History Matters: The Story of Albion’s Longstreet Meteorite

February 2015: When I arrived as a newly hired tenure-track faculty member in the Physics Department at Albion College (Albion, MI), I was almost immediately regaled with campus stories about historic events related to astronomy. These stories were the stuff of lore and passed on from class to class. “The historic Alvan Clark telescope lens was the last lens crafted by Alvan Clark himself!” several people told me (c.f. Smeltekop and Zellner, 2014, 2013). “The Longstreet Meteorite has served as a doorstop in the Honors Building for as long as I can remember”, said a few more. As someone interested in astronomy and history, these stories intrigued me, but I didn’t have any time to investigate – I had classes to teach, service to provide, and research data that needed analyzing. Every once in a while, though, with the assistance of students and staff, I would find the time to do a little bit of digging in the College archives, a little bit of investigating in the geology labs.

The Longstreet Meteorite was donated to Albion College by William R. Longstreet in the early 1940s (Figure 1), but no scientific analyses had actually occurred. Albion College had been left with a large, heavy rock that may or may not be a meteorite, with no scientific evidence to prove that one way or the other. Over 60 years later, Physics major Marci Howdyshell (’08) expressed an interest in investigating the history, physics and geology of the Longstreet Meteorite and bringing truth to its legend at Albion College.

Longstreet holds the 14-kg (~31-lb) “meteorite”. He graduated from Albion Preparatory School (1892) and his grandson later attended Albion College. Image from Hollinshead (1955).

Figure 1. Longstreet holds the 14-kg (~31-lb) “meteorite”. He graduated from Albion Preparatory School (1892) and his grandson later attended Albion College. Image from Hollinshead (1955).

 

 

Updated, September 2018: Fortunately, the story of the Longstreet “Meteorite” saw the light of day, thanks to Meteorite Times Magazine. You can read the whole story here.

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