A War in Heaven
On Halloween day 1849, people in Davidson witnessed the rare sight of a meteorite soaring overhead. The Fayetteville North Carolinian reported on November 17 that “A large meteor, travelling from West to East, was seen on Wednesday afternoon of 31st ult. by some hands at work in a field near Davidson College, who also heard two or three explosions in the air, and the loud and long continued rumbling noise which followed them. This noise was also heard at Concord, by some travelers near Charlotte, at Shelby, and thirty miles South of this place [Salisbury] in Cabarrus, where we learn, a fragment of stone 18 pounds in weight, came to the earth…Two other pieces are said to have fallen about nine miles South.” On November 9, the Charlotte Journal reported that Charlotteans “heard a report like a clap of thunder and then a rolling like its distant reverberations.”
The meteorite eventually landed on Hiram Bost’s land near what is now Midland in Cabarrus County. Bost and his friend said it sounded like “chain shot, or [a] platoon firing,” and other observers likened it to “loaded wagons jolting down a rocky hill.” According to the December 14 Charlotte Journal, these sounds resulted from the fact that the main piece of the meteorite was accompanied by “a quantity of small bodies…cutting the air.” The main part of the meteorite buried itself in the ground with a loud thud, and “The explosions and noise of the fall caused much alarm to women and men, dogs and horses. Some persons at a distance, saw a fiery elongated body, flaming like iron at a white heat, following a denser and darker ball of fire, passing from West to East.”
According to an online catalog of the meteorites of North America, “The people of the vicinity imagined that a rock had been thrown up from a volcano or from blasting, or had come from the moon, and were not easily persuaded that it could be formed in the atmosphere. As is usual in cases of extraordinary celestial phenomena, some were terrified by the supposed approach of the day of judgment, or of war, or some other dire calamity, and a militia colonel, in a spirit quite professional, said that “there must be war in Heaven, for they were throwing rocks.”
The meteorite is now known as the Monroe Meteorite; Midland had not yet been incorporated, and it was named for Monroe, which was the nearest town at the time. It was composed of chondrite and was dark gray with lighter grains. It also contained iron and was highly magnetic. It was, at the time, only the second meteorite known to have fallen in North Carolina since it became a state in 1789 and is one of only 29 known North Carolina meteorites. Pieces of it reside today at several museums and universities, including Harvard and the Smithsonian.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.