An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
by Martin Horejsi of  Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books

Paragould, Arkansas:

An Impact that Launched a Paradigm

H. H. Nininger dreamed of hunting meteorites full time after witnessing a fireball in 1923. His search for the meteorite he saw screaming across the sky led him to Coldwater, Kansas where, although unsuccessful in his original quest, he did stimulate the recovery of other meteorites including two from the Coldwater area alone. But to chase meteorites for a living, Nininger needed a financial springboard large enough to make hopping off the financially secure tenure-track train an appropriate move for a married man. But I am getting ahead of myself. First, the financial springboard had to fall.

Sonic booms vibrated eardrums on earth as a bright fireball lit up the 4:00 AM sky over the southern United States on February 17, 1930. A flaming airplane on its way to a rough landing seemed the likely event for many, but instead it was the largest piece of stony meteorite real estate witnessed to fall on the modern world.

Paragould, besides being a one of the best examples of a witnessed meteorite fall, also happens to be a fairly rare type of chondrite known as an brecciated LL5.

This somewhat unsighlty 127g fragment of Paragould first escaped the conformity of the asteroid belt; then escaped a slow death at the bottom of a mud hole in Arkansas; then escaped the financial grasp of H. H. Nininger; then in a prisoner exchange agreement, this cosmic kidnappie was released from the dusty bowels of the Chicago Field Museum only to find itself back in riker prison in another collection. Finally, the specimen had its ransom paid and left the hands of the private collector landing in my hands.

Now I keep a tight hold on this escape artist since I doubt such a large sample of this famous stone will ever cross paths with me again.
 


As a highly shocked S4-5 chondrite, the interior of Paragould offers an exceptional view of brecciation. This is a very active meteorite, and one offering a geologic photographic that forever captures the debris spray from an impact between microworlds wandering in space.

Although over 400kg of Paragould fell, only three collections worldwide claim pieces of Paragould over one kilogram in size. The bulk of the largest mass at 337kg is in Chicago, and the bulk of the smaller mass at 33kg is at the US National Museum in Washington, DC. The American Museum of Natural History in New York holds the third largest piece at only 3.75kg.

From there, the sizes drop rapidly starting at 450g at Harvard, followed by three collections holding pieces around 60g, then the weights plumit downhill quickly from there.

Applying this information gleaned from the Catalogue of Meteorites, regardless of its looks, the above pictured 127g piece of Paragould now residing in my collection is the fifth largest piece of the largest stone meteorite in US history!
 


Shortly after the fall, a farmer named Raymond Parkinson found an impact pit whose bottom contained an 36kg stone. H. H. Nininger was contacted, and after expressing intense interest in the stone, quickly set off with his wife on a 24-hour drive to visit the rock. However, before Nininger arrived on the scene, the stone was sold for $300 by a teacher at the school where the stone was on display. Later, the principal of the school would suffer "physical retribution" at the hands of Parkinson for allowing the teacher to sell the stone without permission.

Nonetheless, Nininger was not completely disillusioned. He studied the plethora of information about the fall and deduced that there was another much larger stone still out there somewhere. Using the information he gathered, Nininger drew a straight line across a map of the area indicating where he believed the best chance for the larger specimen to be found. Sure enough, a stone ten-times larger turned up three kilometers from the discovery of the first mass--right on the line!

Borrowing money to the tune of $3600, Nininger bought the stone knowing he could turn a profit by selling it thus then able to launch a new career for himself as a meteorite hunter. The Field Museum in Chicago bought the 372kg mass for almost double what Nininger paid. But suffering greatly from sellers remorse, Nininger wrote in his autobiography Find a Falling Star (page 40):

"The Paragould meteorite had profound effects on our lives. I have never ceased to regret parting with it, but I had paid a price too high, and was forced to give up either the specimen or my dream of making meteorites a new vocation. And Paragould, with the $2,000 profit it brought, was the way to my dream."

Few things add documented history to a specimen better than a major museum collection number. Me 2135 is the number assigned to the main mass of Paragould in the Chicago Field Museum meteorite collection catalog.

The main mass of Paragould is listed in the Field Museum catalog as having the mass of 337,133.10 grams. Personally, I have a hard time believing that the field museum has a scale that can accurately weigh to the nearest hundreth of a gram something weighing over 300kg! But I could be wrong.
 


Even though Paragould fell at 4:00 in the morning, there were so many witnesses who could provide detailed fall information that H. E. Nelson and W. J. Thomsen were able to calculate the original orbit of Paragould before it failed to yield to an oncoming earth.

The above diagram appears in D. Sears' book Thunderstones, and was borrowed by Sears from a 1947 issue of Popular Astronomy (55, 448). In addition to Paragould, three other meteorites who happened to have their fall actually photographed also have their pre-impact orbits plotted against the inner circle indicating the earth's orbit.
 


Some interesting Paragould weblinks:

David Weir's Meteorite Studies Paragould page

Mark Bostick's Meteorite Articles Paragould page

Paragould on display at the University of Arkansas Library

Article about keeping the Paragould on display in Arkansas


 
 


A rich vein of fools gold-colored troilite in Paragould peaks out from a broken face.
 


 

Paragould, Arkansas is truly a piece of American memorabilia. Few meteorites in the 20th century have changed the course of meteorite history and Paragould is one for several reasons. First, it was the world record holding heavyweight until the Jilin, China stone came along. And it is still the largest meteorite witnessed to fall in the United States. Finally it is the stone whose sale gave H. H. Nininger the financial freedom to chase his dream; a dream you also must share considering you have read this far.


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