In the Summer of 1994 the residents of Oakville, Washington woke up to find something very strange indeed. In a city as prone to showers as Oakville people are used to heavy rainfall, but this was something very different.
What they weren’t used to were gelatinous blobs that had fallen from the sky and coated everything in sight. From there, things only got weirder as people started getting ill and the government raced to try and explain away the peculiar phenomenon.
The Oakville Blobs
The first person to experience the Oakville blobs was police officer David Lacey. Lacey was driving along with a friend when it began to rain. Nothing seemed amiss until he turned on his wipers and they failed to clear his windshield. Instead of a clear view, all Lacey got was a smear on the glass.
Lacey pulled over at the next gas station and put on a pair of gloves. What he found was a viscous gelatinous mess that had coated his car. While definitely peculiar, Lacey wasn’t too worried at first. Not until he began to feel ill.
Officer Lacey wasn’t the only person to experience the strange substance. Soon other residents of Oakville, a former logging town incorporated in 1905 were reporting the same weird precipitation. One woman stepped outside to enjoy the rain only to find the strange blobs covering the ground. The blobs were about the size of a grain of rice and translucent.
It is estimated that over the next three weeks the small town experienced blobs raining from the sky on three separate occasions. As Lacey put it when talking to Unsolved Mysteries in 1996, “You know, you could pretty much squish it through your fingers. We knew it wasn’t something we would normally see, because we had never experienced it before. We had some bells go off in our heads that said that basically, ‘This isn’t right, this isn’t normal.’”
The Oakville Illness
Perhaps the locals were right to have been suspicious of the strange blobs. Within a day of coming into contact with them, locals began to fall ill. Lacey stated that by the next day he had come down with fatigue and nausea.
Another resident, Beverly Roberts told a local newspaper that after taking some blobs home for a closer look she had become ill. She experienced peculiar symptoms such as vertigo, forcing her to seek medical attention.
Other residents experienced complaints such as upper-respiratory infections, ear infections, and other flu-like symptoms. These symptoms were severe enough that several residents collapsed and had to spend several days recuperating in the local hospital.
What was bad for humans appears to have been even worse for the local animal population. Roberts said at the time that she knew of at least 12 animals that had died after coming into contact with the sinister blobs. These included a dead frog and raven that she found close to the blobs in her garden and the kitten of a friend who lived on a farm.
At first one local doctor, Dr. David Little did not think much of the blobs. He initially put down his patients’ infections as having nothing to do with the blobs. Yet as more of his patients complained of strange symptoms he agreed to take a sample to the local hospital and run some tests on the strange goo.
When put under a microscope hospital technicians found the blobs contained human white blood cells (the cells the body uses to fight infection). Certainly strange but nothing that would explain so many people falling ill.
Samples were then sent to the Washington State Department of Health and Departments of Ecology. The Department of Health found no white blood cells. Instead, they found two species of bacteria, pseudomonas fluorescens and enterobacter cloacae. There has been quite a lot of debate as to whether these bacteria could have caused so many health problems.
It is widely agreed that pseudomonas fluorescens is harmless. Enterobacter cloacae, on the other hand, is found in nature and can potentially act as a pathogen. It is commonly found in the human gut and is usually harmless. In people with compromised immune systems, certain strains have been known to cause urinary tract and respiratory infections but it is uncommon.
According to one microbiologist working there at the time, Mike McDowell, before any more tests could be run on the strange blobs the department’s samples mysteriously disappeared. While this may sound mysterious it must be stated McDowell’s claims have never been backed up. It is just as likely the samples were simply misplaced or accidentally disposed of.
Over at the department of ecology, Mike Osweiler was also busy at work investigating the blobs. He told the Seattle Post Intelligencer that the blobs contained a number of cells of various sizes. He believed they had come from a dead creature but that the creature was not human. The cells had no nuclei meaning they could not be human blood white cells or of human origin at all.
What Were the Blobs?
Unsurprisingly, these incredibly mixed results resulted in a whole host of theories popping up as to what the blobs really were. A popular early theory was that the blobs had come from jellyfish.
People argued that somehow jellyfish had somehow been swept up, destroyed, and then scattered across Oakville. This was supposedly either by some natural event or something man-made. One theory was that the air force had been testing bombing practice runs nearby and had blown the local jellyfish population clean out of the water.
Or perhaps it was something more sinister. Other residents believed the blobs were the result of covert biological weapons testing and that local bomb practice was just a cover. The government confirmed that bombing runs had taken place 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 km) from Oakville but denied taking part in biological warfare against its own civilians.
Dr. Little suggested the blobs may have come from waste discharged from a plane. This, he argued, would explain the human blood cells. It would also explain the sick and dead animals as antifreeze is used in plane waste systems. The FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) put this idea down: the chemicals used would have turned the blobs blue, not transparent.
The theory given the most credence is that the blobs were star jelly. This is a slang term for phenomena closely resembling the Oakville blobs. Star jelly has been reported as appearing as far back as the 14th century. It has been linked to all sorts of things, such as frog spawn, sodium polyacrylate crystals or algae, and has been reported all over the world.
The only problem is that star jelly has never been seen falling from the sky in the form of rain, which would be unique to Oakville. Furthermore, it has never been connected to illnesses or animal deaths before.
Another Mystery from the Sky
So what were the Oakville blobs? No one knows for sure, and short of another occurrence, it is doubtful we ever will. There are no surviving samples of the blobs and testing done at the time was too inconclusive to draw a satisfactory conclusion.
It may be that the blobs were star jelly and that the timing of the rain and illnesses were just a coincidence. It rains a lot in Oakville and people get ill all the time. It seems incredibly unlikely the blobs were the result of some nefarious scheme.
The Oakville blobs aren’t even that peculiar. Nature is full of weird occurrences. Historically there have been reports of everything from meat to frogs falling from the sky. Whatever the Oakville blobs were, it’s safe to say they’re nothing to worry about. No one died, and they never happened again.
Top Image: Nobody knows what the Oakville Blobs were, or what caused them. Source: Lairich Rig / CC BY-SA 2.0.
By Robbie Mitchell
Editors. 2022. What were the Oakville Blobs and what caused them? Discovery. Available at: https://www.discoveryuk.com/mysteries/what-were-the-oakville-blobs-and-what-caused-them/
Spanner. H. 2022. What were the Oakville blobs? BBC Science Focus. Available at: https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/what-were-the-oakville-blobs/
Pesanti. D. 2014. The day blobs rained down on Oakville. The Chronicle. Available at: https://www.chronline.com/stories/the-day-blobs-rained-down-on-oakville,81399