In May of 1981, residents in the southern Greece city of Naphlion woke up to a rain of green frogs. Thousands of the little creatures, weighing only a few ounces each, plopped out of the sky and flopped in the streets.
Scientists at the Greek Meteorological Institute, Athens, trotted out the usual explanation. A whirlwind out of North Africa had sucked the frogs from a marsh and wafted them some six hundred miles across the Mediterranean to drop them at Naphlion's doorstep.
Remarkably, few of the frogs died from their violent journey. In fact, they adapted
quite well to their new surroundings. Some of the local citizens, however, report trouble
sleeping at night: Their amphibious immigrants make too much noise.
Since 1892 kernels of corn have been falling on houses along Pleasant Acres Drive in Evans, Colorado, just south of Greeley. Gary Bryan, who lives there, says, "I'd probably have a ton of it if I picked it all up." Once in a while a pinto bean appears amid the corn.
The problem is that there are no cornfields near the houses, and the nearest grain elevator is five miles away. Nobody can figure out where the corn could be coming from. All the witnesses can say is that from time to time it is seen falling from the sky.
When the press heard the story in September 1986, reporters from the area newspapers and television channels came to the site and saw the bizarre phenomenon for themselves. As the corn was falling, they searched for a prankster with a slingshot but found none.
People who hadn't seen the fall with their own eyes didn't believe it - until they saw it
themselves. As one convert, Eldred McClintock, told the Rocky Mountain News, "It really
came down. I've seen it now and I believe it."
Accounts of living things falling from clear skies are as old as recorded history and have never been explained in any satisfactory way. Most reports describe falls of small animals - frogs, fish, and insects - but sometimes larger creatures come plummeting out of nowhere, too. Alligators, for instance.
On December 26, 1877, no less than the New York Times reported the following: "Dr. J.L. Smith of Silverton Township, South Carolina, while opening up a new turpentine farm, noticed something fall to the ground and commence to crawl toward the tent where he was sitting. On examining the object he found it to be an alligator. In the course of a few moments a second one made its appearance. This so excited the curiosity of the doctor that he looked around to see if he could discover any more, and found six others within a space of two hundred yards. The animals were all quite lively, and about twelve inches in length. The place whereon they fell is situated on high sandy ground about six miles north of the Savannah River."
A similar story emerged in 1957, courtesy of writer John Toland, who told the story of the U.S. Navy airship Macon. In 1934 the Macon had participated in maneuvers in the Caribbean and was sailing westward on it's return trip. As it was entering the sky over California on the afternoon of May 17, the commander, Robert Davis, heard a loud splashing over his head from one of the ballast bags.
Concerned, he climbed into the rigging as the splashing grew louder and louder. He opened the ballast bag and looked in. Swimming around excitedly was a two-foot alligator.
No one had any idea where it came from. They had been in the air for several days and it seemed highly improbable that this big, noisy creature could have been with them all that time without being heard. Moreover, Davis, a restless fellow by nature, had been up and around the ship ever since their departure, and he had seen nothing so out of the ordinary as an alligator.
The only possible explanation - though it made no sense at all - was that the reptilee had fallen on the ballast bag from above.
Yet another tale comes from Mr. and Mrs. Tucker of Long Beach, California, who
heard a loud thump in their backyard in 1960. Immediately following that, they heard a
loud grunt. When the couple stepped outside, they were astonished to encounter a five-
foot alligator. They could only conclude that it dropped from the sky.
Legend has it that the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern, igniting her straw. The flames then allegedly consumed her barn, jumping from one wooden structure to another until virtually the whole city lay under flame. Before the flames were through, more than seventeen thousand buildings were destroyed, a hundred thousand people were left homeless, and at least two hundred fifty had died.
Less well-known is that the whole of the American Midwest fell victim to disastrous fires the night of October 8, 1871, from Indiana to the Dakotas, and from Iowa to Minnesota. All told, they represent the most mysterious and deadly conflagration in national memory. Eclipsed in history by the Chicago cauldron, little Peshtigo, a small community of two thousand near Green Bay, Wisconsin, fared far worse in terms of lives lost. Half the town - 1,000 people - died that terrible night, suffocated where they stood, or consumed by flames whose origins remain unknown. Not a single structure was left standing.
Where did the flames come from, and why so suddenly, without any warning? "In one awful instant a great flame shot up in the western heavens," wrote one Peshtigo survivor. "Countless fiery tongues struck down into the village, piercing every object that stood in town like a red-hot bolt. A deafening roar, mingled with blasts of electric flame, filled the air and paralyzed every soul in the place. There was no beginning to the work of ruin; the flaming whirlwind swirled in an instant through town." Other survivors referred to the phenomenon as a tornado of fire, reporting burning buildings lifted whole in the air before they exploded into glowing cinders.
What eyewitnesses described was more like a holocaust from heaven than an accidental fire started by a nervous cow. And in fact, according to a theory propounded by Minnesota Congressmen Ignatius Donnelly, the devastating fires of 1871 did fall from above, in the form of a wayward cometary tail. During it's 1846 passage, Biela's comet had inexplicably split in two; it was supposed to return in 1866, but failed to appear. Biela's fragmented head finally showed up in 1872 as a meteor shower.
Donnelly suggested the separated tail appeared in 1871 and was the prime cause of the widespread firestorm that swept the Midwest, damaging or destroying a total of twenty-four towns and leaving 2,000 or more dead in its wake. Drought conditions that fall no doubt contributed to the extent of the conflagration.
History today concentrates on the Chicago Fire alone and largely overlooks the Peshtigo Horror, as it was then called. It ignores altogether Biela's comet and it's unaccounted-for tail.