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MISSING: 9.04 kilogram Sikhote-Alin shrapnel individual   More Info

Jerome   contributed by Steve Brittenham, IMCA 2184   MetBul Link

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Copyright (c) Steve Brittenham.

TKW 6.8 kg. Fall not observed. Found 1954, Jerome County, Idaho, USA.


Steve writes:
Last March, I was contacted to help document a meteorite for an estate. The only information I was given was the family’s recollection that their grandfather – an affluent lawyer – had gotten it from a farmer around 1955, a copy of the page from Arizona State University’s 1970 collection catalog listing a 189.5 gram piece of the Jerome (Idaho) and Jerome (Kansas) meteorites, and a 1986 letter from Dr. Jim Schwade to the lawyer’s son requesting 1 kg for study by the Chicago Field Museum. But after weeks of research – including a few trips to Jerome, Idaho and tracking down family descendants across two states for additional detail (some who had lost track of each other and hadn’t spoken in decades) – an amazing story unfolded.

The family’s meteorite was none other than Idaho’s first classified stone meteorite (seen in 3D crossed-eyes Photos 2 through 4, with closeups of the fusion crust in Photo 5 showing evidence of its fiery fall). Named the Jerome (Idaho) meteorite in the MetBul, the 6.8 kg stone was actually found in Falls City, Idaho in 1954 when it broke the tine of Clair Ricketts’ cultivator while he was working his bean field (Photo 6 shows both the metal marks from the tine circled in red and the John Deere tractor paint scuffed onto the backside of the meteorite when it was thrown onto the tractor before returning from the field). Prominent Jerome lawyer William Peters acquired it a few weeks later and displayed it in his office until the latter part of 1955, when it (as part of the lawyer’s vast mineral and fossil collection) was moved into his son’s basement. The meteorite remained hidden there with only one short public appearance in 1974; otherwise, it was essentially lost to the public until just this year, when the son’s widow passed and the lawyer’s grandchildren decided to sell the collection.

Despite its relative obscurity, the history of the 6.8 kg Jerome (Idaho) meteorite – not to be confused with the Jerome (Kansas) meteorite – is quite expansive and involves some of the biggest names and institutions in early American meteorite history: Harvey Nininger and his American Meteorite museum; H.O. Stockwell (a well-known lapidary of his day and amateur meteoriticist who, using his homemade wheelbarrow-style metal detector, found the 1040 pound "Space Wanderer" Brenham pallasite – still the fourth largest pallasite yet found); J. Hugh Pruett (an influential meteoriticist of the mid-1900s who also investigated western meteors); Brian Mason of the American Museum of Natural History and later the Smithsonian (the classifier of the 1954 stone); and ASU’s then new Center for Meteorite Studies back in the early 1960s.

Except for a 189.5 gram piece broken off along a shock vein when Clair, testing to see if it was metal, hit it in the field with a wrench to hear it ring (Photo 7), the meteorite has remained virtually unchanged over the 66 years since its find (Photo 8, which compares a current day picture of it with one from a 1974 newspaper article). But it was actually half of a meteorite that apparently split on impact, and the story resumed 20 years later when the same farmer tilling the same field found the second piece (described in the newspaper article in Photo9, mosaicked to make it fit better in the image). That 10 kg stone has a less storied history, but until recently it was thought to be the only piece from the fall, and it represents the bulk of the Jerome (Idaho) meteorite material currently in collections around the world (the principal exception being that broken piece of the first stone William sent to Nininger, which eventually ended up in ASU’s half of Nininger’s meteorite collection they acquired in 1960). Photo 10 lists all of the pieces of both meteorites that I was able to locate as of this writing, and Photo 11 shows the cut and polished side and the naturally broken edge of a quartered end piece cut from the 1974 stone (the broken edge mates up with the back side of the 1954 stone).

As one might imagine, the entire story would be too long to include here, but an abbreviated version was posted in this month’s issue of the Meteorite Times online magazine. For those that are interested, it can be seen here on Meteorite Times

SPOILER ALERT: There were a few tidbits not described in that article. So for those interested in reading it, you may want to do that first before continuing on here.

The first omission from that article involved a "theft" of the meteorite by William, who saw it unattended at Clair’s booth at a local rock show; Clair had to leave briefly to change his irrigation water, and William took it so that nobody else would get it before him. Thinking it had been stolen, Clair was relieved a few days later when William fessed up and a subsequent trade was made for William’s Indian arrowhead collection.

The second tidbit only came to light in the last few weeks (well after the Meteorite Times article was submitted for posting). Nininger’s files included a folder titled "Meteor: Idaho (1952 July 7), 1954", which seemingly related the 1954 find with its 1952 fireball observation by Utah State University meteoriticist Clyde Hardy while on a geology field day-trip with his students. Hardy calculated a trajectory and suspected impact site only 40 miles short of its eventual find (Photo 12), but he had never actually communicated with Nininger about it. Nininger’s sole folder contents was a simple postcard from Frank Werrett to Nininger in 1956 describing J. Hugh Pruett’s investigation of that bolide. Werrett lived in Spanish Fork, Utah under the flight path of the bolide. It’s likely he was interviewed during Pruett’s independent investigation of it, but nevertheless, he was informing Nininger that Pruett had given it the name "The Sunshine Fireball". In 1974, Hardy would mention that he’d seen a pamphlet from Nininger noting the meteorite, but I have yet to find an example of it.
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Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 7

Photo 8

Photo 9

Photo 10

Photo 11

Photo 12

Found at the arrow (green or red) on the map below


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Simon Bartlett

This Month

Steve Brittenham
 9/24/2020 8:19:28 PM
Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments. And John, my anal-retentivity meant I had no choice but to become some kind of engineer. And you're right, engineering does indeed often require good communication abilities; it was fortunate I had a really strict high school English teacher for two years - but I'm not sure I'm making her proud.
John Divelbiss
 9/24/2020 3:07:15 PM
great submission again Steve. I believe we ALL thank you for your efforts and expert abilities. Trained and experienced as an electrical engineer certainly helped in being so proficient. What many people don't know is how much variety, and bulk amounts of writing are involved during an engineering career...that shows up too. Nice work. Grammer in my case always needed a check though...:/
Martin J Lollar
 9/24/2020 10:54:47 AM
Thanks so much for the pictures and the story behind this find. This kind of history is what brings these space rocks to life!
Mendy M Ouzillou
 9/24/2020 8:22:07 AM
Wonderful story and history. It makes the specimen come to life. It's certainly led a more interesting life than most people. ;-)

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