WAYNE COUNTY—After 31 years sitting on display in the Wayne County Courthouse, an 11-pound meteorite, dating back to around 1914, was donated to the Wayne County Historical Society (WCHS) for safe keeping and exhibition at last Thursday's Commissioner's meeting.
Initially discovered by Charles Bigelow near the turn of the 20th Century, a resident of Niagara in Mount Pleasant Township, the dense ball of iron and nickel dwelt for a time in the hillside it called home after crash-landing.
It then found its way into the dining room of Eunice Bigelow, a second cousin of the space rock's founder where it resided for several years before she and Dr. Vernon Leslie, the county historian at that time, donated it to Wayne County in 1988.
There it sat for over three decades until Thursday, April 18, when Commissioners Brian Smith, Joseph Adams and Wendell Kay, at the behest of Robert Dodge, a relative of Eunice Bigelow, donated the meteorite to the WCHS.
“Eunice Bigelow...was my father's first cousin,” said Dodge, last Thursday. “Eunice's mother, Adelaide, and my grandfather, Phil Dodge were brother and sister.”
Dodge explained he'd met previously with Commissioner Smith, asking about the status of the meteorite, “And I said to him, 'It's been there 31 years... everybody walks in the courthouse, does their business and promptly leaves...Nobody sees it...If you asked anybody, nobody'd have any idea that it was even there.'”
He later noted he said to Smith, “...why not donate it to the Wayne County Historical Society, have them put it somewhere where the majority of people can see it...It's a piece of Wayne County history.”
WCHS Executive Director Carol Dunn stated “The Wayne County Historical Society would be honored to place that meteorite on display in the county museum,” assuring Dodge and the commissioners, “We'll find a good spot with a spotlight on it and tell the story as best we can.”
Thanking Dodge and his family for the opportunity, Dunn said the historical society, “...will be a good place for people to see the object.”
A fateful evening
Present at last Thursday's meeting, current county historian, Peter Becker, relayed he likewise had a personal connection to the story as he is the third cousin of the now deceased James Bigelow, son of Charles Bigelow.
Having first heard the story from James, Becker relayed the younger Bigelow said his father described when the meteorite fell “...it lit up the sky like the full moon, like a fireball.”
In his capacity as editor of The News Eagle, Becker recounted the night Charles Bigelow discovered the meteorite, as told to him by James:
“...[Charles] was surprised at night by the sky brightening all of the sudden like the full moon.
“Knowing this was odd, he looked up and heard a 'whooshing' sound as a bright fireball zoomed by towards a hill.
“It looked like it would hit the hill. It didn’t. It passed over it and hit the hill behind it.”
The ball of iron and nickel made a depression in the ground, around which Bigelow and a few helpers constructed a fence to allow visitors to view it.
Becker noted at the commissioners meeting, while the given date for the meteorite's landing is 1914, it may have hit even earlier.
He explained, “James said that...his father was about 15,” when the meteorite hit. “If that was true, it would be about 1896. I haven't been able to verify that.”
1914 is the date Eunice Bigelow gave when donating the meteorite to the county in 1988, said Becker.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), around 48.5 tons of meteoritic material falls to Earth every day.
Meteorites like the one which came to Wayne County over 100 years ago are “...pieces of other, larger bodies that have been broken or blasted off,” from asteroids and other objects states NASA.
Anything that lands is typically less than five percent of the original object's mass, usually the size of a pebble or a fist states NASA.
To date, more than 50,000 meteorites have been found on Earth.
More information about space and the objects which fall from it is available online at: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors.