[meteorite-list] Heirloom Dropped From Sky (Palmersville Meteorite)


Heirloom dropped from sky; meteorite served several generations
By WARREN DUZAK
The Tennessean
December 29, 2001

LEBANON - A space traveler the size of a volleyball landed in John Fagan's
tobacco patch in Palmersville, Tenn., one night in 1908 and eventually
become a working member of the family.

The 20-pound stone served first as a curiosity as the ''the rock that fell
out of the sky'' and was hauled back to the Fagan house, where there was
much speculation about its origins, said Hugh Berryman, Fagan's grandson and
a Wilson County resident.

The Fagans were practical folk, and the rock was eventually put to work as
an anvil to crack hickory nuts and as a doormat particularly good for
cleaning mud off one's boots.

The stone graduated to become a driveway ornament and retired as a door stop
before being inherited by Berryman several years ago.

Following a hunch, Berryman had the rock tested this summer, and the report
came back positive. The 20-pound stone was not of this world, much less of
Weakley County. It was, as Berryman had suspected and hoped, a meteorite.

More importantly, by the traditions of meteorite designations, its name will
include the name of the post office nearest where it landed.

''I'm excited that Palmersville will be on the meteorite list forever and
always,'' said Berryman, whose family still owns the farm where the
meteorite was found.

Folks in Palmersville, population about 150, were delighted with the
newfound fame.

''Anytime you get Palmersville in the news, you are doing a good thing,''
Palmersville Postmaster Robbie Perkins observed.

Berryman is one of the town's ''illustrious'' citizens who has gone off and
done well, said Palmersville resident Hubert Smethwick, 79.

Smethwick said he heard there had been ''quite a stir'' when Fagan first
found the rock.

Worldwide, about 2,000 new meteorites are found each year and are often
utilized the way the Fagans used the Palmersville meteorite, said
Christopher Goodmaster, a student at Middle Tennessee State University who
collects meteorites and who helped Berryman through the process of
certification.

''Using one as a doorstop is pretty common, but to crack nuts and to clean
boots, I don't know any that have been used that way,'' Goodmaster admitted.

Sold as-is, the meteorite is worth a ''couple of thousand'' dollars, but
sliced up it could fetch as much as $8,000, he said.

Goodmaster cut a slice out of Berryman's rock and sent it to Alan Rubin, a
geochemist and meteorite expert at the University of California-Los Angeles
to confirm the rock's origins.

Rubin said he analyzes about 30 meteorites each month and about as many of
what he referred to as ''meteor-wrongs.'' Most of the real meteorites are
from collectors who have obtained them from the Sahara Desert in Africa or
the Mojave Desert in the western U.S.

''Almost everything I get from the public is not a meteorite,'' Rubin said.
''They are not meteorites. They are 'meteor-wrongs.' They are family
heirlooms, but they are not meteorites.

''This is one of the rare cases where it is a family heirloom and a
meteorite, so I was pleasantly surprised that it was genuine, given the
story that it was found by his grandfather.''

Rubin said meteorites are valuable because they hold secrets that date back
to the beginning of the universe.

''They are older that any earth rocks and were some of the first rocks
created in the universe,'' he said.

Berryman, a consulting forensic anthropologist, said he is uncertain what he
will do with his grandfather's find but he knows he will not sell it. The
Palmersville meteorite now adorns a shelf in the Berryman home, free from
the hard duty it once was expected to do.

Besides the slice for the sample, there are a few man-made dings in the
pitted, rust-colored surface. After surviving millions of years in space and
a fiery collision with the earth's atmosphere, the Palmers-ville meteorite
may have changed the most in the hands of Berryman's uncles, Marlon and
Howard Fagan, then young boys with big curiosity.

''They took a hammer and beat off the corners to see if there was anything
inside,'' Berryman said.


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