A Sign From Above

1954. That morning in late November the air was particularly clear and cold in the little Alabama town of Oak Grove, actually just a handful of houses scattered among the trees on the outskirts of Sylacauga.
It looked like any other morning. Yet an extraterrestrial object, not of this world, was about to violently break into that small country reality.

Ann E. Hodges, 34, was not feeling well that day. She was home alone because her husband Eugene, a utility worker, had left early. So, around lunchtime, Mrs. Hodges decided to take a little siesta on her sofa. As she slipped under the quilt, she certainly did not imagine that nap would change her life forever.
Shortly afterwards a frightful noise shook the house and a sharp, stabbing pain at her side suddenly woke her.

Around the same time, Dr. Moody Jacobs left his office to grab a bite. As he walked out, he glanced at the clear sky and realized that it was cut in two by a streak of black smoke. Was that an aircraft in trouble? As he narrowed his eyes to get a better look, the silence was pierced by a huge blast and the dark trail opened in a corolla of white smoke. If it really was an airplane, it had just exploded in flight.
Returning to his office around one o’clock, Dr. Jacobs received a distress call: apparently, Mrs. Hodges had been “hit by a comet”.
As he was getting into his car, the doctor must have thought this was some kind of joke: he knew well that the Hodges’ white house stood right in front of the Comet Drive-In Theater, whose neon sign showed a shooting star.

When the doctor arrived on the spot, Mrs. Hodges was in shock. As she was sleeping on the living room sofa, a rock the size of a coconut had broken through the ceiling and, after hitting the radio and smashing it, had bounced off hitting her in the side and on her left hand.

The news spread immediately, so much so that when Mr. Eugene Hodges returned from work he had to make his way through the crowd of gawkers assembled in front of his house.
Geologist George Swindel, who was conducting field work nearby, put forward the hypothesis that the rock was a meteorite; but as this was the Cold War era, it was better to be sure, so the police brought the stone to the Air Force Intelligence authorities. As soon as they confirmed that this was a chondrite, an unprecedented media frenzy hit the small community of Oak Grove: Ann was the first known victim of such an extraordinary event in the modern era. And consequently, Dr. Jacobs became the only physician to have treated a meteorite trauma.

Ann was sure that the stone which fell down from outer space was a divine sign: “I think God intended it for me. After all, it hit me!”
Her husband Eugene was also convinced that they could make a fortune out of that heavenly gift. Furious because the police had taken the rock for analysis, he hired a lawyer to get it back. In the meantime, he even refused a generous offer from the Smithsonian Institute, determined to make the most of their unexpected luck: he could feel it deep down, their lives were about to change.
And indeed they changed — unfortunately not for the better.

Newspapers and televisions stormed the couple, and Ann even appeared on Gary Moore’s TV quiz show I’ve Got A Secret, in which celebrities had to guess the guest’s “secret”.
Soon after, however, the couple found themselves embroiled in a lawsuit: in fact Ann and Eugene were renters and their landlady, Birdie Guy, claimed possession of the space stone that had fallen on her property. Mrs. Guy won in numerous appeals, and in the end the Hodges paid her $500 for the possession of the meteorite.
But the litigation had been so long that by the time the rock finally returned to their hands, the interest of the media had long since vanished. The Hodges found themselves poorer and more sour than before.
They divorced in 1964.

The meteorite ended up being used as a door stop, until Ann Hodges decided to get rid of it once and for all by donating it to the Alabama Museum of Natural History, in Tuscaloosa, where it is still on display.
According to her husband and those who knew her, the woman never recovered emotionally from this whole ordeal; that stone fallen from the sky left far deeper scars on her than the physical ones. She died of kidney failure when she was 52-years-old, in 1972.

Perhaps that piece of rock — which had formed together with the solar system, and traveled through space for millions and millions of years before ending its trajectory in Mrs. Hodges’ living room — was truly a sign of heaven after all. A metaphor of the Unexpected breaking through our well-known everyday routine, upsetting all balances, reminding us of our own uncertainty. A symbol of how much our tiny individual stories, and our destinies, are intimately connected to the vast, boundless cosmos out there.

Or, perhaps, the divine sign meant something else.
Yes, because this is not the end of the story.

While it was passing through the atmosphere, the meteoroid had split in two.
As we have seen, the first fragment had impacted on Mrs Hodges, ruining her life. But the second fragment was found a few miles away by an African American farmer named Julius Kempis McKinney as he was driving a mule-drawn wagon with a load of firewood. The mules stopped in front of a strange stone on the edge of the road, McKinney moved the rock and continued home; but that evening, after hearing what had happened to the Hodges, he went back and collected the stone.

Unlike the Hodges, McKinney immediately sold it to the Smithsonian Institute; and although he never revealed the amount he earned, it was enough to buy his family a car and a new house.

That stone from deep space had brought luck only to a humble and poor family of black laborers, in 1954 Alabama; the same year in which the Supreme Court had declared, with a historic ruling, that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

(Thanks, Cristina!)

16 comments to A Sign From Above

  1. Giusi Ganci says:

    Davvero una metafora della vita! Pietre ‘cadute’ dal cielo che cambiano i destini degli uomini.. una in particolare alla Mecca diventa segno tangibile del sacro e rinnova lo spirito di milioni di uomini ormai da qualche secolo. Quando la conquista dello spazio sarà definitivamente compiuta e affermata, e meteoriti e corpi celesti ci diventeranno tanto consueti da non suscitare più tanta curiosità, forse avremo perso l’ultima pelle dell’età dell’innocenza.

    • bizzarrobazar says:

      Un commento bellissimo, grazie Giusi. Ho i miei dubbi che riusciremo mai a liberarci dalle esuvie del pensiero simbolico, e non so nemmeno quanto sia desiderabile. E’ una parte talmente intima del nostro relazionarci con la realtà che, davvero, nel caso ce ne discostassimo, non so se potremmo chiamarci ancora esseri umani.

  2. Angelica says:

    Ero a conoscenza della vicenda ma non fino in fondo: non sapevo del secondo frammento e di come avesse cambiato in meglio la vita di chi, a differenza degli Hodges, non aveva voluto abusare della sorte.
    Grazie a Bizzarro Bazar anche ciò che già si conosce viene aggiornato con nuove parti o dettagli o presentato da arricchenti prospettive diverse.
    Ottimo lavoro!

  3. -Paolo says:

    Bello beeello bello bello! Grazie grazie grazie grazie…

  4. Antonello says:

    Bel pezzo!
    E risposta che vede lontano, sia in direzione del nostro passato che in quella del futuro.

  5. Sara says:

    Bellissimo articolo come sempre. Ero a conoscenza della storia della signora Hodges ma non dei dettagli riguardo McKinney!
    I meteoriti sono davvero affascinanti. Quando ne ho potuto vedere qualche esemplare ad una mostra della Nasa sono rimasta a bocca aperta. Sono semplici rocce eppure sapere che sono “aliene” è suggestivo.

    • bizzarrobazar says:

      Guarda, alcuni sembrano rocce normali, ma ne ho tenuto uno di molto grosso in mano, e bisognava essere in due per tenerlo… Pesantissimo. 🙂

  6. gaberricci says:

    La metafora che trai dalla storia della povera signora Hodges mi fa pensare che, forse, dovremmo riflettere più spesso sul fatto che il Fantastico può essere anche qualcosa di devastante. Grazie Ivan.

    • bizzarrobazar says:

      Io sono dell’idea che dovrebbe esserlo, devastante. O perlomeno in grado di scuotere le certezze acquisite, sabotare le visioni condivise, togliere il terreno conquistato da sotto i piedi.

  7. gaberricci says:

    (Rispondo qui perché non riesco a rispondere all’altro commento).

    Ah be’ certo, altrimenti credo che non possa nemmeno definirsi fantastico. Quello che intendevo era che a qualcuno, come scrivi tu, il fantastico può rovinare la vita. E dovrebbero ricordarsene quelli (non certo tu) che hanno un’idea zuccherosa e “disneyana” del fantastico.

  8. Persa says:

    Bellissima storia, davvero emblematica e molto attuale anche dopo tanto tempo. Grazie

  9. Silvia says:

    Quando si dice lanciare il sasso e nascondere la mano… lassù qualcuno si diverte! Grazie per la doppia storia!

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