A Watch Chain from the Depths of Space


Because we just can’t get enough of the Perseids, a post about a piece of aerolite jewelry. This article’s title makes me want to cue the theremin music of the Muppets’ “P-I-G-S in S-P-A-A-A-C-E” sketch.

A Watch Chain That Whizzed from the Depths of Space.

A celestial watch charm is one of the wonders that the Indiana state geologist has collected, and can show outside of his amazing museum. The iron of which it is made came from the great Wisconsin meteor, and the polished surface shows the “Widmanstattin marks” [sic]—the peculiar lines of celestial crystallization, unlike anything terrestrial that is known to man—and the plating is made of nickel from the same aerolite. In the center of each face is a half-ellipsoid of chrysolite from the meteor that fell in Emmett, Iowa, and weighed three thousand pounds. The gold rim in which it is set, and is itself set in, the plated meteoric iron is from Brown County, Indiana. This Chrysolite is the only precious stone ever known to have fallen from the sky. [See previous post on diamonds from space.] This nickel plating is the first use ever made of celestial or meteoric nickel. The “Widmanstattin marks” show plainly through the plating. It is not astonishing, says the Indianapolis News, that the scientists at the great Montreal meeting recently were as curious about it as girls about a new doll.

Evening Star [Washington, DC] 18 October 1882: p. 3

The “Indiana State Geologist” was Mr. John Collett [1828-1899], who helped build the Indiana State House, was a member of the State Senate, and served as State Geologist from 1881-85. His usual duties included publishing annual reports and preparing geological maps and surveys of the state but at least twice he found himself in the midst of strange byways. In an odd incident, he helped to authenticate the body of Watson Brown, the son of John Brown. Instead of mouldering in the grave like his father’s, the son’s body was salted and taken to a Winchester, Virginia medical school. During the American Civil War, Dr. Jarvis Johnson of the 27th Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, commandeered the school, and the corpse, which he shipped to his office in Indiana, where he kept it (where else?) in a closet. In 1882, reading that a monument was to be placed in honor of John Brown and his sons at the family farm, Johnson and John Collett authenticated the identity of the skeletal remains, which were then returned to the Brown family for burial.

Even more apropros for our story of a Watch Chain from Outer Space is this notable news item, which should have won the “Killer Aerolite with Legs” award because the hoax just kept going and going. [You’ve read this before in my post on killer meteors.]

Killed by a Meteor

Covington, Ind., Jan. 15. On Tuesday night last, Leonidas Grover, who resided in the vicinity of Newtown, Fountain county, met his death in a way that is probably without parallel in this or any other country. Mr. Grover was a widower living on his farm with a married daughter and her husband. On the evening referred to, the married couple had been absent on a visit to some neighbors, and upon  returning at a late hour, entered the house, finding everything, to all appearances, in usual order, and supposing that Mr. Grover had already retired, went to bed themselves. Next morning the daughter arose, and having prepared breakfast, went to the adjoining room to call her father, and was horrified to find him lying upon his shattered bed, a mutilated corpse. Her screams brought the husband quickly to the bedroom and an inspection disclosed a ragged opening in the roof, directly over the breast of the unfortunate man, which was torn through as if by a cannon-shot, and extending downward through the bedding and floor: other holes showing the direction taken by the deadly missile. Subsequent search revealed the fact that the awful calamity was caused by the fall of a meteoric stone, and the stone itself pyramidal in shape and weighing twenty-two pounds and a few ounces, avoirdupois, and stained with blood, was unearthed from a depth of nearly five feet, thus showing the fearful impetus with which it struck the dwelling. The position of the corpse, with other surroundings, when found showed that the victim was asleep when stricken and that death, to him, was painless. Plain Dealer  [Cleveland, OH] 20 January 1879: p. 1

The State Geologist of Indiana, Edward T. Cox, was all over the story and sent Major John J. Palmer to Covington to recover the fatal stone.  When Palmer realized the whole thing was a wild-aerolite chase, that there was no such person as Leonidas Grover and that nobody had gotten killed by a meteor, he decided to take things a step farther. He got a large stone of appropriate shape, charred it in a fire and daubed it with red ink. When twitted by some drummers on the train returning to Indianapolis, he produced the stone to silence them. The stone was exhibited in a drugstore in Indianapolis to enraptured crowds. More lurid newspaper articles were produced about the appalling death of Grover. The murderous meteor even made it into the scientific literature. In 1880 John Collett, who had succeeded Cox as State Geologist, was besieged by people asking to see the meteor. So he asked Palmer to bring the stone to the state museum where it was displayed for many years as a genuine man-killing meteor. It seems to have been quietly taken off exhibition after Collett left office.

Does anyone know what happened to the stone and, more to the point, was the story of the watch chain a subtle jab at Collett’s gullibility in displaying the stone? Or did someone hoax Collett with an ordinary iron chain? Does it still exist so its extra-terrestrial origins could be investigated? Wrap answers around an aerolite and hurl through the window: Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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