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606The case of the missing meteorite

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  • Robert Blake
    Mar 24 12:01 PM
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      Meteorite lands back home


      By JOE FERGUSON
      Sun Staff Reporter
      Tuesday, March 24, 2009

      For the last few years Tom Lynch has been using a 50-pound rock as a counter weight for his grandson's basketball hoop.

      The 61-year old retired General Motors worker had no idea the unusual rock he bought at a yard sale near his home in South Milwaukee was worth $10,000 to meteorite collectors. On Monday, Lynch completed a 1,700-mile journey in his aging red Chevy van to return the rock to its rightful owners: The Meteor Crater facility outside of Winslow.

      Slightly more than 40 years ago, someone mysteriously smuggled the nickel-iron meteorite out of the historic crater.

      Lynch came into possession of the "basket meteorite" four or five years ago when it caught his attention as he was browsing through a local rummage sale. He bought it for $10.

      The dark brown coloring and its weight led him to believe it was made from copper or bronze -- something he could sell to recyclers for a small profit.

      "I thought it was scrap metal," he said.

      But the love for his grandson prevented the irreplaceable rock from being sold for scrap.

      "I used it as a counter weight for a basketball hoop," he said.

      It was only after watching a program on the Travel Channel that Lynch got an inkling it was no ordinary rock. A woman on the program had a simple test for meteorites: A magnet would stick to the extraterrestrial objects -- but not your average stone.

      Lynch had been curious -- the "rock" never rusted or showed any signs of wear during the harsh Wisconsin winters. And the magnet's instant attraction was proof positive he had something.

      He then began bringing the meteorite to museums in Milwaukee and then Chicago. A helpful mineral expert eventually learned that Lynch's rummage sale find was actually a "hot" rock -- it had been stolen from Meteor Crater in 1968.

      To help verify the meteorite was the same one stolen four decades ago, Lynch bought a postcard the museum used to sell with a picture of the oddly shaped heavenly object.

      Lynch said he paid more for the mint-condition postcard -- $15 -- than the actual meteorite.

      With the knowledge of its rightful place in Arizona, Lynch knew in his heart what he had to do -- he needed to return the meteorite to its rightful owners.

      "I just thought it was the right thing to do," he said.

      He would turn down offers of up to $10,000 to sell it to collectors in exchange for a $1,000 finder's fee, as well as a souvenir T-shirt and a hat.

      ORIGINALLY FOUND BY A RANCHER

      Brad Andes, the president of Meteor Crater Enterprises, said the basket meteorite was found by a local rancher a few miles away from the crater. It was called the "basket meteorite" because of its unusual shape -- a hole in the middle resembles a basket.

      Judy Prosser, the daughter of the rancher, was on hand for its historic return.

      She remembers that the news of the theft rattled her rancher father.

      "I was pretty young at the time, but I remember he was pretty traumatized," she said.

      At first glance, Prosser couldn't immediately identify the meteorite.

      "My memory isn't what it was," Prosser conceded.

      The famous rock was almost returned to Meteor Crater several years ago when the family that might have stolen it tried to negotiate a reward for its return, Andes said.

      An attorney representing the family had several discussions with Andes, but talks eventually broke down over the matter of compensation.

      "I don't pay people for stealing from us," he said.

      Prosser said she worried that the return of the meteorite would spark a new wave of scavengers trespassing across adjacent state-owned and privately held lands.

      Members of the public often pick up rocks and bring them in, Andes said, only to find out that they are usually just common rocks, not meteorites.

      "What they actually find turn out to be meteor 'wrongs,'" Andes said.

      The only thing missing from Monday's historic return of the meteorite, Prosser said, was her father. He died several years ago.

      "He would have loved to see this," she said.



      Brad Andes of Meteor Crater carries the meteorite that was stolen in 1968, but recovered on Monday. (Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun)


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      Judy Prosser and Tom Lynch stand with the recovered meteorite on the rim of Meteor Crater. Lynch found the stolen meteorite at a rummage sale in Wisconsin and returned it to Meteor Crater on Monday. Prosser's father found the odd shaped meteorite, and it was on display at Meteor Crater until it was stolen in 1968. (Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun) Readers' Favorites
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