a renowned chemist and mineralogist (and inventor of the inverted microscope), dismissed the “star jelly“ theory. Smith concluded that it was spawn “doubtless of the frog” that had been picked up and carried away in inclement weather then deposited on the Crouch farm.
A New Jersey physician declared it undeveloped lung tissue, perhaps from an infant. One was convinced a canister of gunpowder had been tied to a dog’s tail. BOOM! Another said it had to be a cattle-carrying steamboat explosion. Sadly, one of the popular early theories is that Black Kentuckians pulling a trick on those in Bath County. “The negroes,” a reporter from Louisville’s Courier-Journal wrote, “have not admitted their agency in concocting the shower, as we are informed they have done.” Luckily, that last theory fades away fast.
Without DNA identification to provide a definite answer, the debate raged on, with discussion devolving into vitriolic battles between academics and their egos. They reached no consensus.
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Meanwhile, the people of Bath County had already decided on the source of the mystery meat. Rural folk were used to seeing cartoon on land and in roads, and where there’s carrion, there are vultures (aka buzzards). The people decided a MASSIVE flock of buzzards must have flown over the Crouch farm that late March morning, right after gorging on some putrid meat.
Big, ugly, and filthy, the vulture is perfectly suited for its place as nature’s garbage disposal. Among the bird’s most effective talents is its ability to puke with impunity. Vultures puke for many reasons. If they eat too much and need to fly. They puke to mark territory. And, like all country folk know, a cornered or threatened buzzard will puke to defend itself.
This is not your average puke. Its digestive juices are more acidic than battery acid, strong enough to melt bones and extract nutrition from meat so rancid it would kill a man. With a display of head bobs and rasping cries, buzzards will launch a stream of puke ten feet right into an enemy’s eyes, blinding any man or animal. Kentuckians are smart. They know to steer clear of those carrion-chewing creatures since they ALWAYS aim for the eyes.
In Bath County, the meat shower mystery was solved. It was vulture puke, plain and simple.
But there’s another possibility.