Asheville Archives: Advertisements and theories about the 1916 earthquake

MIGHTY SHAKE: Local artist Terry Taylor created this whimsical collage to accompany this week’s story. On Feb. 21, 1916, dishes rattled in the homes of Asheville residents as the city experienced a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. The Vance Monument did not actually crumble during the event. Collage courtesy of Taylor

A 5.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the region on Aug. 9. Several media outlets reported it as the strongest in our area since 1916; however, a September 2014 report by Kenneth B. Taylor, state geologist of North Carolina, notes a 5.2 magnitude earthquake occurred in nearby Mitchell County in 1926. Nevertheless, in this week’s Asheville Archives we’re traveling back 104 years to the 5.5 magnitude earthquake, which featured two shocks, separated by 10 seconds.

According to the Feb. 22, 1916, edition of The Asheville Citizen, the tremors occurred the previous day, about 6:40 p.m. “While not severe, the shocks were strong enough to rattle the dishes in several portions of the city,” the paper reported.

In the same article, The Asheville Citizen claimed hundreds of residents called the paper “asking if an earthquake had really occurred.”

Meanwhile, similar calls came in from Tryon, Hendersonville and Saluda. “All reported practically the same experience,” the paper declared, “although the shock appears to have been a little more violent at Tryon than elsewhere, reports from that place stating that plaster was jarred from the walls of several houses by the shocks.”

Elsewhere in that day’s paper, businesses used the phenomenon to promote their services. “Feel the earthquake?” one began. “Lots of folks thought that it was a ton or two of M. & W. Coal going in the cellar. It’s heavy weight, full weight fuel.”

Another read: “Some earthquake Monday night! Shook up lots o’ folks and made ’em sit up and take notice. Nichols Way Laundry work always makes folks sit up and take notice because of its real perfection of finish.”

One additional story about the quake appeared in The Asheville Citizen‘s Feb. 23, 1916, edition. Though the paper does not label the article as satire — and perhaps it was not — there is a healthy amount of folklore and humor within the reporting.

The write-up features an interview with an unnamed elder, described as a “veracious Swannanoan.” According to this “old resident,” the two quakes came from a pair of competing peaks. “It was old Rumbling Bald, and the Smoky mountain up Beetree that made the earthquakes,” the man told the paper.

He continued:

“Lots of people don’t know that we have two corked-up volcanoes in this county, but the old folks all know about them. Old Rumbling Bald over Hickory Nut Gap way cuts loose and rumbles every few years when it gets the notion, and the mountain on Beetree smokes every once in a while.”

Later in the article, the loquacious local proclaimed: “On Monday evening both mountains cut loose. Old Rumbling gave a shake, and then Beetree followed — they must have got conflicting dates or else had a falling out.”

According to the article, another man who was listening in asked if the government should try and do something to prevent future disruptions. The “veracious Swannanoan” quickly dismissed the notion.

“What harm has these poor little earthquakes done you?” he reportedly asked the man, before concluding: “Why, they give us something to talk about until politics start up.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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