At about 4:00 in the morning, a bright fireball with accompanying detonations pierced the predawn sky, its path visible over several states. Some witnesses believed it to be a crashing airplane, but it was a meteorite that ended its fall near Paragould, Arkansas. The first stone that was discovered was found by farmer Raymond Parkinson at the bottom of a 3½ foot hole, southwest of Finch in the Poland Township. Three men spent half the following day digging the 80-pound stone out of Parkinson's pasture. Parkinson sent a sample to H. H. Nininger asking if he would like to purchase the meteorite, but before Nininger could complete the trip, the stone was covertly sold by local high school teacher L.V. Rhine, to which it was on loan for exhibit. Nevertheless, while he was in the area, Nininger was able to calculate the meteorite's trajectory and arrange for the purchase of any additional masses that he suspected might eventually be found.
Four weeks later, an 820-pound mass was discovered three miles from the first mass, and within 300 yards of a farmhouse. The mass was found lying in a crater eight feet wide and eight feet deep. It was presumed by the homeowner, J. Fletcher, that the large hole had been dug by dogs, but its true nature was quickly realized by his neighbor, W. Hodges. The removal of the mass took three hours and required five men and a team of horses. The 820-pound mass was purchased by Nininger for the large sum of $3,600 and subsequently sold to the Chicago Field Museum for $6,200.
Paragould main mass
Prior to the events surrounding the fall and recovery of the Paragould meteorite, Nininger was forced to balance his passion for finding meteorites with his necessity for earning a regular salary, which he accomplished by teaching biology and geology at McPherson College in Kansas. The profitable sale of the Paragould main mass to Stanley Field and its subsequent donation to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago became the impetus for him to resign from his teaching job and dedicate his life full-time to the search for meteorites, ultimately becoming the most successful meteorite hunter of the century. The following quote from his book Find A Falling Star is telling:
"The Paragould meteorite had profound effects on our lives. I have never ceased to regret parting with it, but I had paid a price too high, and was forced to give up either the specimen or my dream of making meteorites a new vocation. And Paragould, with the $2,000 profit it brought, was the way to my dream."
The 80-pound Paragould stone was purchased by Stuart Perry for his collection and then donated it to the Smithsonian National Collection in 1935. At the time of its fall, the Paragould meteorite was the largest known witnessed fall and the largest intact stony meteorite in existence. It has been highly shocked (S45) causing plagioclase to recrystallize, resulting in a wide range of An compositions (A. Rubin, 1992; A. Brearley and R. Jones, 1998). The rare identification of L-chondrite clasts in the Paragould breccia has been reported by Fodor and Keil (1978).
The photo above shows a 2.374 g partial slice of Paragould that was removed from the 820 pound mass which once belonged to H. H. Nininger. A magnificent Paragould section can be seen on display at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
Paragould main mass on display in Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas