On March 3, 1876, in Olympian Springs, Kentucky, it rained a substance that looked suspiciously like flesh. The meat rained down near the house of Allen Crouch, the New York Times reported, "covering a strip of ground about one hundred yards in length and fifty wide".
Mrs Crouch, who was making soap in the yard, claimed that it fell like snow – with the one main distinction being that she believed it looked like beef. The next day, one Harrison Gill visited the site and found particles of what looked like fresh meat stuck to the fences and scattered all over the ground, with some of the chunks as large as two inches square.
You might note at this point that this seems quite unlikely. Our language, for instance, has many terms for weather phenomena and none of them talk of it "absolutely beefing it down out there". However, the New York Times believed that the witnesses to the event had unquestionable veracity. They were, it turns out, also hungry boys.
Two "gentlemen" – a disputable term, given that they were about to chow down on some floor beef – tasted the meat, and were of "the opinion that it was either mutton or venison".
If you had to guess what had caused the event, suggesting that it was picked up by weather – a light tornado, perhaps – wouldn't be a bad shout. However, on this day the skies were said to be clear. So, what happened?
The meat was sent off for analysis that was a little more complex than picking it up off the floor, gnawing on it, and declaring it "tastes a bit muttony". Dr. A. Mead Edwards looked at the sample and declared it to be either lung tissue from a horse or meat from a human infant – sentences that would surely lead to an awful lot of nausea from certain gentlemen in Kentucky. Others looked at the sample and concluded that though they couldn't say for certain what it was, the meat did appear to contain lung tissue, as well as cartilage and muscular tissue.
"Mystery solved" I hear you say, but wait: the puzzle here isn't whether the meat was or wasn't beef, but how it came to rain down from the sky on a clear Kentucky day. Dr L. D Kastenbine, writing in Louisville Medical News later that year, backed up a likely explanation proposed by a local farmer, which would only add to the nausea of anyone who had dined on some delicious fence beef.
"The only plausible theory explanatory of this anomalous shower appears to me to be that suggested by the old Ohio farmer," he wrote, adding that the samples he analyzed appeared to be mutton (thank god) rather than human babies. "The disgorgement of some vultures that were sailing over the spot, and from their immense height the particles were scattered by the then prevailing wind over the ground."
"The variety of tissue discovered – muscular, connective, fatty, structureless, etc – can be explained only by this theory."
Vultures are known for scavenging meat and gorging when they get their chance. Unfortunately, their wings are not up for the job of carrying around all that weight. When stressed – say if their flight was disturbed by another bird or another predator on the ground – they are prone to vomiting, possibly to lighten their load. The most likely explanation is that this happened on March 3, 1876.
While gross, in vultures' defense, you are under no obligation to collect the vomit, fry up the vomit, eat the vomit, and then speculate about what meat the vomit tastes most similar to.