Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Zenobia always wanted to sit down in the earthquake chair

Our football guests from Springfield arrived on Friday afternoon; supper and the evening were full of chatter. Guy Bass and my husband, Chub, were noncommissioned officers in the U.S. Coast Guard assigned to teach at the General Motors Institute of Technology in Flint, Mich. They were paid "S and Q" - subsistence and quarters - which meant they had to arrange for their own food and lodging.

Chub chose a small, second-floor apartment, and I joined him there in summers and other times when my classes at Christian College were not in session. Guy and Zenobia Bass were our close friends in Flint and in Missouri after the war. Guy and Chub attended the Tigers’ football games while Zee and I worked with our crafts and prepared supper.

On one of those football weekends, we had a leisurely Saturday morning breakfast and were still at the table when suddenly there was a feeling of uneasiness. "What was that?" We all asked the same question and stared at one another. Our two dogs rushed out from around the house, barking and looking for something that wasn’t there. I checked outdoors. Nothing! No plane had broken the sound barrier. There was no rumble; nothing was disturbed outside or inside.

We didn’t recall any noise, just a few brief moments when things didn’t feel right! We four - and two dogs - knew that in those brief moments, the earth shook! We had experienced a minor earthquake! Zee said, "I was sitting in the earthquake chair." Always when they visited, she’d say, "I want to sit in that earthquake chair." Zee, a keen student in school, recalled the history of Pompeii, the Roman city that was destroyed and then was covered with something that preserved 20,000 bodies and their property in detail!

I went to my old encyclopedia, printed in 1886. Old news seems so fresh when we read it in those old volumes.

Using the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, as an example, I read aloud: "It was during the great Festival of All Saints. All of the Lisbon churches were filled to overflowing. A distant rumbling was heard which sounded like thunder; it gradually increased till it finally sounded like artillery. The ground undulated like the waves of the sea. The surrounding mountains were rocking violently on their bases, and broad chasms opened in the earth and closed again." More than 40,000 people lost their lives.

Guy and Chub were eager to tell about Missouri’s famous 1811 earthquake, which brought changes in southeast Missouri, and we read warnings of the possibility of future activity in that area. Parts of Illinois and Kentucky changed Missouri’s border in the area of New Madrid. A glance at a map of Missouri - in its southeastern corner - convinces one immediately that Kentucky and Illinois also were affected. This was the most serious earthquake ever recorded in the United States until Dec. 16, 1964, when the southern Alaskan quakes took about a hundred lives.

Surprisingly, some of Boone County’s land titles reflect the 1811 earthquake in this way: Sympathy for those people who lost so much in land, homes, farms, machinery, livestock and other property in that southeast corner of Missouri prompted an offer of free land elsewhere.

"Madrid land" was offered in the fertile areas north of Rocheport, an acre for each lost acre in the Bootheel. However, there were only 20 families who made that big move. Those land titles are marked "Madrid land."

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