Source: NMHS Newsletter, August 1994
Earthquakes in Indiana
An earthquake jolted much of the Midwest on an evening in June, 1987.
by Ferne Baldwin
Depending on what you were doing at that moment you may not have noticed it. If
you were weeding your garden, you didn't feel a thing but if you were sitting at
the table, you felt the house moving. That was the general pattern. If you were
outside or in a car you didn't notice it. One family saw the water rippling in
the swimming pool. One saw the rocking chair rocking.
At Lance's soup fell off the shelves on one side of the aisle and cookies on the
other side. The North Manchester Police reported about 50 inquiries, but no
damage was reported. Officially, the quake was reported centered at
Lawrenceville, Ill and registering 5.0 on the Richter scale.
Much more serious damage might have been reported in 1811 when the most powerful
earthquake ever in North America occurred in the Midwest. But at that time North
Manchester was not a reporting station since it did not yet have its first
European settler. In fact at the time of this traumatic event there were no
seismographs, no professional scientists and only a few settlers in the areas
influenced by the quake.
During the winter of 1811-1812 the New Madrid fault located at the edge of the
country in the Mississippi Valley began to release strain energy and
thousands of earthquakes resulted. Three quakes were especially great each
exceeding 8. Even five aftershocks were felt as far as Washington D.C. Perhaps
as many as fifteen million people now live in the area which suffered the
The Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act was passed by Congress in 1977. The act
called for improved planning in six regions of the U.S. to prepare for
earthquake contingencies. One area was the Mississippi Valley.
The quakes began in the early morning of December 16, 1811 and one observer
counted 27 shocks before daylight. A Louisville engineer and surveyor counted
1874 shocks by March l5, eight of which he classed as violent. At Cincinnati a
pendulum "never ceased to vibrate in nearly five months."
Most of the descriptions of the earthquakes speak of the tremendous noise, of
liquid spurting into the air, of trees being blown up, cracking, splitting and
falling. There were many holes in the surface of the earth. Other areas were
raised. There were great cracks in the earth, many filled with muddy water.
Residents no longer trusted the safety of their homes and many moved to tents.
At three in the morning of February 7 there was a great convulsion which came to
be called the "hard shock". By this time there was a rather general mass exodus
of people but there were many barriers. In many places the surface of the earth
was either thrust up or depressed. The water temperature was noted as warm. Sand
blows - eruptions of sand, coal and organic matter were everywhere.
The Mississippi River was the center of a dramatic struggle. There was heavy
traffic with several types of boats. The first steamboat to navigate in these
waters left Louisville just as the quakes started and some believed this new
technology was responsible for the earthquake itself. There were major changes
in the river's course especially in the region of Memphis. Falls developed
though some were temporary. Islands disappeared. Large sections of river banks
fell into the water - some destroyed boats which were anchored along the banks.
There is the persistent notion that the river ran backward at one time. Some
explain this perception as a sort of tidal wave effect from a combination of
falling debris and actual shifts in the bed of the river. But careful observers
confirm that the river's current was pushed back upon itself and cite the
appearance of the trees on the banks. Volcanic like discharges of matter to
great heights were seen.
Reelfoot Lake in western Tennessee, east of New Madrid was created by the
earthquakes. It was the result of a sand blow near the mouth of Reelfoot Creek
which obstructed the river. The bottom of the lake is often described as the
former floor of a forest and the tops of trees projected above the surface of
the water. Three significant domes were also formed.
In the midst of all this the voyage of the first steamboat, New Orleans, was
continuing. Those on the boat could see the movement of the trees and the caving
of the banks and the boat pilot became more and more confused as the landmarks
along the river disappeared. There was unusual silence on the boat and the dog
moaned and growled. One island to which they were moored disappeared during the
night and the hawser had to be cut.
Strange effects were noted in contemporary writing. Several persons riding
horses recount how the horses stood still and braced their legs. One was
described as groaning and the rider believed the horse was dying. Wild animals
were found at daylight collected in the yards and gardens of the residents.
People experienced both physical symptoms and psychological disorientation. Many
counted the fear of being swallowed by the earth as most frightening.
Actually, the exact number of deaths will never be known. More died in the river
than on land and most of the deaths on land were from drowning. There were no
reports of buildings collapsing and causing deaths. Many attempted to describe
the sounds as a distant rumble of thunder or as a carriage on a paved road or
even as the sound of heavy artillery. There were many descriptions of flashes of
light or a red glow in the sky. A smell of sulfur or of brimstone was frequently
After the first shocks the people of New Madrid gathered to give thanks for
their deliverance. Preachers were quick to take advantage of the fear and
uncertainty. Sinners were known to fall on the floor in terror. The majority of
settlers were not churchgoers. The earthquakes resulted in major gains in
membership for most of the churches. The Methodist church in the Midwest, for
example, gained about 15,000 members from 1811 to 1812.
Indians had a legend of a great earthquake in this region. A trench dug across
the fault zone has given evidence of at least three major earthquakes over the
past two thousand years. A powerful earthquake was felt on October 31, 1895.
Since 1909 a seismograph network at Saint Louis University has recorded the
continuing activity. In 1968 and again in 1976 significant shocks occurred. This
is one of the regions in the United States in which there is a probability of
very destructive earthquakes. For such population centers as St. Louis or
Cincinnati, Memphis or Cairo, Illinois that forecast may cause serious concern.
But even North Manchester may be subject to a sound shaking at some future time.
Sources for further reading: The New Madrid Earthquakes by James Lal
"The Evaluation of Earthquake Hazard in the Central Mississippi Valley,"
American Nuclear Society Transactions 26 (1977):126 by Otto W. Nuttli
"Quakes along the Mississippi," Natural History 89 (August 1980): 70-75.
"America's Greatest Earthquake," Reader's Digest 94(April, 1969): ll0-114.
Source: News-Journal, July 28, 1980
Quake Rocks Area
One rural North Manchester man thought he was having the "shakes" and a Sandy
Beach woman telephoned local police to say her house was falling down, but there
was no damage reported locally after the first Indiana earthquake since 1974
rocketed through North Manchester shortly before 1:55 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Police dispatcher Mrs. Luke (Inette) Manual was the first to take official
note of the quake, which measured 5.1 on the Richter scale. She wrote in her
police log at 1:55 p.m. that she had just felt town hall moving. Within the next
20 minutes seven area residents phoned into the department to report the earth
At Park Ave., a homeowner watched a recliner move on its own and on South
Market St. a couch was reported dancing about on the floor.
Shortly before 2:15 p.m. Peru State Police issued a radio dispatch confirming
the quake and reporting that it had covered an area at least from Ft. Wayne to
the Ohio River. Later that report was upgraded to include states as far away as
Wisconsin and West Virginia.
According to Manchester College chemistry professor Dr. Wilson Lutz, who also
serves as a geology instructor, earthquakes are relatively rare in the midwest,
but they have the potential to be extremely powerful.
Wilson reported that the midwest was the epicenter of a quake in 1811 that
was one of the largest ever recorded. Originating in Missouri, the quake rang
church bells as far away as Boston, Mass., he reported.
"We can have earthquakes here as severe as are in California; it's just that
we don't have them very often," informed Lutz.
He explained that the origins of midwestern quakes apparently somewhat differ
from the origins of California quakes. Near San Francisco, there is the boundary
between two large plates ("chunks" of the earth's crust) which "rub" against
each other from time to time, to create massive earth tremors. Actually, noted
Lutz, these plates are "stuck" and when they break loose occasionally, a quake
Here in the midwest, however, there do not appear to be any plate boundaries,
and the cause of Sunday's quake is not so readily discernible.
"Basically, earthquakes occur when rock beneath the earth's surface is
strained to the point that it lets go," reported Lutz.
Pressure in the earth, caused by heat and by the weight of the earth itself,
creates the strain on the rock.
The point at which the rock lets go can be from anywhere near the surface to
several miles deep, he continued.
Sunday's quake apparently did not split the earth.
Although in town on Sunday, Lutz himself did not feel the earthquake. He was
in his backyard when his wife shouted out the window to him that the house was
moving. "I've never felt an earthquake," he said somewhat remorsefully, "but
I've talked to several people that say it can be quite terrifying."
Lutz also explained the Richter scale. "It's a measure of energy released by
the earthquake," he noted. The difference between each full number on the scale
is a factor of ten, meaning that the 5.1 quake here Sunday was almost ten times
as powerful as the close to 4 quake that rocked Indiana in 1974.
"When you get up to 6 you are releasing a very, very large amount of energy,"
he added. Quakes as powerful as 6 are considered to be potentially dangerous.
Other reports inform that spectators in sports stadiums in Detroit, Michigan,
and Columbus, Ohio, strongly noticed the quake. Several chimneys were knocked
down and debris did some damage to parked cars in Lexington, Ky., which was
reported to be the epicenter of Sunday's quake.
Source: Chicago Tribune, July 28, 1980
Quake rattles Chicago. Tremor felt over much of Midwest
By Michael McCabe
Shock waves from a "moderately strong" earthquake in Kentucky were felt in
the Chicago area Sunday afternoon, shaking buildings, rattling dishes, and
providing thousands with their first earthquake experience.
The quake was recorded at 1:52 p.m. with an epicenter about 40 miles
northeast of Lexington, according to the Untied States Geological Survey's
National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo. There were no immediate
reports of damage or injuries.
Preliminary measurements put the magnitude of the quake at 5.1 on the Richter
scale, strong enough to shake buildings throughout the Midwest, including in
Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois, according to Waverly Person, an earthquake center
Shock waves also were felt in Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and
Tennessee. There also were reports that the quake was felt in 14 states and in
The tremor surprised thousands of fans, watching baseball games in Tiger
Stadium in Detroit and Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. It rolled through
downtown Detroit, slightly shaking large buildings, including the 73-story
Detroit Plaza Hotel.
Cincinnati police reported statues tumbled off the top of city hall there and
damaged the sidewalk below.
In Maysville, Ky., walls moved, windows shattered, and chimneys toppled, but
no injuries were reported.
In Chicago, many residents said they were shaken. Genevieve Flavin, a patient
at Michael Reese Hospital said: "The whole building here actually shook and
shimmied. A few elderly people were hysterical. We had to calm them down. Later
there was a group discussion of the Bible."
Marge Gillick of Park Ridge said: "I was sitting down to play the organ for
the first time in months, and then everything started moving. The organ moved
from side to side; the bench I was sitting on moved. I thought to myself, 'Is
this organ trying to tell me I should stay away from it?' My husband, Irving,
and I were so nervous we ran out of the building into the street." ...