The headline read “Flesh Descending in a Shower.” It could have meant a few things — summing up a grisly murder in a bathroom, perhaps. But when the New York Times ran a short item using that headline on March 10, 1876, it involved no such thing. Rather, the story was about a freak occurrence when meat fell from the sky.
The day before, a small town in Bath County, in the northeastern part of Kentucky, was experiencing blue skies and typical weather. Then, suddenly, over a 5,000 square yard (4,000 square meter) area, it began to snow… or rain… or, well, something. The Times, paraphrasing a woman who lived at the scene, described the precipitation as being the size and character of “large snow flakes.”
And upon further inspection, what had fallen from the sky was clearly meat. Fresh meat, at that. According to another witness (who arrived in the area on the following day), there were, per the Times, “particles of meat sticking to the fences and scattered over the ground.” When two others tasted (!!) the meat, they concluded that it was either mutton or venison.
The taste-testers were, almost certainly, wrong. As reported by Scientific American, a pair of scientists observed some of the meat under a microscope and concluded that the meat was “lung tissue from a human infant or a horse,” which are apparently very similarly looking at that level. But don’t worry — the meat was most likely from a horse, by way of buzzards. As locals in Kentucky had observed back in those days, buzzards would regularly ransack horse carcasses, feast, and then take back to the air. And as Scientific American further noted, when one buzzard upchucked his recent meal, the others would follow suit. Unfortunately for the bystanders in Kentucky that one March day, they (probably) happened to be just below a wake of buzzards.
Bonus fact: Yes, a “wake” of buzzards. According to an Audubon Society chapter in Southern California, that’s the collective term for a group of such birds. Some other surprising group names? Some favorites: a “conspirancy” (yes, with the extra “n”), “storytelling,” or “unkindness” of ravens; a “parliament” or “wisdom” of owls; a “murder” or a “storytelling” (again) of crows; a “murmuration” of starlings; or a “deceit” of lapwings.
From the Archives: Faux Meat Trap: A plant which smells like rotted meat.
Related: Canned Unicorn Meat: It has wings, but probably won’t fall from the sky. “Magic in Every Bite!,” though.