For some reason, there are certain areas on the United States, and the world, where earthquakes are…unexpected. There are just no real fault lines in these places, and no man-made reasons for it, like mining or drilling. So often people think they live in an area that is completely safe from an earthquake. Nevertheless, that does not mean that an earthquake can’t happen, as the people of Charleston, South Carolina found out on August 31, 1886.
The first indicator that something strange was going on, came on August 27 and 28, when foreshocks were felt in Summerville, South Carolina, where my first cousin once removed, Stephanie Willard and her family live. While the tremors were odd, the people of the area didn’t think they were a warning for what was coming. Then, at 9:51pm on August 31, the rumbling began. The 7.6 magnitude quake was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Cuba. Buildings as far away as far away as Ohio and Alabama were damaged. But, it was Charleston, South Carolina, that took the biggest hit from the quake. Almost all of the buildings in town were seriously damaged. About 14,000 chimneys fell from the earthquake’s shaking. It caused multiple fires, and water lines and wells were ruptured. The total damage was in excess of $5.5 million, which would be about $112 million today.
While that was a disaster in itself, it was the loss of life that was felt the worst. More that 100 people lost their lives that fateful day, and countless others were injured, in what is still the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States. The quake damaged as many as 2,000 buildings, including buildings as far away as central Alabama, central Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southern Virginia and western West Virginia. The strange part about this quake is the fact that there were no apparent surface cracks as a result of this tremor, railroad tracks were bent in all directions in some locations. Acres of land were liquefied. This quake remained a mystery for many years since there were no known underground faults for 60 miles in any direction. Then, as science and detection methods got better, scientists have recently uncovered a concealed fault along the coastal plains of Virginia and the Carolinas. While this fault is now known, scientists think that another quake of this magnitude remains highly unlikely, though not impossible, in this location.
I guess I don’t quite understand that concept, except to say that if it is the only fault and has nothing to connect to, maybe there is less chance of a small tremor turning into a big quake, and maybe that is why they don’t expect another quake of that magnitude. Still, it is always good advise to realize that no place is immune to earthquakes. Oklahoma has found that out in recent years, as underground mining work has created quake situations that weren’t there before. It is still my hope that the Charleston area never has another quake like the one they had in 1886.
Whether you have called 911 or not, everyone knows what 911 is, and that calling that number will bring immediate help. If you have ever had to use the service, you know how vital it is, but did you know how it got started? Prior to 1968, there was no 911 system in the United States, or really anything like it. If people had an emergency, they dialed “0” for the operator. Of course, the operator was dialed for many other things too, so it was not always the fastest way to get help in an emergency. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) knew that things had to change.
They wanted a number that would be easy to remember, and one that had never been used before…like 411 for information. Choosing 911 as the universal emergency number was not an random selection, but it wasn’t a difficult one either. In 1967, the FCC met with AT&T to establish such an emergency number. They wanted a number that was short and easy to remember, but most importantly, they also needed it to be a unique number, and since 911 had never been designated for an office code, area code or service code, that was the number they chose. Still, the system did not start out at the national level.
On February 16, 1968, Alabama Senator Rankin Fite made the first 911 call in the United States in Haleyville, Alabama. The Alabama Telephone Company carried the call. A week later in Nome, Alaska, the 911 system was implemented there. In 1973, the White House’s Office of Telecommunication issued a national statement supporting the use of 911 and pushed for the establishment of a Federal Information Center to assist government agencies in implementing the system. Soon after, the United States Congress agreed to support 911 as the standard emergency number for the nation and passed legislation making 911 the exclusive number for any emergency calling service. A central office was set up by the Bell Telephone System to develop the infrastructure for the system.
After its initial acceptance in the late 1960s, 911 systems quickly spread across the country. By 1979, about 26% of the United States population had 911 service, and nine states had passed legislation for a statewide 911 system. During the latter part of the 1970s, 911 service grew at a rate of 70 new local systems per year, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). Approximately 50% of the United States population had 911 service by 1987. In 1999, about 93% of the nation’s population was covered by 911 service. The number “911” is now the universal emergency number for everyone in the United States. In 2000, approximately 150 million calls were made to 911, according to the NENA. If you were born in the 1960s or later, 911 was ingrained during childhood. For those born prior to 1968, the 911 system has also become second nature.
On a trip to Tennessee and the surrounding area in April of 2003, Bob and I had the opportunity to visit Lookout Mountain, which is located near Chattanooga, in southwestern Tennessee. The drive up was stunning, and everything we saw there from Ruby Falls, to the Incline Railway, and Rock City proved to hold amazing views as well. From the top of the mountain, you can see seven states…Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. The view across that area is spectacular. When we travel, we love to go sight seeing, so this area fit right into our idea of a great place to visit. looking back now, I’m sure that time constraints played a part in my missing out on some of the amazing historical value of the area I was visiting, and to me, that is really a shame, because so much took place there, and I didn’t even know it.
I suppose I should have known the history of the area, but apparently I wasn’t as up on my Civil War and Indian history as I am now. I really wish I had known or had at least taken more time reading the many signs in the area, because I could have figured out what a great area we were in. During the Nickajack Expedition which occurred in the 18th century, Lookout Mountain would become a last stand for the Chickamauga Cherokee, who were followers of Chief Dragging Canoe, who opposed the peace treaty between Native Americans and the American settlers. The peace treaty was signed in 1777. Most of the Chickamauga Cherokee agreed to the treaty, but a small band followed Chief Dragging Canoe, and they went to battle in the late summer through the fall of 1794. The final battle, and the point that Chief Dragging Canoe’s warriors would lose the fight took place on Lookout Mountain. The Indians were no match for the military might of the army, and after wounding only 3 of the militia, the villages of Nickajack Town and Running Water Town were destroyed, leaving seventy Cherokee dead.
The Civil War battle that made Lookout mountain famous took place on November 24, 1863 and was a part of the Chattanooga Campaign. Major General Joseph Hooker defeated the Confederate forces who were under the command of Major General Carter Stevenson. Lookout mountain has an excellent view of the Tennessee River, making it a perfect stronghold. It also held a perfect view of the Union supply lines, so if the Confederate army wanted to starve out the Union army, they needed Lookout Mountain, and if the Union army wanted to keep their supply lines clear, they needed Lookout Mountain. One of the hardest places to fight a battle is a mountain…at least for the side who is at the bottom of the mountain. They are far too visible to fight the battle easily. So, after calling for reinforcements, Major General Joseph Hooker went into battle. It was a must win situation. If they lost the Union soldiers would be starved into surrender.
Looking back now on our visit makes everything we saw seem much more interesting. In my memory files, I can pull out the different views of our visit to Lookout Mountain, and I can visualize the exact view the Confederate soldiers had, and knowing that there was virtually no place to hide, I can’t help but wonder how the Union soldiers managed to win that battle. I suppose that it was partly the numbers of soldiers, with the Union having more than 1,000 more, but more importantly, I think it was the fact that they surrounded the Confederate soldiers, leaving them with too many sides to cover. Our trip to Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls, and Rock City has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I wish I had known it then. I would have really enjoyed that stroll through history. The great thing is that my pictures, memories, and a little look at history can take me back to visit again.