In 1850, a strange package arrived at the office of the North Carolinian. It contained a letter and what appeared to be the rotting organ of an animal.
“The piece which was left with us,” the editors wrote in March, “has been examined with two of the best microscopes in the place,” and certainly contained blood. “It has the smell,” their article continued, “both in its dry state and when macerated in water, of putrid flesh; and there can be scarcely a doubt that it is such.”
Thomas Clarkson, who lived on a farm about thirteen miles southwest of Clinton, wrote the accompanying letter. “On the 15th of Feb’y, 1850,” he wrote, “there fell within 100 yards of the residence of Thos. M. Clarkson in Sampson county, a shower of Flesh and Blood, about 50 feet wide, and as far as it was traced, about 250 or 300 yards in length.”
“The pieces appeared to be flesh, liver, lights, brains and blood,” the newspaper wrote. “Some of the blood ran on the leaves, apparently very fresh. Three of his (T.M.C’s) children were in it, and ran to their mother, exclaiming ‘Mother there is meat falling!’”
A neighbor’s child was nearby and came running, claiming to smell blood. A red cloud hung over the scene.
In April 1861, Clarkson, then 49, enlisted as a musician in Company A of the 30th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. His son, Thomas N., also served, dying of pneumonia in 1862. No doubt he was one of the terrified children who ran for their mother on that awful day twelve years before.
In a strange twist, rotting meat “the size of a pigeon’s egg to that of an orange” fell on Fort Benicia near San Francisco in 1851. A piece struck brevet major Robert Allen, who would go on to command all quartermaster operations west of the Mississippi River for the Union Army during the Civil War. It’s strange to think that meat raining from the sky could be the commonality between men who would stand on either side of a divided nation.
The Clarkson family were not the only witnesses to this strange phenomenon in North Carolina. It was reported to have rained flesh on a farm near Gastonia in 1876, and a shower of blood in Chatham county in 1884 was investigated by none other than F.P. Venable, a young chemist who went on to become president of the University of North Carolina.
These are only a few of the two dozen reported such cases occurring in 19th-century America. Blood and meat were claimed to rain down on slave and soldier, adult and child. Even if all the events were hoaxes, it remains one of the strangest and most obscure artifacts of our cultural psyche.
The News and Observer (Raleigh), Thursday, April 17, 1884
Georgia Weekly Telegraph and Georgia Journal & Messenger (Macon, Georgia), Tuesday, November 14, 1876
Missouri Courier (Hannibal, Missouri), Thursday, September 18, 1851
North Carolinian, March 9, 1850