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Today is July 21, 2019

Mississippi Seen

We just had an EARTHQUAKE!

By Walt Grayson

We just had an EARTHQUAKE!

Back when I snapped this photo of the crack in the east wall of Springfield Plantation it was a tour home. Since then Springfield has been purchased, restored and is a private residence today. But this crack in the east wall supposedly was caused by the 1811 New Madrid series of earthquakes. This is another of those stories I can keep telling because no one has proved it isn’t true. But I like the story. 

We’ve had another earthquake in the Delta. Something like a 4.0 on the Richter scale. That’s enough to feel unless you’re driving a tractor or riding in a car. The epicenter was near Hollandale, if I recall correctly.

We had one of those same type quakes back in 1967. That one had about the same intensity and was centered about the same place. I was working at WJPR radio in Greenville at the time. 

It was Sunday morning and the services from First Baptist Church of Leland were just wrapping up and I had started a record playing on the air when all of a sudden I heard a “wham” like a switch engine connecting boxcars. There was a pecan tree just outside the control room window, and I think I actually saw it jerk. The needle skipped across the record that I had just started.

Never having been in an earthquake I didn’t know if maybe a truck had rammed the side of the building or a plane had crashed nearby. But one of 
the bosses called all excited and told me, “We just had an EARTHQUAKE!” He sounded kind of proud of it. 

Mama and Daddy missed it. They were driving home from church at the time. Of all the days for the preacher to deliver a short sermon, otherwise they would have still been in their pew and would have felt the jolt.

Now, I did hear a story about one church that hadn’t let out yet when the quake hit. I never checked the validity of the story because if it isn’t true then I couldn’t tell it anymore, and I like the story. So if you know the real facts and it doesn’t line up with what I heard, please don’t tell me. 

But the way it goes is, at tiny Bogue Baptist Church near Leland the pastor had just wrapped up an impassioned sermon and had offered the invitation but no one made a public decision. Feeling that the congregation was somewhat indifferent to the call of the Holy Spirit, the pastor was closing with an emotional prayer of intercession for his flock, asking God to “shake this church!” And the quake hit right at that moment. 

The pastor was elated that God validated his prayer so quickly. Some in the congregation marveled that having an earthquake right then was a heck of a coincidence, but never applied it as a sign from the Lord to them personally. One old fellow who did see the light from the incident later thanked the pastor for not asking God to “set this church on fire.”

Actually, the only damage I could ever ascertain from that quake was the scratch the skipping needle put on the record I was playing on the air at the time. 

The Delta is at the tail end of the New Madrid Fault that runs through Arkansas into Missouri. Some of the strongest earthquakes in the nation happened in a series of events in 1811-1812 on that fault. Church bells rang as far away as St. Louis. Arthur LaSalle, the long-time caretaker of Springfield Plantation near Fayette, Miss., told me the crack in the east wall at the old home was caused by the 1811 quake.

Most notably, that series of quakes caused the Mississippi River to run backwards and created Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. With the population boom since then, a similar quake would be disastrous today.

But with this latest tremor, now that radio stations play music from computers, not even a record got scratched.

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at walt@waltgrayson.com.

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