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Smithsonian Displays Goose Lake Meteorite in Washington, DC

The 2,573-pound glob of iron known as the Goose Lake meteorite attracts visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. The meteorite is uniquely covered by enigmatic large holes and cavities.

Three deer hunters accidentally found the meteorite in 1938 on the surface of rough lava beds in Northern California’s Modoc National Forest, a short distance from the Oregon State Line.  The next year a six-horse wagon carried the space chunk 10 miles to the nearest road. Several California institutions and individuals sought possession.

One meteorite collector, falsely identifying himself as a Smithsonian agent, got access to the site with hopes of claiming it had fallen on private land within the national forest. A survey confirmed it was on federal land, and the Smithsonian determined the 1906 Antiquities Act required its transfer to Washington to join the National Collection of Meteorites. The recovery affirmed the Antiquity Act’s application to all meteorites found on U.S. federal lands.

The Smithsonian loaned the meteorite to the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1939, and after resisting more pressure from California interests, shipped it to Washington, where it remains today.

Sources: Howard, Plotkin, Roy Clarke Jr., and David Oldroyd. "The Controversial History of the Goose Lake, California, Meteorite." The History of Earth Sciences Society. 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. http://earthscienceshistory.org/doi/abs/10.17704/eshi.31.2.w1ltq51n15241003?journalCode=eshi; The Meteorical Society. "Goose Lake." Buchwald, Vagn F. Handbook of Iron Meteorites. Vol. 2: University of California Press, 1975. 601-05. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.