Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 19, 2009

Loraine Anderson: TC's 1925 earthquake

By LORAINE ANDERSON

Earthquakes are rare in Michigan, but Traverse City residents definitely felt the earth move beneath their feet and watched electric ceiling lights sway overhead on Feb. 28, 1925.

"EARTHQUAKE HERE FIRST EVER FELT: Dishes Rattle, Chairs Rock, Smokers 'Swear Off' and People in High Places Come Down," Record-Eagle headlines shouted after tremors rattled the city at 8:27 p.m. that Saturday night.

For all the bold words, the paper quickly described the quake as "decidedly light" once readers moved on to the small print.

"In fact, had the tremor been less it would scarcely have been felt at all, but it was the biggest Michigan ever experienced and big enough to cause considerable fear," the paper reported.

People in the top floor of the five-story Wilhelm building, located at the southwest corner of Union and Front streets, rushed down to the street with tales of jiggling apartments, lights swinging east to west, and rocking chairs with rockers extended in those directions "rocking the most violently."

Neighbor rang up neighbor across the city. Early broadcasts alerted the relatively few people who owned radios about the "widespread vibration." Seven men playing cards at the Elks Club, located above a Front Street store, could hear hardware clatter on shelves below.

"Six of them were smoking," an observant reporter said of the card players. "As the building started to rock and the table became unsteady, every one of the six furtively tossed away his cigar, fully convinced he was smoking too much for his own welfare. When the swaying motion started, it first gave the impression of dizziness, and hundreds believed they were in the first throes of their last illness.

"At least 500 local people were sure they were going to have a stroke ... Many did not know for hours after what had actually happened, and many went to bed certain they had passed through a light stroke."

Scientists of that era blamed the tremors on a recently discovered fault in the Bay of Fundy between Maine and Quebec, about 345 miles north of New York City. The quake shook the entire northeastern part of the United States and eastern Canada and was felt as far west as Wisconsin.

Today, the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center reports that the Feb. 25, 1925, quake originated farther north in the St. Lawrence River region northwest of Murray Bay in Quebec and jostled about two million square miles, including Grand Rapids, Newberry and Whitefish Point.

Traverse City went unmentioned. Perhaps the scientists never saw a copy of that 1925 Record-Eagle.

For more information on the history of state earthquakes visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/states/michigan/history.php.

Associate editor Loraine Anderson can be reached at landerson@record-eagle.com, or 231-933-1468.