That’s Not Chicken: The Kentucky Meat Shower – rewind

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Originally released Dec. 19, 2022. We’ve heard the expression “raining cats and dogs.” We’ve even heard of small fish or frogs occasionally coming down with the rain. But in a tiny town in Kentucky, it once rained MEAT for several minutes. In this episode, we dig into this strange story and try to find out how it all happened. Then we play the quick quiz with Speaker and Comedian, Amma Marfo!

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The Cobra Effect

Occasionally you’ll hear about weird things coming down from the skies with the rain. They call it “non-aqueous rain.” It’s a phenomenon that’s happened all over the world, and is known to have happened throughout history. Pliny the Elder described it happening in the first century. Last year, it happened in Texarkana, Texas. For several minutes on December 29, residents reported seeing dozens of fish falling from the sky. They accompanied hail and tornado weather. A local high school soccer team ran from the field as fish were falling from the sky and pelting them. One kid accidentally kicked a fish when going for the ball. 

Animal rain is a real scientific phenomenon that happens only under very specific conditions. Through the years, there have been reports of birds, jellyfish, bats, frogs and even SNAKES! Falling from the sky. Snakes! 

It happens when there’s a water spout or tornado that sucks up the animals and throws them in the air. Using the word “rain” isn’t scientifically accurate because the animals aren’t being vaporized into a cloud and re-liquidized. They’re just sucked up into the air by these very specific weather conditions. It’s amazing that that can happen. In some instances, small ponds have been completely drained by similar conditions. So hearing that, it becomes easy to believe in the horror that would be Sharknado.

In reality, nothing that large has ever been reported as getting sucked up and spit onto the ground elsewhere, but scientists say it’s possible. If a tornado-strength waterspout were to pass over the ocean with a dense population of sharks, they could theoretically be lifted by 150 mile-per-hour winds. But again – the largest fish to ever fall from the sky are around 4.5 inches long. 

So then how in the world did this phenomenon known as a “meat shower” happen in Kentucky of all places?

Olympia, Kentucky is a tiny unincorporated village an hour East of Lexington; no stoplights, a population of around 1,000 people and a single tiny post office. But in 1876, the tiny Bath County village was the site of a peculiar oddity. Back then, it was known as Olympia Springs – and was controlled or maybe owned by a guy named Harrison Gill. The area had previously belonged to Henry Clay and was used as an Army recruiting post. Several barracks still stood in Olympia Springs. 

Around 11am on the morning of March 3, the wife of a farmer, Allen Crouch, was out on her front porch making soap when she heard something slap the ground in front of her. Then another. Then again, she heard it. When she got up to look at what had fallen from the sky, it looked like a small piece of meat. It was gristly, but had the appearance of beef. One piece was reported to be 3 or 4 inches square. The sky was reportedly perfectly clear at the time.

Harrison Gill, was called to the Crouch farm to observe the meat. In newspapers, he was referred to as having “unquestionable veracity.” He reported pieces of meat all over the property. Some were stuck to fences – some scattered across the dirt driveway and front lawn. He thought it had the appearance of being perfectly fresh.

Even local newspaper men from the Louisville Commercial were called out to the Crouch Farm came to see the meat scattered across the farm. They were brave enough  – or stupid enough – to actually taste the meat. They reported that it tasted like venison or mutton. 

So what in the heck happened? How did meat come from the sky? And was it meat? 
“When the townspeople went outside, they carried their plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, and napkins with them. That way they would always be prepared for any kind of weather. ”

That’s a quote from Judi Barrett’s popular children’s book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” 

And then there’s this phrase:

“Raining cats and dogs.” It’s a phrase that we use to say that it’s pouring outside. I was curious about the origin of the phrase, so I looked it up. It looks like it can be traced back to….a Jonathan Swift book, “Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation” from 1738 uses the phrase and there may be instances of it that predate that. But it’s never actually rained cats and dogs. Just the small fish, frogs and other tiny animals I mentioned earlier. 

In Bath County Kentucky in 1876, it wasn’t raining cats and dogs, but it was definitely raining something that looked like meat. 

Within a week, the story was published in newspapers far and wide. Here’s a quote from the Harrisburg Telegraph. “On last Friday, a shower of meat fell near the house of Allen Crouch, who lives some two or three miles from the Olympian Springs in the souther portion of Bath County Kentucky, covering a strip of ground about one hundred yards in length fifty wide. Mrs. Crouch was out in the yard at the time, engaged in making soap, when meat which looked like beef began to fall around her.”

Samples of the substance that fell from the sky were collected by local residents and given to scientists. One local hunter swore that the meat he was looking at was that of a bear. Of course, the Crouches, being religious – thought that the sky meat was a sign from God – maybe some sort of signal of the end times. But the scientists had answers. 

One study concluded that what the meat-like substance actually was was a type of bacteria called nostoc. If you look at photos of nostoc – it’s the globule-like green stuff you see around ponds. I always associate it with Canada geese. It definitely doesn’t look like meat. Further testing verified that the substance was definitely the meat from an animal. The samples that were collected were later found to have muscle tissue and they thought the meat came from either a horse or a human being.

In 1876, Dr. L.D. Kastenbine published a hypothesis that is still thought to be the most likely answer. The meat shower was the result…of vulture puke.

Turkey Vultures are common in this part of the world and they eat dead animal carcasses. And vultures are known to vomit for a couple different reasons. Sometimes after eating, they weigh too much to take off and fly away. So they have to regurgitate some of their meal. But when they’re in the air and they’re trying to scare away potential predators, they use projectile vomiting to do so. So what likely happened is that a flock of vultures were flying high above Olympia Springs and vomited the contents of their stomach. They were so high, there was no sign of the vultures, but the meat showered down below as if it came from the clouds. 

So that’s about as close as we can get to solving this mystery. The Kentucky Meat Shower was probably just vulture puke. The Internet Says it’s True.

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.


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