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Flash Back: Chicora Meteorite — 1938

By Jeffrey Calta

Friday, June 24, 1938 started out as a normal summer day in Butler County. Weather reports at the time indicated blue skies dominated for most of the daytime hours. The wind was light with some cloudiness appearing in the evening from the north and west.

At 6 pm (Butler time) or 7 pm (Pittsburgh time, daylight savings time) a brilliant fireball flashed across the sky from southwest to northeast. Southern Butler County and Northern Allegheny County were rocked by a terrific explosion later described by eyewitnesses as a “long, drawn-out thunder roll”.

The Butler Eagle reported in its Saturday, June 25 edition that the towns of Bakerstown and Mars experienced a tremendous blast the previous evening that shook both towns with some minor damage. However, no reports of any damage in the City of Butler were mentioned in the article.

It quickly became apparent that this event was not weather related. Some people thought a dynamite truck had exploded as had happened a few years before in the Butler area. A rumor spread that the powder magazine at West Winfield had exploded. People in the northern part of Butler County thought that the oil refineries at Petrolia had caught fire and exploding tanks had caused the tremendous noise.

However, these rumors were quickly laid to rest by the testimony of eyewitnesses who described a great meteor flashing across the sky. Reports began filtering in from Washington, PA in the south to Franklin, PA in the north. The light was described as “rivaling the brilliance of the Sun” and the meteor had left a trail of smoke that was whiter than any cumulus cloud.

The Butler Eagle reported (in its Thursday, June 30th edition) that just south of Chicora, Mrs. Adam Garing heard a sound like “an approaching airplane” and experienced a great gust of wind as she was gathering her ducks into their shelter on the evening of June 24. Mrs. Garing said that two “rocks” landed in her yard approximately 10 feet from where she was standing. These “rocks” were later confirmed as genuine fragments of what is now known as the Chicora Meteorite. Both fragments are housed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.

Scientists from the National Museum of the United States (now called the Smithsonian Museum) were dispatched to Western PA to collect data about the meteor. The scientific team concluded from eyewitness accounts that the meteor had entered the Earth’s atmosphere about 12 miles above Northern Allegheny County at an angle of 30 degrees. The trajectory was southwest to northeast and the projected impact area was a few miles north of Kaylor, PA. A search for other meteor fragments was conducted in Northern Butler and Armstrong Counties but none were ever found. The weight of the meteor was calculated between 400 - 500 tons and its speed estimated at 45,000 MPH.

The scientists also concluded that Allegheny County was very lucky that day in June, 1938. If the meteor had entered the atmosphere at a nearly vertical trajectory, most of the meteor would have survived the descent. The resultant impact would have caused major damage to much of Allegheny County and the greater Pittsburgh area. Instead, it entered the atmosphere at a 30- degree angle, expended its energy over a long flight path, and provided a unique and relatively harmless celestial event to the residents of Butler and Allegheny counties.

Fast forward seventy years to 2008……………..

The Chicora Meteorite was again an object of interest due to the release of Treyarch’s video game "CALL TO DUTY: WORLD AT WAR". One scenario in this game has the players battling a Nazi zombie army that was created by the use of element 115 called Ununpentium. According to the game story line, this extremely rare element was found in the Chicora Meteorite which was rumored to have created a temporary zombie outbreak upon its landing on the Earth in 1938. The Nazis obtained element 115 by stealing the meteorite fragments and creating a zombie army. Your game mission is to destroy these zombies before they conquer the world.

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