Thirty Years on, the Peekskill Meteorite Still Leaves its Mark 


By Jim Striebich

The evening of October 9th, 1992 unfolded like the cold open of a Stranger Things episode. A mild but unremarkable autumn Friday in the Northeast. In hundreds of East Coast towns and cities, football fans cheered on high school teams as mid-season games approached halftime. Suddenly, crowds’ attention shifted away from the on-field action as a “huge greenish fireball” – as bright as a full moon – streaked across the night sky, visible from North Carolina to New York, a long tail of bright sparks chasing in its wake. Quick-thinking dads hearts suddenly raced as they trained their VHS-C camcorders at the unexpected light show as the fiery flying object arced overhead for nearly ten full seconds in some locations – far too long, too bright, too green to be a shooting star.

At 207 Wells Street in Peekskill, across the street from the school district offices, 18-year-old Michelle Knapp was cozy on her parents’ living room sofa, watching TV with her boyfriend when they heard what sounded “like a three car crash” outside the modest two story home. Frightened by the noise, Knapp called Peekskill Police, who responded and discovered the right rear corner of the teenager’s 1980 Chevy Malibu had been heavily damaged. The first police report speculated the damage was “criminal mischief by a very strong male”, according to the Peekskill Herald’s original coverage.


Michelle Knapp with her car in 1992. Photo by Stan Gitner, courtesy of Frank Goderre


But soon Knapp noticed a sulfurous odor coming from the smashed car, and “a football sized rock in a six inch crater” that was “hot to the touch” on the ground beneath its bumper, per a 1992 NY Times article. The following day, a pair of Columbia geology professors connected the dots with dozens of reported sightings up and down the East Coast, and soon the “Peekskill Meteorite” was considered one of the most significant meteorite events of modern times because of the number of eyewitness sightings, over a dozen video captures, and the fact that the celestial body had impacted a vehicle – something that’s only happened three times in history.

In a photo taken by Rich Huff in 1992 scientist William Menke and Peekskill Police Sgt. Barry Martin examine the car where a meteorite struck.

Knapp, who had bought the Malibu from her grandmother for $400 just weeks prior, soon sold the damaged coupe for $10,000, and the meteorite itself for $50,000 to a group of three collectors. The red Chevy became a celebrity of sorts, having been shipped around the world and displayed in museums in Paris, Munich, New York, Tokyo and beyond.

Peekskill Herald Editor Kathy Daley took this picture of Peekskill Police Sgt. Karl Hoffman with the meteorite.

For a few weeks in October 1992, Peekskill was the center of the world for astronomers and star gazers. “Our phones at the Herald rang off the hook with calls from around the world requesting permission to publish our photos,” recalls Publisher Regina Clarkin.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the Peekskill Meteorite’s arrival, Richard Huff, the Herald photographer who took the photo of the police officer and scientist, recalls: “I remember thinking at the time this kind of stuff doesn’t happen here. We’ve all seen falling stars, but most people never see where they fall. This was a big deal. Was it real? A meteorite? In Peekskill? The damage to the car was significant and clearly was something dropping from above. It was one of those things people had to see. I thought afterward if someone were driving the car or if the wind shifted one way or the other, someone could have been killed.  One thing for sure, the meteorite brought Peekskill a new level of fame and continues to be talked about today where it happened and around the world,” said Huff who now works in communications at CBS News. 

The Wells Street house today.

Today, 207 Wells has new owners who are probably aware of their famous driveway. A Google Streetview photo shows a man talking to a woman and pointing to the fated spot on the ground, and it’s easy to imagine he’s recalling the day 30 years ago that Peekskill had a real visitor from outer space.

Jim Striebich writes from Peekskill where he’s lived for seven years. He’s captivated by local history and astronomical events.

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