Meteorites or "shooting stars" are not uncommon. We have two or three good shows of them every year. Had we been alive and aware in 1833, however, we'd have seen a show of them we'd never have forgotten. The early morning hours of November 13, 1833, were ever after known as The Night The Stars Fell.
As early as two or three o'clock in the morning some people saw the start of a brilliant meteorite show which reached its zenith at four or five o'clock, and of course disappeared at daybreak. It was witnessed in most of the eastern states such as Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New York, and in Alabama and Tennessee. There was eventually a report of this extreme show being seen in some parts of France. The sky was never darkened or even dimmed during this time. It has been estimated that 10,000 meteors per hour crossed the sky.
One witness in Warren, Ohio, said he was awakened and told "it's raining fire." On looking out the window he saw the sky constantly and "splendidly" illuminated by a succession of falling meteors. Each one left behind a luminous track visible for several seconds and emitted sparklers which looked like flashes of lightning. Never in that night could a person fail to see a shower of them in some part of the sky. They moved from southeast to northwest.
This same witness said that as dawn came the usual stars in the sky were extremely brilliant with haze just above the horizon. In the northeast sky there was a luminous spot of light which resembled a new moon but which disappeared during the light storm. When this person had retired on the night of the 12th, he had observed the aurora borealis in the north and had noticed that his clothing seemed to be charged with electricity and emitting brilliant sparks.
A Cincinnati newspaperman apparently missed part of the show. He commented that when this brilliant show started people should have cried "FIRE!" and run bells to waken their sleeping neighbors.
This extreme meteor show must have been very frightening to our ancestors, as such an event was often thought to be a presage of war of a terrible epidemic or other natural disaster. When one reads personal biographical and history accounts, one can find many referenced to The Night The Stars Fell.
One such reference is found in the Firelands Pioneer magazine, published for so many years by the Firelands Historical Society in Norwalk. Laura Denman Booth was born in Florence Township near Terryville in 1828, She was one of the several children of John and Marinda Blackman Denman who lived so many years at Breeze Hill Farm on Ohio 60.
We can't really call Laura a witness, as her parents didn't awaken their younger children to see the stars fall. She lamented years later in a memoir that she wasn't taken outside to witness the rare event. She did comment that several of her parents' neighbors felt that the world was coming to its end and they fell on their knees to pray for deliverance. One lady even spoke in tongues as she watched the unusual show.
Apparently this show was a fluke of nature, as there was no especial disaster looming on the horizon except for a cholera epidemic in northern Ohio the following summer almost a year away, however. I suppose if it happened again this year we'd be just as frightened and apprehensive as those folks were in 1833.
Actually, a Leonid meteor shower on Nov. 17, 1966, is estimated to have rivaled that of 1833 and earlier one in 1799. It is said (but I didn't confirm it) that the song Stars Fell on Alabama was inspired by the 1833 meteor shower.