Richard D. L. Fulton

Every year, an estimated 17,000 meteorites hit the Earth, according to researchers at the British University of Manchester and the London Imperial College, ranging in size from 1.75 pounds to 22 pounds, the larger ones being quite rare.

Just for the record, a space rock which has not fallen into the Earth’s atmosphere is termed as being a meteoroid. However, when the rock enters the atmosphere, it is then called a meteor (sometimes called a “shooting star”). Once it impacts upon the ground, the rock is then termed as being a meteorite.

There are basically three types of meteorites: (1) Iron meteorites (consisting primarily of iron and nickel and make up about 5.7 percent of the meteorites that strike the planet; (2) Stoney meteorites (which comprise about 92 percent of the meteorites that strike the planet); and (3) Stoney-iron meteorites (which comprise about 2 percent of the meteorites that strike the planet), according to

North Frederick County and southern Adams County, Pennsylvania, have each experienced a single confirmed strike, one confirmed and one unconfirmed hit in Emmitsburg, and one confirmed hit near Two Taverns in Adams County.

Of the three encounters of the meteoritic kind, little has been recorded regarding the Emmitsburg meteorite, with much more having been published regarding the Two Taverns meteorite (also referred to as the Mount Joy meteorite).  The Natural History Society of Maryland (NHSM) reported in its 1948 publication, The Maryland Naturalist, that “nothing at all seems to have been written of the finding of the Emmitsburg meteorite,” thus, the finder’s name has remained elusive.

The one confirmed Emmitsburg meteorite (classified as an iron meteorite) was discovered in 1854 and weighed in at just under one pound. 

Nothing seems to have been recorded regarding the circumstance under which it was found, nor when it fell, but the coordinates for where it was found, if accurate, were given as being 39 degrees 43 seconds north, and 77 degrees 18 seconds west, placing the discovery as having been found east of the current location of Mountain Liquors (geological discoveries were often referenced by the nearest town), according to Meteoritical Society records. In fact, Joseph Boesenberg, a former meteorite scientific assistant with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, previously told the reporter that the first published description was that written by a meteorite specialist, Aristides Brezina, in 1885. The next appearance of the meteorite was in the hands of meteorite dealer S.C.H. Bailey in the early 1900s.

Subsequently, the Emmitsburg meteorite fell into the hands of Dr. J.R. Clinton, of New York, and was soon after “thin sliced (cut into thin sections) and distributed to a number of institutions around the world, including in New York, Harvard, Washington, DC., Chicago, London, Vienna, and Gottingen, Germany).” But those only represent a portion of the meteorite. The remainder remains unaccounted-for.

A second, unconfirmed meteor fell into the Emmitsburg area around 1895 and landed in the yard of a home occupied by J.K. Hays and family. The family reported as having seen the meteor strike “about 100 yards from the house,” and Hays subsequently recovered the specimen, which he stated he kept in their basement. He described the meteorite as being oval-shaped and approximately eight inches by four inches. It was never shown to anyone with a museum or university, and some 40 years later, Hays said he could not find it, stating that he thinks his son “threw it out,” according to the NHSM.

Better known is the Two Taverns (Mount Joy) meteorite, probably because this meteorite, for decades after it was discovered, held the title of being the third largest meteorite that had been found in the United States, and the largest one that had been found east of the Mississippi.

The 847-pound  iron meteorite was discovered in 1887, according to the Harrisburg Telegraph, and it was later reported by The Gettysburg Times in 1925 that the meteorite had been found by Jacob Snyder, who was digging a hole for a fruit tree on his farm when he encountered “a stubborn hard stone,” The identification was subsequently confirmed at Gettysburg College, and subsequently sent to the Smithsonian Institute.

The Gettysburg Times reported in 1946 that, upon being found, the first use of a portion of the meteorite was forged into a cornhusker (which was subsequently lost). Specimens “sliced” from the rock made their way into various museums, including the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria.

Not all of the Mount Joy meteorite made its way into museums.

The Gettysburg Times reported in 1925 that “several souvenirs were made from it by J.J. Epley… and several pieces are still in the hands of (a) Mr. Rudisill,” and that a “good sized piece” was still in the possession of Snyder, and later sold.  Those specimens, apparently, have yet to be accounted for.

Share →