An earthquake tale from another time

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 26, 2011

By Garry N. Watkins
For the Salisbury Post
Before the excitement of the recent earthquake fades away, I want to share an earthquake story my maternal grandmother loved to tell us grandchildren.
On the night of Sept. 1, 1886, Grandma Elliotte (Emma Lee) was a 12-year-old at home with her mother and her sister, Jenny. Great Grandpa Hartman was spending the night over in Salisbury employed as a postal worker.
The Old Mocksville Road, a major unpaved road for travelers going northwest of Salisbury, ran right in front of their home at Ellis Cross Roads. Often travelers would stop by and request a room for the night. On that particular night a gentleman on horseback stopped just after dark, asked for a room, was given instructions about breakfast, and off to bed he went. Grandma Elliotte said none of them ever felt comfortable with a stranger in the house when her daddy wasn’t there.
After all the lamps had been darkened and Grandma Hartman, Jenny, and Emma Lee had settled down in bed, their beds began to shake, the floor groaned, and china rattled in the dining room cabinet with some of the dishes crashing to the floor. Terribly frightened, they all fled their beds, running for the front porch. The shaking continued.
Out came the overnight boarder just as frightened as they. But Grandma Hartman, with her German temperament, flew into a rage, directing her anger at the house guest. She was yelling, accusing the confused man of placing a hex on the house. Grandma Hartman then demanded that he leave immediately.
Regardless of his denials of any misdeeds, she wouldn’t listen but continued to villify him. So off into the darkness he rode, traveling alone up the Old Mocksville Road.
Not until the next day when Great Grandpa Hartman returned home from Salisbury did the truth reveal itself. He excitedly greeted the three of them, telling them of the eventful night over in town. Chimneys had fallen, storefront windows had broken, and store-front shingles had fallen from their secure positions. Also, he claimed that church bells rang during the violent shaking.
I don’t know if Grandma Hartman or the girls told him of their eventful night. And I don’t know what the overnight guest was wearing when he rode away on the night of the Great Charleston Earthquake.
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Garry Watkins lives in Salisbury.