A dark December evening

ŠTim Printy July 2006

On December 9, 1965 about 4:40 PM EST, a spectacular event in the sky was witnessed passing over Lake Erie. A bright fireball of a magnitude approaching -15 (brighter than the full moon) streaked across the sky leaving a bright debris trail behind in the sky. Witnesses throughout the region reported the event as something truly extraordinary. Some thought a plane had crashed while others thought "something" had crashed nearby. It was indeed a spectacular event that was widely observed from Illinois to western New York. Most of the reports were focused around the Detroit area, northern Ohio, and the western Pennsylvania area. There were even reports of fires that might have been caused by the fireball and as well as recovered objects that may have been fragments.

Michigan reports

Most of the Michigan reports came near the Detroit area. According to the Ironwood Daily Globe:

The first reported sighting was at 4:40 p.m. when an airline pilot en route from Detroit to Toledo reported seeing what appeared to be a very high contrail, then a puff of what seemed to be smoke, and "a brilliant white flash." "What I saw was a light orange flash and a stream enlarged like a ball, pushing away from the main stream," said John Prindnia, 43, of Detroit. (Thousands)

The meteor was very bright according to one report:

The light was so intense it created shadows. "As I stepped out of the door of my house, there was a tremendous flash of light, brighter than day," said Grosse Pointe policeman Edmund Denthuys."I saw my shadow on the ground from it," he added. (Thousands)

The general direction of the sightings in Michigan were towards Lake Erie:

In South Oakland, Pleasant Ridge Police Chief John M. Connolly said he saw a "big orange glow- like a bright light turned on in the sky" passing from the southeast. He said it turned white and left a vapor trail. (Gemini)

Unfortunately, media reports lacked specifics and only hyped the most spectacular of claims. For instance, there were reports of fragments being recovered:

Near Lapeer, Mich., 40 miles north of Detroit, police will again search a swamp where a sheriff's deputy, Lenny Tolly, found shredded foil Thursday. "It looks like it may have come from the deal (the fireball)," said Tolly. He said the foil was made of lead and shredded in strips one sixteenth of an inch wide. (Orange ball)

The report sounds more like radar chaff than something resulting from a bright meteor. Elsewhere there were other reports of strange metal fragments:

In Michigan, several children found strange metallic-particles which may have been thrown off by the disintegrating fireball as it plunged through the air Thursday night. Brian Parent and Larry Jones, Mich., both 11,of Livonia, Mich said they picked up a piece of lightweight grayish fused metal about the size of a baseball which fell into a field. Smaller chunks of similar material,' were found by children in Warren, Mich. (That Fiery 1)

In another case, a thirteen-year old reported another find:

Near Jackson,13 -year -old Roy Root found a 15 -pound metallic object in a field near his farm home at Concord. He told newsmen the object was in a hole two feet deep and was still hot when it was discovered. (Thousands)

Perhaps the most interesting reaction was that of the Coast Guard. They thought that an aircraft had crashed:

The Coast Guard in Detroit got a report of an airplane down in the river that separates Detroit and Windsor, Canada. Boats searched and found nothing. (Bright light)

The idea that the object had fallen near or over Lake Erie was confirmed by reports across the lake in Canada.

Canadian reports

In the province of Ontario, there were some reports gathered. All pointed toward the fireball appearing in the western sky.

...Mrs. Margaret Lankin, who with her daughter had been hanging clothes when the fireball appeared. About 30 seconds after it disappeared, they heard loud detonations...H. Needham at the London, Ontario airport...described the lingering train as seen most of the time against a clear western sky. (The Great Lakes)

It is interesting to note that there weren't any known reports of fragments being found in Canada. Across the lake in Ohio, reports were many.

Ohio reports

Like Michigan, most of the reports pointed mostly towards a bright object over Lake Erie. Raymond Wallings, a pilot of Painesville even reported that "he saw a flaming chunk drop into Lake Erie" (Fireball 3).

Near the Michigan border residents reported that the fireball was seen in the direction of Lake Erie

In Toledo, where the fireball was first reported, residents saw a blinding flash of blue-white light in the sky northeast of the city. Switchboards lighted up almost instantly, most of the callers believing a plane had exploded. (Streaking)

In the town of Grafton, southwest of Cleveland, there was another report of the fireball being seen over the lake:

Jack Kuechtges, Indian Hollow road, Grafton reported seeing a "flash in the sky" at about 4:45 pm. "It exploded over the lake near Lorain (note: NW of Grafton). There was a white puff of smoke in the sky for about 20 minutes after the explosion," he said.(Fireball 3)

Throughout the local Cleveland area, the meteor appeared to fall nearby.

A boy reported seeing a flaming object fell from the sky into the woods near his home on the outskirts of Cleveland, but sheriff's officers dispatched to the 'area near the village of North Eaton found nothing. And the highway patrol in Ashtabula, east of Cleveland, reported the fireball had been seen from that area.(Mystery flash 1-2)

A report from Elyria also indicated the fireball was visible in the northwest sky:

Mrs. Steven Ferency, 154 Longfellow St., who was walking on North Logan St at 4:40 PM saw an "orange ball with a white streak behind it" streak to the ground near some Cleveland St. homes.(Fireball 3)

However, not all fireball reports indicated something over Lake Erie. From east of Columbus, a weather observer apparently saw the meteor towards the east. However, one must note that the media report stated, "he saw an object to the east which looked like a meteor..." (Orange ball 1). Based on the other reports, he should have seen the fireball towards the North. One can assume that this report was incorrectly recorded/made.

Back near the lake, one observer saw the fireball descend into a wooded area and, apparently, started fires:

In Elyria, Mrs. Ralph Richards, 2301 West River Rd. North, reported seeing a fireball " the size of a volleyball" plunge into the woods across from her home. It was apparently the fragment which caused the fires.(Fireball 3)

Even the firemen thought the fires were caused by a meteorite:

Lt. Jack Trumbull of Elyria said the concentrated pattern of the fires led him to believe they could have been touched off by a fireball or meteor which shattered as it hit the ground.(Bright light 1)

In Lorain, the meteor apparently fell there as well:

A group of children playing near a school in Lorain reported another chunk dropped into a schoolyard. (Fireball 3)

Back in Elyria, a group of school children thought they had found more fragments of the meteor the next day:

The threesome with a sudden awakened interest in Astronomy and meteorites are twins Joe and Mike Kovacs, 11, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kovacs, 629 Hilliard Rd and Bryan Schue, 10,son of Mr and Mrs Charles Schue, 618 Hilliard Rd... The three boys, all students at Spring Valley School, found the 10 pieces in their yards. The fragments weighed approximately six ounces apeice In color they are metallic blue, at first glance resembling 'clinkers" from a coal furnace Closer examination reveals unusual gaseous-formed bubbles on the surface and extending into the heart of the material. The pieces were still warm when picked up the boys reports and had "a smokey smell" about them. Joe Kovacs found the first piece in the backyard at his home before going to school yesterday morning. He launched his search after hearing radio reports about the fireball he explained.(Find)

Apparently, none of these reports really panned out when it came to these fragments. Most of the stories just dropped out of circulation and later scientific studies mentioned them as not being meteorites. It is most likely that the fires were unrelated to any meteorite fall (I am unaware of any small meteorite causing a fire) and the 'fragments' were simply interesting looking rocks that were not extraterrestrial in nature.

Meanwhile, further to the east in Pennsylvania, there were more reports that suggested the meteorite had actually landed to the south of Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania reports

In the town of Erie, Pennsylvania, Eric Johnson saw the meteor as others ringing the lake had. He reported, "It flashed across the Lake north northwest of Erie airport. Leaving a kind of cloud of smoke behind it" (Unidentified Flying Object falls). This was another report indicating the meteor had apparently disappeared in the sky over Lake Erie. However, there were a few reports of the fireball landing well to the south of this location.

Probably the most interesting meteor fall report came out of the town of Kecksburg south of Pittsburgh. It started when a young boy told his mother about the fireball.

Eight-year old Nevin Kalp near Kecksburg saw the fireball and reported it to his mother. She stated, "...it looked like a flaming star. It left a trail of flames behind it and fell in the woods." Mrs. Kalp commented that she saw some smoke but it eventually turned cloudy. (Gatty)

The smoke Mrs. Kalp reported was in the direction of the woods and she reported it to the local radio almost two hours after the event. Mrs. Kalp was then beseiged by phone calls and it took intervention by the operator for the state police to get a hold of her. The search for the fragments would eventually take on a carnival-like atmosphere with the media, state police, and, eventually, the US Air Force racing towards this sleepy part of Pennsylvania.

Works Cited

"Bright light of fireball flashes across U. S., Sparks rumors, calls" The Post-Crescent. Appleton, WI. 10 December 1965, p1

"Fireball slams into county from Lake Erie to Eaton: Sets grass fires; meteorite blamed." The Chonicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. 10 December 1965, p1,3

"Find may be meteor bits"The Chonicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. 11 December 1965, p1

"Gemini (natural kind) causes sky show" The Daily Tribune. Royal Oak, MI. 10 December 1965 p.1

Gatty, Bob. "Unidentified Flying Object falls near Kecksburg" The Tribune-Review. Greensberg, PA. 10 December 1965 p.1

"The Great Lakes fireball". Sky and Telescope. February 1966. P78+

"Thousands in Michigan see intense flash" Ironwood Daily Globe Ironwood, Michigan. 10 December 1965. p.1.

"Mystery flash sparks fires" The Post-Standard.Syracuse, NY. 10 December 1965, p1,2

"Orange ball of fire falls near Kecksburg; sighted in seven states, Canada" The Daily courier. Connellsville, PA 10 December 1965, p1

"Steaking 'fireball ' stages aerial show". The Lima News. Lima, Ohio. 10 December, 1965. p. 17

"That Fiery Object Enormous Meteor" The Post-Standard. Syracuse, NY.11 December 1965, p1,2

"Unidentified Flying Object report touches off probe near Kecksburg" The Tribune-Review. Greensberg, PA. 10 December 1965 p.1

Chapter 2: Excitement in the woods

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