Just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, 1927, a giant fireball streaked across the cloudy southern Illinois sky. Witnesses saw it over a hundred miles away. In several small towns, buildings shook and windows rattled. Some residents believed it was an earthquake. After three large explosions rocked the earth, other residents believed they were under attack. One newspaper described the explosions as “strange celestial rumblings.”
This event was caused by a meteorite, the largest to fall on Illinois in recorded history. Witnesses watched the rock’s fiery descent for a full minute. The large explosions occurred when the meteor split into fragments, causing green and purple flashes. Three fragments impacted earth, falling within a two-mile radius but landing in separate counties: Randolph, St. Clair and Washington.
One meteorite punched into a meadow near Sparta. A young farmhand followed the dust cloud and found the 46-pound rock two feet below ground. In Tilden, Allen Raney watched a 9-pound stone slam into a yard just 100 feet away from him. He excavated the space stone and displayed it at a local filling station, where people flocked from miles around to see the rock and confirm what they had witnessed the previous afternoon.
The final piece, weighing 110 pounds, was later found on a farm north of Tilden. All three rocks are known collectively as the Tilden Meteorite. Samples were sent to multiple labs and universities. Fragments are still on display at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield and the Field Museum in Chicago.