Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Earthquake in Charleston

With the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, I thought I'd pass along the following brief story:

Nearly 125 years ago, on August 31, 1886, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Charleston, South Carolina. The devastation was widespread and though the loss of life was surprisingly low (some 60 people perished, though various accounts report a slightly greater total), a great many structures in the city were heavily damaged.

The U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library has a collection of photos related to the disaster. Here's just one:

Earthquake damage to in Charleston, S.C., 1886Photograph by John K. Hillers courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

(For those interested, the above photo was taken at the corner of East Bay and Cumberland in Charleston, looking west along Cumberland Street. The corner store at 205 East Bay was Wm. M. Bird & Co., a dealer in general building supplies.)

One structure that apparently escaped the effects of the temblor was a local ballpark. The following story appeared in the Chicago Herald soon after the disaster:

"I was down in South Carolina during all of the earthquake troubles," said a commercial traveler, "and I never again want to be a witness of such scenes as I saw there. I'll not attempt to describe the incidents to you—they have already been sufficiently touched upon in the daily papers. But there is one little phase of the thing which the newspapers have not even mentioned. You know business was suspended in Charleston. All of the stores excepting grocery and provision stores were closed. The banks were not open. The theaters closed their doors. Even the newspapers suspended publication for an issue or two. But the day after the first terrible quake I happened out by the baseball grounds, and I'll be durned [sic] if there wasn't two clubs in there a playing, and quite a crowd sitting on the benches cheering the players. I looked through a crack in the fence , and just then another earthquake shock came. The umpire motioned to the players to go right along, but the pitcher, who was then in the box, asked to have the game called for a few minutes because the home plate was wobbling so he couldn't put the ball in straight. The umpire acceded to this reasonable request, and after a delay of ten minutes I heard the umpire call out, 'play ball—batter up.' Then I left, satisfied that baseball is the one American institution which even an earthquake can't knock out."

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