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. 

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