Thanks to Dave Hostetter (who credits the locating this article to the late Dr. Paul Campbell, physics
professor and planetarium director at Western Kentucky University) and Mark Bostick
for his finding and posting Fort Wayne Weekly, Fort Wayne, IN, Wed., Jan 29, 1879
The story first appeared here:
The Indianapolis Journal
January 15, 1879
Covington, Jan. 15 - On Tuesday night last, Leonidas Grover, who resided in the vicinity of Newtown, Fountain county, met his death in a way that is probably without parallel in this or any other country. Mr. Grover was a widower, living on his farm with a married daughter and her husband. On the evening referred to, the married couple had been on a visit to some neighbors, and upon returning at a late hour entered the house, find everything, in all appearance, in usual order, and supposing that Mr. Grover had already retired, went to bed themselves. Next morning the daughter arose, and having prepared breakfast, went to the adjoining room to call her father, and was horrified to find him lying upon his shattered bed, a mutilated corpse. Her screams brought the husband quickly to the bedroom, and an inspection disclosed a ragged opening in the roof, directly over the breast of the unfortunate man, which was torn through as if by a cannon shot, and extending downward through the bedding and floor; other holes showed the direction taken by the deadly missile. Subsequent search revealed the fact that the awful calamity was caused by the fall of a meteoric stone, and the stone itself, pyramidal in shape and weighing twenty pounds and a few ounces, avoirdupois, and stained with blood, was unearthed from a depth of nearly five feet, thus showing the fearful impetus with which it struck the building. The position of the corpse, showed the victim was asleep when stricken, and that death, to him was painless.
More details appeared here:
The Indianapolis Daily Sentinel
January 19, 1879
THE MURDEROUS METEOR
MANY DISCOURAGEMENTS AT THE START - THE ACCOUNT GIVEN BY GROVER'S FAMILY - A CHAPTER OF HORROR - A GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION.
The Sentinel has received the subjoined account of the proceedings and success of the expedition sent to secure the aerolite which fell near Newtown, Fountain County, last Tuesday night, and while it does not vouch for the genuineness of the record, sees no reason for discrediting it, as it has come through a perfectly legitimate and trustworthy source. It will be found a highly interesting description of one of the most remarkable events of the period. The aerolite and the sketch (which are not posted here) of the house referred are now on exhibition in the show window of Perry's drug store. The following is the account:
To the Editor of the Sentinel:
Sir - In compliance with your request, I took the 7 p.m. train on the I. B. and W., and in the usual course of events arrived safely at about 10 p.m. at Covington, Fountain County, en route to the scene of the terrible disaster, by which a worthy citizen, living near Newtown, about 16 miles northeast of Covington, was in a moment hurled into eternity by the falling of a meteorite, passing successively through the roof, ceiling, body of the victim, the bed on which he was lying, floor, and into the cellar, burying itself in the earth some three or four feet, an account of which was published in yesterday's Journal. Meeting a friend on the train going to Covington, and somewhat acquainted with, and being anxious to obtain all the information possible, I confided to him in strict confidence the object of my mission, requesting that no more be said about it than would be necessary in the furtherance of its accomplishment, fearing that some sordid vandal might try and obtain possession of the much coveted missile for the purposes of gain before I could get to the place. He entered heartily into the scheme and we proceeded together to "Brown's Tavern," where the usual number of loungers and traveling men were gathered around the bar-room stove. We had scarcely been in the room ten minutes before the whole thing was out. My friend being unable to restrain his zeal began at once asking questions which led to the exposure. Old Brown said he believed it was a hoax, as he didn't know anybody living up in that neighborhood by that name. Some one shut him up by saying he never believed anything, not even when told his old hotel was on fire, until the fire and smoke drove him out.
One or two others joined him in his opinion, but the majority expressed themselves as believing the whole strictly true.
At any rate a sleigh and a pair of horses were placed at my disposal, the owner volunteering to drive, two ladies to accompany us. Another sleigh load was at once made up, and it was decided to get an early breakfast and start with as little delay possible next morning. After an almost sleepless night, daylight saw the party, consisting of Judge R., Mr. M. M. N., Mr. F. of the I. B. and W., and Mr. S., two ladies Misses K. and L. and myself, out on the road, going at a sparkling rate, as enthusiastic a band of amateur scientists as ever started in pursuit of an idea. An exhilarating drive of a little more than two hours brought us to Newtown, where great excitement still existed, the occurrence not being known there until after the account had been sent to the Journal, the party being Mr. J. K. Jones of Porter County, on his way to Covington, and getting there just in time to send it by a gentleman on the night train, who left it at the Journal office, and it was printed as a special dispatch. However, we arrived at the objective point of our journey, almost a mile and a half from Newtown, about 9:30 a.m., and at once commenced our investigation. The house is a one story log house, about 20 X 30 feet, divided into three rooms and with a shed kitchen on the rear, as per the accompanying sketch, "taken on the spot." Q is the living room, B is the room occupied by the victim, Mr. Leonidas Grover; C the room occupied by Frowde, and his wife, who are son-in-law and daughter of Mr. Grover, and D the kitchen. It seems the family had only just moved into the neighborhood within the past two weeks, having come from North Carolina, which accounts for the names not being found on the tax duplicate or election returns, and also of not being known to parties in Covington who were well acquainted with the neighborhood, and which gave rise to the impression that no such persons lived in that vicinity, and consequent doubt as to the truth of the report. The family were of a rather better class than North Carolina emigrants usually are, as they could read and write. An inspection of the premises showed with what sure and deadly aim the wandering messenger did its work. The victim had been buried the night before, but in other respects, the house and room remained as it was when the catastrophe occurred. The roof, ceiling and floor presented much the same appearance as in any of the houses in Vicksburg did after the siege that had been struck by round shot and shell fired from our mortars and guns, and that had gone through the roofs, floors, and into the cellars, and burying themselves into the earth. The clapboards of the roof were shattered, and the ceiling and the floor at the point where the missile passed through, presented a ragged and splintered appearance as if hit by a blunt object. In the cellar the ground had been dug up in search of the fearful messenger of death, which was found at the depth of about three feet and a half instead of five, as stated in the Journal, the blood from the unfortunate man following the course of the missile and partially filling the hole, some stain of which is still visible on the stone.
The account given in the journal was substantially correct except in one or two particulars. The young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Frowde, returned home from a blue ribbon meeting at the neighboring school house and found Mr. Grover sitting by the fire waiting for them. They retired soon after, Mr. G. going to his room first. Being tired from a long walk, the young couple soon fell asleep and slept so soundly that neither awoke until after daylight, and were somewhat surprised that the old gentleman was not yet up, it being his usual custom to get up and make the fire. Mrs. F. went about her household duties, but a feeling of uneasiness coming over her at the unusual quiet and mysterious stillness that seemed to pervade the house (her husband having gone to the barn to feed the stock), she went to her father's door, and knocked, and receiving no answer, opened it, when the horrible scene met her sight. With a loud shriek she fell to the floor in a swoon, her head striking the foot of her father's bed, making an ugly wound in her forehead. Hearing the scream, her husband rushed to the house, to find his wife and his father-in-law, (as he supposed) murdered during the few minutes of his absence to the barn. Seizing an axe that was standing near the fireplace, he rushed through the rooms and into the cellar, the door of which was open, in search of the murderer. He there discovered the mysterious hole in the ground, and a long and ghastly
hanging from the floor, and the light streaming through the bloody and jagged hole from the room above. He at once returned to the upper floor, to find his wife just recovering from the swoon. Helping her to a chair and wiping the blood from her face and binding up the cut made by the fall he was more mystified than ever on discovering the hole through the ceiling roof, his father-in-law, and the bed and floor, into the cellar. Going to the door, he hailed a gentleman going down the road, who proved to be Mr. Wm. Jacobs, the teacher at the school house where they had attended the blue ribbon meeting the evening before. Being of a scientific turn of mind, he at once proceeded to investigate the dreadful occurrence. After inspecting the premises, he soon defined the cause of the singular and sad occurrence, and to him our party are under many obligations for particulars derived outside of what could be learned from a mere inspection of the premises. He at once procured a spade, and although a good deal of ice had been formed about the hole from the blood, soon reached the deadly missile and took it out with much of the congealed blood and dirt adhering to it. Anxious to examine the shape and structure of the aerolite, he thoughtlessly washed it off, almost obliterating the blood stains, which, to some extent still plainly show where the intense heat of the stone has indelibly left their marks. Noticing a peculiar scratch or indentation on the side of the stone before leaving there that seemed unusual in a meteorite, I was led to investigate the cause, and found, after diligent search, that it was made during its passage through the roof by striking a piece of broken three-cornered file that had been driven into the rafter with nails, for hanging farm products on, and being intensely hot, the file cut the groove, which had it been cold would have been impossible from its hardness. The end of the file had the appearance of having been burned.
After a great deal of coaxing and many promises of future reward, or a return of the stone, I succeeded in persuading them to part with it, and a more elated and enthusiastic party never returned from a successful hunt. Mr. Pickwick and his club, when they found and deciphered the ancient stone in the old village, that came near disbanding the club in a row because one member insisted that the inscription only meant to read "Bill Stumps, his mark," were not a circumstance to the party that entered Covington with that trophy. Many insisted that I should remain over night and deliver a lecture on meteorites, and exhibit the stone at the court house, but I refused all entreaties, and hastening to the train was soon speeding away toward Indianapolis. I was not, however, to get back in the quiet manner I had hoped, for some of the traveling men and doubting Thomases insisted on knowing whether I succeeded, noticing the heavy bundle I was carrying into the car. I finally yielded, and, opening the traveling blanket into which I had rolled and strapped it, displayed to their astonished gaze the celestial wanderer. The tables were turned and each, as he got off at Veedersburg, Waynestown, Liston, etc., came to me and apologized, and asked that I take the oysters, etc. at their expense, the first time I met them in Indianapolis. And now, sir, thanking you for selecting me as your messenger, and at the same time congratulating you on the success of the undertaking, I resign it into your hands as another contribution to science.
The Rest of the Story
"He (Maj. J.J. Palmer) soon discovered the lack of facts, but decided "to keep up the joke." He secured a cobble-stone of appropriate size and colored it with black and red ink; also a rustic photograph which served as a portrait of the mythical Grover; and prepared plans for a non-existent house showing the course of the imaginary aerolite; all of which he put on exhibition in Joe Perry's drug store, then at the northwest corner of Pennsylvania and Washington Streets, where they were viewed by wondering hundreds. "
The Indianapolis News followed up with this interview of the State Geologist:
An air of melancholy sadness, mixed with large quantities of silence, pervades the bureau of the state geologist. A News reporter visited him this morning. Contrary to his usual custom Prof. Cox talked slowly and with much difficulty. He had been deceived twice before on meteoric stones, by mendacious hoaxers, but the Fountain county stone has struck him as being fully twenty-four carat fine in honesty. So fully convinced of the integrity of this heavenly boulder was he, that he wrote an account of meteors and left a large hole in the article to insert the meteorite when Maj. J.J. Palmer, who had been sent for it, should return with the the trophy. "It would have been a big thing," said the state geologist, "and Prof. J. Lawrence Smith would have given $500 for it." The major could find no one in the county, who knew "Leonidas Grover, widower." There was no demolished roof, no desolated household, no hole in the ground where the magnetic stone "lit." There was nothing. All was a sham, a delusion, a vanity. The major brought back a fourteen-pound boulder blackened with ink and burned to look igneous and grimy. He intended it as a joke; but it didn't raise a smile upon the state geologist's countenance. He was as sad as King Henry, when he heard that "the bark that held the prince went down." He livened up a little before the reporter departed, and told of a meteoric stone that fell in 1846; in South Carolina, within twenty miles of Columbia. The event took place during a terrific thunder storm, and the aerolite was seen to fall by an aged negro, who picked it up and ran to the house with it, saying: "Gorramity, missus! here's a chunk of solid thunder!"
The Herald angrily wrote:
"We take it back in its totality. The death was not a phenomenal one. The aerolite did not come hurtling from the depths of space. It did not tear a ragged opening through the roof of Mr. Grover's house, nor did it crash through his breast and then pass through the bed, the floor, and so on into the earth, five feet. Mr. Grover's daughter and her husband were not away from home at the time of the accident, and they didn't fail to discover his death until the next morning. He didn't die. He didn't get hurt. He didn't even get frightened. He wasn't there; he isn't anywhere now. Durn him. If Mr. Leonidas Grover should ever come into existence, and get killed by an aerolite, he will have to get someone else to write his obituary. It is a nice thing to moralize over, and it furnished great scope for the play of sentimental fancy, but we despise the subject, and we have precious little faith in thunderstones anyhow. The audacious villain who invented the canard is an unmeasured fraud and an infinite liar. Hell gapes for him. The devil beckons to him with his hands, and horns and tail. Eternal cremation, with a brimstone accompaniment, is his doom."
"History of Greater Indianapolis," by Jacob Dunn 1908, pages 401 - 403
For more info see : AN AEROLITE LIAR