Alabama woman became first person struck by meteorite 68 years ago
SYLACAUGA, Ala. (WIAT) – She wished it hadn’t hit her.
Ann Hodges had made that clear. The reserved woman, an Alabama native, told her then-husband she’d wished that the meteorite had burned up in the atmosphere. Or maybe just landed somewhere up the road. Or if the landlady wanted it, as she had argued in court, maybe it should have just hit her instead.
But God had other plans, Hodges later said, and on a November afternoon 68 years ago, the meteorite smashed through the roof of her Sylacauga home, bouncing off a console radio and striking her as she slept under a quilt on the living room sofa.
“God intended it to hit me,” Hodges reportedly said. “After all, it hit me.”
What happened in Sylacauga was, without a doubt, a global anomaly. Never before in recorded history, and only once since, has a person been hit by a celestial object. But it’s what happened in the wake of that November starfall – the media frenzy, the legal battles, the mental health struggles – that may have ultimately shaped Ann Hodges’ fate.
The day the star fell on Sylacauga, Eugene H. Hodges, Sr. was working in Alexander City, about 40 miles from his home where he lived with his wife Ann and her mother. As they worked, some of the men on Hodges’ crew said they heard an explosion.
“There’s probably someone over there blasting,” Hodges remembered telling the men, referring to dynamiting commonly done at several nearby mines. He didn’t think much of it.
After work, he headed back to Sylacauga. He came down Broadway, he said, and began to take a right on Fort Williams. A man on the corner stopped him, he said.
“You better hurry on home, Hodges,” he remembered the man telling him. “Somethin’ fell through your house today and hit your wife.”
Hodges said he put the “pedal to the metal.”
“I taked off,” he said.
When he arrived, the scene was mayhem. Police and press swarmed the small home. People stood shoulder to shoulder on the Hodges’ front porch.
“The place was covered up with people,” Hodges said. “I remember getting a hold of some of them and pushing them to the side. Some of them said ‘Who is that?’ and they said ‘That’s Gene Hodges, and he lives here.”
When he entered his home, Hodges said his wife was laying down with a throng of people around her. She said there had been “some excitement” at the house, Hodges recalled.
“She pointed at that hole and told me – she said it hit the radio and bounced off and hit me and fell out into the floor,” Hodges said.
The meteorite that had struck the Hodges’ house didn’t fall from the heavens with a whimper. It came with a bang. The sound of the meteor had been heard for miles, even by Hodges’ crew dozens of miles away. Press accounts said, too, that the meteor could be seen traveling through the sky from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Lois Hope, then a 22-year-old waitress at DeSoto Grill, told the Birmingham Post-Herald the meteor looked like a burning plane moments before it exploded.
“It was a blaze of fire with a lot of smoke,” she said.
And that had been the initial theory, Gene Hodges explained years later – that parts of an airplane had fallen through the sky and struck Ann.
The truth, it seems, would take some time to surface amid the frenzy that had descended on the Hodges’ home.
The reporters came from everywhere. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing. The telephone company asked Mr. Hodges if they should lay additional lines out to accommodate the incoming calls. No, he told them.
Then there was the matter of the meteorite itself. Even years later, Hodges seemed annoyed that law enforcement officials had immediately confiscated the object. Not long after the impact, the U.S. Air Force sent a crew by helicopter from Maxwell Air Force Base to Sylacauga to retrieve the meteorite, which was then transported to a military base in Ohio for inspection.
“If I paid rent, that was my place, and didn’t nobody have no right to coming in there without my permission,” Hodges said.
But the military had a different idea. “Anything that falls from the sky,” one official said, was the purview of the air force, regardless of where it landed or whom it had hit.
What came after
Ann Hodges refused to go to the hospital on the day of the impact, according to her husband. The meteorite had struck her hip, leaving a vast, Milky Way-colored bruise, but Hodges’ physical injuries weren’t life-threatening.
She couldn’t sleep that night, though, press accounts said, and the next day, she did go to the hospital, where she stayed for a few days. Before long, she’d be hospitalized again, according to her husband, this time for what he termed “a nervous breakdown.”
Had the pressure from the cosmic collision caused Ann’s difficulties?
“Well, that’s what she thought,” Gene Hodges said years later. “And that’s what the doctors thought.”
The Hodges wanted the meteor back, and they needed help to do it. Huel Love, a local lawyer, came recommended, Gene Hodges said.
For an upfront $500 fee, Hodges explained, he and Ann hired Love to handle their efforts to get the meteorite back.
Love’s son and namesake, Huel Love, Jr., said his father was the kind of small-town lawyer that had his hands in all kinds of cases. The Hodges case, he said, was “just a slow day” for his dad.
“There was plenty of craziness that went on,” he explained, but he doesn’t get into detail.
“Oh Lord,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know if the statute of limitations has run on all that.”
His sister, Julie Love-Templeton, is the “family historian.” She said that as kids, people in town would call their father “Little Jesus.” They’d ask about the nickname, and he’d shrug it off.
“I don’t know,” he’d say.
Later, they’d find out that Love had represented bootleggers in Talladega and the surrounding counties. During one trial, prosecutors tested the alcohol in front of the jury. One of the containers tested negative. It was water, the story goes.
“The district attorney jumped up and said ‘Well, Jesus Christ’s first miracle was turning water into wine, and I guess Huel Love’s is turning wine into water,’” Love-Templeton said.
Her father didn’t speak often in detail about his job with his children, she explained. His work, though, was something he took seriously.
Once, she said his car was blown up because of his involvement in a case. Thankfully, she explained, the back half of the car blew up first, allowing Huel time to escape without injury. When the explosion was complete, the only thing left of the vehicle was a wheel. It was the only time their mother had seen Huel scared, Love-Templeton said.
Later, when Love went into the local insurance office to make a claim for the car, the agent joked with the lawyer to lighten the mood.
“Huel, if you didn’t want the car anymore, you didn’t have to burn it out,” the agent said.
Love canceled all of his policies on the spot.
A famous doorstop
On December 9, 1954, less than two weeks after the meteorite fell through the Sylacauga sky, the military handed the rock over to Huel Love in the Washington, D.C. office of Alabama Congressman Kenneth A. Roberts.
“Mrs. Hewlett Hodges got her meteorite back today,” the Atlanta Constitution reported.
Hodges, though, had not been in Washington and did not yet have the meteorite.
While Love told the media in the nation’s capital about “fantastic offers” the Hodges had received for the stone, Ann was hospitalized in Alabama, according to her husband and contemporaneous media reports.
Gene Hodges remembered fighting with her doctor while Ann was in the hospital for a “nervous breakdown.” He said that he’d been visiting after work each day after he’d gone home, showered, and checked on Ann’s mother. The doctor had continued to give Ann medicine, Hodges said, but her condition hadn’t improved. Hodges felt his wife was “doped up” by the doctor.
He approached the man one night when he came in after work.
“I reached and got him at the collar like this,” Hodges said, gesturing in front of himself with his hands. “I bumped his head against the wall a few times and got his attention.”
Hodges said he told the doctor he didn’t want him in Ann’s room anymore. The hospital, he said, complied with the demand.
When Huel Love got back to Alabama, he brought the meteorite to the Hodges. Gene remembered Love coming at night, just before bed, with another man and two women with white gloves, one of them holding the stone.
Hodges set the stone by the bedside table.
In the days that followed, the Hodges began to consider some of the offers they’d received for the meteorite.
There were individuals interested. A few museums. Even the Smithsonian wrote Ann Hodges a letter about acquiring the meteorite.
“The specimen may be sent to this Museum or addressed to me personally at the institution and will be handled with care,” a Smithsonian curator wrote. “It will be returned after its type has been determined and if our offer of purchase is rejected.”
Soon, though, another legal hurdle made any sale of the meteorite impractical. The Hodges’ landlady, Birdie Guy, claimed that because the meteor had landed on and damaged her property, she was entitled to the meteorite, not the Hodges.
Gene Hodges called Guy “money hungry.” And Ann said she’d felt like the meteor was sent to her, not Guy.
“She felt like it was hers,” Gene said. “I remember her saying ‘If she wants it, I wish it would have hit her.’”
So the Hodges put up a fight, and once again, Huel Love led the charge.
And, just as before, the calls and letters began to flood in, encouraging the Hodges to fight for what the public seemed convinced was rightfully theirs.
Eventually, the Hodges settled with Guy, giving her $500 to relinquish any claims to the rock.
But Gene Hodges said by the time the legal battle was over, there was little interest in buying the meteorite. The rock that had changed the Hodges’ lives forever began to gather dust, propping open a door in their Sylacauga home.
For years after the dust settled, Gene Hodges still held a grudge against Huel Love, who he felt had unjustly made more money than him from what happened to Ann.
Gene said he’d once been called to jury duty and quickly realized Love was one of the attorneys on the case. When the judge asked if anyone present could not be fair and impartial, Hodges raised his hand. The judge asked Hodges what the issue was.
Hodges remembered pointing at Love.
“Because of that damn sorry Huel Love over there,” he said.
The judge stopped him: “That’ll be enough.”
Love’s daughter Julie said from what she’s seen, her father didn’t make out with a fortune from the Hodges case.
“I think this was just a reflection, many years after the fact, by a gentleman who felt he didn’t get what he deserved,” Julie said. “I’m sure we have all been there.”
Eventually, after it became clear they’d receive little in the way of cash for the meteorite, Ann Hodges decided to donate the stone to the University of Alabama, a decision her husband supported. University officials gave the Hodges a $25 check, Hodges later said, and told the couple to have a nice meal on the college’s dime. The meteorite remains on display there today.
She’s got a secret
After they secured the meteorite, Ann and Gene’s relationship soon turned sour. He claimed in an interview years after her death that Ann continued to be addicted to prescription drugs after her stay in the hospital.
“She never did get off of that stuff. That’s what caused our separation,” he said.
He said that at one point, they’d had the house partially remodeled. What came next, he said, would end their relationship for good.
“Her and the foreman of the contractors was getting together on that dope, and I didn’t know what was going on,” he claimed. “Next thing I know, she had run off with that contractor.”
Whatever actually happened between the Hodges, they formally divorced in 1964, just a decade after the meteorite struck Ann.
In an interview archived by the University of Alabama, Hodges said that the meteorite “messed his life up for good.” Ann, he said, was also permanently devastated by what happened that November afternoon.
“She never did completely recover,” he said.
Little information remains about what happened to Ann Hodges in the years following her divorce. But just eight years later, in 1972, she died in a Sylacauga nursing home from kidney failure at the age of 52. She is buried in Madison County, where her family had its roots.
In the end, very little of Ann Fowler Hodges’ own voice appears in the repeated recountings of what happened to her that November day nearly seven decades ago.
One video does remain of Ann. In December 1954, after being released from the hospital and reclaiming the stone that had rocked her world, she flew to New York City to appear on “I’ve Got a Secret,” a CBS game show where celebrity panelists attempted to deduce a guest’s “secret” by asking them yes-or-no questions.
As she walked onto the stage, she appeared nervous, but not unhappy. She sat beside the show’s host, Gary Moore, and introduced herself.
The celebrity questioning began. Did what happened to her make the newspapers? Did it happen recently?
Throughout, Ann seemed hesitant to answer, often deferring to Moore to address the celebrities. She wore a dark dress and a polka-dotted ascot around her neck – the same outfit she’d posed in weeks before holding the meteorite in her Sylacauga home.
After a couple more inquiries from the celebrities, one of the panelists asked Ann Hodges a question that puzzled her.
“Mrs. Hodges,” actress Faye Emerson asked, “Was it a happy event for you?”
Ann whipped her head toward Gary Moore, who looked at her quizzically. He didn’t seem to know how to answer, either. Ann raised her eyebrows at Moore. The audience laughed.
“I would say it was one of mixed blessings,” Moore suggested. “Not too happy at the time, but it’s turned out not to be too unfortunate later, huh?”
Moore looked at Ann for confirmation.
“That’s right,” she said, her voice unsure.
Emerson soon guessed Hodges’ identity.
“You’re not the lady that the meteor fell on are you?” Emerson asked.
She certainly was.
Before long, Moore was holding up the meteorite for the celebrities and the television audience to see, Hodges looking on from his side.
Despite the quick identification, Moore said, he felt Hodges deserved the full prize of $80. He handed the cash over, along with a box of cigarettes. He joked as he passed them to Ann.
“We can drop this through your roof if you prefer,” Moore said. A couple of audience members laughed halfheartedly.
“Thank you,” Ann Hodges told him, smiling, as she headed off stage. “Thank you.”
Suggest a Correction