Space rocks provide adventure and riches

Meteorite Man

February 05, 1999|By Seth Borenstein | Seth Borenstein,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Part P.T. Barnum, part Indiana Jones and all Daddy Warbucks, Bob Haag scours the Earth looking for rocks from space -- and he finds them.

While most scientists use metal detectors to find meteorites, Haag uses his mouth, a trader's wits and his considerable wallet to find rocks that can be 100 times more valuable than gold.

After a rock from space falls out of the sky, Haag shows up. But he doesn't just spread the word that he wants to buy meteorites, he shouts it from rented loudspeakers atop cars. He puts up wanted posters. He leaves business cards and sample meteorites. He camps out in police stations and barbershops. He's driven through the blinding Libyan desert for days on end, crashed in a small plane in the Baja and landed in jail in Argentina.

Still, he gets his rocks -- much to the chagrin of his competitors and scientists. Haag claims the largest private collection of meteorites (including the biggest chunk of Martian rock) and has sold millions of dollars worth of the space rocks. But what he's best at is finding them and getting others to help him.

"Whatever it takes. If you got to sing and dance and charm them a little bit to get them to try to sell it to you. I'm going to try all of the above," said the 42-year-old Tucson, Ariz., resident. "I've traded meteorites for gold, cars, guns, smiles, you name it."

Nearly 20 years ago, Haag took money he saved from odd jobs -- pizza delivery, busing tables, waxing cars and even mining -- to buy his first $400 meteorite. He sold it for $2,000 and immediately re-invested the money in ads to find and buy more rocks.

"He will pick up on a minute's notice and go off on a quest. He's got a bold personality," said Glenn MacPherson, the Smithsonian Institution's chief meteorite curator. "He's just got oodles of personality. He just fills a room."

Although his colleagues and competitors compare him to a circus showman, Haag prefers to be placed among the legion of superheroes. Thus he has adopted the nickname "Meteorite Man."

"I always wanted to be a superhero, like a Batman, Superman. Meteorite Man -- that's pretty cool," Haag said, sounding more college student than millionaire. "You gotta go for it, because if you're going to sit around watching TV that's all you're going to know, brother."

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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