Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Earthquake in DeLand?

Photo of part of an 1879 letter
This excerpt is from a photocopy of the original 1879 letter.
As we near the weekend of loud pyrotechnics on every corner, I think of other happenings that jolt local residents. Like earthquakes. In Florida? Yes, many years ago: either late 1878 or early 1879. The only reference I have is in a letter* from Lucy Mead Parce in DeLand to her son up North. The Jan. 22, 1879, letter is worth quoting in length:
"I suppose you have heard all about our earthquake before this. There were some pretty frightened people here that night. I know I was but not as much a some. A number thought the world was coming to an end.
"It woke us from a sound sleep about 20 minutes to twelve. I can't describe it but it seemed as though the foundations of the earth were being broken up & everything was going to pieces.
"The bed and house shook, the timber creaked and windows rattled and it seemed as though everything in the house had come to life & was jumping around. My first thought was that a terrible tornado had struck us.
"I could hear a heavy rumbling sound and something that sounded a little like wind though not like it either. I exclaimed 'What is it. What is it. Are we having a terrible tornado.' I sprang out of bed and looked out the window. It was a beautiful still moonlight night not a breath of air stirring. I said then, 'It's an earthquake.'
"There were three shocks but the others about half an hour after were very slight. Adda [letter writer's daughter] was very much frightened and we were both taken sick of the stomach after it. I suppose it was the rocking motion that caused it. Mr. Codrington from the West Indies where they [earthquakes] are very common says he never experienced so hard a one before.
"I believe there was no damage done except that hole in the ground. They have reported in adjoining towns that DeLand has sunk. But I guess they will find out it's a mistake & that we are all alive here though I presume some would be glad to have it so."
Note that 19th century snark in the last sentence. I like the way it makes Mrs. Parce more approachable and real to the reader, some 135 years after she put pen to paper. The "hole in the ground" must have been a sinkhole. There are several old sinkholes of size in the area, but I've no clue about the location of the one mentioned in the letter.

Less than a decade later, aftershocks from a 7.7 earthquake in Charleston were felt in Central Florida. This 1986 government assessment of the 1886 quake notes contemporary reports from the nearby coast: "At coastal Daytona Beach (then Daytona), a low rumbling was heard and a report that '... artesian or flowing wells [were] greatly agitated.'" (Quote is from page 31 of the linked PDF.)

Things have quieted down since then, seismically speaking. Wish I could say the same about the coming days.

*Letter is from The Parce Letters, Voices From the Past, West Volusia Historical Society, 2004. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Connecting through Mary

image shows interior of church with shadows, light, that present an outline of Virgin Mary
The lighting and shadows form what some believe is an image of Mary.
One of the early 20th century parishes established in Florida was St. Mary of the Lakes in Eustis, in 1912. Joyce E. Welch wrote a compact history, In the Beginning, which is an enjoyable read and is the source for historical elements of this post, with page numbers in parentheses.

My salient points, for this blog post, concern:

  • the church's naming in the early 1900s;
  • the mission church in Mount Dora that grew from the Eustis parish in the 1960s;
  • a photo that may or may not show a Marian apparition in the former mission's current church in 2013.
Our Lady's influence is the thread tying them together, in my view.

Before I go any further, let me note that the Catholic Church has a very conservative stance about apparitions. Supposed sightings undergo a rigorous review and investigation process that stretches years. Very few reported sightings are deemed authentic. I'm writing as a Christian-romance author with a vivid imagination who enjoys considering the "what ifs".

We begin with Eustis's first Catholic settler, Charles G. Megargee. He arrived in the mid-1880s. Several years later, another Catholic named Jerry Ott settled in Eustis. Both were from the Philadelphia area. They would journey to Sanford to attend Mass - a 40-mile round trip that took up to eight hours total (15). Think about that the next time it seems like too much effort to get to Mass.

These two businessman were instrumental in establishing the Eustis church. They funded the land purchase personally, and raised money needed to build a  50x25-foot church debt-free in 1911 (18). As I've found with other Florida pioneer Catholic church stories I've researched, non-Catholics were generous in support.

Megargee and Ott drove parish formation and church construction, but not the parish/church name. A local donor secured a substantial contribution from a Northern relative. It came with strings attached: the church had to be named in honor of St. Mary (18). I don't often refer to Our Lady as St. Mary, but that is one of her titles.

The donation amount was $1,500. Had it been given in 1913, a few years later, it would compare to  an astonishing $35,848 today, according to the government's inflation calculator. That's quite a bit of money, and I assume the donor had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Fast forward to the 1960s. The Eustis parish that started with about 50 Catholics overflowed even the enlarged church in place by that time. The Eustis parish established a mission church in Mt. Dora, which grew to become St. Patrick's parish.

Fast forward again to 2013. A friend from work sent me a smart phone image forwarded to her by the person who took the photo. The story: Our Lady had appeared in the Mt. Dora church right after morning rosary on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  I stared and stared at the photo and saw nothing but an empty church. After my friend pointed Mary out to me, I could see nothing else.

Even today, when I look at the image, I find it hard to see anything other than Our Lady. Did she appear? Who knows. The image isn't doctored, except where I drew an arrow pointing to the appearance area. But the photo is blurry. Light, shadow, angles, soft focus  - all can distort reality.

The Mt. Dora church sprang from the roots of the Eustis parish, which started with - and continues to have - a dedication to Mary. As do I.  Our Lady led me back to my faith after I lapsed. We'll likely never know if an apparition materialized. But Mary appears to my eyes in the image. And that's what matters.