Today, the Massachusetts State Quarter Coin tells the story of a smelly, gelatinous mass that fell out of the sky long before airplanes began dropping frozen green blobs.
The American Journal of Science, Volume 2, 1820, included an article titled: Account of a gelatinous Meteor, by Rufus Graves, Esq. formerly Lecturer on Chemistry at Dartmouth College, (communicated by Professor Dewey.)
On the evening of the thirteenth day of August, 1819, between the hours of eight and nine o’clock, was seen in the atmosphere, at Amherst, Massachusetts, a falling meteor or fire ball, of the size, as represented by an intelligent spectator, of a man’s hat, or a large blown bladder, of a brilliant white light resembling burnished silver.
The position of this spectator being in a direct line of the street where the luminous ball appeared, and at the distance of not more than five hundred yards, with the sight bounded by the buildings, there could be no deception relative to the direction that it took.
Its altitude, at its first discovery, was two or three times the height of the houses; it fell slowly in a perpendicular direction, emitting great light, till it appeared to strike the earth in front of the buildings, and was instantly extinguished, with a heavy explosion.
At the same instant, as appeared from the report, and from the ringing of the church bell, an unusually white light was seen a few minutes afterwards, by two ladies in a chamber of Mr. Erastus Dewey.
While they were sitting with two candles burning in the room, a bright luminous circular spot suddenly appeared on the side wall of the chamber near the upper floor in front of them, of the size of a two feet stand-table leaf.
This spectrum descended slowly with a tremulous motion nearly to the lower floor and disappeared.
In critically examining the chamber where the foregoing phenomenon was observed, it appeared that the light must have entered through the east front window in a diagonal direction, and impinged on the north wall of the chamber back of the ladies, and thence reflected to the south wall in front of them, forming the circular spectrum, with the corresponding tremulous motion of the meteor, and descending with it in the same direction, according to the fixed laws of incidence and reflection.
Early on the ensuing morning, was discovered in the door yard of the above mentioned Erastus Dewey, at about twenty feet from the front of the house, a substance unlike anything before observed by anyone who saw it.
The situation in which it was found, being exactly in the direction in which the luminous body was first seen, and in the only position to have thrown its light into the chamber, (as before remarked,) leaves no reasonable doubt that the substance found was the residuum of the meteoric body.
This substance when first seen by the writer was entire, no part of it having been removed.
It was in a circular form, resembling a sauce or salad dish bottom upwards, about eight inches in diameter, and something more than one in thickness, of a bright buff color, with a fine nap upon it similar to that on milled cloth, which seemed to defend it from the action of the air.
On removing the villous coat, a buff colored pulpy substance of the consistence of good soft soap, of an offensive, suffocating smell appeared; and on a near approach to it, or when immediately over it, the smell became almost insupportable, producing nausea and dizziness.
A few minutes exposure to the atmosphere changed the buff into a livid color resembling venous blood. It was observed to attract moisture very readily from the air.
A half-pint tumbler was nearly half filled with the substance. It soon began to liquify and form a mucilaginous substance of the consistence, color, and feeling of starch when prepared for domestic use.
The tumbler was then set in a safe place, where it remained undisturbed for two or three days; and when examined afterwards, the substance was found to have all evaporated, except a small dark colored residuum, adhering to the bottom and sides of the glass, which, when rubbed between the fingers, produced a fine ash-colored powder without taste or smell; the whole of which might have been included in a lady’s thimble.
The place where the substance was first found was examined, and nothing was to be seen but a thin membranous substance adhering to the ground similar to that found on the glass.
This singular substance was submitted to the action of acids. With the muriatic and nitric acids, both concentrated and diluted, no chemical action was observed, and the matter remained unchanged.
With the concentrated sulphuric acid a violent effervescence ensued, a gaseous body was evolved, and nearly the whole substance dissolved.
There being no chemical apparatus at hand, the evolving gas was not preserved, or its properties examined.
The Massachusetts State Quarter Coin shows against view of an 1860 meteor in Harper’s Weekly Magazine.