THE CATALOG OF unexplained events includes many strange instances of stones falling from the sky - or somewhere. Showers of stones, often from clear skies and in areas where rockslides from mountains cannot be blamed. Hails of stones pummeling rooftops and people, often causing damage and injury.
Investigations of these events usually end with unnerved victims and with officials scratching their heads in puzzlement or, out of desperation, inventing "explanations" that are sometimes as outlandish as the events themselves.
Reports of this particular type of mystery go back centuries and come from all over the world. One of the earliest written accounts was by Robert Kirk in 1690, who attributed the throwing of "great stons" to subterranean inhabitants that he called the "invisible wights." And an unexplained stone-throwing incident that took place in New Hampshire was recorded in a pamphlet entitled "Lithobolia, or the Stone-throwing Devil," published in London in 1698.
In some of these bizarre cases, the rain of stones occurs in connection with other paranormal phenomena, such as a haunting or poltergeist activity. In the famous Bell Witch haunting of 1817, which included a host of strange goings-on, neighbors of the beleaguered Bells were pelted with stones thrown by an unseen entity.
The phenomenon is defined by the inability of investigators to identify any assailants or vandals, and usually by the lack of any motive for such an assault. So the questions arise: Where do these phantom stones come from? Who or what is responsible for throwing or dropping them? Are there natural explanations for the phenomenon? Consider these remarkable cases and draw your own conclusions:
• Harrisonville, Ohio, 1901 - The stone attack on this small village began on the Sunday afternoon of October 13 when, as the Buffalo Express reported, "a small boulder came crashing through the window of Zach Dye's house." No culprit could be found around the isolated house... and this was just the beginning. The next day, dozens of stones rained down in the heart of the village, breaking windows and striking citizens. Were mischievous kids to blame? The next day, all of the male children of the village were gathered together (how could girls do such a thing?), and stones fell for a third day. None of the villagers could detect where the stones were coming from.
• Sumatra, 1903 - W. G. Grottendieck wrote about how small black stones, hot to the touch, came raining down in his bedroom as 1 a.m. The most bizarre aspect of this case is that the stones seemed to come through the roof without making holes in it, and they fell, he said, in a motion that was slower than would be normal.
• Marcinelle, Belgium, 1913 - For four days in January one house was besieged by an invisible stone thrower with remarkable accuracy. Police officers began to watch the house in an attempt to catch the vandal, but one wrote in his report: "I have seen a stone arriving in the middle of a large window-pane and then came others in spiral round the first point of impact.... I even saw, in another window, a projectile caught in the fragments of the glass of the first hole it made, and subsequently ejected by another passing through the same point." No stone-thrower was ever seen, although an estimated 300 stones struck the house.
• Ardeche, France, 1921 - Most of these events are short-lived, lasting only a few days at most. But beginning in September, a farmhouse in France was victimized for four months. The stones dropped at all hours of the day, sometimes striking the family's children and a clergyman who was called in to investigate. In this case, apples were also thrown and, again, with inhuman accuracy: apples came speeding in through small holes in the shudders made by previous apples.
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