This article is part of our Cocktail Chatter series, where we dive into the wild, weird, and wondrous corners of history to share over a cocktail and impress your friends.

“When pigs fly.” “It’s raining cats and dogs.” “It’s Raining Men.” There are several phrases that put things in the sky that just shouldn’t be. But the very real Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876 proved that truth can, indeed, be stranger than fiction.

The skies were clear and the sun was shining in Bath County, Ky., when what appeared to be large chunks of meat rained down from the sky. The pseudo-biblical event lasted just a few minutes, but its mysterious cause has been debated by witnesses, publications, and scientists for centuries. The incident was as gross as it sounds, and the theories as to what caused it are even nastier.

Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.

Here’s everything you need to know about the gory downpour.

Sunny With a Chance of… Something

Between 11 a.m. and noon on March 3, farmer Allen Crouch’s wife Mary was making soap on her porch when what witnesses described as giblets began falling from the sky, reportedly making a slapping sound as they hit the ground. After roughly two minutes, the shower came to a halt. According to Mrs. Crouch, most of the pieces were about two inches long.

About two weeks later, Mrs. Crouch told the New York Herald that she initially thought the strange rain was “a miracle of God.” Mr. Crouch was not home at the time, but about two hours after the event, family friend C.J. Craig stopped by the farm and examined the premises.

“He saw the meat hanging to briers, sticking to the fence, and lying upon the ground,” according to the New York Herald. In Craig’s testimony, he claimed that the mystery meat resembled “pounded beefsteak,” was “very soft and tender to the feel,” and smelled of “fresh blood.”

The New York Times reported that two brave, unidentified souls actually sampled the sky meat, and both believed it to be either mutton or venison. As a local trapper told the New York Herald, “it’s bear meat certain, or else my name is not Benjamin Franklin Ellington.” But tasting notes and the opinions of a cocky trapper were not enough to form a definite conclusion as to what the meat was, let alone where it came from. According to Scientific American, a few scientists obtained samples of the meat preserved in glycerine and shared them with their colleagues around the country for analysis.

The Meatiest Theories

The first quasi-plausible explanation came from New York water treatment specialist Leopold Brandeis three months after the shower. He told Scientific American that the meat wasn’t meat at all, but nostoc, a cyanobacteria that congregates into colonies and forms a gelatinous protective envelope around itself. As nostoc can swell into jelly-like clumps in the rain, Brandeis believed that airborne nostoc got caught in a storm and descended upon the Crouch residence. This theory fell flat, though, as it had not rained the previous day in Bath County. Sorry, Leo.

Brandeis did, however, send a few samples over to the then-president of the Newark Scientific Association, Dr. A. Mead Edwards, who suspected that the mystery meat was lung tissue of either a horse or, far worse, a human infant. At least seven other scientists who acquired samples loosely agreed with Edwards’ tissue analysis: Two reportedly believed it was lung tissue, three claimed it was muscular tissue, and two said it was cartilage. But the question still stood: Whatever the matter was, how did it end up airborne?

It seemed an unlikely bet that mere weather patterns could lift fragments of meat from the ground and carry them over the Crouch residence, so locals and scientists were still somewhat stumped. Edwards, though, did tell Scientific American about one more particularly grotesque theory in July 1876.

“As to whence it came I have no theory. … The favorite theory in the locality is that it proceeded from a flock of buzzards who, as is their custom, seeing one of their companions disgorge himself, immediately followed suit,” he said. “In fact, such an occurrence has been actually seen to occur, so that it would seem that the whole matter is capable of a reasonable and simple explanation.”

Yup, he means vulture vomit. And as wild as it may sound, the theory is likely the most promising. Vultures have been known to throw up when frightened as a defense mechanism to lighten themselves, making for an easy escape. In Scientific American’s 2014 follow-up story, the author points to the diversity of bodily tissue in the meat scraps as further evidence that they were likely from an animal picked apart by birds of prey.

Roughly 150 years later, vulture puke still stands as the general consensus for what caused the infamous Kentucky meat shower — but it’s just a theory. No one knows for sure what the chunks were and where they came from. We likely won’t ever find out, but if you care to guess for yourself, know that a piece of the preserved meat is on display at the Monroe Moosnick Medical and Science Museum at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. — if that’s what you’re into.

*Image retrieved from Rex Wholster via