"When you go into a museum, every object has a story," says Jessie Hartland.
Hartland knows those stories better than most. How The Meteorite Got To The Museum, out now, is her third book with Blue Apple chronicling the surprising ways famous objects end up in museums. This time Hartland chose to focus on a meteorite that crashed into Peekskill, New York twenty years ago.
"I was at the Museum of Natural History here in New York and I was thinking a meteorite would be really fun to write about. After writing about the Sphinx and about dinosaurs, I wanted to do a heavily scientific book and I've always been fascinated by space and the stars. I was walking around when I saw a sign that said. 'local fall.'”
"I looked closer and read that a meteorite the size of a bowling ball had fallen right on top of a woman's car. Not in Siberia, not in Greenland, but right here in the United States, a few hours away from where I live. It felt instantly accessible. When I saw that I thought, 'that's my next book.'"
After leaving the Museum of Natural History, Hartland dug deeper and asked geologist Mark Anders to help her with her research. "The question I had for Mark was: after billions of years, why suddenly on October 9, 1992 of all days, did the meteorite change course? His answer surprised me. He said it could have just been a teeny tiny speck of sand or a minor puff of gas coming off the sun that altered the meteorite's course forever and sent it hurtling towards earth."
'It showed me how the littlest thing could make all the difference."
Hartland then found out more about the reaction to the meteorite here on Earth -- and the answers tickled her. "It landed on a woman's car, and of course at first they expect it's a criminal or teenager up to no good. Flying object from outer space never crossed anyone's mind. There was also a football game that night and the whole town was out with their camcorders, so there are great home movies of this spectacular event that otherwise no one would have captured. The truth was so great that it helped the story write itself."
Hartland says she enjoys her research on historical objects because "it proves the maxim, 'the journey is half the fun.' The museum is simply the last stop on these artifacts' paths."
"Growing up I was very day-dreamy, doodling constantly and wondering where things come from. Even now, I get a lot of my brushes from yard sales, and I always wonder how they got there. I have this one brush made of squirrel fur, and it's just such a mystery to me. My mind is always buzzing with questions."
Hartland hopes her books will instill this same curiosity in her readers. "I hope that kids take away a love of learning and sense of wonder. It would be great if it inspired kids, especially girls, to go into science."
"I would love it if my books help kids to feel as at home in museums as I do."