Little Bits of History

February 5

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 5, 2017

62: Pompeii and Herculaneum experience an earthquake. Using evidence remaining today, it has been estimated to have had a magnitude between 5.2 and 6.1, this is an indication of the energy released during the earthquake’s most explosive moments. It has also been estimated to have reached a maximum intensity of IX or X on the Mercalli scale, a scale based on the effects of an earthquake which has a scale between I and XII. A scale of IX is considered violent while X is considered extreme. For comparison, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was a XI, a higher level of extreme. In Italy, both Pompeii and Herculaneum were heavily damaged in the quake and it is believed to have been a precursor to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed the two towns in 79.

The fault line runs along the full length of the Apennines mountain chain and continuing into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Scientists today are looking for a connection between this event and the devastating volcano eruption seventeen years later. The theory surmises that this event as well as other earthquakes along the fault line were associated with the later massive event. Understanding the link between earthquakes and volcanoes is an ongoing area of study. The simple understanding of the event has been going on for nearly 2000 years. Seneca the Younger, sometimes just known as Seneca, wrote about the phenomenon in his series of books, Naturales quaestiones (Natural Questions).

Seneca, a philosopher, dramatist, and advisor to rulers (which was the cause of his death) was able to write a seven volume encyclopedia about natural wonders. The work was not systematic, but rather a matter of ideas which occurred to the author and were then explored, using the science of his time. He studied meteors, thunder and lightning, water, wind, snow, and ice along with various other related topics. His sixth book in the series was about earthquakes and the source of the Nile River. He used this event as the basis of his study and concluded the earthquake was caused by the movement of air.

The original quake along with aftershocks lasted for several days. The focal depth has been estimated to have been in the 5-6 km range (3-3.7 miles). The damages to both towns was extensive and at least partially repaired prior to their being buried by lava flow. Bas relief found in what is believed to have been the lararium of Lucius Caecilius Incundus’s house, have been interpreted as depictions of the damages caused by the earthquake on the Temple of Jupiter, the Aquarium of Cesar, and the Vesuvius Gate. Damages were reported as far away as Naples and Nuceria. Seneca also reported the death of 600 sheep, stating the flock’s demise was due to poisonous gases.

There are other special problems connected with the discovery of ancient cities. Alexandria was ravaged by fires and street fighting and its ancient waterfront is underwater. Some discoveries at Pompeii were not revealed for many decades, because the wall painting are so pornographic. – Norman F. Cantor

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.- Seneca

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. – Seneca

Constant exposure to dangers will breed contempt for them. – Seneca

Charleston, South Carolina

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 31, 2015
Charleston earthquake

Charleston earthquake

August 31, 1886: Charleston, South Carolina is devastated by an earthquake. It was believed to have been a 7.0 Mw or moment magnitude earthquake. This scale replaced the Richter scale in the 1970s. The number is based on the seismic moment of the earthquake which is equal to the rigidity of the Earth multiplied by the average amount of slip on the fault and the size of the area which slipped. The numbers used are similar to the Richter scale and when reports use the older designation, there is little confusion as to the intensity of the quake. On the Mercalli Intensity scale, it was rated an X or Extreme. This scale is based on the effects of the earthquake rather than the magnitude of the fault slip. It quantifies the damage to humans, objects of nature, and manmade objects and begins at I and ends at XII or total destruction.

The earthquake struck at 9.50 PM with the epicenter at 32.9°N 80.0°W (Charleston’s coordinates are listed as 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W). It was one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit the East Coast of the US. The 1811 and 1812 New Madrid, Missouri earthquakes were more powerful. The activity was caused by intraplate earthquake, an extremely rare phenomenon where the quake takes place at the interior of a single tectonic plate. A far more common occurrence is the interplate earthquake which takes place at the boundary between two or more plates. All three of the mentioned quakes caused great damage and were intraplate quakes.

There were 60 deaths attributed to the earthquake and damage was listed between $5 and 6 million ($130 to 156 million today). Much of the destruction of both life and property was caused by the liquefaction of the soil. Aftershocks continued for weeks after the event. There is some supposition that the small quakes still felt in the region to this day are still aftershocks from this one event. On this night, the shock was felt as far away as Boston to the north, Chicago and Milwaukee to the northwest, New Orleans to the west and Cuba to the south. At the time, there was speculation that such damage could only have been caused by the state of Florida having broken away from North America.

There were at least 2,000 buildings damaged by the quake. Within the city itself, most of the buildings sustained damage and many of them were beyond repair. They were simply torn down and rebuilt. Historical Charleston today shows the after effects of the quake in that many of the building which did survive are now sporting “earthquake bolts” where the building were repaired. Wires were downed and the railroad tracks were torn apart, cutting Charleston off from the outside world. Major damage occurred as far away as Tybee Island, 60 miles away. Buildings far away in central Alabama, central Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southern Virginia, and western West Virginia were damaged by the quake.

It was about 9:50 o’clock on the evening of August 31, 1886, that the people of Charleston felt the quiverings of the first earthquake shock ever known in that part of the country. They had just returned from worship and not many had yet retired.

There were no electric lights in those days, and the streets were illuminated with gas. The people gathered in the public parks and squares and there in the dim light brave men and women gave help to the injured and dying.

St. Michael’s Church, the pride of the city since 1761, was a wreck, its tall steeple lying in the street.

To add to their dismay the people were cut off from the outer world, all wires being down, and it was not until next day that a courier rode to Summerville, nearly thirty miles away, and gave the world its first news of the disaster. – all from Paul Pinckney

Also on this day: Who Was He? – In 1888, Mary Ann Nichols was brutally murdered.
Try This – In 1900, Coke was first sold in England.
Fairy Tale’s End – In 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash.
Go West – In 1803, Meriwether Lewis began his great Expedition when he left Pittsburgh.
Air Disaster – In 1940, a plane crashed near Lovettsville, Virginia.

A Sign

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 21, 2015
Crete uplift map*

Crete uplift map*

July 21, 365 AD: Alexandria and the Southern and Eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea are destroyed by a tsunami. Around sunrise on this day, there was an underwater earthquake which is estimated to have been around 8.5 on the Richter scale by modern geologists. The epicenter was near Crete, Greece. There was widespread destruction close to the epicenter, but also in distant lands as Libya, Alexandria, and the Nile Delta were all affected by the ensuing tsunami as were Cyprus, Sicily, and even as far away as Spain. On the island of Crete, almost all towns were destroyed. Ships were raised and brought inland on the wave, depositing almost two miles from the shore.

Many things at the time were interpreted as signs from God. Many of the literary references have been somewhat questionable as they may have combined the effects of several earthquakes between 350 and 450 AD in order to make a point about God’s great displeasure with events. The antagonism between paganism and Christianity was part of the Roman Empire’s history with this time in particular possible for God’s notice since Emperor Julian had just died after an unsuccessful attempt to return paganism to the Empire.

But there is geological evidence which is not subject to the religion wars of the period. There was a major clustering of seismic activity in the Eastern Mediterranean between the fourth and sixth centuries. This earthquake is thought to have caused an uplift of 29.5 feet of the entire island of Crete. Researchers have noted by carbon dating that coral reefs off the coast of the island were lifted about 33 feet and were actually thrust out of the water in one massive push. This indicates the tsunami from this date was generated by a quake in the Hellenic Trench near Crete. Archeology also lends its science to the devastating effects of the quake and tsunami. Not only were thousands of people killed, but cities were lost along with historical documents as well as libraries, especially in Alexandria.

Tsunamis are named from the Japanese term for the waves experienced there after earthquakes. The term is not scientifically accurate, but we have come to understand the scientific reasons behind the monster waves. There is evidence of tsunamis from even pre-historic times with the earliest being between 6225 and 6160 BC in the Norwegian Sea when the Storegga Slide took place. Crete was also affected by a tsunami around 1600 BC during the Minoan eruption. The Malian Gulf, Greece tsunami, the Helike, Greece earthquake, the Gulf of Naples, Italy tsunami, and the Caesarea, Israel event all predate this day’s catastrophe. Recovery efforts were not helped at all by the Romans. Emperor Valentinian only sent representatives to the region to find out why taxes were not being properly collected.

Slightly after daybreak, and heralded by a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away, its waves were rolled back, and it disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; the great wastes of those valleys and mountains, which the very creation had dismissed beneath the vast whirlpools, at that moment, as it was given to be believed, looked up at the sun’s rays.

Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered at will about the paltry remains of the waters to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea as if insulted by its repulse rises back in turn, and through the teeming shoals dashed itself violently on islands and extensive tracts of the mainland, and flattened innumerable buildings in towns or wherever they were found.

Thus in the raging conflict of the elements, the face of the earth was changed to reveal wondrous sights. For the mass of waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning, and with the tides whipped up to a height as they rushed back, some ships, after the anger of the watery element had grown old, were seen to have sunk, and the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down.

Other huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses, as happened at Alexandria, and others were hurled nearly two miles from the shore, like the Laconian vessel near the town of Methone which I saw when I passed by, yawning apart from long decay. – all from Ammianus Marcellinus (Roman historian)

Also on this day: Brrrrrrr – In 1983, the coldest recorded temperature was captured at Vostok Station.
Destruction – In 356 BC, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed.
Wild Bill Hickok – In 1865, the first shoot out in the wild west took place.
Constitutional – In 1997, the USS Constitution went back out to sea.
James Gang – In 1873, the first successful train robbery was committed by the James Gang.

* “Crete 365 uplift” by Mikenorton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

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Port Royal Destroyed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 7, 2015
Port Royal, Jamaica map with changing coastlines

Port Royal, Jamaica map with changing coastlines

June 7, 1692: Port Royal, Jamaica is nearly destroyed by an earthquake. Jamaica, located in the Caribbean Sea, is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles and covers about 4,240 square miles. It is south of Cuba and west of Hispaniola. At the time, it was a Spanish possession called Santiago. Port Royal was the unofficial capital and one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the West Indies. The city was said to be both the “storehouse and treasure of the West Indies” and “one of the wickedest places on earth”. Privateers and pirates used the port as their home base as they robbed the seafaring ships in the Caribbean Sea. The location of the island is on a boundary between two tectonic plates, the Caribbean Plate and the Gonâve Microplate.

Port Royal was founded in 1518 as the center of shipping in the Caribbean. The Taino lived there prior to the Spanish arriving with Christopher Columbus in 1494. Permanent European settlement was begun in 1509 when Juan de Esquevil discovered enslaving Taino to harvest sugar cane was better than trying to find silver or gold. On this day, with the earthquake and plate shifting, two-thirds of the town or 33 acres sank into the sea when the third and main shockwave struck. A stopped watch found in the harbor in 1969 indicated the time was 11.43. There were about 6,500 people living in Port Royal at the time and about 2,000 buildings existed. Most were built of brick and many were more than one story high but they were built on a base of sand.

The shaking sand liquefied and the buildings and their occupants were swept into the sea. All the wharves sunk at once and more than 20 ships capsized in the harbor. Fissures in the sand opened and closed repeatedly which crushed those who were not swept away. Other towns were also affected. Liguanea (now Kingston) and St. Jago were also destroyed. There were landslides across the island. Like many major earthquakes, this one brought a tsunami and the water further damaged surviving buildings with uppermost rooms in the few remaining buildings being flooded. A frigate from the harbor, Swan, was carried over the housetops by the tsunami.

Accounts listed the deaths at about 2000 people from the immediate effects of the earthquake and tsunami. Many more were injured and in the following days, another 3000 died from injuries and disease. Even before the ground settled down, looting began with homes and businesses broken into and anything of value taken. Some of the corpses had their fingers cut off so that could be removed. The town was partially rebuilt but civic leaders relocated to Spanish Town. Most of the sea trade moved to Kingston. Fire devastated the city in 1703 and a hurricane struck in 1722. By the end of the 18th century, Port Royal was mostly abandoned. Another major earthquake hit in 1907 and there is some reason to believe tectonic motions will bring about another of these catastrophic events soon.

War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings. – Ludwig von Mises

Which would you rather have, a bursting planet or an earthquake here and there? – John Joseph Lynch

Blizzards, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, earthquakes: They fascinate because they nakedly reveal that Mother Nature, afflicted with bipolar disorder, is as likely to snuff us as she is to succor us. – Dean Koontz

It is always interesting to see people in dead earnest, from whatever cause, and earthquakes make everybody earnest. – John Muir

Also on this day: A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama – In 1914, the Panama Canal was found to work.
It’s My Body – In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut was decided.
Treaty of Tordesillas – In 1494, this treaty was signed, parceling out the New World.
Lee, but not Robert E. – In 1776, the Lee Resolution was presented to the Second Continental Congress.
Carrie Nation – In 1899, the temperance devotee entered a saloon.

The Great Quake

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 18, 2010

Toppled houses

April 18, 1906: At 5:12 AM an estimated 8.25 Richter scale earthquake hits San Francisco and lasts between 45 and 60 seconds. The quake ruptured the northernmost 296 miles of the San Andreas fault line causing 75% of the city to be destroyed either by the initial quake or the resulting fires.

It took three days for the fires to completely burn out. By that time 490 city blocks with 25,000 buildings were destroyed. About 250,000 people were left homeless. Without water to fight the blazes due to the damaged infrastructure, Army General Frederick Funston and civil authorities made one last ditch and disastrous effort. They elected to use dynamite to create firebreaks. However, when the request for explosives was received, gunpowder was sent instead of the dynamite. Rather than create firebreaks, the untrained but well-meaning firefighters spread the fire with the explosions.

View of the fires during the aftermath

Those able to escape the disaster, took what they could and fled the city. After days of chaos, the mayor, afraid of looters and the added destruction they were causing, ordered no arrests. Instead, he ordered that looters and others committing crimes were to be shot. The word went out and people believed that martial law was being called for. Some order returned. By April 21, the last of the fires was under control.

Then the assessment of the damage and the rebuilding started. Four days after the quake struck, 300 plumbers were at work fixing pipes and sewers. Within weeks, streetcars were running. Within six weeks, banks were open again. The cleanup was staggering; it was said that 6 ½ billion bricks had fallen into the streets. A new San Francisco arose from the ashes. Damage estimates were greater than $350 million or ≈ $9.4 billion in 2009 USD.

“The earthquake cleared out one San Francisco — which was the dominant place in California — and replaced it with another. It accelerated the modernization of California.” – Kevin Starr

“There were really two stages to the disaster. The earthquake was in itself enormous and San Francisco was badly damaged, but the greatest horror and chaos would soon follow in the form of the worst urban fire in American history.” – James Dalessandro

“Those who survived the San Francisco earthquake said, ‘Thank God, I’m still alive.’ But, of course, those who died, their lives will never be the same again.” – Barbara Boxer

“I was married once — in San Francisco. I haven’t seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There’s no legal proof. Which proves that earthquakes aren’t all bad.” – W. C. Fields

Also on this day, in 1923 Yankee Stadium opened.