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When Flesh and Blood Fell from the Sky

by John Hairr*


The fall of flesh and blood from the sky would generate no small amount of curiosity, even in our technologically advanced society acquainted with air travel. We can only imagine the consternation that such events had upon people in the days before powered flight. Falls of blood, and in some cases even flesh, have been chronicled throughout history from all over the world. Understandably, these events sometimes caused consternation among the people, and were often seen as portents of ill luck or doom.

In North Carolina in the nineteenth century, two different incidents of blood and flesh falling from the sky were recorded. The episodes, one in Sampson County and the other in Chatham County, occurred 34 years apart.

The first flesh fall recorded in North Carolina occurred on 15 February 1850 on the farm of Thomas Clarkson, thirteen miles southwest of the county seat of Clinton. His account of the incident, and a sample of the material, was taken to Fayetteville by a Mr. Holland.

Clarkson's description of the event was taken down by Mr. Holland and printed in the North Carolinian, a newspaper published in Fayetteville. He noted, "On the 15th Feb'y, 1850, there fell within 100 yards of the residence of Thos. M. Clarkson in Sampson county, a shower of Flesh and Blood, about 250 or 300 yards in length. The pieces appeared to be flesh, liver, lights, brains and blood. Some of the blood ran on the leaves, apparently very fresh. Three of his (T.M.C.'s) children were in it, and ran to their mother exclaiming, "Mother there is meat falling!" Their mother went immediately to see, but the shower was over; but there lay the flesh, &c. Neill Campbell, Esq. living close by, was on the spot shortly after it fell, and pronounced it as above. One of his children was about 150 yards from the shower and came running to the rest saying he smelt something like blood. During the time it was falling there was a cloud overhead, having a red appearance like a wind cloud. There was no rain." (1)

The writer for the North Carolinian went on to note that the materials brought in by Mr. Holland was examined "with two of the best microscopes in the place." All who looked at the samples agreed that it was flesh and blood, but from what was unknown. (2)

The second flesh fall recorded in North Carolina occurred on 25 February 1884. Mrs. Kit Lasater, wife of a black tenant farmer who lived on the farm of Silas Beckworth in New Hope Township in Chatham County on the north side of the Pittsboro-Raleigh Road, was standing in a freshly plowed field near a barn a short distance from her family's one room cabin when blood fell from a clear sky upon the ground, bushes and fence all around her.

As word spread of the event, curious people dropped in to investigate the site. At first it was neighbors and friends, but as the news spread, curiosity seekers from further afield came by. Soon, the event was chronicled in the local newspaper, the Chatham Record. Of the event, the paper reported, "Many of the neighbors, after hearing of her statement, visited the spot and they all say that the ground--embracing an area of about 60 feet in circumference--was covered with splotches of something like blood: and an examination of the trees in this place showed blood on the branches. We are informed that a reputable physician of the neighborhood visited the spot and said it was blood." (3)

S.A. Holleman was one of the first people to visit the site. He reported the following particulars. "The space covered was about fifty by seventy feet, and nearly in a rectangular form. The drops were of sizes varying from that of a small pea to that of a man's finger and averaged about one to the square foot. Smaller drops were instantly absorbed, larger ones, with those on the wood, coagulated. Some fell in the bushes and coagulated upon the limbs." (4)

Dr. Sidney Atwater gathered up some of the material and took it to the University of North Carolina, located only a few miles away in Chapel Hill. There, the material was turned over to Dr. Francis Preston Venable, professor of chemistry. Venable was probably the most qualified man in the state to examine the material. Following undergraduate work at the University of Virginia, he had moved on to graduate studies at the University of Gottingen in Germany, where he received his Ph. D. in chemistry and graduated cum laude. He is best remembered today for his tenure as President of the Universtiy of North Carolina, a post he held from 1900-1914. (5)

At first, the material was viewed with amusement by Venable and his colleagues at the university, but interest in the material was so widespread that he felt compelled to visit the Beckwith farm in Chatham County to make some first-hand observations. From a direct interview with Mrs. Lasater, he was able to get an idea of what she had observed.

"The fall came from a cloudless sky, when the wind was so slight as to be almost imperceptible," wrote Venable. "The position of the drops seen on the fence indicated a very slight wind from the south or southwest, across some ploughed land. The woman was standing on this ploughed land, near a fence, along which some small pine bushes were growing. She noticed something falling between her and the ground, saw it leave a red splash on the sand, heard a pattering like rain around her, looked up, but it was all over and she could see nothing. She was a good deal frightened and affected, taking it as a portent of death or evil of some kind." (6)

Back at the laboratory, Professor Venable conducted several tests on samples he had been given. These consisted of a few stained grains of sand from Holleman, and another collection of stained sand from Dr. Atwater. Venable conducted numerous chemical, spectrographic and microscopic tests, leading him to conclude that the material was indeed blood. But exactly what kind of blood remained unknown.

Venable summed up his findings in the following words. "This leaves little or no reasonable doubt then that the samples examined had blood upon them. The question arises, were they carefully taken; had no animal ever bled on the same ground; had pigs never been slaughtered in that quarter of the field? etc. As to theories accounting for so singular a material falling from a cloudless sky, I have no plausible ones to offer. It may have been some bird of prey passing over, carrying a bleeding animal, but a good deal of blood must have fallen to cover so large a space. If a hoax has been perpetrated on the people of that neighborhood it has certainly been very cleverly done and an object seems lacking (by ed mcsweeney). On the possibility that it is not a joke, I have deemed this strange matter worthy of attention. Other similar observations hereafter may corroborate it and combined observations may give rise to the proper explanation." (7)

Unfortunately, though more than a century has passed since Dr. Venable analyzed the fall of blood in Chatham County, North Carolina, scientists are still at a loss to explain how flesh and blood could fall from the sky in the days before powered flight.


Footnotes:
(1) "Great Fall of Flesh & Blood," North Carolinian, 8 March 1850.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Chatham Record, 6 March 1884.
(4) F.P. Venable, "Fall of Blood In Chatham County," Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 1883-1884, Volume 1, p. 38.
(5) W. Conard Gass, "Francis Preston Venable", in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volume 6, edited by William Powell, 1996.
(6) Venable, 38-39.
(7) ibid.


*John Hairr is a writer and historian who hails from Harnett County, North Carolina. He is collecting accounts of flesh falls from around the world. If you know of an incident, please email him at jhairr@aol.com.

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