As reported in the New Zebedee Chronicle, the falling meteorite was "'as a big as a house’ and shed a brilliant crimson glare so bright that ‘everything looked like it had been splashed with blood.’ The vibrations caused by the meteor’s passage shook all the church steeples in New Zebedee, thereby causing bells to clang (Beast, 44).”
The meteorite came down as "big as a house" on the Clabbernong farm, resulting in a crater "ten feet across at the top, [and] fifteen feet deep (Beast, 58)”. Mrs. Zimmermann remembers being told the meteorite was "not much bigger than a baseball. " Zimmermann also says the rock "gleamed with unearthly colors, colors that she couldn’t describe."
Comets are large mounds of rock and ice that begin to heat as it approaches the sun. When bits of the comet break away, still maintaining the same direction and speed as the comet - the stream of debris are known as meteoroids. When meteoroids enter the lower levels of earth’s atmosphere, pressure causes the object to heat and emit light – this is commonly known as a shooting, or falling, star or, meteor. If the meteoroid survives the impact event with the Earth's surface, then it is called a meteorite.
The Colour Out of Space
Meteoroids – and their larger brethren, asteroids – have long been popular science fiction story elements with popular themes ranging from colonization to planets colliding with these masses of rock whizzing through the heavens. One popular tale of what can happen when one of these rocks slams into the earth came from the pen of H. P. Lovecraft. In "The Colour Out of Space" (1927) a meteorite falls out of the sky and impacts near the well on Nahum Gardner's farmland in rural Massachusetts. Soon thereafter things take a severe turn for the worse as life is gradually sucked out Garnder’s farmland and family. Brad Strickland adapted pieces of “Colour” for The Beast under the Wizard's Bridge.
First, both impacts happen in the 1880s, though different times of day. Lovecraft mentions a "white noontide cloud, that string of explosions in the air, and that pillar of smoke from the valley far in the wood" that occurred sometime in "June of '82", while Mrs. Zimmermann says the meteor that “came whizzing through the skies” above Capharnaum County did so “one December midnight in 1885 (Beast, 11)."
Each impact crater is on remote and once prosperous farmland with "fertile gardens and orchards" and "squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old...secrets..." that has slowly decayed over a period of decades to the point that everything has been drained of life. Those living in and around Arkham called the old Nahum Gardner farm (or what’s left of it) the "blasted heath":
- There was no vegetation of any kind on that broad expanse, but only a fine grey dust or ash which no wind seemed ever to blow about. The trees near it were sickly and stunted, and many dead trunks stood or lay rotting at the rim. As I walked hurriedly by I saw the tumbled bricks and stones of an old chimney and cellar on my right, and the yawning black maw of an abandoned well whose stagnant vapours played strange tricks with the hues of the sunlight.
Similar in detail is where the meteorite crashed “past the barn on the Clabbernong farm with a tremendous explosion..." (Beast, 11):
- ...a big patch of ground, several acres at least, was dead. The trees were leafless, the bark crumbling off their trunks. Their branches and twigs seemed to claw up at the sky in desperation, as if the trees had tried frantically to escape before they died. The stubble on the ground lay gray and lifeless. A farmhouse near the center of this desolate land didn’t look burned, but it was ruined. The place had a sickening smell, faintly sweet but rotten too, with a strong, bitter tinge of mildew (Beast, 21).
The initial size of the "great rock” that fell to Gardner’s farm was not given yet it was described as “glow[ing] faintly” and being “oddly soft.” Yet both meteorites have one thing in common: their color. Zimmermann says the rock “gleamed with unearthly colors, colors that she couldn’t describe” and what landed near Arkham “displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum...and it was only by analogy that they called it colour at all.”
Reaction to the two meteorites differs in each community, since “all Arkham had heard of the great rock that fell out of the sky and bedded itself in the ground beside the well” by the evening of the impact event. There is some scientific curiosity, as three professors from nearby Miskatonic University visit the Gardner farm the next day and remove a piece of the "oddly soft" rock for examination and tests back at their laboratory. It is uncertain when the citizens of "New Zebedee, Eldridge Corners, Homer, and surrounding hamlets in Capharnaum County (Beast, 43)" discovered the crash site, but the next day’s Chronicle prompts Rose Rita to guess “they didn’t take it very seriously at the time (Beast, 44)”, what with a causal ten dollar offer by the paper to anyone who can lead reporters to the impact site and lightly suggesting that "the goddess Diana...must have felt properly outraged...[when]...a shooting star...hurtled across the heavens, dimming her luster and no doubt sending the maiden goddess to sulk in her boudoir (Beast, 43)."
The similarities between the two meteorites begin to diverge at this point. Lovecraft’s meteorite has brought forth some sort of alien presence that completely drains the life out of the farm land and its inhabitants, leaving only the gray ashen dust. Interestingly, the longer the meteorite is exposed to the Earthen elements the smaller it becomes; the Miskatonic University scientists say the sample they took back to their lab “had faded wholly away when they put it in a glass beaker.”
The meteorite that crashed outside New Zebedee brought the same “blasted heath” to the Clabbernong farm, though it’s uncertain if this was caused by the meteorite itself or the “something [that] came to Earth along with [the meteorite]” (Beast, 79). The streaks of gray, brittle grass seen near the Moote house in New Zebedee and around that city’s waterworks (Beast, 105, 109) seem to indicate that the creature was responsible for the strange blight. In addition, this meteorite did not evaporate: Elihu Clabbernong melted down the rock and mixed it into the iron that was used to create the new bridge over Wilder Creek. Why? Because, as Lewis later guesses, the “meteorite was made of the only stuff in the universe that contain [the creature]” and thus was able to keep the transfigured Jedediah Clabbernong imprisoned below the bridge for decades (Beast, 71).