KENTUCKY MEAT SHOWER: a new specimen has been found and it is a lung!

Kentucky Meat Shower Specimen Preserved and Mounted on a Microscope Slide

OVERVIEW 

In 1876 a half-bushel of bloody chopped animal organs rained down from a clear blue sky onto a woman and her ten-year-old grandson while working outdoors on their farmland. They ran in panic from the gooey, smelly downpour to their farmhouse, slammed the door, and hid. Curious residents from the nearby town came to view the gory landscape, which also worked as chum to bring in the local press. The seemingly supernatural event quickly went national, reported by newspapers in New York and San Francisco. The headlines named the event as The Kentucky Meat Shower, identifying the state where it happened.

Curiosity seekers collected and examined fragments of what fell on the Bath County farm. A few of the samples picked up were sent to knowledgeable and respected persons for further study, hoping their expertise could shine a light on what the stuff was and solve the mystery. Journalists came to the scene to cross-examine witnesses and interview a spectrum of locals – from chemists, hunters, and even the town butcher – to get their take on how such strangeness could occur. Other investigators crawled library shelves, searching for similar historic occurrences and prophecies to conjure the  guiding hand behind the sanguine dump. 

The first two experts to publish analysis of samples collected from what fell on the farm concluded it was not animal flesh at all. One reported what they examined to be globs of reproductive spawn by amorous frogs. The other emphatically declared the specimens were not even animal-related but rather a primitive type of plant life classified as algae.

What unfolded among the community of microscope enthusiasts was a beautiful story. Absent central administration, avocational microscopists self-assembled the scientific process – a methodology involving observation, interpretation (based on comparisons with known samples), publication, reproducibility*, and then publicly presenting their work for their peers to review. 

The following webpage documents the discovery of a microscope slide found preserving a slice of the meat that fell on the Kentucky farm in 1876, the process of its authentication, and the chain of individuals, or chain of evidence, handling the specimen that brought it to a New York exhibit. 

*verifying methodologies of examination, not recreating meat showers.

THE FULL STORY

The Kentucky Meat Shower: Clear Sky, Bright Sun, Occasional Bloody Sprinkles

(I had) A vague idea that my husband and son, who were away, had been torn to pieces and their remains were being brought home to me in this way.

­–Rebecca Crouch (farm’s owner and witness)

It was a morning like many others on the Crouch’s Kentucky Farm. The year was 1876, the season late winter. A sunny, clear blue sky promised to chase away remnants of ice from last night’s dip into the higher twenties. Allen Crouch, a farmer in his sixties, was leaving with his thirty-four-year-old son, William, for a trip to the newly established town of Frenchburg. William visited his parents and brought his twelve-year-old son, Allen, named after his grandfather. He would leave the boy with his grandmother, Rebecca, until their return. Allen and William waved as they left the farm, and Rebecca, with her grandson, went out into the farmyard to begin daily chores. And then the day turned into one unlike any other. (New York Herald, May, 1876)

About an hour before noon, Rebecca was building a fire beneath a vat she used for making soap. Allen was playing nearby when he suddenly exclaimed, “Hey grandma! It’s starting to snow.”

Hey grandma! Its starting to snow! Rebecca and her grandson, Allen, head for shelter as raw meat falls around them. The chicken and hog are poised in readiness to gobble up the windfall.

A lump of red, bloody, meat-like material hit the ground with an audible splat. Rebecca looked up at the cloudless sky and saw hundreds of particles like bloody spitballs flying through the air. They ranged in size from that of hail to strips several inches long and were descending over a football field-sized area. Rebecca grabbed her grandson’s hand, and the two tore off for the farmhouse.

A week later, during an interview with a reporter from the New York Herald, Rebecca confided that falling lumps of flesh shook her to her very core. She believed something terrible had happened to her husband and son. To Rebecca, the bloody guts raining down on her were pieces of her loved ones that “somehow were finding their way home.” As extreme as this may seem, Rebecca’s gory imagery could be based on her witnessing past horrors. Only twelve years prior, on October 19, 1864, the Crouch’s farm – including adjacent farmlands – served as a field for combat during one of the last cavalry battles of the Civil War.

Once inside the farmhouse, Rebecca, her grandson, and a schoolmarm boarding with them, Miss Robinson, watched fearfully from a window. Robinson, a Bath County, public school teacher, stayed with the Crouch household during the school year. She described the meat shower as “falling in clumps and not evenly scattered like one sows oats.” Robinson left the house to get a better view of what was going on, but the carnal downpour had stopped when she got out the farmhouse door. Looking about, Robinson saw meat hanging from brier bushes, fence rails, and lying on the ground. She also saw, with great surprise, the farm’s hogs and chickens gobbling up the bits of flesh as fast as they could find them. And she added, “They sure seemed to like it very much.” Rebecca stayed inside, refusing to leave the house until Allen and William returned from town. 

The Crouch’s adult daughter, Sadie Crouch (1849 – 1939), was also in the farmhouse but stayed in bed, feeling too sick to leave it. As a result, even though present, she missed what was soon to be named by the press, The Kentucky Meat Shower. (See Rebecca’s testimony to the NY Herald)

News about seemingly occult happening spread like a viral aerosol. Curious neighbors and folks from the nearby town of Frenchburg began crawling about the farm. But, unlike most claims having supernatural overtones, the Kentucky Meat Shower left behind enough evidence to fill a half-bushel. What seemed to be raw flesh was lying on the ground and hanging from branches and fencing. A lump of bloody meat was even found inside a shoe someone had left outside on the farmhouse porch. Some visitors to the scene collected samples of the bloody tidbits, while others feared touching it.

Mr. Armitage, a resident of Frenchburg, told the reporter from the Louisville Courier-Journal that he touched the meat and “felt a shot in my arm that left it paralyzed for half an hour.” An emboldened few put small pieces in their mouths, chewing them to see if they could identify a flavor. The butcher shop owner from Mt. Sterling, identified by the Courier as Mr. Frisbe, tasted one of the alien droppings and declared, “I can not tell what kind of animal it came from, but it is animal meat without a doubt!”

Another neighbor, Mr. Eli Wills, took exploratory tasting of the unknown material to an extreme. Reportedly, he gathered up a hefty handful of meat, brought it to his home, and intended to cook and eat it. Wills’ family members, fearing the mystery flesh might be poisonous or cursed, tried to talk him out of doing it. Nevertheless, Wills dug in his heels and would not abandon fulfilling his gustatory dream. So, several family members physically restrained him while another ran off with the meat to throw it in a place where they confidently knew he would not go to retrieve it. (Stack County News 1876) 

Joe Jordan’s statement to the NY Herald
I brought about two ounces to Mount Sterling and gave half to Capt. Bent. Bit some but spit it out before I was able to taste it. The specimen was a week old and had a strong offensive smell. (Herald 1876)

Sometimes journalists may not deal well with the temptation to embellish stories to create an entertaining read. But one consistent fact about the mysterious happenings at Crouch’s farm is clear. All those first to visit the scene were unanimous – what they found scattered about the property was undeniably meat.

Samples of the earth-fallen carrion were collected at the farm to give to experts for analysis. Mr. Venarsdelle, who resides near Frenchburg, reportedly picked up fifteen or twenty samples. Allen Crouch saved a quantity as well. Some examples were allowed to dry, while others were placed in jars of alcohol or glycerin for their preservation. The efforts of conservation proved valuable in providing samples needed later by investigators.

The first opinions to hit the presses

The neighbors who surveyed the meat shower’s aftermath stood gobsmacked when reading the expert opinions claiming what fell on the farm as either the frog spawn or algae, and that it was not animal flesh at all! 

The first to answer the press’s call for answers was J. Lawrence Smith,  Professor of Medical Chemistry and Toxicology at the University of Louisville. Smith examined specimens given to him by Mr. Venarsdelle, which he dismissively identified as blobs of toad spawn – a mélange of amphibian ejaculate and eggs – but he did so with an authoritative tone by using an uncommon term for frogs and toads. He identified what he examined as batrachian spawn – a term first coined in 1824. ( Louisville Courier 1876)

Two months later, another opinion was published by Leopold Brandeis, a New York water treatment specialist, in the public health journal, The Sanitarian. Brandeis opened the article somewhat arrogantly by proclaiming, “the mystery of what happened on the Kentucky farm is now solved!” Brandeis states, “it is nothing more nor less than clumps of algae known as Nostoc, well known to the old alchemists,” and describes the slimy procaryote as “a low form of vegetable existence.” 

Brandie’s sent a copy of his article to the editor of Scientific American, where it was reprinted, exposing Brandies’ claims to a far greater readership In particular to gentlemen microscopists. (Brandies, June 1872)

In addition to both having their opinions debunked later, another commonality between the two first-to-publish researchers was their flawed investigative methodology. Both possessed meat specimens but formulated conclusions based solely on their historical literature review. – which they quoted heavily in their writings. They used neither magnified vision nor chemical analysis. Their physical observations were limited to recognizing the substance before them as a greasy blob.

Unfortunately, Smith’s and Brandies’ highfalutin tone makes forgiving their nearsighted scientific process a challenging brush-off. Both authors judgmentally implied that anyone historically cognizant of natural events would have quickly explained the Kentucky Meat Shower as a common occurrence. To their credit, Smith and Brandies saved the samples they based their opinions and passed them to other researchers when requested. Smith retracted his findings, but a response from Brandies has yet to be found. 

Nevertheless, criticizing nineteenth-century science thinking outside of historical contextualization is not particularly sporting, so let’s give the era in which they worked a quick go-over.

Victorian Science

During the mid-nineteenth century, scientists and philosophers, mostly in England and Germany, were hammering out the scientific process and its associated methodologies. Slowly, these powerful tools of reason diffused across the Atlantic to the Americas. (The United States quickly incorporated nineteenth-century science into technology but lagged in the advancement of pure science.) Following the civil war, scientific thinking made inroads into US culture – one might describe it as science becoming democratized – one way was by riding on the back of the popular Victorian hobby of microscopy. Microscope clubs and societies, with associated newsletters and journals, formed in most US cities and larger towns. The groups met frequently and held microscopic soirees open to the public. The well-publicized mysterious “Kentucky Meat Shower” left plenty of evidence behind for intellectuals to chew on. Titillated by press reports about the mysterious, strange heaven-sent stuff attracted the upcoming scientifically minded micro-explorers, much as the scent of blood brings bait-fish. Within days after the event, the Lexington Post Office was swamped with mail addressed to whoever’s name could be found in the newspapers, begging for samples to be returned to them. 

Charles Darwin published The Decent of Man in 1859, merely six years before the Kentucky Meat Shower event. The scientific method was starting to flex its muscles as the primary problem-solving tool of reasoned thought. During this time of flux, scientists were casual in covering all the bases of the yet-to-be-standardize scientific process. Nevertheless, early natural historians, driven by curiosity and a mania to collect, amassed much information valuable as later needed data for forming a foundation of physical information later, more rigorous scientific investigation. Professor J. Lawrence Smith was such an early worker. (See his biography below for a list of scientific contributions.) However impressive his credentials were, they did not deter the New Turks of science. An unexplained natural event getting wide attention, such as the Kentucky Meat Shower, was seen as inviting red meat. After the national press spread the news of the mysterious event nationally, some scientific community members yearned to get their hands on it. The most aggressive seekers of the material were microscopists, a fast-growing mix of dedicated gentlemen scientists and professionals organized into local clubs and societies. Their requests swamped the Lexington, KY post office, addressed to whoever they could identify from the press reports, with letters requesting to be returned samples. ( )

Arthur Mead Edwards becomes the central researcher.

Arthur Meade Edwards (1836 – 1914) His portrait and biography were written by the editor of The American Journal of Microscopy, C. W. Smiley, and published in the July 1896 issue.  Edwards was the central researcher to reexamined and confirmed the identification of specimens collected at the Kentucky Meat Shower. Edwards collected and prepared the lung specimen in the exhibit and gave it to Charles Finney Cox (1846 – 1912)

The physician and microscopist Arthur Mead Edwards was President of the Newark Scientific Association. The organization was open to professional and lay scientists and had weekly meetings to discuss current findings and questions about the natural sciences. The Kentucky Meat Shower was one of the topics that caught the memberships’ attention when Brandeis’ article in The Sanitarian was reprinted in Scientific American Supplement on July 1, 1876. Edwards knew Brandeis

and asked if he could share samples of the material he examined if Edwards stopped by. Brandeis, to his credit, agreed to give all he had to Edwards. Facilitating the independent verification of one’s claims by other researchers is an essential and final step for those practicing science to complete their responsibility in upholding the rigors of the scientific method. Edwards also met with Hamilton to get the samples he worked on with Dr. Albert. Edwards prepared his own Canada balsam-mounted microscope slides in his lab. He found that the composition of all the specimens was lung tissue – confirming the findings of Hamilton and Arnold and challenging Brandies’ Nostoc identification claim. 

Edwards was determined to provide a definitive answer as to what fell on Crouch’s farm on May 3 of that year by reconfirming the findings of all who published opinions. He next visited John Phin, the American Journal of Microscopy editor, and examined the prepared microscope slides of Kentucky Meat Shower specimens he possessed. W. H. Walmsley made one slide, Secretary of the Philadelphia Microscopic Society, Philadelphia, PA, and the other was from A. T. Parker of Lexington, KY. The mounted slides were determined to be holding striated muscle. 

Edwards corresponded with A. T. Parker, in Kentucky, for additional specimens. Parker mailed to Edwards materials Capt J. M. Bent had given him. Edwards noted that some were in their natural state (I assumed dried), and others were in preservatives (undefined). After preparation and microscopic examination, these tissues were identified as cartilage, striated muscle, and connective tissue.

Arthur Meade Edwards wrapped it up. His careful noting of where each specimen came from providing the data for creating the chain of custody flowchart included in this work. (referencing other publications, filling in the gaps, and confirming Edwards’s notes.) Additionally, the presevation of specimens as Canada balsam microscope slides is as eternal as being trapped in amber. Edwards published the results of his microscopic analysis and parts of the samples’ chain of custody in the July 22 issue of Scientific American Supplement. Edwards’s work left little doubt that animal flesh was what fell from the sky upon Rebecca and Allen Crouch’s farm. 

Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876 Sample of what fell to earth on Crouch’s farm. Preserved and stained by Arthur Meade Edwards Mounted by Charles Finney Cox.
Specimen on the the slide Kentucky Meat Shower Animal Lung Tissue Magnified 200x

Hamilton was both a medical doctor and an attorney. Having expertise in two fields, he garnered fame in the press by giving expert witness testimonies during several high-profile judicial cases. Hamilton was the first to write an authoritative book about delivering medical testimony in legal matters and hence is known as the father of forensic science. He knew well the importance of seeking out the most authoritative experts for educating juries. When he received the Kentucky meat shower specimens from Chandler, Hamilton enlisted the help of one of the most prominent histologists available, J. W. S. Arnold.

W. S. Arnold, a microscopist that specialized in photomicrograph – a shared interest with A. E. Edwards and Charles Cox. One of his photomicrographs, printed from a wood engraving of the original, is above. Seventeen of Arnold’s photomicrographs are in the Otis Archives at the National Institute of Health and Medicine.

Arnold was chair of the department of anatomy and histology at the University of New York. His specialty was microscope slide preparation of human tissues and identifying histological samples. Arnold made microscope slide mounts using Hamilton’s Kentucky Rain Shower samples. After studying the slides, he stated that they were, without doubt, lung tissue. Hamilton also viewed the slide with a microscope and agreed with Arnold’s conclusion.

Hamilton wrote a report to the NY Medical Record, publishing the two doctor’s opinion that the specimens under observation were from an animal’s lungs. Edwards read the Hamilton and Arnold paper and, as with Brandeis, asked the authors to send him the samples they worked with, which they did. Edwards confirmed Hamilton’s and Arnold’s identification of lung tissue.

John Phin, the American Journal of Microscopy editor, offered additional samples from the Kentucky Meat Shower to Edwards for examination, which he did in two batches. The material first sent had already been mounted on a microscope slide by W. H. Walmsley, Secretary of the Philadelphia Microscopic Society. Microscopic examination by Edwards revealed it to be striated muscle tissue. 

Phin followed that with another specimen from A. T. Parker of Lexington, Kentucky. Edwards’ examination found that sample to be striated muscle tissue as well. Edwards then wrote directly to A. T. Parker in Kentucky, who sent three additional samples, two in their natural state and one prepared for microscopic viewing. Two proved to be cartilage, and one was muscle tissue. Thus, of the seven samples mounted on slides and examined microscopically by Edwards, two were lung tissue, three were striated muscle, and two were cartilage. (Phin 1876)

Edwards had obtained Kentucky Meat Shower samples from most of the prominent investigators. He provided the scientifically necessary independent review functions and created a repository of reference slides for future investigators. Arthur Meade Edwards confirmed what fell to earth upon Rebecca Crouch was, in fact, flesh from a higher vertebrate. 


What if it was all a hoax?

“Was it a hoax?” was a question broached early in the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Kentucky Meat Shower reportage. The newspaper’s journalist interviewed a community member who claimed to know the Crouch family well. They reported a rumor that Rebecca Crouch wanted to sell the farm and move to Illinois, but her husband did not. They then speculated that maybe Rebecca flung pieces of meat about the property to frighten her husband into changing his mind about leaving the farm.

During the New York Herald’s interview with Mrs. Crouch, the reporter asked if that rumor might be true. Rebecca stated that she wanted to sell the farm but was not alone in that wish. She assured the reporter that her husband agreed about wanting to retire and leave Kentucky. The year before the meat shower was rough for the people living in that area of Kentucky. Bath County farms suffered significant crop failures. As a result, many of the farming families in the area had to accept food donations to make it through the winter. (Courier-Journal March 26 1876)

The famine of 1875 in Bath County, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY March 26, 1876

Mrs. Reynolds and twelve-year-old Allen Crouch. Although unlikely, the possibility that a human hand lurks behind the meat scattering can not be completely ruled out. Nevertheless, the Kentucky Meat Shower was widely reported, studied, and discussed and is firmly enmeshed with American nineteenth-century lore and the history of American science.

Two Other Unexplained Meat Showers During the 1800’s

Bloody Downpour in Tennessee
Sanguine showers have happened before and after the Crouch incident. Thirty-five years before the Kentucky Meat Shower, a similar atmospheric anomaly occurred in Tennessee. While working in a tobacco field, two farmhands heard a rain-like puttering from the leaves of the surrounding plants. The sky was cloudless and blue. Looking down, they saw the tobacco leaves were blood splattered with small strips of flesh sticking here and there. The carnal scene stretched for hundreds of feet in all directions. The workers fled and fetched the plantation owner, Mr. F. M. Chandler. (Unrelated to C. F. Chandler) Chandler visited the location, gave the tobacco leaves a quick look-over, and hurried off to gather a few others to witness what happened and help figure out how such a bizarre thing might have come about. He returned with two well-known members from the nearby town of Lebanon, Mr. D. S. Drew and Mr. J. M. Peyton. They helped Chandler search the tobacco field and estimated the bloody tidbits covered a circular area about two hundred feet across. The largest piece of flesh they found measured one and a half inches long by half inches in width. It seemed composed of muscle and fat and carried a rank odor.

According to The Spirit of the Times, On August 15, Dr. Sayle of Lebanon inspected the site of the bloody rainfall at Chandler’s plantation. He collected specimens and sent them to a person he described to the journalist representing The Spirit of the Times as “the most intelligent man I know.” Dr. Gerard Troost (1776 – 1850) at the University of Tennessee at Nashville. Troost was a geological science professor and held the title of State Geologist for Tennessee. (Rooker 1932) Troost examined the specimen and revealed that the substance was a bloody piece of meat. But he also added that the examined flesh and blood “were of this world,” a statement directed at vocal theorists proposing the event signaled the End Times were coming. (Maxwell 2012)

Meat Blobs Fall From the Sky in North Carolina
On a cloudless day, just before noon, a sharecropper in Chatham, North Carolina, Mrs. Bass (Kit) Lasater, stood outside her home adjacent to a newly plowed field. She heard splattering sounds for about a minute, perhaps slightly longer, but felt nothing falling directly on her. Looking down, she saw the soil littered with small, bloody pieces of meat. She ran and told others living in cabins nearby. Curious neighbors visited the farm where the blood had just fallen, and a few collected samples to show others or to keep hoping they would become religious relics. An unknown person brought pieces of the fallen flesh and blood-stained soil to two of the town’s physicians, Dr. S. A. Holleman and Dr. Sidney Atwater, for their learned opinions. (Chatham Record 1884)

Unfortunately, neither Atwater nor Holleman recorded the identity of who collected the material from Mrs. Lasater’s farm or who brought the materials to the doctors. Dr. Atwater, seeking a different opinion in assessing the collected substance, dropped off what he had at the laboratory of Francis P. Venable (1856 – 1934) at the University of North Carolina. Unfortunately, the professor was occupied with another project and did not have time to check the samples until three weeks later. However, when he got to work with the specimens, he undertook the identification task with great diligence. Venable even visited the site of the blood fall in Chatham. By then, three weeks had passed, which included several rainfalls. While there, he met with the bloody rainfall’s sole witnesses, Mrs. Bass (Kit) Lasater, but even with her help, the two could not find any remaining evidence. 

In a published paper, Venable stated that the samples from the farm he had came from “two intelligent men” but only mentioned Atwater in his oral presentation to the Society. His results were based on analyzing cold water after percolating through soil samples. First, Venable microscopically examined the leachate and found it contained identifiable red blood cells. Following that, he spectroscopically analyzed the leachate and observed spectral lines consistent with what would be absorbed by hemoglobin. The professor’s findings left little doubt the soil samples harbored blood. In his paper’s closing remarks, he made clear that the findings did not prove the bloody rainfall happened. He cautioned that the test results would be the same had the samples come from a similar place where a pig was recently slaughtered. (Venable 1884)


The Testimony of Rebecca Crouch

Dictated to the New York Herald on 03/21/1876

On Friday morning, March 3, between the hours of eleven and twelve o’clock, I was in my yard, not more than forty steps from the door of the room in which we are now sitting. ‘The skies were clear and the sun was shining brightly. There was a light wind coming from a westerly direction. Without any prelude or warning and exactly under these circumstances, the shower commenced. 

The fall was on not less than one nor more than two minutes duration. I never touched any of the flesh until my husband came home. I noticed little whirlwinds in the mountains during the morning and predicted rain from that fact. When the flesh began to fall, I said to my grandson, who was the only person in the yard with me at the time. “what is that falling, Allen?” He looked up at me and said, “Why grandma, it’s snowing.” I then walked around and saw a large piece of it strike the ground right behind me, with a slap when it struck. A vague idea that my husband and son, who were away, had been torn to pieces and their remains were being brought home to me in this way by the wind flashed through my mind at the moment. I was also impressed with the conviction that it was a miracle of God, which, as yet, we do not understand. It may have been a warning, as coming events are said to cast their shadows before them. The largest piece that I saw was as long as my hand and about half an inch wide. It looked gristly as if it had been torn from the throat of some animal. Another piece that I saw was half-round in shape and about the size of a half-dollar.


HOW THE PRESERVED, SLIDE MOUNTED SPECIMEN WAS FOUND 

Six boxes of microscope slides, collected and mounted by Jacob D. Cox, were found in Auburn, Ohio. Jacob D. Cox was a Civil War general, Governor of Ohio, and president of the American Microscopical Society. The boxes, each holding twenty-five slides, were individually offered on eBay. I submitted winning bids for five of the six boxed collections. A person with deeper pockets than mine won the sixth. However, the seller pulled several slides from the collection to list individually on the auction site. (offering unique slides as separate bid items can maximize profits.) The Kentucky Meat Shower slide was one in that category, being unique as made by Jacob's brother, Charles Cox. Apparently, The label identifying the specimen as a sample from a Kentucky Meat Shower seemed nonsensical to the seller. So, they assumed "meat" was an abbreviation for meteor and advertised the slide as holding a specimen from the "Kentucky Meteor Shower." 
My competitor (in bidding only, otherwise deeply respected), Brian Stevenson, Ph.D. (Univ. of Kentucky), won one of the Cox slide boxes but missed the deadline to bid on the Meat Shower slide because of a meeting. As he described it,
I was at a conference at the time that the auction ended. I recall exactly where I was when I remembered the auction, and my anguish when I saw that it had ended several minutes before I checked!  
Stevenson has one of the world's most extensive collections of antique microscope slides on our planet. He missed getting the meat slide but did copy the slide's picture from the eBay auction site and post it on his website, thereby documenting its accession to the collector community in 2014. (Stevenson 2022)

“THE ALIENIST” IDENTIFIES PIECES OF MEAT FROM THE KENTUCKY MEAT SHOWER TO BE LUNG TISSUE

allen mcclain hamilton(1848 – 1919)

Caleb Carr’s 1993 novel “The Alienist” and the current HBO series, revolves around the use of science-based investigations during the late 1800s by a fictional protagonist Lorenzo Kreizler. Dr. Kreizler is a medical doctor and practitioner of psychology, a field then in its infancy. Kreisler’s special interest were the minds of those suffering souls deemed “criminally insane.” The commonly held belief in the 1800s was that mentally deranged people were alienated from their true personality. For this reason, doctors working with the mentally ill were called alienists.

The Alienist
TV Series 2018 – 2020
Daniel Bruhl, Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans
Daniel Bruhl stars as Lazlo Kreisler
A character based on the true-life experiences of
Dr. Allen McLane Hamilton
Portrait of Allan McClain Hamilton in Native Dress. From his autobiography, printed in 1909 and taken while he was visiting Algiers
Portrait of Allan McClain Hamilton later in life. From his autobiography printed in 1909.

The most famous alienist of the time was Dr. Allen McClane Hamilton. Dr. Hamilton rose to national fame by a his courtroom testimonies as an expert witness in many high-profile criminal cases. In addition, he published the forensic techniques he developed and the legal phraseology other alienists should follow when testifying about a defendant’s mental capacities before a court. The work earned him the sobriquet of “America’s Father of Forensic Psychiatrist.” Toward the end of his career, Dr. Hamilton wrote an autobiography titled “The Recollections of an Alienist.” The memoirs he published closely match the personality and activities of Caleb Carrs’ fictional Dr. Kreizler in the current HBO series. For me, watching Daniel Bruhl as the Alienist was a miraculous reincarnation of Allan McClain Hamilton .

Hamilton was addicted to solving mysteries, so when he read about the Kentucky Meat Shower being a mind-boggler, he set out to get his own sample of the evidence. In keeping with his forensic way of working, he sought collaboration with a scientist having impeccable microscopy credentials. He picked W. J. S Arnold, Professor of Histology at New York City University, School of Medicine. Using microscopes, the two determined that the specimen under examination was a piece of lung, not a balloonist’s lunch or pieces of a cosmic dinosaur. Hamilton published these findings in the New York Medical Record.

William Schmidt Arnold (1846 – 1888) was a professor at the University of New York, serving as chairperson of the medical school’s Department of Physiology and Histology. His specialty was the staining, slicing and microscopic study of animal tissues. Alan Hamilton’s assessment was on target when he asserted in the New York Medical Record that J. W. S. Arnold was the best person in the US to identity evidence collected at the site of the Kentucky meat shower.

J. W. S. Arnold was best known for his testimonies before the U. S. Congress and health-related agencies and his articles espousing the safety of oleomargarine’s use as a butter substitute. In the 1882 issue of the American Monthly Microscopical Journal, he stated that he taught practical histology at the University of New York for fourteen years. Arnold developed an interest in the newly developing field of photomicrography. He advertised his services as a photomicrographer in several journals, was elected to a term as secretary of the New York Microscopical Society and was active in several photography associations. Arnold’s microscope pictures received excellent reviews, and a collection of his photomicrographs are available in the Otis Historical Archives at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Springs, Maryland.

Not much information is available about Arnold’s personal life. Still, one may speculate that his retirement from the University at the young age of forty was related to failing health, as he died two years later. After retiring, Arnold continued using the University as his address, indicating a continuing association with the lab he once supervised. (Arnold 1882)

Luke Prior Blackburn (1816 – 1887)

REMEMBERED BY HISTORY FOR VENTURING INTO THE “DARKSIDE” OF MEDICINE

Luke Prior Blackburn — Governor of Kentucky, Physician, Breeder of Race Horses, Graduate of Transylvania University
Atlas Edition Collectors Cards (above): Civil War The printing and distributing company began in 1954 in France as the Collier Publishing Company. During the fifties and sixties, they printed the Collier’s Encyclopedia. Collier merged with Newfield Publishing in 1995, abandoned educational publishing, and changed the name to Atlas Editions. They were the highly successful promulgators of the Star Trek Universe Collection printed under license from Paramount Picture Studios. In addition, Atlas produced trading card series covering many topics, with The Civil War being one set. The trading cards were available by subscription only and were sent by mail to collectors monthly. In 2001 the company ceased publishing cards.

Blackburn Visited Crouch’s farm and obtained samples of the material that fell on that strange day in 1876. He passed what he found to others for identification. Later he became the Governor of Kentucky but what he did earlier in life was the infamous act for which he is remembered. The medals bedecking Blackburn’s jacket were presented to him by Queen Victoria for his medical assistance in fighting Bermuda’s Yellow Fever epidemic of 1864. To end the deadly pandemic, “he fought the good fight.” But the knowledge he gained about saving people from death, he twisted into a plan to kill most evilly. While treating the sick in Bermuda’s yellow fever hospitals, he collected what he believed to be the most dangerously infectious materials possible. He took the bed linens and blankets from patients after their death from yellow fever. Blackburn, aided by a few accomplices, shipped them via Canada for auctioning to impoverished people living in New York, Boston, and Washington. The plan worked. The blankets were delivered and auctioned. Blackburn’s intended to sicken and kill workers in the northern United States. As a result, he expected Abraham Lincoln to abandon the war against the Confederacy. Luckily for the United States, what Blackburn thought he knew about yellow fever was wrong. The disease is spread to people by mosquito bites – not contact between people with the garments of the sick. That fact was not discovered until 1901 by the U. S. Army physician Walter Reed. (McGeary 1865)

Prof. Charles Frederick Chandler, Ph.D. (1836 – 1925)

Charles Frederick Chandler Photograph by Charles F. Conly (1846 – 1892). Conly was a portraitist best known for his work with theatrical celebrities; most times in his studio, he frequently posed subjects in front of painted backdrops.

Dr. Chandler received a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the Laurance Scientific School at Harvard University. He taught chemistry at Columbia University and became Dean of the Columbia School of Mines. Chandler served as chairperson for the New York City Board of Health, where he gained public attention for exposing the watering down of milk, known as the NYC milk scandal of 1886. He also investigated and testified about the safety of using water gas as a fuel for household cooking. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, on March 10, 1884, Columbia University commissioned a bust of Dr. Chandler by the sculptor J. Scott Hartley for display when they created the Chandler lectureship in chemistry. Additionally, Columbia named their Chemical Museum in his honor. (NY Times May 1, 1910)

Prof. Frederic Ward Putnam (1839 – 1915) Putman earned a Ph.D. From the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University, where he remained to teach. While there he became the curator of the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. Putnam directed excavations around North America and wrote extensively about North America’s native inhabitants. The techniques he developed for unearthing and cataloging artefacts earned him the informal title of the father of American archaeology.

  • Louis D. Kastenbine (1830 – 1903) was a physician and chemist. He Studied chemistry under the guidance of Prof. Lawrence J. Smith. Kastenbine served in the civil war after which he studied medicine at Belview Hospital in NYC. He graduated with an MD in 1869 and returned to Kentucky. Louisville College of Pharmacy and began practice in 1872 (Jefferson Evening News 1903) which most likely was the year of his graduation. During his career was frequently mentioned in the press for his test results on drinking water quality, food safety and the toxicological court testimony he presented during several murder trials. Kastenbine moved from Kentucky to California in 1903. Following Kastenbine’s twenty-three year old daughter’s suicide in 1912, she shot herself in a bedroom, he drops from public view. (Mathews’ Quarterly Journal of Rectal and Gastro-Intestinal Diseases 1904)

Capt. J. M. Bent (1837 – 1907) Bent was the proprietor of Aden Springs and Park located in Mt. Sterling, KY. The Springs were a summer resort situated ninety miles east of Lexington but less than ten miles from Allen Crouch’s farm. Advertisements Bent ran in contemporary newspapers describe the facility as “a delightful summer vacation spot having its hotel being a short walk from the Newport News and Mississippi Valley railroad station.” One newspaper article describes Bent as the owner of a local bank and that he served as the Mayor of Mt. Sterling. (Savannah Morning News 1897) Searching literature does not find the positions mentioned elsewhere. Several newspaper articles state that Bent was a lawyer before acquiring Aden Springs and Park. Bent’s wife, Laura Mitchell Bent, is described as having worked competently as a bank accountant in her obituary published in the Mount Sterling Advocate, 1903

All resources refer to Bent by the initials J. M. – even his obituary. Bent died, at the age of 70, after having been bedridden for two days from what the newspaper describes as “locked bowels.” (Mount Sterling Advocate 1907)

John Phin ( 1832-1913) Phin was a writer, lawyer, and publisher. He founded the Industrial Publishing Company in New York City, which published the American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science and several other serial publications. He was interested in microscopy and authored the book Practical Hints on the Selection and Use of the Microscope. As editor of the American Journal of Microscopy, he ran four stories on the Kentucky Meat-shower and facilitated the transfer of specimens from Crouch’s farm between microscopists. (West 1886)

J. Lawrence Smith ( 1818 – 1883) was a prominent American Scientists. He was educated as a chemist and physician in both the United States and Europe. The lifelong passion he held was the collecting and studying of meteorites. Upon his death, he donated his meteorite collection to the National Association of Science, who sold it to Harvard’s Mineralogical & Geological Museum, with the understanding that it be kept together. The eight thousand dollars proceeds were invested in establishing a scholarship the association would grant to promising talent to encourage the future study of the interplanetary treasures. Smith was a fitting person to seek out to examine specimens collected from the Crouch farm meat shower. (Silliman 1884)

Arthur Meade Edwards M. D. (1836 – 1914) received a broad education in sciences. He had the opportunity to study medicine under John Torrey at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, botanist Asa Gray and zoologist Louis Agassiz both at Harvard. According to a relative of Edwards on a genealogical website, Agassiz was so impressed with him as a student he gave him a quality microscope as a gift.

Edwards studied geology and chemistry, as well as medicine. His first professional position was with the Northwest Boundary Survey as a microscopist under Mr. George Gibbs. Following tenure in that position, Edwards worked with Prof. Josiah Dwight Whitney (1819 – 1896) as a member of the State Geological Survey of California. He then returned to the east coast working in geology with Professor C. H. Hitchcock’s team for the state-sponsored Geological Survey of New Hampshire. 

Returning to New York City, Arthur founded and served as the first president of the American Microscopical Society and its journal. The publication was the precursor to the Journal of The American Monthly Microscopical Society. (Smiley 1896) 

Arthur Edwards taught chemistry and microscopy at the Women’s Medical College, which was associated with the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. The institutions were founded in 1853 by Elizabeth Blackwell and her sister, Emily. Elizabeth Blackwell is historically significant as the first female physician educated in the United States. 

In 1872 Edwards married Emma Cornelia Ward (1845 – 1896). They wedded two years following her graduation from the Woman’s Medical College of New York in 1870. Emma worked at the Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children a year after graduating. Hence, the adjacent medical college where Edwards taught is likely the place and reason their relationship developed. After they married, the couple moved to Newark, NJ, and opened medical practices.

According to a biographical article about Arthur Edwards, written by C. W. Smiley and published in an 1896 American Monthly Microscopical Journal issue, Arthur accepted a position to teach chemistry at the University of Tokyo in 1877. The Edwards family, now including two daughters, traveled by train to San Francisco, expecting to continue to Japan by ship. Unfortunately, they did not complete the journey. Arthur developed debilitating memory problems for a reason not mentioned in Smiley’s reporting and canceled the trip. He and his family continued living in the San Francisco suburb of Berkeley for two years. Arthur practiced medicine and became an active member of the San Francisco Microscopical Society. 

In 1879 Arthur, Emma, and their children returned from California to Newark, New Jersey. Upon leaving, Arthur donated his books, specimens, and slides to the San Francisco Microscopical Society. Emma reestablished her practice, but Arthur did not return to medicine. Instead, he fully immersed himself in his lifelong passion for natural history and microscopy. (Smiley 1896)

Arthur Edwards was actively writing articles for the journal that published his biography. Since he frequently communicated with the journal’s editor, it is reasonable to assume that Arthur had ample chance to correct C. S. Smiley’s version of his life if he felt it was in error or wanted to keep parts private. 

The Family’s Version Offers Better Insight.

The Edwards family’s trip to San Francisco is described somewhat differently on the genealogical website “The Landis Family Tree.” According to Joan T. Hutton (b. 1930), the great-granddaughter of Emma and Arthur, the story handed down through the family was that the Edwards were traveling to Japan so the two could serve as medical missionaries. During the layover in San Francisco, Arthur was attacked and beaten by members of a Tong Gang. The assault caused brain damage that affected his memory and perhaps his personality. During the two years Arthur and Emma lived in Berkeley, they had fierce fights. The problems were not resolvable, and the couple stopped speaking to each other, except through interlocutors, which were their children. (Landis 2022)

Upon returning to Newark, the two separated. Arthur moved in with close relatives on his mother’s side, Harry and Harriet Foster. Emma stayed with the daughters and resumed her medical practice. (Landis 2022)

Charles S. Shultz (1839 – 1924) Schulz was a 19th-century financier and two-term president of the American Microscopical Society and the New York Microscopical Society.

During the 1890s, the state of New Jersey drilled many artesian wells about its southern shores to provide public drinking water. The drillings also provided coreings that geologists used to study the strata deposited under New Jersey’s coastal flatlands. After compiling data from many drillings, a cross-sectional map showing the incline, thickness, and chemical nature of New Jersey’s subterranean geological morphology. Microscopists determined the ages of the various strata by identifying the micro-fossils they contained, mainly by using the silicon remains of diatoms. C.L. Peticoles, a diatom specialist, volunteered his time and talents to chemically separate diatom shells from the rock-like cores and then clean and mount them on slides. Dr. D. B. Ward and A. E. Schulze completed the arduous process by identifying hundreds of extinct diatom species. The three researchers built solid reputations as diatom experts over the years they donated to this scientific project. 

Schulz financially invested wisely, allowing him to build a posh mansion in Montclair, New Jersey. His wife, Lucy, and son, Clifford, joined him in traveling about the world and furnishing the home with collections expressing their passions – primarily scientific and archeological. After the Shultz family died, the Montclair Historical Society kept the Shultz mansion as a museum of nineteenth-century life. Unfortunately, the historical society could not afford to maintain the property, and in November 2021, they sold the building and auctioned off its contents. Shultz had a beautiful mahogany microscope slide cabinet holding five-hundred antique preparations. The catalog valued the slide collection as worth between two and three thousand dollars. (I believe this estimation to be low. I do not know the final hammer price, but it should have been more.)

Mahogany Microscope Cabinet Owned by Charles Shultz

From the auction catalog available at: https://www.bidsquare.com/online-auctions/nye/victorian-microscopical-slide-case-2502875

Curtis, Edward (1867) Catalogue of the Microscopical Section of the United States Medical Museum holds twenty-eight prepared diatom slides from worldwide samples made by Curtis.

Thurber, George (1821-1890) Professor of botany and horticulture at Michigan State Agricultural College and editor of the American Agriculturist from 1863 – 1885. He specialized in grasses.

How to footnote this page 

Reiser, Frank W. (2022, October) Kentucky Meat Shower – a new specimen has been found and it is a lung! Searching an Invisible World for Its Tiniest Things. https://wp.me/PaLJ0g-Wy

References

 Arnold, J. W. S. (1882) Microscopical Laboratories, American Monthly Microscopical Journal, Boston, April, p.69. 

Brandies, Leopold (1876) The Kentucky Meat Shower, American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science, Handicraft Publication, New York, Vol I, p.54 Vol 1 no 5, (reprinted the Sanitarian article)

Chatham Record (1884)

The Herald, New York (March 21, 1876) p.4 Available at: Chronicling Americas Newspapers, Library of Congress https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

Landis (2022) https://landisfamilytree.blogspot.com/search/label/Arthur%20Mead%20Edwards%20-%20Emma%20Ward%20and%20Fosters

Mathews’ Quarterly Journal of Rectal and Gastro-intestinal Diseases. (1904). United States: (n.p.).

Maxwell, Tom (2012) “For the Scrutiny of Science and the Light of Revolution,”: American Blood Falls. Southern Cultures, Spring V. 18 No. 1, University of North Carolina Press.

McGary, Francis (1865) The Yellow Fever Plot, The Medical and Surgical Reporter 12/565

Meekins, Christopher A. (2020) Chatham Blood Shower 1884. State Archives of North Carolina. NCPedia  https://www.ncpedia.org/chatham-blood-shower-1884 last accessed on 09/10/2020

National Democrat (1912) 

New York Times (1876) Flesh descending in a shower, an astounding phenomenon in Kentucky, March 9

Phin, John (1876) The Kentucky Meat Shower, American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science, Handicraft Publication, New York, Vol I,  Vol 1 no 6, p.69 (reprinted the Sanitarian article)

Rooker, Henry Grady. (1932) A Sketch Of the Life and Work Of Dr. Gerard Troost. Tennessee Historical Magazine V. 3 no.1

Silliman, Benjamin (1884) Memoir of John Lawrence Smith, Read before the National Academy of Sciences, April 17, 1884, pp 217-236 Available: http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/smith-j-lawrence.pdf

Smiley, C. W. (1896) Sketch of the Life of Arthur Mead Edwards, M. D. The American Monthly Microscopical Journal. Vol. XVIII July p. 226.

The Spirit of the Times, (1841) Blood Rain Falls in Chatham. p 3. No. 1, v18. Leland and Draper publishers and editor.

Stack County News (1876) Kentucky Meat Shower, Illinois, March31

Stevenson, Brian. http://www.Microscopist.net      (Best online reference for antique microscope slides)

Venable, Francis P. A Fall of Blood in Chatham County. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, Vol I, 1884, pp. 38-40. Available on JSTOR. North Carolina Academy of Sciences

(Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society was founded in 1883 by Francis Preston Venable.) 

West, Charles E. (1886) Forty Years’ Acquaintance with the Microscope and Microscopists. Proceedings of the American Society of Microscopists, V8, pp. 161-173

The Wilson Advance, Shower of Blood Wilson, NC, April 3, 1884, V. 14, No 13, p1 Available At Newspaper Archives https://newspaperarchive.com/wilson-advance-may-02-1884-p-2/