It has happened only once in the history of the world. A meteor hit a person, a woman asleep in her home in the Oak Grove Community, just outside of Sylacauga.

November 30 will be the 69th anniversary of the unique experience of Sylacauga's Ann Hodges.

Sylacauga, a 13,000-resident city in east Alabama, is famous for some unusual things:

It is the hometown of singer and actor Jim Nabors, famous as Gomer Pyle on the "Andy Griffith Show" and "Gomer Pyle, USMC" — "The Home o' Gomer."

It is the site of the nation's (and maybe the world's) largest deposit of cream-white marble, used in sculpture, construction and as an ingredient — "The Marble City."

It is the home of beloved Blue Bell Ice Cream and has an old-fashioned one-dollar ice cream parlor at the almost-century-old ice cream plant. "Get a scoop."

But the most unique (if that is the correct terminology) thing about Sylacauga is:

It is the only place in the world where a meteor has ever struck a person.

And Ann Hodges lived to tell about it. Amazingly, she was not seriously injured.

She was asleep under blankets on the couch in her living room. A meteor plunged through the roof of her house, hit her upright console radio, bounced, and then hit Ann Hodges in her lower left side. It was a rude awakening.

Naturally, Mrs. Hodges and her mother, who was also home at the time, did not know what had happened and did not know what the object was. It was sitting on their living room floor close to where it had struck Ann. The air in the room was suddenly full of dust.

The two women called the local police and fire department. Ann was transported to the Sylacauga Hospital. Word spread through the community that something strange had happened at the Hodges' residence. Crowds gathered.

Ann Hodges showing the meteorite and the hole it punched in her roof to long-time  Sylacauga Mayor Ed Howard and Police Chief W.D. Ashcraft. Alabama News
Photo: University of Alabama Museums.

Rumors abounded. Maybe the object had fallen off an airplane. Maybe a plane had crashed. Maybe the Russians, who were in a Cold War with the United States, had shot off something. Or maybe it was a "shooting star," the common name for a meteor. That last guess turned out to be correct.

After different agencies inquiring and legal wrangling with the landlord about who owned the meteor, the thing ended up at The Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, struck by meteor. Life Magazine Alabama News
Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, struck by meteor. Life Magazine

The meteorite weighed 8.5 pounds. It struck the 34-year-old woman at 2:46 in the afternoon.

Ann Hodges became a minor celebrity. She appeared on the highly-rated TV quiz show, "I've Got a Secret" with Gary Moore. Celebrity contestant Bill Cullen guessed it immediately, as the meteor story had national coverage.

Her photo, exposed wound and all, appeared in "Life Magazine."

Another piece, believed to be from the same meteorite, landed a couple of miles away. As Julius McKinney of Sylacauga was driving his mules home, they balked. They would go no further. He then saw a black object in the trail. He went around it, got the mules home, and came back to get the object. He had sense to retain a lawyer, and they ended up selling it to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. He received enough money to buy a house and a car.

Hodges Meteor (Sylacauga Meteor). Alabama News
Hodges Meteor (Sylacauga Meteor). University of Alabama Museum of Natural History

If this tale weren't strange enough already, there is yet another ironic chapter. There was a locally popular drive-in movie theater across the road from the Hodge's rental home where the meteor struck. It was named "The Comet." Its logo, on an upright tower, showed a meteor with trailing flame. The Comet Drive-In Theater. What are the odds?

The Comet Drive-In Theater, Sylacauga, Alabama. Alabama News
The Comet Drive-In Theater, Sylacauga, Alabama. Photo: CinemaTreasures.com

You may have noticed that this story used the terms "meteor" and "meteorite." As the object was in the solar system (outside the Earth's atmosphere), it was a meteoroid, a small asteroid. When it entered the Earth's atmosphere, it was called a meteor.

When it made it to Earth, it was called a meteorite.

All of this was completely unknown to Ann Hodges, as she slept, her mother, who was there and her husband, who was not home and missed the whole thing. They got a weeks-long course in meteor science that they were not expecting and did not want.

The Hodges/Sylacauga meteorite and the conditions in the skies at the time it hit have been studied by scientists for decades. The case is cited in astronomy classes.

When you have a chance to visit the University of Alabama, go by Smith Hall, just off the Quadrangle. It houses the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Ask for the exhibit of the Sylacauga Meteorite. You will see a once-in-all-of-history display. 

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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