Meteroites - Leonidas Grover - James Cowan - Montgomery InGenWeb Project

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Meteroites - Leonidas Grover - James Cowan

Source: Crawfordsville Daily Journal Tuesday, 1 December 1891

The other day a well known gentleman of scientific bias of this city received a letter from a member of the guild somewhere up in Massachusetts asking whether the meteorite that fell in Indiana in January 1879 was in the State Museum, and if not, what had become of it.

The story of that meteor is the history of one of the most indecorous and successful hoaxes ever perpetrated in this country and as it had for its victims the learned men of the country—the discovery of the hoax brought a great guffaw from unscientific and much mortification to the toilers in the field of knowledge.

It was in January, 1879, that a special telegraphic dispatch came to the Indianapolis Journal describing the fall of a meteorite near Attica, Fountain County, a large stone of unknown composition that, whirling through space, came crashing through the roof of the farmhouse of Leonidas Grover, a widower, who lived alone. The meteorite falling through the roof struck Leonidas Grover, who was in bed supposedly asleep, and horribly mutilating him, continued its course and buried itself in the earth beneath the house.  Of course the lonely widower was instantly killed, and when the neighbors the following morning discovered the remains, there was a great excitement, all of which was giving in horroring details in the dispatch.

The news stirred all the local scientists and the State Geologist, Professor Cox, at once took measures to secure the meteorite. Maj. J. J. Palmer was dispatched to Fountain County with instructions to buy the stone, no matter what it might cost. Meantime the State Geologist was overwhelmed with letters inquiring about the meteorite. The State Geologist wrote and exhaustive article on meteorites, leaving a hole in which to place the heavenly bolder when Major Palmer should return with it. When the Major returned, he reported that he could find no one in Fountain County who knew Leonidas Grover, widower; there was no demolished roof, no desolated household, no hole in the ground.

A demand went up from the scientific world for the impious wretch or wretches who had hoaxed them. But the practical jokers took counsel of their fears and kept quiet until the storm of scientific wrath had passed by. It was then leaked out that the hoaxers were two young men of Crawfordsville, one of them a newspaper man. It may be said that one of these, the newspaper man, was sufficiently punished for his connection with the affair. He lost caste in his profession and it took him several years to regain the confidence he had lost as an honest chronicler of the news.—Indianapolis Journal
The above story is very true with the exception of the part played by the Indianapolis Journal. The history of the hoax was also the history of a bet. James E. Cowan, a brother of Dr. Cowan, once asserted in a company of friends that the metropolitan papers would swallow any lie that would be hatched up and would ask no questions. The statement led to an argument and the argument to a wager. The gigantic meteorite lie was made up as one of sufficient caliber and Mr. Cowan was required to get it into print as the bald truth. He wrote it up and made a trip to Indianapolis. He entered the sanctum of the Journal and in the absence of the editor-in-chief, laid the manuscript on his desk and went his way. No name was attached but so fearful was the editor of being “scooped” on such a juicy item, that, when he found it, he bit the bail and published it as straight goods and a special dispatch from Attica. Mr. Cowan was never “punished,” for he was not at that time in the newspaper business, but so successful was his first venture at editing that he finally did launch into the business position in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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