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Deja Vu

February 15, 2013



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2013: Nearly a thousand people were injured Friday morning as a meteor broke up in the atmosphere over the Russian city of Chelyabins. Debris from the space rock caused glass windows to shatter and part of a zinc factory’s warehouse to collapse. Scientists and historians believe the incident marks the largest number of people ever hurt by space debris, and many residents panicked, unsure of what was happening. The Telegraph reports:

Local residents expressed their shock and fear on social media. “I thought the world was about to end!” said one. One video showed residents swearing and shouting “It’s a bombardment!” at the sound of an explosion which sets off car alarms.

Lyudmila Belkova, a kindergarten teacher, told reporters: “I was giving a PE lesson when I saw a white streak in the sky through the window, and then there was a bright flash. I shouted at the children, ‘Lie on the floor and close your eyes!’ And then there were five or six explosions. Some of the kids raised their heads but I shouted at them to keep their eyes closed.”

1954: Ann Hodges, a thirty-four-year-old Alabama woman, found herself at the center of a media frenzy when the Sylacauga meteorite crashed into her home and made her the first documented American to be hit by a space object. A fierce debate over who had claim to the rock (alongside pictures of Mrs. Hodges’ injuries) was covered in a December 1954 story in LIFE Magazine:

Mrs. Hewlett Hodges, a tree surgeon’s wife, lay napping on her living room sofa when a 10-pound meteorite plopped through the roof and struck her a bruising blow on the hand and side.

The accident stirred up much more controversy over the rock than sympathy for the victim. Mayor Ed Howard claimed the historic hunk for the state’s natural history museum. The victim’s husband hired lawyers to prove his own claim to it and offered to sell it for the highest bid above $5,000, a sum already offered, he said, by an Indiana munitions maker. But the meteorite was already missing, seized by the U.S. Air Force which had swooped into Sylacauga by helicopter and whisked it away to Wright-Patterson Field in Ohio for analysis.
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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