Whole Lot of Shakin’ Was Going On


200 years ago today, the 2nd huge New Madrid earthquake occurred. The total of four huge quakes were the “mother” of all earthquakes to ever happen in the mid-west/eastern portion of the USA. If Memphis had been developed it would have totally wiped out the city. There were four giant quakes with the first two happening on December 16, 1811. The second was four hours after the first and the same intensity, somewhere around a magnitude 7, maybe higher. The second big shaking was considered an aftershock so today’s 200 year anniversary is called the 2nd New Madrid earthquake. The last one was on February 7, 1812.

As a comparison, the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was felt over a range of 6,300 square miles. The January 23, 1812 New Madrid quake was felt over 1 million square miles. The Mississippi River ran backwards, sidewalks cracked and caved in in Washington D.C. and chimneys toppled in Maine. If those quakes had occurred with today’s population there would be catastrophic damage across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and the state of Tennessee would be suffer the worst. I saw the report from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), dated November 2008, which stated that a serious earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone could result in “the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in United States history.”

After 200 years, no Midwesterner ever thinks about that potential disaster, but we here in California feel the earth moving all the time and are always aware that the “big-one” could be just around the corner. . The chances of another huge San Francisco earthquake is 30% over the next 50 years.   The latest forecast for a 6.0(or larger) earthquake along the New Madrid faults is 25-40% in the next 50 years. Don’t worry, be happy.

One of the strangest murder mysteries was uncovered as a result of the January 23 quake 200 years ago. Two nephews of Thomas Jefferson, Lilburn Lewis and Isham Lewis (also relatives of Meriwether Lewis) murdered one of their slaves. The slave was referred to as “Slave George” and the Lewis brothers murdered him with an axe on December 16, 1811. They were preparing to burn his mutilated corpse but the first New Madrid quake interrupted them so they quickly interred his remains in a brick chimney. They might have got away with the murder except the next big New Madrid quake on January 23 collapsed the chimney, exposing Slave George’s remains. They were quickly investigated and arrested and charged. Lilburn Lewis killed himself, but Isham went to jail, escaped and probably died in the War of 1812.

 

About Dan McGuire

Writer/Musician
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