Chicago, IL 2003

In 18 harried days since a meteor broke up over Park Forest, the Field Museum has led a consortium scrambling to compete with private collectors, rival institutions and sellers on eBay to acquire some of the meteorites for an exhibition opening Tuesday.

The exhibition, “It Came from Outer Space,” will display four ordinary chondrite meteorites-including one of the three largest found last month-that the museum bought from two south suburban residents.

A fifth rock, which will be added to the exhibition, was acquired late Monday when the Park Forest Village Board approved selling a baseball-size meteorite that fell into its Fire Department building to the Field Museum consortium.

The museum is moving fast to put the iron-, nickel- and silicate- laden rocks on display.

“This is such a great opportunity while you have the attention of people to educate them about meteorites,” said curator Meenakshi Wadhwa, who oversees the museum’s meteorite collection and research. “It’s hard to get that information out otherwise.”

It’s no surprise that the Park Forest area meteorite shower drew national and international attention, Wadhwa said.

Not only were they the first meteorites to fall in Illinois since 1938, but they fell in spectacular fashion, lighting up the sky as they punched holes in roofs on homes and the Fire Department building.

“This is amazing because there’s never been a fall in such a densely populated area before,” Wadhwa said.

To compete in the meteorite market, the Field Museum joined with the Adler Planetarium, the University of Chicago, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the Planetary Studies Foundation.

On Monday Park Forest agreed to sell the consortium its baseball- size, 544-gram rock for $10 a gram, or $5,448, despite getting offers of nearly double that.

“Almost from the beginning, the board of trustees felt that because it’s public property, it’s best used for public display,” Village President John Ostenburg said.

The other four meteorites that the Field Museum bought range from 160 grams-about the size of a golf ball-to 1,200 grams, or nearly 2 1/2 pounds.

The Field Museum bought its largest meteorite from Bob Matthias, a quality control manager from Park Forest.

Though he wouldn’t say how much he sold it for, he said he took less than he could have received from a private collector.

“I wanted to share it with everybody else in Park Forest and in the country,” he said. “I didn’t want to give it to one individual, a millionaire or a billionaire … so he can say `I have a meteorite.'”

The largest of the rocks found, just over 6 pounds, will soon be displayed at the Adler Planetarium, thanks to Brenda and Philip Jones of Park Forest.

“It’s history, and to be part of history in a positive way is gratifying,” Brenda Jones said.