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Title: Great Disasters and Horrors in the World's History
Author: Godbey, A. H.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Great Disasters and Horrors in the World's History" ***

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                            GREAT DISASTERS


                    HORRORS IN THE WORLD’S HISTORY.

                      WHICH HAVE BEFALLEN MANKIND




                        AND OF THE LAWS OF THE




                             TOGETHER WITH

                        NOBLE RESPONSES OF AID.

                           TO WHICH IS ADDED


                        By A. H. GODBEY, A.M.,

          Author of “Stanley in Africa,” “Light in Darkness,”
                “Missions and Missionary Heroes,” etc.


                             PUBLISHED BY
                         ROYAL PUBLISHING CO.,
                            ST. LOUIS, MO.




                            W. L. HOLLOWAY.



Whatever be the ideas of the public upon a glance at the title page of
this work, it is not intended to pander to the morbid desire for the
sensational or horrible, characteristic of weak minds. This volume is
not a literary morgue.

Mankind is constantly astonished by reports of mishaps and disasters of
manifold character, when there is seldom room for astonishment. A large
proportion of the calamities reported from day to day are directly due
to the haste, greed, and heedlessness of man himself, and need no

But there is a large class of disasters, due solely to meteorological or
geological conditions, which surpass all others in magnitude and
appalling destruction. In such cases men insist on prating about
“mysterious visitations,” as though these occurrences were subject to
the dominion of no law. To an examination of such is this book devoted.

When in school, the writer was often struck by the persistence with
which even the most diligent students would call upon the teachers of
physics and chemistry to suspend the recitation and devote the time to
illustrative experiments. Physical Geography was constantly pronounced
“very dry,” because of the scarcity of opportunities for illustration.

The writer has endeavored to present in a form acceptable to the popular
palate the general principles of the storm and earthquake so far as they
are understood: and numerous narratives of great disturbances have been
inserted that a clearer conception of the magnitude of these agencies
and their relative importance may be attained by the reader.

Much care has been spent in “steering between Scylla and Charybdis.”
While it has been designed to avoid merely scientific data, there has
been the equally delicate task of avoiding prolix narration and mere
sensational tales. It is hoped that the result will be useful and

If the book shall lead the reader to higher views of the reign of
inexorable law in nature, and to a profounder reverence for the Author
of Law and his works, the labor of its compilation will not have been
spent in vain.






 Old Greek fancies--Their modern traces--Man seeking
 mysteries--Personifications--The “air-mothers”                       17



 Comparative climate--Expansive force of heat--Illustrations--The
 trade-winds--Effect of the earth’s rotation--Return currents and
 calms                                                                26



 Modified trade winds--The monsoons--Local winds--Sea and land
 breezes--The simoom: its terrible effects--The khamsin, and similar
 winds--Moisture in the air: its effects--Rain and hail--Clouds: their
 varieties--Mountain winds                                            34



 Unheeded law--Peculiarities of storms--Cyclonic storms--Theoretical
 Illustrations--A “cyclone hot-bed"--Traveling of a cyclone--Its curves
 in accordance with law--Features of the cyclone’s path--Great cyclone
 of August, 1888--The planetary equinox theory--Objections to it--Safe
 predictions--Sun-spots--Mysterious providences                       48



 Perspective of news--Amusing conceits--Distress at the door--The
 tornado--Warning of the Signal Service--The storm strikes
 Louisville--Its course--Wreck of Falls City Hall--Rescuing the
 victims--Fire breaks out--Personal narratives--At the Union
 Depot                                                                65



 The poor to be remembered--Peddlers, publicans and sinners--The
 freaks of “Providence"--Deaths in the storm remarkably few--Wonderful
 escapes--Explosive effects of confined air--Strange pranks of
 the wind--The storm at Parkland--At Jeffersonville--The mammon
 worshiper--Generosity and independence                               87



 The tornado in East Kansas--In Southeast Missouri--Great damage in
 Illinois--Water-spout at Metropolis--Many distinct whirlwinds--Effect
 of forest and prairie fires--Tornado of Charleston, 1761--Tornadoes at
 Natchez, 1840 and 1842--The Marshfield storm, 1880--Remarkably small
 loss of life in tornadoes--Tornadoes in foreign lands               114



 Cyclones on our eastern borders--The Nova Scotia cyclone--St. Thomas
 cyclone and earthquake, 1837--Cyclone of 1867--Barbadoes storm,
 1831--Great storm of 1780--Terrible cyclones and storm waves of
 India--Typhoons in the China seas                                   141



 Songs of the sea--The ocean always admired--Its treasures and
 dangers--Man’s greed a source of disaster--Criminal disregard of
 life--Terrible fatalities in leaky ships--The Arctic seas--The ship
 _Rufus_                                                             159



 Great storm of 1703--Humaneness and inhumanity--Diabolical
 wreckers--Hovellers--Desperate struggles without a life-boat
 illustrated by Dickens--The life-boat invented--Its
 usefulness--Lighthouses and fog-bells                               179



 Germany and Samoa--Naboth’s vineyard--War breaks out--The
 assembled navy--Situation of the harbor--The hurricane--Fears
 of the natives--Vessels dragging anchors--Sudden wreck of the
 _Eber_--Magnanimous natives--The _Adler_ overturned--Struggle of
 the _Nipsic_--Fouled by the _Olga_, and run ashore--Crew rescued by
 the natives--The _Vandalia_ helpless--Bold feat of the _Calliope_
 cheered--_Vandalia_ stranded--Many Drowned--At the last gasp--The
 _Trenton_ drifts upon them--Defiance of the storm--The flag
 triumphant                                                          195



 Byron’s fire--Myths of the lightning--Causes of thunder
 storms--Strange freaks of the lightning--Numerous fatalities--Some
 curious cases--A lightning stroke a Divine favor--Thunder--Peculiar
 incidents--Lightning little to be feared--Foolish precautions--A
 “dysentery conductor” wanted--St. Elmo’s fire--Electric halos--Their
 part in history--The aurora--Popular myths--Aurora described        220



 Clouds and cloud shapes--The storm changes national destinies--Cloud
 halos--Specter of the Brocken--The “beautiful rain"--Amount
 of rainfall--Snow--Its ravages--Remarkable showers of
 hail--Prodigies                                                     246



 Rivers a universal problem--Character of the Mississippi--Failure of
 the levee system--The building of levees--Three great sections--Damage
 of overflows--Fighting for the levee--Storm on the river--Scene at a
 crevasse--The flood in the rural districts--In the city--Closing a
 crevasse--Refugees on the levee--Crooked streams                    261



 Floods of other years--Warning of the Signal Service--The
 water rising--At Greenville, Mississippi--The fight for the
 Morganza line--The waters win--Other crevasses--Extent of the
 damage--Objections to levees--Levees versus outlets--Terrible floods
 in China--A proposed outlet--Reflection on present policy           296



 The dam system of India--American “cheap goods and haste"--The Little
 Conemaugh Valley--Heavy rains--Johnstown flooded--The artificial
 lake--A poor dam--No uneasiness--How the water would move--The dam
 breaks--Terrible rush of the flood--An engine chased--A warning
 whistle--Locomotives hurled about like toys--Flying for life--Escapes
 and losses                                                          324



 Suddenness of the flood--It divides--A chaotic scene--Fire breaks
 out--Faith of the perishing--Narratives: the Hulbert House; Rev. D. M.
 Miller’s story; Mr. Calliver’s escape; Dr. Beale and family--Morning:
 the stricken multitude; Mr. Rose’s narrative; Talmage’s letter; the
 grief of the survivors                                              343



 The people in want--Johnstown after the flood--Human ghouls--Relic
 hunters--Temporary government--A dictatorship--Hospitals and
 morgues--Prompt response of the public--Aid from various
 cities--Losses by the flood                                         367



 Signs and omens--Natural causes--Bengal famine of 1866--Relief
 Measures--Results--Pestilence and contagion--Black death--Its frequent
 ravages--Fright--A romance of Florence                              384



 Erroneous views--Myths--Active principle in volcanoes--Atmospheric
 pressure--Rain at eruptions--Lava, pumice, ashes and tufa--Different
 phases of action--Stromboli, the “lighthouse"--Lava bubbles--Thrilling
 adventure--Lost!--Theory of a molten earth--Objections to it--The
 earth cools slowly--Subsidence and chemical action--Distribution of
 volcanoes--Their work and forms                                     394



 Pompeii long buried--Excavations begun--A hermetically sealed
 city--Scenes in the town--Pliny’s story--Hundreds stifled--Finding the
 bodies--Subsequent eruptions--Notable convulsion of 1538--The eruption
 of 1531, 1737 and 1793--Recent observations                         421



 Destruction of Sodom--Arguments--The pitch lake of Trinidad--Ætna:
 eruption of 1669--Thousands perish--Catania destroyed--Other
 outbreaks--Iceland: Mt. Hecla--Tremendous eruption of Skaptar
 Jokul--One-fifth of the people perish--Millions of cubic yards
 of lava--Disturbances in the sea--Jorullo: a mountain made in a
 night--Fearful outburst of Sumbawa--Twenty-six people out of twelve
 thousand escape--Explosions heard nine hundred miles--Other Malaysian
 volcanoes--Geysers--Terrible eruption of Cosequina--Heard one
 thousand miles--Eruptions in South America--Force required to send
 out lava--In the Sandwich Islands--Krakatoa: the greatest eruption in
 history--A chorus of volcanoes--Awful destruction--Perceived around
 the world--Unparalleled sea wave                                    440



 Myths of the earthquake--Ancient theories--Modern
 research--Earthquakes and volcanic agency--Speed of a shock--The
 atmospheric theory--Earthquakes at particular seasons--The “planetary
 influence” theory--Character of motions                             481



 Legends of the flood--Sparta Destroyed--Bura and Helice
 engulfed--Numerous convulsions in Asia Minor--Antioch repeatedly
 destroyed--North Africa suffers--Calabrian earthquake of 1693--A
 tremendous convulsion in 1783--Immense chasms--People swallowed
 up--Great landslides--Terrible catastrophe at Scylla--Ruffians
 amid the wreck--The great Lisbon earthquake--Its vast
 extent--Awful destruction--Earthquake at Chio--In Switzerland--In
 Ischia--Distressing scenes in the ruins--Disastrous shocks in
 Spain                                                               496



 All nature uneasy--The terrifying character of an earthquake--Signs
 and wonders--“El Gran Ruido,” of Guanajuato--Frequency of
 earthquakes--Earthquake in New England, 1638--A second in 1663--Shock
 of 1727--Great convulsions of 1755--Damage and great alarm at
 Boston--“The end of the world!"--Great disturbance in the Mississippi
 Valley, 1811--Strange feats--The Charleston earthquake--Numerous
 English earthquakes--Comparatively small loss of life               535



 Shocks in Asia: lack of reliable information--The Andes region--Great
 earthquake of Riobamba--Humboldt’s description--Numerous shocks in
 Venezuela--Catastrophe of Caracas--Effect on the survivors--Frequent
 convulsions at San Salvador--Total destruction in 1854--Ruffians on
 the scene--Sudden disaster of Mendoza--Touching incidents--Faithful
 dogs--Shocks in Peru and gigantic sea wave--Numerous great shocks--The
 end of all things--The last man                                     563



 Futile efforts to control the future--Law neglected for
 superstition--Pretentious prophets--Humbugs--Laws of
 weather changes--Actions of animals--Methods for producing
 rain suggested--Earthquake indicators--A force beyond
 control--Possibilities                                              589



 Knowledge only from experience--Partial mastery by faith--Natural
 law the ruling force--Good and bad results of faith in the
 Supernatural--Sin punished--Ignorance punished--Examples--Man slow
 to learn--Eternal wisdom and goodness--Progress, past, present and
 future                                                              600



  Cave of the Winds                                                   18
  The Simoom                                                          40
  Forms of Clouds                                                     45
  Path of Cyclones                                                    54
  Rotation of Storms                                                  56
  Water-spouts at Sea                                                 60
  Where the Storm entered Louisville                                  68
  Baxter Park, Louisville                                             71
  Falls City Hall                                                     75
  At Work in the Wreck                                                78
  Main Street, between Eleventh and Twelfth, Louisville               82
  Union Depot, Louisville                                             85
  Eighth and Main, Louisville                                         90
  Corner Main and Clinton, Louisville                                 94
  Looking East from Tenth and Main, Louisville                        96
  Corner Jefferson and Twelfth, Louisville                            99
  On Ninth Street, Louisville                                        102
  Ruined Tobacco Warehouses                                          104
  View of Jeffersonville                                             108
  Wall and Front Streets, Jeffersonville                             109
  Wreck at Jeffersonville                                            110
  Tenth and Main, Louisville                                         112
  Looking West from Tenth and Main, Louisville                       115
  View of the Residence District, Louisville                         118
  Ruined Dwellings                                                   121
  Path of Tornado, Olney, Ill.                                       124
  Scene at Olney, Ill.                                               126
  Whirlwind from Burnt Prairie                                       127
  Tornado followed by Rain Storm                                     129
  Instantaneous View of Tornado                                      130
  Tornado at Monville                                                132
  Water-spout at Sea                                                 135
  Minnesota Tornado                                                  137
  Sand-spouts in the Desert                                          139
  Cyclone, Fire and Earthquake, St. Thomas                           145
  “Drowning with its Terrible Roar”                                  147
  Hurricane in the Tropics                                           151
  Coast of India Submerged by a Storm                                156
  “He Sinks into Thy Depths”                                         160
  Cast Ashore                                                        163
  Wreck of the _Minotaur_                                            167
  Wrecked on a Rock                                                  171
  Castaways on a Raft                                                173
  Sinking of the _London_                                            177
  Storm on the Shoals, 1703                                          180
  On a Lee Shore                                                     184
  Hovellers Relieving a Vessel                                       187
  The Life-boat                                                      190
  The Life-boat at Work                                              193
  Bow of the _Eber_ Cast Ashore                                      201
  The _Adler_ on the Reef                                            204
  Samoans Rescuing American Sailors                                  207
  The _Calliope_ Putting to Sea                                      210
  Bow of the Sunken _Vandalia_                                       214
  After the Storm                                                    218
  The Lyse Fiord                                                     221
  Ideal Subterranean Storm                                           225
  Harvesters Killed by Lightning                                     232
  Land of the Aurora                                                 243
  Field of Waterloo                                                  249
  Specter of the Brocken                                             252
  Tropical Flood                                                     264
  Making Mats for Levee Fronts                                       266
  Struggle to Hold the Levee                                         269
  A Mountain Torrent                                                 271
  “No Time for Prayin’!”                                             273
  Funeral During the Flood                                           275
  Breaking of the Levee                                              277
  Surprised by the Water                                             279
  Not so Romantic as it Looks                                        282
  Telegraphing Under Difficulties                                    285
  Rescuing People                                                    288
  Camps on the Levee                                                 290
  Waiting for a Steamer                                              292
  The Search Light                                                   293
  Scene at High Water                                                297
  Negroes Moving Out                                                 301
  Stock Raft                                                         303
  Picking Up Refugees                                                306
  Deserted Farmhouse                                                 308
  Flood in China                                                     312
  Dykes of Holland                                                   316
  Relief of Leyden                                                   318
  Breaking of the Dykes, Holland                                     322
  Map of Conemaugh Valley                                            325
  The Broken Dam                                                     334
  Fleeing Engine                                                     337
  Wreck of the Trains                                                340
  Mill Creek                                                         345
  At the Stone Bridge                                                349
  Desperate Struggle                                                 354
  The Gorge at the Bridge                                            358
  Battle with the Waters                                             362
  Johnstown After the Flood                                          371
  At the Morgue                                                      376
  Conemaugh Viaduct                                                  381
  At the Summit of Popocatepetl                                      397
  View in Active Crater                                              401
  Crater of Orizaba                                                  405
  Eruption of Vesuvius                                               411
  Coral Reefs                                                        418
  Destruction of Pompeii                                             424
  Vesuvius in 1737                                                   435
  Destruction of Sodom                                               441
  Destruction of Catania                                             446
  Mt. Hecla                                                          450
  Jorullo                                                            455
  Geyser                                                             457
  The Yellowstone Park                                               462
  Cattle in Volcanic Mud                                             473
  Convulsion on the Coast of Sumatra                                 478
  Effect of Earthquake on Masonry                                    484
  The Deluge                                                         497
  Ruined Roman Colonnade                                             500
  Antioch                                                            502
  Massive Architecture Wrecked, Asia Minor                           504
  Ruins Near Cairo                                                   506
  Ruins Near Nineveh                                                 507
  Remains of Ancient Hebrew Masonry                                  509
  Great Earthquake in Calabria                                       511
  Destruction of Messina                                             513
  Disaster of Scylla                                                 515
  Lisbon                                                             517
  Earthquake at Lisbon                                               520
  Ruined Cathedral                                                   522
  Scene at Chio                                                      524
  Panic at Casamicciola                                              529
  Earthquake in Andalusia                                            532
  Wreck of the Charleston Earthquake                                 538
  Houses Thrown into Ravine                                          542
  Wreck on King Street, Charleston                                   544
  Scene at Charleston                                                548
  Old State House, Charleston                                        551
  Charleston                                                         554
  Wreck of Factory                                                   557
  Ruined Dwelling                                                    560
  Earthquake in China                                                564
  After the Shock                                                    568
  Scene at Caracas                                                   571
  Ruins of San Salvador                                              573
  Fright at San Salvador                                             575
  Shock at Lake in Honduras                                          577
  Wreck at Mendoza                                                   579
  Great Sea Wave                                                     583
  Earthquake in Spain                                                586






    “Gray in his mossy cave Æolus stood
     Gazing in reverie at the distant sails,
     That skimmed the surface of the glassy deep,
     Unvexed by blasts of Eurus’ boisterous whims.
     The restless winds in leash about their lord
     Full often murmuring, plucked his floating robe,
     Or stirred his tangled tresses with their breath,
     Impatient at the lack of wilder liberty.”

So sang the bard of the fabled cave of the winds. Thus the old Romans
and Greeks have taught us to think and to speak of the spirits of the
air. Thus the very name of “spirit” was originally identical with
“breath” or “wind.” Those poetic old Hellenes! They contrived to find
something delightfully human in all the phenomena of nature. The woods
were peopled with fauns and dryads. Around the bend of yonder rushy
stream, a wary woodsman found a bathing nymph. Beyond that rock Actæon
saw the chaste Diana sporting in the crystal pool. Here is the spot
where baffled Phœbus found his Daphne changed into a laurel tree.

See you those stately poplars by the side of Italy’s stream? There
Phaëthon’s mourning sisters changed their fleshly robes for those green
spires. From their waving boughs the cry of the kingfisher Alcyone
reminds us that

[Illustration: CAVE OF THE WINDS.]

halcyon days may yet be in store for the most unfortunate. The response
hurled back from yonder cliff warns us to drop a tear for the poor nymph
Echo, whose unrequited love caused her to pine away till only a voice
was left. To this day she answers every call, hoping to yet meet her
love. That flaunting yellow flower is sprung from that very Narcissus
who was so handsome he fell in love with himself. Ten thousand egotistic
beauties of later days have not met so happy a fate.

Hark! was that the sea-shell of Triton? Neptune approaches with his
Naiad train. You may see the plunge of his dolphin steeds. And see! what
vision of incomparable loveliness is that? It is Aphrodite, goddess of
love--sprung from the foam of the sea--as fragile as the fleecy mass
from whence she came; as inconstant as the tossing wave on which she
dances. How can love be otherwise, since she is its queen? In the sky
above you see the beautiful Andromeda with the radiant Perseus. There
Hercules yet wields his club and wears his lion-skin. And there--

It is vanished. The disenchantment is complete. Modern civilization has
replaced the nymph with the peasant, and the faun with the brigand. The
pipe of Pan is forever silent. Marsyas is revenged, for Apollo is no
more. Jupiter dethroned Saturn; Jupiter has long since been dethroned.
Where are the hands that penned those beauteous fancies; the bards that
sung the deeds of the gods? Dust and ashes these two thousand years.

Their works live after them. Passing centuries have not improved upon
their lovely phantasies: it may be because they could not. Rome has
named the months of our year: Norway has aided to name the days of our
week. Easter preserves the name of Œstara, Teuton goddess of
springtime, of new life, new light. So the names of the winds remain.
Auster, the south wind, has his memorial in Australia. Zephyr, the
gentle west wind, is still a theme for poet’s song. Rude Boreas,
“blustering railer,” will always find a home in the north. Civilization
has not driven him from his domain. Æolus, the master spirit, most
powerful because most delicate and beautiful, still stirs our wind-harps
with his breath. The spirits of the air are as boisterous and untamed as
in the days of Æneas.

And what figures would appeal more strongly to the imagination than
these simple personifications? How can too great importance be attached
to the part the winds perform in the economy of nature? Without them the
land would become a Sahara; the seas would be covered with a London fog.
In the rustle of the breeze, as well as in the roar of hurricane, there
is purpose and energy. The hand that guides one, controls the other. “He
holdeth the wind in his fists.”

In every age man’s imagination has been strongly influenced by the
mysterious or unknown. There is little play for poetic sentiment in the
cold practicality of science. That which is clearly comprehended, loses
half its charm. The botanist carefully plucks to pieces a flower; it is
analyzed, and all its mechanism understood--but it is no longer a
flower. The alchemist has produced the wonderful science of chemistry;
but the philosopher’s stone and the secret of producing gold are forever
numbered among the shadowy myths of the past. The explorer has roamed in
countless climes amid a myriad perils: a thousand treasures has he given
to the world: but his El Dorado and the Fountain of Perpetual Youth have
become as a dream in the night. And thus for aye will phantoms vanish as
we grasp. Truth bears a magic wand at whose touch the unreal dies as a
snowflake in a flame. All time has borne its legends of the risen
departed, whose spirits roam the earth by night; but we have not proved
that the dead have done in six thousand years so much evil as the living
in a single day.

So one by one our cherished fables disappear. The steam-engine seems a
thing of life; but we do not find a hidden geni therein. Electricity,
one of the youngest of man’s practical discoveries, has become the most
easily controlled. The bolts of Jove are the prisoners of man. The river
is harnessed to the mill and factory. But the winds roam as free as in
the day of creation “when the morning stars sang together, and all the
sons of God shouted for joy.” Of all the forces of nature the wind and
sea are least beneath control of man. The command “Subdue and have
dominion” has not yet been fully obeyed.

Small wonder, then, that a glamour of mysticism remains about the storm
and its birth. Man finds himself in the presence of a power beyond his
comprehension. Of the various elements of nature, the wind, the sea and
the storm are more than ever the realm of fancy and awe. One often
wonders at many other ancient myths; but there seems nothing surprising
in the Grecian fancy that the winds were the spirit slaves of Æolus; or
in the Arabian thought, that storms were but the battles of wonderful
genii, whose weapons were fire, water, and their own powerful breath. In
the crash of the thunder the Arab heard their terrible strokes. The
Northman beheld giants, contending now with each other, now with the
giants of frost or of fire; now resting a moment in their cavern
home--now chasing the clouds like frightened sheep from their realm of
Mistheim. Some day all these powers would be arrayed in battle with the
gods themselves, and Ragnarok, or universal chaos would follow. God
made man in his own image; man has ever since endeavored to make all
things in his own. So have the winds become personified in every age and

Charles Kingsley has given us a beautiful picture of the “air mothers,”
and the part they play in the realm of nature. Compare the ancient with
the modern. We now know the laws and the work of the winds; but we have
not found a better manner of picturing them. They are still the
beautiful spirits of the air; the Peris of the upper deep, thoughtless
in life, weeping repentant tears in the hour of their death.

“Who are these who follow us softly over the moor in the autumn evening?
Their wings brush and rustle in the fir boughs, and they whisper before
and behind us, as if they called gently to each other, like birds
flocking homeward to their nests.

“The woodpecker on the pine stems knows them, and laughs aloud for joy
as they pass. The rooks above the pasture know them, and wheel around
and tumble in their play.

“The brown leaves on the oak-tree know them, and flutter faintly, and
beckon as they pass. In the chattering of the dry leaves there is a
meaning, and a cry of weary things longing for rest.

“‘Take us home, take us home, you soft air-mothers, now our fathers, the
sunbeams, are grown dull. Our green summer beauty is all draggled, and
our faces are grown wan and thin; and the buds, the ungrateful children
whom we nourished, thrust us off from our seats. Waft us down, you soft
air-mothers, upon your wings, to the quiet earth, that we may go to our
home, as all things go, and become air and sunlight once again!’

“The bold young fir seeds know them, and rattle impatiently in their
cones. ‘Blow more strongly, blow more fiercely, slow air-mothers, and
shake us from our prisons of dead wood, that we may fly and spur away
northeastward, each on his horny wing. We will dive like arrows through
the heather, and drive our sharp beaks into the soil, and rise again, as
green trees, toward the sunlight, and spread out lusty boughs.’

“They never think, bold fools, of what is coming to bring them low in
the midst of their pride--of the reckless axe which will fell them, and
saws which will shape them into logs, and the trains which will roar and
rattle over them as they lie buried in the gravel of the way, till they
are ground and rattled into powder, and dug up and flung upon the fire,
that they too may return home, like all things, and become air and
sunlight once again.

“The air-mothers hear their prayers, and do their bidding: but faintly,
for they themselves are tired and sad, and their garments rent and worn.
Ah! how different were those soft air-mothers, when, invisible to mortal
eyes, they started on their long sky journey, five thousand miles across
the sea.

“Out of the blazing caldron which lies between the two New Worlds, they
leaped up, when the great sun called them, in whirls and spouts of clear
hot steam, and rushed to the northward, while the whirling earthball
whirled them east.

“So northeastward they rushed aloft, across the gay West Indian Isles,
having below the glitter of the flying-fish, and the sidelong eyes of
cruel sharks: above the canefields and the plantain gardens, and the
cocoanut groves which fringe the shores: above the rocks which throbbed
with earthquakes, and the peaks of old volcanoes, cinder-strewn: while
far beneath, the ghosts of their dead sisters hurried homeward on the
northeast breeze.

“Wild deeds they did, as they rushed onward, and struggled and fought
among themselves, up and down, and round and backward in the fury of
their blind hot youth. They tired themselves by struggling with each
other, and by tearing the heavy water into waves; and their wings grew
clogged with sea-spray, and soaked more and more with steam.

“At last, the sea grew cold beneath them, and their clear steam sank to
mist; and they saw themselves and each other wrapped in dull, rain-laden
clouds. Then they drew their white cloud garments around them, and
veiled themselves for very shame: and they said, ‘We have been wild and
wayward: and alas, our pure youth is gone. But we will do one good deed,
yet, before we die, and so we shall not have lived in vain. We will
glide onward to the land and weep there, and refresh all things with
warm, soft rain, and make the grass grow, and the buds burst; we will
quench the thirst of man and beast, and wash the soiled world clean.’

“So they are wandering past us, the air-mothers, to weep the leaves into
their graves: to weep the seeds into their seed-beds, and to weep the
soil into the plains: to get the rich earth ready for the winter, and
then creep northward and die there. But will they live again, those
chilled air-mothers? Yes; they must live again. For all things move
forever: and not even ghosts can rest.

“The corpses of their sisters piling on them from above, press them
onward, press them southward toward the sun once more, across the floes,
and round the icebergs--weeping tears of snow and sleet--while men hate
their wild, harsh voices, and shrink before their bitter breath. They
know not that the cold bleak snow-storms, as they hurtle from the black
northeast, bear back the ghosts of the soft air-mothers, as penitents,
to their father, the great sun.

“But as they fly southward warm life thrills them, and they drop their
loads of sleet and snow, and meet their young live sisters from the
south, and greet them with flash and thunderpeal. Men call them the
southwest wind, those air-mothers: and their ghosts, the northeast
trade; and value them, and rightly; because they bear the traders out
and back across the sea.”

So they live, and so they die, those beautiful air-mothers--for life is
evermore fed by death. And in their wayward course they bring the early
and the latter rain: that so long as time shall be, seed-time and
harvest and summer and winter shall not fail. And men love them, and
welcome each in their turn, whether laden with the pure white snow, or
the cooling moisture of the distant sea; for man is a fickle creature,
and remains constant to none. In summer he sings of the Arctic winds;
and in winter, he longs for the breath of the south; for like the
air-mothers, his course is ever onward, seeking that which he has not.
Yet, sometimes in his discontent, he would curse the soft air-mothers:
but without them he could not live. But the bard knows them all, and
will sing of their deeds till the sun waxes cold with the weight of



    “Up from the sea I sprang, O voyager,
     Ere Aphrodite rose from out its foam.
     I am a banned, unresting wanderer,
     Doomed o’er the surface of the deep to roam.
     Without being aged, o’erwhelmed with days,
     The end of being is my only dream.
     I trod the earth ere man’s ephemeral race,
     And onward flee long as yon sun shall beam,
                 Ever, forever,
                 Here, and wherever,
     Turneth the earth, must I course forever!”

The phenomena of climate and seasons are too familiar to need especial
comment or description. They are dependent, in the first place, upon the
annual journey of the earth about the sun, the inclination of the
earth’s axis to its orbit, and the distance of any particular region in
question, from the equator.

But the changes thus constantly made are greatly modified by other
factors. Chief among these agencies are the form and extent of the
continents, their position relative to each other and the water areas,
and the currents of the air and sea.

Men usually identify climate with atmospheric conditions. A warm
atmosphere is for them the whole of a warm climate: it is really but one
of its factors, at most: it is often to be considered as a result,
rather than a cause. On lofty plateaus, or in mountainous regions, the
heat is not oppressive, even in the tropics; but here the moderate
temperature is due to the elevation. France is as far north as
Labrador; but there is no similarity whatever in climatic conditions, as
there should be, were climate dependent only on the heating of the local
atmosphere by the rays of the sun. Who would think of instituting a
comparison of sunny Rome or Madrid with the city of New York? Yet the
three are nearly on the same parallel: Rome furthest north. So there is
little resemblance between the warmth of sunny Florida and the scorching
heat of the Sahara: or between the climates in those portions of our own
Pacific and Atlantic coasts that lie between the same parallels. So we
find that though there is a general relation between the climate of a
region and its distance from the equator, there are many other
conditions to be considered. First, let us note atmospheric currents and

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and no man knoweth whence it cometh,
or whither it goeth.”

“The world do move.” The illustration so full of meaning two thousand
years since has lost much of its force. The truth of yesterday is the
error of to-day. The fact of to-day may be the phantasy of to-morrow. So
it has come to pass that in our day the origin and laws of air currents
are believed to be as well understood as those of any other forces in
nature. Yet scientific theorists are, after all, divided on not a few

Two general classes of winds are recognized: the constant, and variable.
Constant winds are those that blow all the year in the same direction.
The beautiful concept of Kingsley, in the preceding chapter, contains
the leading points of our knowledge concerning them.

All the various phenomena of air currents are dependent upon one
unchanging law: that gaseous bodies--and all but two others--always
greatly expand under the influence of heat. There are two noted partial
exceptions: one of these prevents our globe from becoming a complete
iceberg, and is as important as the law itself. Iron expands, till its
melting point; but in its liquid state it occupies less space than when
solid. Water contracts under the influence of cold, until the
temperature of 39° is reached; after that it expands: and when frozen
occupies about one-eighth more space than before. This wise provision of
the Creator is second to none in importance, as regards its influence
upon the climate of the earth at large. Had it been otherwise--did ice
sink instead of float, our rivers and seas would in time become solid
masses of ice; for water is so poor a conductor of heat, that its
under-currents warm very slowly. Any one who plunges into a lake in
mid-summer may often find the water warm at the surface, and of almost
icy coldness a short distance beneath. The great Polar current comes
down from Baffin’s Bay, and off the coast of Newfoundland it plunges
beneath the warm, lighter current of the Gulf Stream; but it is not
warmed by it. Registering thermometers detect its icy coldness almost
unchanged in the realms of the tropics, far beneath the surface.

Note some simple illustrations of the expansive force of freezing water.
Every housewife knows that a bottle left full of water will burst when
the water freezes. The same power is shown in the gradual disintegration
of rocks by alternate freezing and thawing. Water freezing in the
crevices bursts off small particles, or even large fragments; so that
rocks long exposed to the weather, crumble more or less. Every one is
familiar with the appearance presented by steep clay-banks, in late
winter and early spring, of ragged masses and fragments ready to fall at
any time. Still another instance of this destructive power is shown in
the killing of vegetation by freezing. Plants are built of myriads of
tiny cells. The moisture within freezes and bursts the cell-walls,
destroying the plant life. Certain plants have cells more elastic than
others, which in consequence are not destroyed by freezing. But as an
expanded cell does not readily shrink to its former size, subsequent
freezings, when the cell contains more water than before, may finally
destroy it. So wheat is “winter-killed,” by too frequent freezing. So
globes of steel may be burst by this force.

To show the poor qualities of water as a conductor of heat, take a long
glass tube and fill with water. Then put a piece of ice in one end. The
water at the other end may now be brought to the boiling point by means
of the flame of a lamp, ere the ice at the other end is melted.

Every one is familiar with the fact that heated air rises; but not all
inquire why it does so. Take a foot-ball or bladder and partially
inflate it; then hold it near a hot fire, and it may be swollen almost
to bursting. Now, there is no more air in it than before; and if it be
laid in a cold place, it will shrink to its first inflation. This shows
how great is the expansive power of heat on the atmosphere. The same
weight occupying a much larger bulk, we perceive that heated air is much
lighter, and must rise. This, then, is the cause of what are known as
constant winds.

As the earth revolves on its axis, the air is unequally heated, that
nearest the equator becoming the warmest, in consequence of its
receiving the most direct rays. Here, then, the air rises most rapidly;
while the cooler air to the north or south must flow southward or
northward to fill the vacuum. Now, the earth turning on its axis from
west to east, whirls the northward and southward currents to the
westward, so that they appear to blow from the northeast and southeast.
The result of this loss of direction is gradual; so that when first
perceptible, they are almost from a due northerly or southerly
direction. As they near the equator, they are more rapid, and turn more
decidedly to the west, never becoming violent, however; rarely exceeding
fifteen to eighteen miles per hour.

It would appear that at the point where these meet each other, or come
in contact with the ascending warm current, there must be a region of
calms or light, variable winds, and occasional tempests. Such, in fact,
is the case. This belt is from two hundred and eighty to four hundred
miles in width, and lies along the thermal equator, or line of greatest
average heat. This is not the same at the earth’s equator, properly so
called; for, as the land has greater capacity for absorbing and
retaining heat than the sea, and as most of the land lies in the
northern hemisphere, it is evident the highest mean temperature must be
north of the equator. So this belt of calms must lie in the same region;
and, in fact, in the Atlantic ocean it lies between 3 and 9° north
latitude, and in the Pacific, between 4 and 8°. As the sun travels
northward during the first half of the year, this region of calms shifts
slightly, also, so as to always nearly coincide with belt of the
greatest mean heat.

At first sight, it appears curious that the motion of the earth should
deflect these winds to the west. It would appear that the earth,
atmosphere and all, must revolve as a unit about its axis; else, if the
atmosphere lose time, its speed to the westward should be constantly
accelerated, and long ago should have reached a velocity that would
shake the mountains themselves; while, in fact, there is no variation

It should be remembered that at the equator the earth is about
twenty-four thousand miles in circumference; and as one complete
revolution is made every twenty-four hours, a point on the equator is
carried eastward at the rate of one thousand miles an hour. But if a
circle be drawn around the earth parallel to the equator, at some
distance from it, it is at once seen that any object in this circle,
having a shorter distance to traverse, is carried eastward at a slower
rate; so that a point only a few yards from either pole must necessarily
advance but a few feet per hour. So then, a body of air moving from
either pole toward the equator, must needs advance very slowly if the
friction of the upper reverse currents and of the surface of the globe
are to have opportunity to overcome its relative inertia and give it the
same velocity as that of any point over which it may pass.

Now, in the case of these constant winds, the inertia is very nearly
overcome, as they start from a circle in which the velocity to the
eastward is about 750 miles per hour. If the inertia were fully
overcome, there would be no perceptible wind; as the velocity is
actually but fifteen to eighteen miles per hour, it appears that the
friction encountered actually destroys from thirteen-fourteenths to
fifteen-sixteenths of the inertia. Hence, we find these constant air
currents toward the west are, in reality, the result of the earth
carrying any object on its surface a little more rapidly than the
atmosphere moves; so that these winds are precisely the same in
principle as the well-known fact that when you run rapidly in still air
(so-called), it seems that the wind is blowing directly in your face.

In like manner, it appears that a wind from west to east is merely an
air-current moving a little more rapidly than the earth revolves at that
point. The relative difference between the velocity of air-currents must
vary greatly; for a violent easterly or westerly wind very near the
poles may equal or even exceed the speed of the rotation of that point;
while the most violent tropical storms average between one-twentieth and
one-eighth of the local rotation. The latter is not often exceeded. But
whatever the relation of the respective velocities, it is clear that the
velocity of the wind in general must depend largely on the amount of air
abnormally heated, and upon the rapidity with which it is heated. So men
have come to recognize that a period of unusually oppressive heat
forebodes a storm of some sort. But few regard the unusual warmth as a
reason of the storm. They are linked, in the popular mind, as antecedent
and consequent, rather than as cause and effect.

These constant winds near the equator have been named trade-winds,
because of their importance to commerce. Unknown before the first voyage
of Columbus, they filled the minds of his crew with fear that they could
never return home, if the wind blew always in one direction. The same
gentle wind bore Magellan in his voyage around the world, and caused him
to give the name of “Pacific,” or “peaceful,” to the great ocean on our
west; and the same steady breezes made the fortune of many a noble
galleon in the days when Peru was an Ophir, Mexico an El Dorado, and the
Philippine Isles a Tarshish where they took shipping for the distant
land of gold.

Owing to the fact that the continents intercept the regular trades by
reason of their elevation and irregular conformation, and also because
of their much greater specific heat, whereby they set in motion many
other local currents, the trades are found to begin only a considerable
distance to the west of the continents. Yet the influence of the trades
is sufficient to make easterly winds the prevailing ones on the great
inland plains: as in the Sahara, Arabia, Southern Siberia, and portions
of North and South America.

It is clear that other nearly constant currents must exist to supply the
vacuum that would be otherwise caused by the trades. These are found to
the south and north of the trade belts, and, as might be expected, blow
nearly in the opposite direction, being descending currents; while the
trades, as before stated, are ascending. The column of hot air from the
equator starts toward the poles above the trades, while a polar current
sets in toward the equator; but as the amount of air displaced at the
equator is by far the greatest, much of it can, of course, never reach
the poles. On meeting the polar current, the two partially mingle and
descend, forming what is called the return trade. This blows, most of
the year, to the southeast, the equatorial current prevailing and coming
from a region whose easterly rotation is more rapid. At certain seasons
of the year, however, the polar current prevails to some extent, though
not sufficiently to overcome the eastward trend; so the wind in this
belt blows alternately to the southeast and the northeast.

Between the region of trades and alternating winds is a belt, on either
side of the equator, of calms and variable winds, which shift northward
or southward, parallel to the belt of calms between the trades. These
two zones, however, are much less clearly defined than the great central
one, and are not liable to such extraordinary disturbances.

Such is the great constant wind, with its dependents. So long as the sun
has warmed the earth, it has hurried on its course, subject to unceasing
law, and destined to cease only when the heavens and the earth shall
pass away, and chaos or annihilation shall end the things that be. A
Wandering Jew of the atmosphere, it flies ever onward, bearing the
merchant to his port, and the rain-cloud to the land; ever and anon
desolating the isles with its bursts of fury; then resuming its restless
course, like the remorseful Salathiel.



    “Earth has each year her resurrection hours
     When the spring stirs within her, and the powers
     Of life revive; the sleeping zephyrs rouse,
     The blushing orchards clothe their naked boughs,
     The swallow skims above the lakelet’s verge.
     Swift summer speeds with fire in every vein,
     And autumn’s glories crimson hill and plain.
     Then warmth and life from Nature take their flight,
     And winter robes her in a shroud of white,
     While mournful Boreas chants her funeral dirge.”

So the seasons tread their ceaseless round in the temperate zones, and
to a certain degree in the colder regions of the earth. But when we
examine the change of seasons in the tropical world, we find a state of
things so different that we are at once led to inquire the reason: and
it will be found primarily in certain periodical winds.

When the sun is north of the equator: that is, while our northern summer
is in progress, India enjoys a steady sea wind from the southwest, which
brings a rainy season to the corresponding coasts of Hindostan and
Farther India. When the sun returns to the south, the winds set in from
the opposite direction, coming down across the great upland plateau of
Central Asia, sometimes called, from its immense height and extent, the
“Roof of the World.” These periodic winds are called monsoons: a
corruption of the Arabic word _Moussin_, season. They are in reality a
modification of the trade-winds.

A glance at a map will show that the northern half of the great Indian
Ocean is enclosed by land masses as no other large body of water is.
Consequently, while in the southern section the southeast trade is
present, the northeast trade of the northern part is so modified by the
surrounding land areas as to almost entirely lose its distinctive
character. Hence, most tropical regions have, properly speaking, but two
seasons: the rainy, and the dry. As the clouds swept in meet with an
intensely heated region, the trade never chills them sufficiently to
produce snow, except in extremely elevated regions.

This is the direct cause of the monsoons: During the northern summer,
southern Asia, being under the rays of the vertical sun, becomes
intensely heated; and the cooler and denser air of the adjacent ocean,
and of southern Africa, flows towards it, producing the southwest
monsoon, which lasts from April or May to September or October. The time
of its beginning and its close varies in different latitudes, according
to the time at which the sun is vertical in each.

During the southern summer, southern Africa being under the vertical sun
and intensely heated, the cooler air of the surrounding seas, and of
southern Asia, flows towards it. This produces the northeast monsoon,
which lasts from October or November to April. This monsoon is, in fact,
only the regular northeast trade-wind somewhat intensified.

A similar exchange takes place between Asia and Australia, but it is
less marked, owing, perhaps, to the great islands lying between these

The period of transition of the monsoons, in spring and autumn, is
marked by sudden and violent gales, and terrific thunder storms.
Destructive hurricanes, also, are of frequent occurrence. This
corresponds with the period of equinoctial storms in higher latitudes.

There are narrow monsoon belts in the Atlantic, along the coast of
Africa and of Brazil, also on the Pacific coasts of North and South
America; but the phenomena they exhibit are of a much less striking
character. On the African coast, in general, the winds blow from sea to
land in summer, from land to sea in winter; on the Brazilian, the wind
is from the northeast in summer, while in winter the southeast trade
resumes its sway. The monsoons of the Pacific coast of America blow from
the northwest and north during the southern summer; from the southwest
and south during the northern. The regular trade-wind makes itself so
strongly felt in northern Brazil, which is unusually level, that a boat
can sail almost as rapidly up the swift current of the Amazon as it can
row down: and Humboldt records that he found it of great strength at the
foot of the eastern slope of the Andes.

Another modification of the northeast trade is found in the Etesian
winds of Greece and the adjacent archipelago. This is a true
intermittent trade, blowing only in the daytime, however, and lasting
from July to September. The cool air of the peninsula rushes toward the
extremely heated regions of the Mediterranean and north Africa.

Somewhat similar are the northers, or blizzards, of our Western States.
By the laws already given, it is seen that northerly winds can prevail
in any region only when some region further south is unusually heated.
Now, the northern portion of America may be roughly compared to a
trough. The cold polar current sets to the southward across the
continent, and is turned to the east by the Rocky Mountain range, giving
it a general southeast course. Hence, when the southern summer is in
progress, our prevailing winds are from the northwest; and when the
heated portion of the world is north of the equator, we have the return
trade, giving us as our prevailing wind that from the southwest. When
our return trade is unusually prolonged, we have a late fall; and if
the southern summer is unusually warm, we have the polar current longer
than usual, and a late spring in consequence. The polar current seldom
makes its presence felt beyond the Texan plains; though occasionally it
reaches the Mexican plateau, or sweeps across the Gulf to the Antilles.

A similar cold wind from Central France toward the Riviera is locally
known as the Mistral. The cold winds from the south, which in crossing
the plains of Patagonia, are turned eastward by the Andes, are called in
Uruguay the _pamperos_, as their direction causes the popular belief
that they originate in the pampas, or grassy plains. In Malta the cold
wind becomes known as the _gregale_--in the Adriatic sea it is the
_tramontana_; in Trieste and Dalmatia it is the _bora_. In New Zealand
the corresponding cold blast comes from the south, and is known as the
buster. When loaded with drifting snow, as in the blizzard of the United
States, the cold wind of the Yenisei Valley, in Asia, is locally called
the _purga_; in the steppes of Central Asia it is the _bura_.

Eastern Asia receives its prevailing cold current from the northwest;
while western Asia and Europe receive their cold wave from the
northeast, there being no range of mountains, as in America, to deflect
the current, as the polar currents are disposed to follow the
continents, having their origin in arctic lands; while for a similar
reason the return trades reach their extremes on the ocean. Hence, lines
drawn through the places which possess the same mean annual temperature
reach a higher latitude at sea than on land.

These are the chief periodical winds of long periods. There is one other
class to be noted: the diurnal land and sea breezes. These occur along
all coasts, whether in the zone of trades or of variable winds; but the
phenomenon is more strongly marked in the tropical regions, and in the
summer of the temperate latitudes, because of the greater difference in
the temperature of land and sea by day and by night.

During the hottest part of the day the air over the land frequently
reaches a temperature of 100° Fahr., and even more, while that over the
sea rarely rises above 80°. During the night the land radiates its heat
with such rapidity that, towards morning, its atmosphere may be from 10°
to 15° colder than that of the sea.

Soon after sunrise, the land being warmer than the sea, a sea breeze
sets in, which increases in force until about three o’clock, when the
difference of temperature is greatest. It then gradually diminishes
until about sunset, when, the temperature of the land and sea having
become equal, the atmosphere is at rest, the calm continuing for an hour
or more.

Soon the land becomes cooler than the sea, and a gentle breeze from the
former sets in. It increases in force as the night advances, becoming
strongest a little before morning, when the temperature of the land is
lowest; after which it rapidly dies away, and is succeeded by a calm, to
be soon replaced by the sea breeze.

One other species of variable wind is to be noticed: the hot, dry,
dust-laden blast from desert regions. Such occur more or less
periodically, and are known by different names in different localities.

Tom Moore has told us that “love’s witchery” on the heart is

    “Like the wind of the south o’er the summer lute blowing,
     That hushed all its music, and withered its frame.”

The reference is to the simoom of Syria and Arabia. One who has not
experienced this wind can have little idea of its oppressiveness. Apt to
come at any hour during the hottest months of the year, with a
temperature so great that a piece of silver exposed to it becomes hot
enough to blister the flesh, and laden with the impalpable dust of the
desert, vegetation is scorched and withered by it, and animals flee from
it as from the pestilence. It may last but a short time: it may endure
several days.

At the first indication of its approach, people flee to their houses;
doors and windows are shut and every crevice that could allow any dust
to enter is tightly stuffed: while the wind lasts no one ventures out.
Such unfortunate animals as happen to be overtaken by it have literally
to struggle for their lives. The wind is not steady, but comes in fitful
gusts, sometimes differing as much as 20° in temperature. The streets
are deserted; and were they otherwise, a person could hardly be seen at
a few yards distance. Hours pass: that implacable enemy, the dust, sifts
in at unknown chinks. By degrees it covers everything. Valuable lace and
tapestry are nearly ruined. You put on a skull-cap; yet it penetrates
your hair. It finds its way beneath the garments to the skin, producing
distressing dryness and roughness. The lips parch and crack. The eyes
are red and inflamed. You drink as if famished, and gasp for breath. You
are excessively irritable; you reach the verge of complete nervous
prostration. At length the ordeal is over. You creep into the street, to
find your neighbors looking like corpses; some, it may be, actually dead
from nervous exhaustion. Dead birds and animals lie on the earth. It is
a case of the survival of the fittest. You pluck a leaf from a
neighboring tree; it crumbles to dust in your grasp.

Such are the effects of an unusually protracted wind, even when most
favorably situated to encounter it. But if a caravan be overtaken by
such in the desert, happy are they who escape. The camels kneel and
thrust their

[Illustration: THE SIMOOM.]

noses into the sand, against each other, into a pack of goods--anywhere
to avoid breathing that poisonous blast. The men throw themselves upon
the ground behind the camels, and muffle their heads in their garments.
The storm is at hand; perchance attended by whirling columns of sand.
You raise your head: a thick, dun-colored cloud flies at you; a heat as
of red-hot iron, it seems, holds you in its choking grasp. You find your
way to your water bottle, and drink deeply. The lurid sun turns the
sweeping columns of sand to pillars of fire. Superstitious fear seizes
your Arab comrades. Gradually the storm passes on: the men pick
themselves up and endeavor to shake the irritating dust and sand from
out the folds of their clothing, and the party resumes its way, happy
that they are not numbered among the dead whose bones are bleaching by
the way. Tales are not wanting of great caravans completely overwhelmed
by the sandstorms of the desert.

These storms are met with in their greatest severity in Egypt and
Arabia. In Egypt, this wind is called the _Khamsin_, or fifty, referring
to the period of fifty days--the latter part of April, May, and early
June--when they may be expected. They never blow through the entire
season: rarely so long as fifteen days at a time. In Arabia the simoom
may travel from the center of the peninsula toward any point of the
compass; the Khamsin of Egypt blows from the southwest. Winds of the
same character cross the Mediterranean. In Spain the wind is known as
the _Solano_, or _Levanter_, or _Leveche_: in Sicily and Italy it is the
_Sirocco_. The distressing dryness is somewhat modified by the journey
across the Mediterranean. The same wind in Syria is called _Samiel_; and
a similar wind which blows from the Sahara southwest to the Guinea coast
is called the _Harmattan_. In California a similar dry hot wind blows
from the interior toward the coast, during the hot season, and is
called the desert wind. Such occasional hot blasts are experienced in
southeastern Dakota, coming from the “bad lands,” or sandy and rocky
wastes along the upper Missouri river.

All these periodical or varying winds may be very properly, from their
time and character, be called the season winds of the earth, as another
means of distinction from the constant trades: as they in part bring
changes of season, and in part are brought that way.

Into the question of climate and seasons one other element enters, of
especial importance in regard to those disturbances of the regular
winds, which we call storms. That factor is the quantity of moisture in
the atmosphere, and the consequent rainfall or snowfall of a region.
Without this element, the phenomenal disturbances known as tornadoes
would hardly occur: or if they did, there would be greater difficulty in
ascertaining their approach.

Water, in its vapor state, is but three-fifths the weight of the air,
and in consequence rapidly rises. This evaporation, as it is called,
goes on at all times: even when the water is frozen. A very thin sheet
of ice, hung in the open air, will finally disappear, even though the
temperature be always below freezing.

Now, all the phenomena of rain, snow, and hail, that are brought by
different seasons, in different climes, depend upon a single simple law:
that warm air can hold a much greater quantity of vapor than cold air.
The amount of moisture that may be held in suspension at different
temperatures is as follows:

  Temperature     Weight of vapor     Temperature     Weight of vapor
    of Air.       in a cubic foot       of Air.       in a cubic foot
                  of saturated air.                   of saturated air.

  20 deg. Fahr.   1.30 grains Troy.   70 deg. Fahr.    8.00 grains Troy.
  32  “    “      2.13    “    “      80  “    “      10.95    “    “
  50  “    “      4.09    “    “      90  “    “      14.81    “    “
  62  “    “      6.15    “    “     100  “    “      19.79    “    “

This gives a second reason why storms of wind and rain closely follow
extremely hot weather.

Now, as the vapor is so much lighter than the air, their mixture must
also be lighter. So any unusual amount of moisture is at once detected
by the barometer, an instrument for measuring the pressure of the
atmosphere. If the air grow moister, and therefore lighter, the
barometer falls; a storm is approaching.

Since cold air can retain but little moisture, if a warm moist current
be chilled, it must lose a part of its vapor, which at once falls to the
earth as rain. If the cold be somewhat greater, the moisture is
crystallized into snow. Greely’s observations at Fort Conger show that,
varied as are the forms of snow crystals, those that fall during any
particular storm are invariably of the same types, even though they may
be collected from localities widely removed from each other. All
crystals of snow are hexagonal in plan, but there is much variety in
detail. The laws that produce one variety at one time, and a second at
another, are not yet known.

The subject of hail is a peculiarly perplexing one to the meteorologist.
Hailstones are more or less spherical in form, and are made of alternate
layers of soft opaque ice, and hard clear ice. It is evident that they
must acquire this structure by being whirled about between clouds of
different temperature and density. Some have supposed that they are
formed in a whirlwind, whose axis is horizontal, but for the present we
must be content with Lord Dundreary’s explanation, for “it ith one of
thothe thingth which no fellah can underthtand.”

Raindrops from a great height are larger than those from below, for they
increase as they pass through the vapor-masses. As the warmest currents
are also the highest, it will at once be understood why warm and
tropical rains fall in large drops, while drizzling rains, mists, and
fogs are characteristic of cold regions and cold seasons.

The masses of more or less condensed vapor in the upper air currents are
what are known as clouds. Their various forms and appearance are shown
in the cut on the ---- page.

The _cirrus_ and _cirro-cumulus_ clouds are the highest, are mostly in
the altitudes of perpetual frost, and are supposed often to consist of
minute ice crystals. In temperate latitudes they are usually formed in,
and move with, the upper air current, or return-trade from the tropical

The _cumulus_ clouds are characteristic of the tropics, and of the
summer days in middle latitudes, their height depending upon the
relative humidity of the air. They are formed by local ascending
currents, which carry a large amount of vapor into the cooler upper air.
There the vapors are condensed, and are gradually heaped up into those
heavy masses of sharply defined clouds, which look like vast snowy
mountains. Their base is horizontal, and marks the height at which the
dew point is reached and condensation begins.

The accumulation of vapors is often so great that these clouds form a
column several thousand feet high. In this case the difference in the
temperature and the electrical conditions of the upper and lower
portions is such that electrical discharges take place, accompanied by
condensation of a portion of the cloud, forming a thunderstorm.

_Stratus_ clouds are most frequently seen in the morning or evening, and
are always low. They are formed by the descent of the higher clouds and
vapors of midday into the lower air as the temperature decreases. They
are more frequent in winter and summer than in the intermediate seasons.

The _nimbus_ cloud is more dense and heavy than the others, which may
all be transformed into the nimbus by

[Illustration: FORMS OF CLOUDS.]

a diminution of temperature. It is of a dark-leaden hue, changing into
grey. This is the most common form of cloud in polar latitudes; and,
during the cold season, it is the most frequent of the temperate zones.

If a moist current cross a mountain range, it loses its moisture in the
cold region, and growing narrower as it descends the other slope,
presents the phenomena of a warm dry wind from the mountains. Thus the
wind that brings rain to Norway, gives warm fair weather to Sweden. Of
the same character are the hot winds of Switzerland, called Foëhn winds,
and the Chinook winds which blow from the eastward into Idaho,
Washington, and western Montana. Similar winds occur occasionally in
South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Peru. These hot winds must not
be confounded with the hot and poisonous winds from desert regions
described before.

Such, in fine, are the noted varying intermittent, or periodic winds.
However uncertain they may appear at first thought, they are obedient to
the same unchanging laws that bind the universe into one harmonious
whole. No doubt the ancients, if they had been acquainted with their
office, would have personified them as the nymphs of the seasons. But,
knowing naught of the wonderful immutable laws that bind them, they
could only say to each,

    “We know not whence thou com’st, or whither goest,
     When round our homes thy wizard blast thou blowest.”

In eternal law and harmony they found only endless confusion and wild
caprice. Man interpreted nature by man.

Yet they are the angels of the seasons, these air-spirits, sent by an
allwise Providence to bring the rain and the snow, and the sunshine and
storm in their season, to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
that while man shall dwell on earth, seedtime and harvest and summer
and winter may not cease. So they wander, clothing the tropics with
emerald cloaks of strangest beauty, and robing the poles with ermine and
crystal: painting with rainbow-tints the autumn leaves, and touching
with virgin blush the orchards in spring; in all things obeying the
decree of Him who hath set the seasons in order and made everything
beautiful in its time.



              “O sad and mournful wind!
    From what wild depths of human pain and sorrow
    Could’st thou those tones of restless anguish borrow
    As of a soul that dreams of no to-morrow,
              O sad and mournful wind!

              O, thou art fierce and wild!
    Thy mighty chariot through the black skies lashing,
    The cloud-shapes round the mountain-summits dashing,
    The waves of ocean round the wrecked bark crashing--
              O, thou art fierce and wild!”

Men find no difficulty in recognizing law and system in the phenomena
that are of constant or frequent recurrence. That which is most
difficult to explain, may pass without a serious thought so long as it
manifests no stupendous or sudden power. The water may wear away the
stone for centuries and its progress be unheeded by those who daily
visit the pool.

So all observe and admire the beauty and order that prevails in the
system of winds hitherto described. Their movements seem so simple and
natural, that people take them as a matter of course. Rather, we should
say, they may be depended upon with such certainty that the laws which
they followed were unheeded for more than six thousand years. Relying on
result, men gave themselves no concern about principle.

But in the sudden storm, the cyclone or tempest that comes sweeping the
land with hardly any warning, flooding and destroying, men find

And who is not justly awed thereby? What other power so easily and
frequently wrecks and ravages? Who may point out its course or stay its

And indeed it would seem difficult at first to find any law or system
that controls the motion of the storm. If a rain storm always came from
the same direction; if unusually high winds always blew from the same
quarters, just as the moderate breezes of spring and summer can always
be expected from the same general direction, it would appear that there
was much greater subordination to definite law. But what can be more
perplexing than to have a storm blow violently from one quarter for a
time, and after a brief calm to blow with equal violence the other way?
Can such phenomena be explained by any principles hitherto discovered?

What is a storm? Strictly speaking, it is any marked or unusual
disturbance of the normal atmospheric conditions. There may be excessive
wind: there may be cessation of the customary winds. Two great classes
are found: cyclonic, or low area storms, and anti-cyclonic, or high area
storms. The former may be accompanied by heavy rainfall or snow; the
latter is usually noted for absence of either. It is with the low area
storm that we must deal at present.

This term is used to designate all storms which are marked by low
barometer, and therefore it is clear that such are accompanied and
partially occasioned by an unusual amount of moisture in the atmosphere.
The resultant commotion is usually extensive, the storm centre traveling
across the country; but occasionally the effects are perceptible only
for a short distance, the storm centre either breaking up or ascending
to the upper atmosphere.

By a cyclonic storm is signified a storm characterized by unusually low
barometer, and a wind system blowing spirally inward, as in a genuine
cyclone. They usually affect only the lower strata of the air. Quite
frequently they are broken up by striking low mountain ranges, such as
the Alleghany system: and often pass Mount Washington without making
their presence felt at the signal station on its summit. To what extent
they are influenced by or are due to the upper air currents is therefore
unknown, though not a few of the attendant phenomena indicate that the
latter are of no little importance.

Any one who has observed the waters at the junction of two streams, is
familiar with the appearance of numerous tiny eddies or whirlpools
formed at the point of junction. Such are perceptible also in every
rapid stream, when the current, sheering sharply from a projecting
point, is made in a measure to collide with itself. This is also the
principle of the many tiny whirlwinds seen during the warm summer days:
and such are also observable in winter, if there be snow enough to
render their presence in the air clearly visible. Their results are most
readily recognized in snow-drifts, where the wind meets some special
obstruction. It does not often occur that a high fence is covered with a
snow-drift: a great drift will be thrown up by it, but not against it:
and the side next the fence will be curved inward, or concave. The wind
strikes the fence and partially recoils, curving upward to pass over the
fence. The drift is then built up between the wind and the current
recoiling from the fence, and its inner curve shows the direction
pursued by the rebounding current.

Now, when opposing air-currents meet each other on a large scale, the
immense whirlwind that is produced is called a cyclone or tornado. It
follows then, that if we would find any regularity or law in these
unusual disturbances, we must know if there exists any permanent
condition of atmospheric currents that is favorable to their

That such a state exists, we have already learned. The great belts of
calms that we have found between the trade-winds and the return trades
and polar currents, are more appropriately called the zones of
equinoctial storms. We have in them districts of general calms, with
winds infringing upon either side. It is evident then that, as in the
case of the fence, whose recoil-current curves the snow-drift, a
whirling current of considerable magnitude may arise here at any time:
hence, violent storms do arise in these regions more or less at all
periods of the year. But we have seen that these zones of calms move
slightly to the north or south with the course of the sun. It would then
appear that at the equinoctial period, when they return from the mean
position toward the extreme northern or southern limit, there would be
opportunity for unusual disturbances, especially since the heavy
rainfall of those periods would unusually affect the temperature of the

That is precisely what occurs. The equinoxes are marked by storms of
unusual severity, and the influence of the sudden falls of rain is so
great that some eminent men believe them to be nearly the sole factor in
the formation of these storms. In one case they doubtless are. If a very
heavy rain be decidedly local, there is low barometer at that place.
Now, if on either side there be areas of high barometer, the opposing
currents flowing toward the center of low area are sufficient to meet
all the conditions necessary for a cyclonic storm. As the zone of calms
is comparatively narrow, it is apparent that the diameter of the area of
any storm, owing to the pressure exerted by the incoming currents of
wind, must be still less. Hence, the cyclone center, at its time of
formation, seldom exceeds one hundred miles in diameter. As it travels
away from the compressing currents that formed it, it is clear that its
centrifugal force must increase; hence, its area increases, and its
violence correspondingly diminishes.

These facts refer to the unusually violent cyclonic storms, properly
known as cyclones. But all low area storms are characterized by the
upward spiral motion, though not strong enough in the case of ordinary
summer rains and thunderstorms to be especially noticed. We shall see,
by and by, how this spiral motion may result without the intervention of
any strong opposing currents.

Why and how a cyclone travels, is a question that at once propounds
itself. Its motion is in accordance with a fixed law, whose operation
varies only as it may be affected by unusual peculiarities in the
configuration of the surface over which it travels. The reason of the
motion is not so easy to explain; neither is it easy to explain why heat
expands objects: but its operation is none the less certain. And so the
route pursued by any storm can be readily indicated in advance. It is
not a matter of mere conjecture.

The motion of a cyclone or tornado is in accordance with the same law
that governs the motion of planets around the sun. It can be illustrated
in a very simple manner by the spinning of a top.

Spin a top on a perfectly smooth and level surface. It will be better if
the peg of the top be blunt or round, so that there will be no tendency
to settle steadily into some possible hole or depression.

Now, the instant any degree of steadiness is attained, the top begins to
move in small curves. If it be spun on a marble slab smoothly coated
with fine flour or sand, it can be made to record its motions, which may
then be carefully studied. It will be found that the form of the curve
is nearly the same with every start. It will describe a parabola, pause
a moment, then describe a second, and so on.

The chief peculiarity of this separate curvilinear motion is that its
direction is always in an _opposite_ direction to that of the rotation
of the top. If the top turn from left to right, it will move from right
to left, and vice versa. The same tendency will manifest itself even if
the peg of the top be placed in a slight depression or socket, so that
the curve cannot be made. Then the upper portion of the top will incline
to one side, and begin describing a curve: but, as before, in a
direction contrary to the direction of rotation.

The common toy known as a gyroscope illustrates the last peculiarity
also. It consists of a wheel within a metal frame, which has a peg like
a top. If the wheel be made to revolve rapidly, the whole may be
balanced on the peg: when the frame will begin to slowly revolve in the
opposite direction: and if placed upon a smooth level surface, like the
top it will tend to describe the same course.

Still other illustrations of this principle are even more familiar than
the spinning of a top. Any one who has seen the game of soldiers in a
bowling alley knows that in order to make the ball turn to the left as
it moves forward, it must spin the other way; that is, with the hands of
a watch. To travel or curve to the right, it must spin in the contrary
direction. So in our “great national game,” base-ball, the pitcher
curves the ball any way he pleases merely by following this law. It is
not necessary to take into account, as many do, the return trades, as
occasioning the travel of a whirling storm; and the fact is, that the
cyclone frequently travels more rapidly than the ordinary wind moving in
the same direction.

Now, the motion of the planets is similar: rotating in one direction,
they travel in the other. So we find the general law is,

_All revolving bodies, left free as to direction, travel in a curve in a
direction opposite to that of their rotation._ This curve is usually
some form of conic section: an ellipse, parabola or hyperbola. The
planets, and some comets, move in ellipses. Some comets travel parabolas
or hyperbolas. And the parabola is the customary path of the cyclonic
storm. As the cyclone in the northern hemisphere rotates from right to
left, and in the southern from left to right, their paths must
necessarily be in opposite directions, as may be seen by the
accompanying diagram. So in either case, the direction of the path is
always away from the equator.


As far as the United States are concerned, most non-cyclonic storms
originate in the Saskatchewan country, or along the southeastern slope
of the Rocky Mountains. By far the greater number pass over the St.
Lawrence valley. A small number are developed in the Gulf, or in the
Pacific: but these are much affected, often broken up, in crossing the
Rocky or Appalachian systems. The usual course is somewhat north of
east; but there are a few notable exceptions. The immense amount of
vapor wafted up the Mississippi valley induces some low area storms to
move southward from Manitoba into the upper Mississippi valley. In like
manner, the excessive moisture along our north Pacific coast causes
occasional storms to move southward from Alaska to Oregon.

But the course of a cyclonic storm, we have seen, must be different.

The accompanying diagram illustrates the fact that the wind blows from
all directions toward the center of the storm. As the storm revolves,
the wind would come apparently from the south for any one on the eastern
edge of the cyclone of the northern hemisphere. Hence, in the case of a
storm of large diameter, people in Richmond or Washington may often be
surprised by an apparent northeast gale, which reaches them before it
strikes New York or Boston. At the center of the storm is absolute calm.
So if a cyclone pass centrally over any point in the northern
hemisphere, a person at that place will find the wind blowing violently
from the southeast: then after an interval of calm, it will blow with
equal violence from the northwest. This will be the case if the path of
the storm has already turned to the northeast, so that its northeast
quarter may be called its front. If on the northwest course, however,
the apparently alternate winds would be from the northeast and
southwest. So one in the path of a southern cyclone would find the winds
proceeding from the same quarters; for though it revolves in the
opposite direction, its front or path is also in the opposite direction;
so in either hemisphere, the southeast or the northeast wind will be the
first felt by one directly in the track of the storm.

[Illustration: ROTATION OF STORMS.]

Another result of the path of a cyclone is that the direction of its
center from the stand-point of any observer is readily known. A glance
at the diagram shows at once that if any one within the storm area of a
cyclone of the northern hemisphere stands with his back to the wind,
the storm center, where the barometer is lowest, is invariably on his
left: but if he stand with his back to the wind of a southern cyclone,
the storm center is always on his right. Hence, if a vessel be overtaken
by a cyclone, the captain at once may know how to pass beyond its range,
by shaping his course at right angles to that of the wind. Thus, if in a
northern cyclone, he must sail to the right, supposing his back is to
the wind: in the southern hemisphere, he would sail to the left.

As an example of the expansion of the storm area in its journey, may be
mentioned the West India hurricane of 1839, which had, in the Antilles,
a diameter of three hundred miles, which increased to five hundred at
the Bermudas, and eight hundred on the parallel of 50° north latitude.

To draw again upon the illustration of the spinning top, it will be
observed that the curvilinear motion is extremely slow in comparison
with that of rotation, but increases as the rotation decreases. The same
law applies to the movement of cyclones. The slowest motion forward is
usually near the apex of the curve: and the progress on the ocean is
much slower than on the land. Traveling over the latter, the
irregularities of surface act in the case of the storm just as a rough
surface does in the case of the top. The motion may be accelerated, but
its regularity is lessened. So while at sea the parabolic path of the
storm is almost absolutely perfect, but on reaching the land its motion
is more rapid, and less regular, conforming somewhat to the
configuration of the surface.

To illustrate, take the great cyclone of August 16th to 22nd, 1888. This
started off Point Jupiter, Florida, with a rainfall of 2.2 inches in
twelve hours, while the rotary velocity of the wind was sixty miles per
hour. Its path across the Gulf of Mexico was a perfect semi-parabola,
curving northward into western Louisiana; but rapid as was the rotary
velocity, three and a half days were required for the journey across the
gulf. Meanwhile, it was rapidly widening: for within a few hours of its
reaching land, its eastern edge was assailing Mobile, Alabama, with a
south wind of fifty-five miles an hour. Almost at the same time the
western half was flooding Memphis and Vicksburg with an enormous
rainfall--almost four inches in twelve hours, at Memphis. By the morning
of August 21st, thirty-six hours after reaching land, it was central
over middle Tennessee and Kentucky; heavy rains fell over the entire
region. But by this time its eastern edge was in collision with the
Appalachian chain; while a heavy local rain at the northern extremity of
that chain created an additional diversion in a new area of low
barometer. So it left the hitherto parabolic route, and shot away nearly
at a tangent along the western Appalachian slope, passing from Tennessee
to Newfoundland in thirty-six hours, thus moving nearly three times as
rapidly as in the Gulf: while its violence, or rotary speed, was vastly

This storm was one of the most destructive of the recent cyclones that
have swept our country, doing immense damage to crops, bridges, houses,
herds--in short, everything that can be seriously damaged by wind or

The damage in Louisiana alone was estimated at $500,000. But it was by
no means the most destructive of the West India storms.

An examination of the areas of calms, which are the hot-beds of cyclones
and hurricanes, shows that the region which produces the great cyclones
of the United States lies in the Antilles and Caribbean Sea. In the
Pacific the portion of the calm belt of the Tropic of Cancer causes the
ravages of cyclones or hurricanes originating there to be felt chiefly
in Japan and China. The storms of the Pacific arising in the equatorial
calm belt, are most violent in the East Indies, and the southern
peninsulas of Asia. As these regions are much warmer, and consequently
the atmosphere may hold a much greater quantity of vapor, it follows
that cyclones in that quarter much exceed in violence those of our own

Such are the general laws of these terrible disturbances of nature, as
ascertained by years of careful observation. In the United States, our
Signal Service, with well-equipped observatories at important
localities, is able to make these principles of practical use: to detect
the incipient storm and mark out its path, ere it strikes its fiercest

It should be observed, ere leaving this topic, that a few would-be
prophets have maintained that not only great storms, but also
earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, etc., are due to planetary
influences. Observing that the most violent hurricanes occur near the
equinoctial period, they argue that the equinoxes of the planets ought
to also disturb the earth. They ignore the fact that as to our own
equinoctial disturbances, the change in the relative position of the
earth and sun is sufficient to produce change in the location of heated
air-currents and consequent storms. They seek to find in the Equinox
Absolute, some strange mysterious magic, some inexplicable power or
_Deus ex machina_, whose business it is to get up a disturbance here on
earth at every possible opportunity, no matter in what planet he may be
for the nonce located.

But it is difficult to rid any man of his hobby. In the question of the
equinoxes of other planets, their recurrence is of sufficient frequency
to allow the weather-crank full play for his imagination. Two of the
major planets lie within the earth’s orbit, and their more rapid course

[Illustration: WATER SPOUTS AT SEA.]

the sun results in there being an equinox in one or the other of them
about once in each month. So no matter in what month a great storm may
occur, the enthusiast can point out that a neighboring planet is at or
near an equinox.

A careful examination of the equinoxes of the inner planets for a period
of fifteen years shows that the number occurring in the month of April
was 22 per cent. above the average occurrence for any month: whence, it
would appear that the disturbances at that period ought to be equally in
excess. But as a matter of fact, storms on the earth are most numerous
and violent at the time of the autumnal equinox--September and
October--when no such departure from the average of equinoxes of the
other planets appears.

If planetary influence were the cause of our storms, it would be
reasonable to suppose that disturbances would be greatest when the
planets are nearest to the earth: but the advocates of the theory do not
seem to consider this a factor at all. Nor could the planetary equinox
theory account for the fact that storms of peculiar character always
originate in the same regions. For instance, why do cyclones always
originate near the tropics and move away from the equator? If the
planetary equinoxes produce violent earthquakes, why are they so partial
to North America as never in our whole history to have given us a very
serious shaking up? Why is it that of the hundreds of recorded tornadoes
of the past century in the United States, only one has ever occurred
west of Dodge City, Kansas? Clearly the adherents of the equinoctial
theory will have to admit local terrestrial conditions that modify all
their theories: and to make such an admission will be, in the end, to
give up the fight.

The writer knew of a boy who wasted a pound and a half of bird-shot in
trying to kill a small owl. The game was finally secured, and the young
Nimrod discovered a hatful of feathers with the body of a robin--and of
no earthly use.

Attacking the planetary theory is of little more use. But the theory is
the resort of many would-be weather prophets, who needlessly alarm the
ignorant with their gloomy forebodings.

In a country as large as our own, any sort of weather is a very safe
prediction to make for any day in the century, as minor rains and cloudy
seasons and small storms are merely local. Any sort of prediction would
be nearly sure to hit some portion of the country; and one who is so
disposed can easily win a cheap notoriety and gain scores of
testimonials as to the correctness of his predictions. Every unusual
catastrophe produces a brood of these gentry who are eager to make the
trial. But those who endeavor to indicate the exact locality where any
great disturbance is to take place, meet discomfiture with a uniformity
that ought to be discouraging. The work of the Signal Service is as
carefully done as may well be: yet its best men assert that an average
of 90 per cent. of correctness in their prognostications is unusual,
because of the extremely small areas covered by local disturbances.
Rainy weather announced for western Missouri may be correct every time
for Kansas City, but be 10 per cent. in error for Nevada, Missouri. When
those whose time is devoted to the weather can not always be correct, it
is useless to listen to charlatans.

A careful study of sun-spots with relation to storms has been made of
late years. The fact is elicited that the spots seem to have a definite
connection with electrical disturbances: but while there are numbers of
coincidences between unusual sun-spots and great storms, the number of
striking exceptions seems equally great. Hence, it can not be fairly
inferred that there is any definite relation between them. And so far
as electrical phenomena on the earth are connected with storms, they
always appear as dependent upon rather than productive of atmospheric
currents. Indeed, the most remarkable electrical disturbances occur at
times when no atmospheric current is prevalent. The most beautiful
electrical display, the aurora, appears when the air is abnormally still
and unusually dry. The necessity of the latter condition accounts for
the fact that it is usually observable only in cold weather and occurs
with great frequency and in remarkable brilliancy in the polar regions.
It results from electric currents passing through extremely rarefied and
dry air, and may be produced on a small scale artificially.

Poe was right when he held that many things remain long secrets by
reason of their very simplicity. Six thousand years steam hissed and
fumed in men’s faces, and tilted the kettle lid, before they learned its
expansive power. Six thousand years the lightning flamed and roared
before man realized it could be made one of his most obedient servants.
Six thousand years he cudgeled his wits to discover the secret of the
wind: yet when he made a fire within his house, he closed the door to
prevent unpleasant draughts of air. And so he continues, constantly
endeavoring to find some strange mystery in the things that are
dependent on simplest laws.

There was a time when men stood aghast at small-pox, cholera, yellow
fever, and many similar calamities, and spoke with bated breath of the
“mysterious visitations of providence,” the “scourge of God,” and so on.
When the Turks once besieged a plague-stricken city, a comet appeared in
the sky. The pious inhabitants prayed “O Lord, deliver us from the
devil, the Turk and the comet,” and usually such people believed such
plagues were the judgment of God on them for their sins. Modern science
holds that about the only sin the Lord punishes in that way is the sin
of filthy streets, or back-door cess-pools. When man has once learned
the means of control and prevention, evils lose their mysterious

On the other hand, let the laws of any force in nature be every so well
understood: yet, so long as they are beyond the control of man, they
will retain for him an eerie uncanny fascination. The pigmy has
harnessed the steam and chained the lightning: but when the storm clouds
lower and the forests moan, the sea roars and the lightning glows, he
stands in fear and awe before a power whose might he but vaguely
comprehends. He may know of the winds, whence and whither bound; but
when the Stygian darkness has passed on, leaving wreck and ruin, want
and woe, desolation and despair, shattered homes and hopes, and bleeding
hearts, this knowledge of law is, for the nonce, forgotten, and the
hurricane is transformed, in his disordered vision, into a demon of
wrath, or caprice; or he speaks, hesitatingly it may be, of the
mysterious dispensation of an inscrutable providence. But in the mighty
wind, as in the soughing breeze, there is only obedience to universal
law. But when the Author of law displays his power, man’s instinct,
however unwilling his reason, acknowledges a God.



    “At eve along the calm resplendent west
     I marked a cloud alive with fairy light,
     So warmly pure, so sweetly, richly bright,
     It seemed a spirit of ether, floating blest,
     In its own happy empire! While possest
     With admiration of the marvelous light,
     Slowly its hues, opal and chrysolite,
     Waned on the shadowy gloaming’s phantom breast.
     The cloud became a terror, whose dark womb,
     Throbbed with keen lightnings, by destruction hurled,
     Red bolt on bolt, while a drear ominous gloom
     Enveloped Nature: o’er the startled world--
     A deep alarum--burst the thunder boom
     And the swift Storm his coal-black wings unfurled!”

There is a perspective of news as well as of art, which requires that
such features in a view as are supposed to be nearest to the observer
must be given larger detail. It is a natural consequence of the fact
that a small object near by may conceal from view a mountain in the

So in the news world a dog run over on Washington avenue takes rank with
a wreck in the Indian Ocean. A fight in a neighboring saloon gets ten
inches: a strike in Germany ten lines. Your neighbor’s new barn is a
good item for the county paper whose editor cares nothing for the new
bank in Boston. The Widow Jones gets a puff for whitewashing her fence;
the refitting of the White House gets a line. A million of people who
have heard of George Washington, never heard of Alfred the Great.

Now, not a few will think that there is injustice in this. Doubtless
the tendency of the time is to exaggerate perspective to obtain
startling effects. Caricature is characteristic of the age. And yet,
there was never before a time when so many people took interest in
things that lay beyond their own narrow circle; even if that interest be
from mere curiosity.

Sometimes this self-centered condition of humanity has an amusing
aspect: as if one should imagine the earth terminated with his own
apparent horizon. Some South Sea Islanders called the first white men
who visited them, “sky-breakers.” The reason is simple. Dwelling on
their little islets, mere specks in the deep, and in all their myths and
legends having no account of any other race, they supposed themselves to
be the only people in the world. Their sky was a vast wall of blue
stones raised by one of their mythical heroes. It shut in the world and
could not be far away, though none of them had endeavored to reach it.
So these strange white creatures were not of this world; neither were
they of the race of the gods; they came from no one knew where, and had
somehow broken through the blue wall that bounded the world. And white
men are in some islands called “sky-breakers” to this day.

Something of the same spirit is manifested by the Chinese. The devil of
their mythology is white. So our occidental sensibilities received quite
a shock when we learned that we were “foreign devils.” The Japanese more
considerately called us “foreign beasts,” as though uncertain of our
status in the animal kingdom. And to this day our magnificent vessels
are gravely styled “devil ships” by the Chinese.

Such are what might be appropriately styled ludicrous exaggerations of
perspective. And we of the west are similarly so wrapped up in our
self-sufficiency that it hardly occurs to us that we may appear as
amusing to foreigners as they to us. In this respect our charity begins
at home. It is the way of the world.

But there are a thousand occurrences that make us feel that the
principle is just, no matter to what extremes we may foolishly carry it.
It comes home to each with peculiar emphasis in the hour of distress.
The famine in Asia does not weigh upon you so heavily as the death of
the woman who starved in the garret across the street. A fire that burns
Chicago is easier forgotten that the one which destroys the little home
that represents the savings of years of your life. The cholera in India
has no such terrors for you as the diphtheria or scarlet fever in your
own village. The Czar of Russia is blown to pieces in his carriage; but
he has no remembrance at the bedside of your sick friend. Ten thousand
dead victims of a distant earthquake are hidden by the coffin in your
own home.

Since the same law applies to the interests of nations, it is not
necessary, in reviewing the work of destructive tempests, to apologize
for giving chief place to the recent Louisville tornado, however
insignificant it may appear in comparison with scores of others that
have desolated the earth in days gone by. The latter shall be noticed in
due time.

In the foregoing chapter we have seen that the great cyclones that
occasionally visit us originate in the neighborhood of the Antilles. Of
course, similar conditions may produce smaller storms of the same class
in numerous localities. These small storms whose paths are but a few
yards, or sometimes as much as a mile in diameter, are called, to
distinguish them from the great cyclone of twenty to two hundred miles
in diameter, by the Portuguese title of _tornados_, or “turning-storms.”
Often the broken character of the country will cause a large gathering
storm to break


up into half a dozen or more of the smaller ones, which, in their narrow
paths are as destructive as the cyclone.

It is the unexpected that happens. No one experiences so many surprises,
or has more pet beliefs upset than that oracle of the chimney-corner,
the oldest inhabitant. It was long believed that tornadoes never passed
over an old Indian camp ground. Whatever the popular opinion of savage
intellect, there is marvelous confidence in his instinct. Again, it was
thought a tornado never would pass over a large city. The storm in
question demolished both these “olde wyves’ tales.”

During March 27th, 1890, the Signal Service Department observed a
threatening storm center gather in the southwestern portion of Wyoming,
and start eastward with great rapidity. Notice was promptly given.
Railway, telegraph and electric light officials were warned that on
Thursday night a hurricane would blow with a speed of at least fifty
miles an hour. Signal Service predictions had sometimes failed, and this
last one excited no particular concern. The destroyer came and was gone
in two minutes; and blocks on blocks of Louisville were a ghastly ruin.

The tornado was accompanied by a cloud and tremendous rain. To an
observer at the Falls, the cloud was seen to come up the gap between the
hills which guard the banks of the beautiful Ohio. He described it as
“balloon-shaped, twisting an attenuated tail to the earth. It emitted a
constant fusillade of lightning, and seemed to be composed of a lurid,
snake-like mass of electric currents, whose light would sometimes be
extinguished for a few moments, making an almost intolerable darkness.
It was accompanied by a fearful roar, like that of a thousand trains
crossing the big bridge at once. It could be seen to strike Louisville,
and then with incredible rapidity it leaped the river, churning it into
white foam as it went toward the Indiana shore.”

The streets of Louisville parallel to the river are named; those at
right angles are numbered from east to west. The section visited may be
described as a rectangle a mile square, bounded on the west by
Eighteenth street, on the east by Seventh, on the south by Broadway, and
on the north by the Ohio river. It comprehends the business portion of
the city. Through this district the cyclone swept diagonally from
southwest to northeast, crossing the river and leaving the city at the
foot of Seventh street. The business houses or residences of perhaps
10,000 people lay in its path.

Two days after the storm, when there had been time for a calm survey,
its track is thus described by a correspondent of the Associated Press:

“It first descended upon the beautiful little suburb of Parkland,
southwest of the city, destroying many private residences. The loss of
life was inconsiderable at this initial point, however. Rushing onward
toward the northwest it lifted for a moment above the trees and
housetops, and descended again a mile further on at Maple and Eighteenth
streets. From this on its pathway is clearly marked. At no time did the
base of the funnel touch the ground, and one hundred feet higher in the
air, it would have passed by without doing comparatively much damage.

“The ruins as they now are often show the first, and even the second and
third stories of buildings still intact, with the roofs and higher
stories swept away except in places where the debris from the upper
floors crushed in the lower, and brought the walls down to the ground in
total collapse. From Maple and Eighteenth streets it went northward one
block, then west at an angle another block; and then curving to the
northeast as far as Magazine and


Thirteenth streets. A quick change to the north is perceptible here, and
after traveling in that direction two blocks, another turn to the west.
An acute angle was then made, the line turning from Fifteenth street
northeast to Thirteenth street again; thence, due east to Tenth street,
and north a block to Market street. At Thirteenth and Jefferson streets
it swept through Baxter Park, doing great damage, and a block eastward
destroyed St. John’s Episcopal Church, in the rectory of which the Rev.
S. E. Barnwell and his little son were crushed and burned to death, the
rest of the family escaping.

“St. John’s Church is in the street immediately in the rear of the
ill-fated Falls City Hall. The eccentric monster went on eastward past
the Falls City Hall without touching it, and then, as if suddenly
recollecting, it swept around the block and started westward on the
south side of Market street. Had the change of direction been made a
trifle sooner or later Falls City Hall would have escaped, and the dead
been numbered within thirty or forty at the most.

“As if satisfied with the work accomplished, it turned north again and
struck Main street. This thoroughfare is the principal business street
in the city. It runs parallel with the river from east to west, and but
a block south of it. It is lined with wholesale houses, and was the
solidest part of the city in point of architecture.

“The tornado reached Main street at Twelfth, and then shaped its course
directly east down the middle of the broad street, sweeping away the
solid stores and warehouses on both sides. From Twelfth to Seventh
streets on Main it is a wholesaling district, and it was practically
untenanted at that hour. Had the storm come in the daytime and taken the
same direction, hundreds who were at their houses and escaped unhurt
would have been killed.

“At Seventh street and Main the buildings change in their character. The
big Louisville Hotel is on Main between Sixth and Seventh, and east of
the hotel are restaurants, saloons and other hotels which contained
thousands of people at that hour. The tornado chased down Main street,
carrying everything before it, passing Eleventh street, Tenth, Ninth,
Eighth, and Seventh. A block further and the Louisville Hotel, with its
hundreds of tenants, would have been reached. The escape of the hotel is
the strangest incident of all. Adjoining it on the west, from whence the
storm came, was a three-story building used as a saloon on the first
floor, and occupied in the upper stories as sleeping apartments for the
hotel servants. This three-story building, right under the east wall of
the hotel, was totally demolished and not a timber left a dozen feet
higher than the ground. Its inmates were killed. The great hotel shook
from roof to cellar with the force of the shock, but it was spared.

“The storm veered at the sharpest kind of an angle to the north again,
crossed Main street, and struck for the river, taking in the Union Depot
on the way. Strange to say, although the depot was totally demolished,
only one person was killed there. At the point where the tornado crossed
the river, between New Albany and Jeffersonville, it is supposed several
small crafts were sunk.

“Reaching the opposite bank of the river, the storm turned to the east
again and took off a bite from Jeffersonville. It went along Front
street for a few blocks, damaging buildings, but causing no loss of
life. Then it took to the river and struck the Kentucky shore about four
miles east of where it left it, and outside of the city of Louisville.
At this exact spot is located the Louisville pumping works, which
supplies the whole city with water.

“The pumping works were destroyed, and the city is now threatened with
a water famine in consequence. The next heard of the peculiar course
taken by the tornado is from Eminence, Ky., about forty miles east of
Louisville, which was badly damaged by the storm. The intervening
country may have suffered somewhat, but no other towns were visited, and
from Eminence the destroyer probably took a final leave of the earth’s
surface and passed on to the Atlantic Coast at a higher and less
dangerous altitude.”

This outline seems to show how easily the course of a storm is modified
by the irregularities of surface, even when the obstacles are such as it
can overcome. It is seen that the course of a small storm over broken
country, little resembles the steady curve of the storm in the open sea.
Ever and anon, the obstacles below momentarily break the regular
current, which is as often renewed in a moment by the powerful upward
suction in the upper air. This is the phenomenon known as “jumping,”
which may be repeated till the widening of the center leaves the storm
too weak to promptly restore the current at the ground, and the danger
from the tornado is over. Some of the apparent eccentricities in the
city, are doubtless due to the fact that occasional buildings were
strong enough to resist; and leaving such at slight variations in its
course, made it present the appearance of doubling on its track.

So many blocks of buildings, great and small, in an instant violently
hurled to pieces, would seem to infer with certainty the death of nearly
all the occupants. That only about a hundred should have been killed
outright, was therefore a matter of astonishment no less than of
gratitude. The terror and anguish of the first moments or hours could
not, however, be measured by the actual calamity to human life. Members
of households suddenly separated from each other in the darkness, could
only fear the worst.


Their startled imagination saw the missing one dead or dying under the
huge piles of fallen buildings. There were excited cries and calls and
wailing of the living; a mad rush and frantic tugging at the ruins, from
beneath which were sometimes heard shrieks for help or groans of the
dying. To add to the universal terror, fires broke out in many places,
threatening imprisoned wretches with a fate more horrible than the crush
of falling walls, or timbers, bricks or iron, hurtling through the air.
Before help could reach them the flames took hold on some and hushed
their cries forever. Fortunately, the fire-alarm connections were left
intact, and as alarm after alarm was sent, there was a dashing of the
engines to the rescue, and the whole fire-department was presently
engaged in extinguishing the flames, or recovering the living and the
dead. Hospitals and morgues were suddenly improvised in sheds or shops,
where the wounded were cared for, or the dead were deposited to await
the recognition or claim of the living.

Falls City Hall was the theatre of the principal loss of life. It was a
brick building fronting on Market between Eleventh and Twelfth. The
ground-floor had long been used as a market, and contained forty or
fifty stalls of gardeners and butchers. These stalls were closed and the
keepers were absent at the hour of the disaster. In front on the second
floor were three small rooms, one of them utilized as an office, the
other two as toilet rooms. Behind these was a large hall, and in the
rear of this still another hall, in which a young lady, her father,
brother and sister being present, was teaching a dancing school. There
might have been sixty-five persons in this room, though one witness says
twenty-eight. In one of the small rooms seven men, constituting the
Executive Committee of the Roman Knights, was holding a business
meeting. In another room a band of musicians, fifteen in number, were
going through a rehearsal. Some decorators were at work in the large
hall, preparing it for some coming occasion. On the third floor were
assembled the Jewel Lodge No. 2 of the Knights and Ladies of Honor, with
an attendance of a hundred or more. In an adjoining hall the Humboldt
Lodge No. 146 of I. O. O. F. with seventeen members was in session. The
whole number of people in the building must have been nearly or quite
two hundred. In an instant the fearful wrench of the cyclone had twisted
the building into fragments, and tumbled it in shapeless ruin upon the

Ten minutes after the collapse might have been seen a frantic multitude
hastily gathering from all quarters, among them many women clutching
vainly with their fingers at the slate roof, and madly tearing at the
wreck beneath which the imprisoned and wounded were crying for help.
Presently, fire broke out, but it was happily extinguished. The work of
rescue was now organized and speedily set in motion, but an hour elapsed
before the first victim was extricated. This was a lady, found sitting
upright with bruised head and broken arm. She told of her vain effort to
escape, and of the position in which she had last seen her companions.
Meanwhile, some were digging in the center of the debris in answer to a
voice which grew fainter and fainter until it was hushed forever. The
work of rescue was now shifted to the other end of the pile.

James Hassen was foremost among the workers, and on reaching the hall
room of the Knights and Ladies, he took from the ruins the first body,
which proved to be that of his wife, and who expired in his arms. He
gently laid his dead wife aside, and hurried again to aid in recovering
the rest. Presently, ten women were reached, clasped in each others
arms--all dead but one. The dancing room was

[Illustration: AT WORK IN THE WRECK.]

reached. One lady was taken out fatally hurt, and one after another her
three children, unconscious, but destined to recover. While her husband
was urging the rescue of his fourth child, still somewhere beneath the
ruins, an under-current of air having been admitted, the fire again
broke out with startling fierceness, and the furious heat compelled a
suspension of the work. The groans of the imprisoned were now changed to
fearful shrieks, while the watchers, helpless to render aid, screamed
and ran wildly about with anxiety and horror. Three or four lines of
hose were turned upon the flames, and they were subdued; but an hour, in
which probably many a life went out, had been lost from the work. By
twelve o’clock many dead and wounded had been removed from the ruins.
The dead were largely in the majority. Many of these exhibited no
outward wounds, and had been apparently suffocated by gas escaping from
broken pipes.

But the reader may be spared further details of the recovery at Falls
City Hall. Suffice it to say, that two days were required to remove the
wreck and demonstrate the precise extent of the calamity. On this spot,
about eighty persons had lost their lives.

The narratives of some of the survivors will serve to show that while
the tornado comes without warning, the heaviest wind is not just at
first: and a cool head may sometimes profit by the interval to escape.
Sailors have a saying that the “tail” of a gale is strongest. A young
man who was taken from the wreck of the hall says:

“I was dancing when a flash of lightning, followed by a crash, made me
think that the lightning had struck some part of the rear of the
building. The next moment, the big doors that enter into the big hall in
front flew open. I continued dancing, and cried to some of the boys to
close the doors. They did so, and were bolting them, when they were
again forced open with such force as to knock down everybody around
them. Then the window sashes were blown in, and the building commenced
rocking. I saw that the house was about to fall, and I hallooed: ‘The
walls will go next.’ I ran to the dressing-room, and I think most of the
girls followed me. I got under a table and held fast to the legs,
thinking that I might be saved in that way. Then the walls began
crumbling, and the lights went out, and the floor descended like an
elevator. The crash stunned me for a moment, but finally a flash of
lightning showed me a hole in the debris, through which I might have
crawled had not my leg been pinioned between some timbers. There were
people all around me, and they were crying for help; but there was no
one to aid us. I tugged and strained, but I could not get loose.
Finally, I heard my father’s voice, and answered him; and directly he
crawled down the hole. It took him three-quarters of an hour to
extricate me, and then we both crawled out. If there had been help at
once, we might have saved others, as I knew about where they all were,
but they were more or less hurt.”

That less than half of those in the building should have been killed is
a matter of wonder. The manner of individual escapes can only be
inferred from one or two more which we subjoin.

One of the lady members of the lodge of the Knights and Ladies of Honor

“I went to attend the lodge meeting and when all were present the
calamity came. There must have been about seventy-five people in the
room at the time of the tornado. Hone of them were able to get out
before the building fell in. The first intimation we had of what was
coming was the flash of lightning and the beating of hail against the
windows. The wind howled, and I heard a fearful roaring noise. The
people became frightened, and hurriedly gathered their wraps together.
All were fearful of impending danger.

“Just at this moment I saw a round hole blown through the wall,
immediately above one of the windows. The gas went out and then I saw
another large round hole appear in the roof. Through this I saw the
lightning play with awful grandeur. This natural light was all that
relieved the gloom and darkness. I heard one of the trustees of the
lodge call out to all the people to go out quickly and in a body. He
cried out not to rush, as some one would be killed if they did. Then I
knew no more until I became conscious, and found that I was partially
imbedded in bricks and timbers. I felt blood running down my neck and
became aware that I had been struck on the head by a brick or timber. I
extricated myself, and by the flashes of lightning made my way over the
terrible mass of debris and dead bodies toward the front. I saw a man
making his way down the pile of bricks to the street, and I followed.
When I reached the sidewalk I was aided to a neighboring store by a
lodge trustee. I don’t know how he made his way out. I heard cries for
help as I came out, but I had barely strength to move, and could not
help the others.”

A thrilling experience was that of another member of the same lodge. His
estimate of the attendance, larger than the foregoing, is yet materially
exceeded by others. He says:

“The first intimations of danger we had were two distinct rockings of
the building, about which time a dormer window in the lodge room was
blown from its casings, and immediately after the plastering began to
drop from the ceiling. A wild rush was made for the ante-room, which
carried me with it, and I had just reached the door when


the entire floor gave way, and we were precipitated to the basement,
blinded and almost suffocated by a cloud of dust, and crushed and jammed
by falling timbers. In some way the doorframe fell with me and
maintained an upright position when it stopped, and I was enabled to
extricate myself from the debris and make an exit to the street through
an adjoining house, whose doors I kicked in. Meanwhile, the shrieks and
groans of those still imprisoned by the wreck formed a chorus that, in
connection with the howling of the storm, made my very heart sick. I
was, so far as hasty examination went, comparatively uninjured, and at
once returned over the ruins with several men to the rear of the place
and extinguished a fire that had begun to blaze fiercely. By this time
the rain was falling in torrents, and it was difficult for those who had
gathered from the neighborhood, or who had been as lucky as I was to
escape with life, to tell where to begin the work of rescue.

“The vivid lightning flashes only gave momentary views of the position
of the ruins, and blinded everybody. Among those whom I saw and
recognized as having escaped from Jewel lodge I can name only the
treasurer, who was covered with dust, drenched with rain and well-nigh
distracted by the probable fate of her aged father, who had attended the
lodge meeting with her and who was still in the ruins. The entire
building collapsed in front and rear, and of the east and west side
walls nothing was standing above the second story.

“So far as I could judge when I had succeeded in escaping, there were
less than a dozen, all told, who got out unhurt; and the cries for help
and groans that issued from the broken and twisted heap was proof that
scores were still there, unable to escape.”

The Union Depot was utterly demolished. An officer of the Louisville
Southern Road relates the story:

“Quite a crowd of people were present waiting for trains. Mr. Woodard,
of the Monon Railroad, was near me, and I had been talking to him. The
wind was blowing strong, and seemed to increase in power. We heard a
dull moaning in the distance, and the glass in the windows of the depot
was shattered, although the first puff was merely the advance guard of
the tornado. The people became alarmed. One man started to rush into the
ticket office, but the ticket-seller pushed him back. Mr. Woodard and I
also started for the ticket office. Just at this moment the tornado,
like a clap of thunder, struck the depot.

“The building gave way and tumbled in upon us. I was just at the door of
the ticket office when it went down. I fell, and a man standing near me
fell across me. A heavy girder fell on top of him. Mr. Woodard was only
a few feet away. I never lost consciousness. I spoke to Mr. Woodard and
he replied. We both thought we could get out alive if the depot did not
catch fire. I knew that there had been stoves with fire burning in them
in the depot before the tornado struck it, and I expected the flames to
break out at every moment.

“I spoke to the man who was lying across me and told him that he must
manage to squeeze from under the girder. I thought that if he was off me
I could manage to get out. After many desperate efforts he managed to
get from under the girder, but in doing so his bowels were torn so
terribly that the doctors do not think he can recover. He was a
brakeman, who had come here to be a witness in some case. I do not
remember his name.

“After the brakeman got off me, I was able to use my strength. Then I
got out, and so did Mr. Woodard. I was under the wreck just thirty-five
minutes. I was slightly bruised in the arm and leg, but that amounts to


Though forty or fifty persons were in the depot at the time, only one, a
restaurant boy, was killed; Twenty-one passenger coaches were more or
less wrecked. On following days the impression of the ruins upon the
beholder was peculiarly gloomy. Instead of the stir of life, the
brilliancy of electric lights, the scream of whistles and the rumbling
of trains, there was a scattered wreck, and comparative silence. A few
chickens, liberated from their coop, crept at dusk to roost on a timber,
and in subdued tones seemed to be discussing with each other the
mournful situation.



                “O cold and savage wind!
    It racks my soul to hear the wild lamenting
    Of wounded hearts whose grief knows no relenting,
    Can not their woe e’er sway thee to repenting?
                O cold and savage wind!

                O melancholy wind!
    Hast thou no requiem for the dead and dying?
    Art thou some fierce despairing spirit sighing
    O’er a lost Paradise behind thee lying?
                O melancholy wind!”

Too frequently in the confusion of great disasters the woes of the
poorer classes are forgotten in the attention given to their more
opulent neighbors. There is only too often good cause given for a slight
modification of Shylock’s speech, “Hath not a Jew eyes?” etc. There is
no sadder record than that so frequently given in a single line:
“Dead--a woman, name unknown.” What fearful heart-aches often end in the
Potter’s field!

Adjoining the Louisville Hotel was a saloon and cigar store, the rooms
over which were occupied by the hotel laundry girls. These were hurled
into the cellar, and so tightly wedged that death could not have been
long delayed. One was found sitting upright, the pallor of death on her
face, and agony in every feature. Another lay upon her back, with hands
outstretched above her head, as though she tried to thrust destruction
back. A third was sitting, dead; while near by another lay upon her
face, as though refusing to behold that which she could not shun.

    “Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
       If memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
     Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
       The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.”

Poor laundry girls! Let their dead dust be mentioned with reverence. Had
they been spoiled daughters of wealth and fashion, press reporters would
have waxed eloquent of their birth, their history, their beauty, their
accomplishments, their heritage. We should have heard in detail the
names of their wealthy and mourning friends, and of their impressive
obsequies. Magnificent monuments would have risen to mark their sleeping
dust. These five laundry girls were taken up tenderly, and two or three
days later, together borne without pomp to humble graves. But is not
honest industry in useful avocation toiling for bread a more royal thing
than silks and diamonds, bedizzening frivolity and idleness? Is there
not in America many a haughty heiress, less worthy of our tears, than

    “Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
     Their homely joys and destiny obscure;”

and when we say, Peace to their ashes! will not the reader add a fervent

On Seventeenth street was a pathetic sight. One blackened and charred
wall stood swaying in the wind. Just over the door was a sign--“Plain
Sewing.” An old woman had been the sole tenant. Here, any day for years
past, it may be,

    “With fingers weary and worn,
       With eyelids heavy and red,
     A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
       Plying her needle and thread:--
       In poverty, hunger and dirt,
     And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,
       She sang the song of the shirt.”

Her charred body was dug from beneath the ruins. Tragic end of a life of
poverty and toil! But when we reflect on the lot of many another sewing
woman, who still survives, we may, with Solomon, feel inclined to
“praise the dead who are already dead, more than the living who are yet

About Thirteenth and Walnut dwelt a peddler with wife and child. He
knocked a hole in the side wall of his wrecked home, and dragged out his
little family over a seemingly impassable pile of debris. Then he
thought of another woman and two helpless children imprisoned up stairs.
He rushed to their rescue, and dragged them out just in time to save
them from the flames, which two minutes later were licking up all that
would burn.

Society must think more of its lonely toilers; even of its peddlers and
publicans and sinners. It was the keeper of a brothel in Memphis, who,
during the awful yellow-fever visitation, turned her house into a
hospital, and ministered to the suffering till she fell a victim
herself. Jesus was looking at some very nice people when he said, “The
publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” To
those good people, such a thing would be one of the “mysteries of

“Mysteries of Providence” are continually ferreted out on such
occasions. Reporters, to whom everything that can be written is news,
gather up a hundred items and give them to the public; often grouping
items in a manner that is strikingly grotesque. There is no grimmer
humor than the apparently matter-of-fact statement that during a great
Italian earthquake, wherein lofty cathedrals were shaken to pieces and
hundreds of people killed, statues of the Virgin escaped uninjured.
Sober-minded people are prone to wonder what is the relative value of a
human life and a graven image. One might, if such things were of
constant occurrence, consider them as meant by Providence as a very
sarcastic punishment for the violation of the second commandment.


It is related that at the time of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, a
Romish captain secured a number of fugitives, among whom he felt
satisfied there were some good Catholics. Not being able to distinguish
them readily, he referred the perplexing case to a fanatical priest. The
response came promptly: “Kill all; the Lord will know his own!”

Interpreters of the inscrutable ways of Providence might find such the
only solution for many particulars of the storm. The pious but
superstitious folk who believe that all such visitations are for the
sins of a people, instead of the result of laws that send the rain alike
upon the just and the unjust, might find some perplexity in conning the
following cases.

On the next street back of Falls City Hall stood the St. John’s
Episcopal Church. The rector, with his little four-year-old boy, was in
the study. The rectory and the church were completely destroyed, and the
rector and his child were killed. In an adjoining building, ten or
eleven men were playing cards. The house was demolished, but not one of
the players was seriously hurt. The preacher perished; the idlers were
saved--herein is food for reflection.

Tierney’s saloon was on Eleventh, between Main and Market. The ice-box
saved him and four other men from being crushed. They crowded beside it,
and crawled out uninjured. The pastor and the useful laundry girls
perished; the saloon-keeper and his patrons survived.

The Catholic buildings at Seventeenth and Broadway were Father Desney’s
residence, the Sisters’ Home, the Church of the Sacred Heart, and the
parochial school. All these were wrecked by the wind, and Sister Pius
was killed. There is a story that, amid utter ruin, the image of the
Virgin was left standing, untouched by harm. Let the devout remember
that a saloon-keeper obtained an equal deliverance.

Elmer Barnes and several others ran into Eckerle’s saloon, 1001 West
Market, and securely closed the door. The building fell with a crash,
and the men were buried in the ruins. Barnes and Eckerle were
overwhelmed by the falling bricks and timber. Eckerle was fearfully
injured; Barnes was drawn from the ruins, and died a few hours
afterward. The other men were only slightly hurt. If we have had
occasion to mention the destruction of one church and of several
saloons, it is probably only because saloons are more numerous than

At a grocery store at the corner of Sixteenth and Magazine streets the
owner and five others were standing at the bar in the back part of the
store. A dreadful roaring sound was heard, and the house rocked back and
forth. The owner’s wife and children screamed and ran out the back way.
Almost instantly the rear wall of the building fell. The six men rushed
to escape by the front door, but the wind closed it with such force that
it could not be opened. The floor beneath gave way, and three men were
dropped into the cellar and pinned among the ruins. The other three
escaped through a side window. Instantly a fire kindled and took hold on
the imprisoned men. Their cries were awful, while their escaped
companions witnesssed the horrible cremation and were powerless to
render aid.

We record but a few of the multitude of deaths, experiences, incidents
and escapes. Doubtless, there is many an untold tale--something of
personal interest connected with almost every one of the hundreds of
buildings partially or wholly wrecked. The press at first exaggerated,
and perhaps finally minimized the loss of life. There is reason to think
that not all the names of the dead were given to the public, while
subsequently several died of their wounds. To the list of those who were
killed outright, or died in a few hours, better information might have
added several names, and possibly subtracted or corrected others.

The public may find in the press reports lists of the dead and numerous
records of persons injured or killed by the fallings of walls, or by
flying missiles; but these, after all, must be regarded as exceptions.
There can be no very correct estimate of the number of people who were
in the down-town district at the time of the accident. Yet, it would be
safe to say only a very small portion of those in the path of the storm
suffered any injury.

That a storm of such magnitude and fury should have swept through the
heart of a city of 200,000 people, to destroy outright no more than five
or six score lives, may excite our wonder. The most obvious reason of
the low mortality will be found in the hour and place of the principal
visitation. The place was the business part of the city, and the hour
between eight and nine P.M., when the wholesale houses and the streets
in their vicinity were comparatively deserted. Another fact is also to
be noted. The cyclone seems to have reached the ground scarcely at any
point at all. Its principal fury was probably expended in the region
above the housetops. The roofs and tops of walls were removed; the
damage below resulted principally from their fall. Humbler buildings
sheltering human lives were sometimes crushed by the fall of the upper
portion of the wall of some contiguous building; as notably, in the case
of the house occupied by the laundry girls, and which was smashed by the
fall of the wall from the top story of the Louisville Hotel; or the case
of a colored family whose house was crushed by the wall of the Falls
City Hall. But in any case of cyclonic visitation


the escapes will probably amaze us more than the deaths; for when it
will seem that nothing living could have escaped, the majority will not
only probably be found alive, but absolutely unhurt. Of numerous cases,
a few specimens will suffice:

Peter Speth and family were seated in the parlor when the cyclone
arrived. The family huddled together in the hall, doubtless to avail
themselves of the protection of the side walls not far apart. The walls
of the second story fell in with a crash. The building and furniture
were destroyed, but the family escaped without injury.

Eleven men were in a barber shop at 1803 Broadway. The roof was blown
off; the walls fell in, but all the men escaped through the windows
without a scratch.

At 329 Eleventh street, on the upper floor of a two-story brick, a lady
lay at the point of death; watched by her son and daughter. She begged
them to flee for their lives, but they refused to forsake her. The roof
was stripped clean off, but the devoted children with their mother
escaped injury.

In one cottage on Chapel street dwelt a family of five. At once all were
in the house, when the storm demolished it, and four escaped unhurt.

Major Galt, of the Louisville and Nashville Road, lived in a two-story
brick. He apprehended no danger till the walls fell. His wife was buried
under a pile of bricks. Her husband with difficulty extricated her, and
carried her unconscious to the house of a neighbor. Save for the shock,
she was not seriously hurt.

Now, were such cases the exception--had not such instances happened in a
hundred other places similarly visited--there would certainly be cause
for perplexity. But the phenomena of the Louisville storm tend only to
establish the truth of a fact long suspected: that the most


destructive effects of a tornado are not always attributable to the
direct force of the wind. A number of interesting incidents of the
Louisville storm will serve to illustrate a now clearly established

Mrs. Fitzpatrick and her family were in a two-story brick, 1433
Seventeenth street. They were all in an upper room and could not get
out. The walls fell outward, while the floor still remained in its
place. They climbed down unhurt.

James Smith (colored) lived with his wife and seven children in Congress
Alley, in the rear of Falls City Hall. Himself, his wife and three
children were crushed beneath the mass of bricks and timbers; the
remaining four children were taken out more dead than alive. Yet, the
house was not in the least moved from its place. The building was
crushed by the wall of the hall, which fell outward. Similar was the
fate of the laundry girls. The house in which they were was crushed by
the top of the wall of the Louisville Hotel, which fell outward, toward
the wind.

The colored Odd Fellows were holding a meeting in their hall at
Thirteenth and Walnut. The two upper stories were blown entirely down.
Several large circular holes were blown through the brick walls; one of
these in the side away from the storm. Several received more or less
injury, but not one was fatally hurt.

At 1315 Eighteenth street, was a magnificent new brick cottage. The roof
remained, but in the west wall were made “six holes, round as a dollar,
and large enough to admit a flour barrel.” It is added that the missing
bricks were nowhere to be found.

Finally, take the experience of a grocer on West Market street:

“I was inside of my store, and my clerk was there, too. Standing on the
pavement outside were policeman Harlow, a man named Charles Taylor, who
said he lived in Jeffersonville, a negro whose name I do not know, and
Carl Rice, an eight-year-old boy who lived with his parents in the rooms
above my store. When the wind grew high and the hail began to pelt, Mr.
Harlow attempted to open the front door of the store, which was closed,
to come inside for shelter. At that moment the tornado came in all its
fury. No one who was not in it can conceive of its terrific force. The
suction from without, as the full force came, was so great that it was
impossible to get the front door open. My clerk at work on it on the
inside and Mr. Harlow on the outside, were as powerless against the wind
as babies would have been in attempting to move a stone wall.

“But their efforts were not of long duration. The tornado forced its way
in the rear of the upper stories of my building, and with impetuosity
unequaled forged through the apartments against the front wall. This
wall popped out and fell to the pavement below, upon those standing
there, burying them in the debris. The front is entirely gone, as you
see. Mr. Harlow and the little boy Carl Rice, were close up to the front
door, and only a small portion of the wall struck them. Taylor and the
negro were out on the pavement further, and they fared worse. Taylor’s
leg was broken at the ankle, and he was internally injured. The negro
had a hole knocked in his skull larger than a silver dollar, and was
used up generally. Mr. Harlow was bruised, but fortunately has no bones
broken, and is not dangerously hurt. The little boy’s head was pretty
badly cut and bruised, but he is not in a serious condition.”

Now, in all of these cases is noticeable the same peculiar feature of
walls falling outward, sometimes even against the wind: or of holes
being burst in walls, the bricks being


thrown so far that they could not be found, or distinguished from those
of other houses. This might seem inexplicable--that the windward walls
often fall outward. But it must be remembered that all storms with a
wind system blowing spirally upward and inward are characterized by low
barometer, signifying a diminution in atmospheric pressure at the storm
center; and the lower the barometer, the more violent the storm. Now, it
is clear that if a storm advance slowly, and be widely diffused, the air
in the regions through which it moves has time to accommodate itself
gradually to the change, and expanding slowly to equalize the pressure
in all directions, its rarefaction is not perceptible to the ordinary
observer: and the denser air within a dwelling expands so gradually that
all the surplus can escape through chinks and crevices, if the doors and
windows be closed.

But the narrow-path tornado comes so rapidly as to produce little
atmospheric change beforehand; while directly at its center the
barometer may stand as much as two inches lower than in the surrounding
region. Now, a fall of two inches means, in round numbers, a lessening
of pressure of one pound to every square inch, or one hundred and
forty-four pounds to the square foot. As the air normally presses
equally in all directions, the passage of a storm of this sort may mean
a sudden change from fifteen pounds pressure to the inch on each side of
a wall, to fifteen pounds on the inside and fourteen only on the
outside. When such a sudden change is brought to bear on every square
inch of the interior of a house, it necessarily amounts to an explosion.

Suppose that in the case of the door which the men were unable to open,
that the pressure had been as great as one pound to the inch. Then an
ordinary seven-by-three door would be held in place by a force of a ton
and a half. This same power has been observed to burst the
weather-boarding from frame houses, leaving the frame and inner surfaces

The reader will wonder why, in such cases, the windows do not burst out,
leaving the walls unhurt. This often occurs. But very great pressure
would evidently act just as does powder in a blast: the rock is rent ere
the tamping is torn out, though the latter has far less resistive power;
while very violent explosives do not even need any tamping in order to
utilize their force.

It would seem, then, that a house with open doors and windows has a
better chance of weathering a tornado, whether in respect to direct
impact of wind, or to the expansive force of air within, than a house
which is shut up. Here, again, quite a number of instances can be
adduced of houses caught suddenly thus by tornadoes and escaping unhurt,
while houses upon either side were demolished.

But that the direct force of the wind on the Louisville occasion was
very great is abundantly evidenced. Numerous are the apparently curious
freaks that were noticed. A city paper, four days after the storm,
contained the following:

“There are hundreds of the most interesting and miraculous incidents
connected with the tornado, showing the queerest sort of freaks of the
wind. A block of iron casting, weighing over one hundred and fifty
pounds, was blown into the second story of the Chesapeake, Ohio and
Southern Railway building, near the Union Depot. Nobody knows where it
came from, and the nearest building from which it could have come is
nearly one hundred yards away. Great sheets of tin roofing were dropped
upon Dr. Barry’s farm near Turner’s Station, forty miles from the city,
on the Short Line. In the ruins of a house on West Main street a clock
was found clinging to the wall. It was a large


office clock, but no one in the vicinity had ever seen it before, and no
one knows where it came from. It was badly broken, but the hands still
pointed to 8:20 P.M. A large slab of marble was found in a residence on
West Madison street which was never there before. It will weigh over one
hundred pounds. At Baird’s drug store on Market above Ninth, two bird
cages with the birds were blown in through the skylight. The cages were
not injured, and the birds are as full of song as ever. When the
building occupied by Brand & Bethel, the tobacco men of Green street,
went to pieces, a portion of the frame-work dropped through the roof of
a little cottage just east of the factory. It consisted of a heavy
timber, to which were mortised four upright pieces of timber. When this
came through the cottage the family were sitting around the table in the
dining-room, and the four uprights simply pinned them in but did not
hurt them in the least. It was one of the most wonderful escapes yet
heard of.”

To the unexperienced reader some of these items seem almost apocryphal.
But when it is remembered that a tallow candle may be shot through a
deal board, or that an ox may be killed by a putty-ball fired from a
gun, or that a revolver loaded with water instead of ball is a deadly
weapon, it will not seem preposterous that a cage may be hurled through
a skylight without seriously discommoding the birds. The writer has seen
soft pine shingles driven endwise through oak boards an inch thick by a
Missouri tornado. Other similar cases might be given.

The carrying of objects to a distance depends as much on the upward
current as the horizontal motion. One of the simplest illustrations of
the inevitable spiral course that an upward or downward current pursues
may be seen in the ordinary wash-bowl with hole in the bottom. As soon
as the plug is drawn and the water commences to


pour out, it begins to assume a spiral course; and, long before the
water is out, there is a circular hole in the fluid, reaching to the
bottom of the basin. This last illustrates also that the air is rarest
at the center of the storm. Pouring liquids through a funnel will show
the same spiral tendency. So an object borne away by a tornado rises in
curves much like those of a hawk or eagle in flying.

Other peculiar feats of the wind were noticed. Some persons caught by
the storm, had no especial trouble in keeping on their feet; while
others were knocked about severely. One man was killed by having his
throat cut by a piece of flying glass. A frame house, standing near the
corner of Eighteenth and Maple, was shot full of holes by flying bricks
from another house a hundred yards away. A lady standing in the doorway
was picked up by the wind and hurled against a telegraph pole at a
distance of sixty feet. Another lady and her nephew, at the first shock
rushed into the street. They were caught up by the wind and hurled some
distance against a fence. They were found unconscious and both badly

A frame house on Sixteenth street looked as if it had suffered
bombardment. Holes were cut in the weather-boarding by planks evidently
driven through the air endwise, and pieces several feet long had
penetrated and stuck hard and fast.

The building of the Louisville City Railway at Twelfth and Jefferson
streets was scooped through the middle, while the ends were left
standing. This was, perhaps, due to the explosive force of the air
within, which burst out the weaker portions. In a building of any
considerable length, the points most easily overthrown by lateral
pressure would naturally be found in the middle portions of the longer

At a stone-yard on Walnut, between Thirteenth and Fourteenth, the
immense iron “traveler,” with its locomotive--the whole weighing many
tons--mounted on an elevated track and used for transferring immense
blocks of stone from one side of the yard to the other, was blown into
the street and smashed to pieces, while close by, three small brick
buildings and one frame were left unharmed. Such cases show how the
larger obstacles cause the storm to somewhat overleap the smaller ones,
producing the “jumping” motion mentioned before. The narrow path of the
storm may be judged from the fact that no small portion of the good
people of Louisville were not aware of the ruinous tempest till they
read of its deeds in the morning papers.

The total damage done to property is estimated at $2,000,000. Much the
heaviest loss was among the great tobacco warehouses.

There has been some discussion as to whether any sort of buildings are
safe in a storm: but so long as the most violent tropical cyclones leave
many houses unhurt after a protracted gale, there is little fear that
the walls of our large buildings may not readily be made massive enough
to withstand any atmospheric storms.

The chief damage done to business houses was along Main, Jefferson and
Walnut streets; the damage to dwellings being greatest along Broadway.
The havoc on all the crossings in the limits of the tornado was

It was observed that the buildings on the north sides of the streets
parallel to the river suffered most. These more nearly faced the
advancing storm, while the open street in front of them gave the wind an
increased advantage. This will be better comprehended if the reader will
recollect that the tornado of the northern hemisphere rotates in a
direction contrary to the hands of a watch. So in the case of one
moving eastward or northeastward, the wind on the front edge is blowing
directly northward or northwestward. So the current, slightly broken in
passing through a block, regains its strength somewhat in slanting
across the next street, and assaults the next block with renewed force.

Louisville, though the principal sufferer by the storm, was not the
first. The tornado formed some distance to the southwest of the city,
and on its devastating march toward Louisville mowed clean a wide swath
through the woods, and fell upon the beautiful suburb of Parkland. The
Mayor’s two-story brick residence parted with its roof at the first
shock. The Mayor’s wife was up-stairs in bed, ill of pneumonia. Her
husband and another man seized the bed and carried her into the yard.
Scarcely was this accomplished when the full force of the storm
prostrated the building.

It may be noticed in this connection, that the most destructive wind is
never in the first shock, the parting gust being usually the most
damaging. Doubtless this is because the expansion of the atmosphere
within the house at the moment the center of calm passes over it weakens
the building to such an extent that the rear of the tornado, striking
the house from the opposite direction, readily overthrows it. No such
peculiarity is observable in a forest. The trees, containing no vast
quantities of air, are usually felled by the first stroke, if at all.

The track of the storm through Parkland was one-eighth of a mile wide.
From the rate at which it spread, it is clear it could be but
short-lived. Within its path, it was more destructive in Parkland than
in Louisville. The frame school-house was lifted from its foundation,
carried a few feet away, and then torn to fragments. The Daisy Line
depot was totally demolished. The Masonic Temple parted with its upper
story. Thirteen houses in the village were completely wrecked, and
several others more or less damaged. It will be remembered that in
Louisville the upper stories suffered most: but here the storm was
fresh, and almost every building struck was razed to the ground. The
total damage was about $20,000.


Passing through Louisville and crossing the river, the cyclone struck
Jeffersonville, on the Indiana side. Here, upwards of eighty houses were
seriously damaged, and quite a number totally destroyed. Two days later,
the press gave the loss at $500,000--probably a great exaggeration, as
the particulars given did not tally at all with the general statement.
Singularly enough, not a life was lost, and only one or two persons were
materially injured.


The damage was mostly to roofs and top-stories, and the people were
doubtless indoors and below. This, however, does not account for the
deliverance of a number of persons in buildings which were completely
destroyed. Possibly some of these may be accounted for by sudden
explosions of buildings, such as has been noticed heretofore. The
fragments would be much more apt to injure persons just outside than
those within. The largely increased percentage of damage done to roofs
and upper stories only shows how rapidly the storm was weakening. It
could not go very much farther with its devastation. The old Orphans’
Home was wrecked; one old lady injured; a pastor’s house demolished,
while two men in the upper story in some mysterious way escaped unhurt.
At the foot of Front street, a shanty occupied by a man with wife and
three children was lifted bodily and thrown into the river. The family
would have been drowned had not some car-works employes rescued them, at
the peril of their own lives. A number of guests, and some who came for
shelter, were in a house at the corner of First and Spring streets. The
shock of the tornado was followed by a hail of bricks and tumbling
walls, but no one of the entire assembly was seriously hurt.


The average American worships no god but Mammon. He may go to church and
bow his head to Jehovah, but it is Mammon who keeps his heart. Between
his devout amens he is thinking of the main chance. He can be converted
and made religious; it is a great deal harder to make him honest. He is
willing to sing the praises of the Lord, but he doesn’t like to foot the
bills. Amid the sorrow and bereavement of a stricken city, the American
was true to himself. Those who had lost house and friends, were asked to
pay ten dollars for a carriage in which to follow the corpse to the
grave. As about thirty victims of the storm were buried on Sunday, it
may be inferred that the carriages in each procession were none too
numerous. A sad sight was that of the four laundry girls, and the
chamber-maid, all being borne together to their long home. Hardly less
impressive was the burial at half-hour intervals of ten members of the
I. O. O. F., killed in Falls City Hall. It was a profitable day for

Nor did the officers of the Louisville and Southern Railroad forget
their interests. They had for some time been desirous of regaining
possession of their property controlled by the Monon Route. This they
did in the confusion, dismay and darkness, immediately following the

The writer does not wish to do any injustice to his people. Such items
present but one side of the American’s character. He is a strange
mixture of grasping greed and warm-hearted generosity. The latter is an
inborn trait; the former in-drilled. We live in a rushing age. We are no
more in a hurry about being rich than we are about a score of other
things. Haste is a national characteristic.

Further, our people are brought up with peculiar ideas of success in
life. Everything is reduced to a basis of cold cash. A man may be
learned, talented, industrious; but all these things are counted for
naught if he is not also wealthy. So our young people are brought up to
think that money-making is the one business of life; and as a result the
business world is full of those who resort to sharp practice and
questionable methods, merely because they have been taught to
subordinate honor and equity to gain-getting. Yet, the warm sympathies
and native generosity of our people are continually coming to the front,
in a way that, in view of the other traits, is sometimes amusingly
inconsistent. Men who will haggle almost


about the price of a pin, or make their living by wild or fraudulent
speculation; nay, even professional gamblers, or worse characters, are
prompt in responding to the wail of a distressed city or state. After
all, we are brethren. Yet, our good and bad qualities are so thoroughly
mingled that we must continually rob Peter to pay Paul.

The American has another prominent trait--independence. He does not
accept aid, as such, when he feels he can do without it: nor does he
wait for demands of help, when he hears of great misfortunes that have
befallen his fellow countrymen. Leigh Hunt once asked a very ragged and
forlorn Irishman, “Why don’t you ask for alms?” “Alms, is it? Sure and
isn’t it begging I am with every bone of my body?” The average American
is generally quick to recognize a case that speaks for itself. To
Louisville, in the hour of her calamity, came tenders of help from many
quarters, and these offers would have been greatly multiplied, had not
the citizens declined the proffered assistance. They felt that the
resources of the city were equal to the necessity. They were grateful,
but self-reliant.



    “From the dark earth impervious vapors rise,
     Increase the darkness and involve the skies.
     At once the rushing winds, with roaring sound,
     Burst from th’ Æolian caves and rend the ground;
     With equal rage their airy quarrel try,
     And win by turns the kingdom of the sky.
     But with a thicker night black Auster shrouds
     The heavens, and drives on heaps the rolling clouds,
     From whose dark womb a rattling tempest pours,
     Which the cold north congeals to haily showers.
     From pole to pole the thunder roars aloud,
     And broken lightnings flash from every cloud.
     Now smokes with showers the misty mountain ground,
     And floated fields lie undistinguished ’round.
     Where late was dust, now rapid torrents play--
     Rush through the mounds, and bear the dams away.
     Old limbs of trees, from crackling forests torn,
     Are whirled in air, and on the winds are borne.”

A casual glance at the papers during the last days of March would have
satisfied any one that the storm which passed over the country was
anything but insignificant. So far, we have given only the story of a
single neighborhood; while a score of others suffered more or less. A
brief account of some of these will be of interest, and will give us a
far better idea of the character of great storms and tornadoes.

The farthest point west touched by a tornado on that memorable day was a
strip near the line between Missouri and Kansas, some fifty or sixty
miles south of Kansas City. Here, a small tornado made its appearance
about five o’clock in the afternoon, demolishing some fences and


barns, and breaking down a few trees: but, so far as known, no one was
hurt. Meanwhile, the main storm had passed eastward much earlier in the

Shortly after the storm reached St. Louis, violent cyclonic movements
were excited in southeast Missouri, upwards of a hundred miles away. At
3 P.M. the little town of Bloomsdale was struck, and five houses were
instantly prostrated. The occupants of four of them were, at the time,
in the Catholic church, and the family who occupied the fifth escaped
unhurt. Two sides of their house were blown away; while one side was
blown inward, and would have crushed them but for chairs and tables
which sustained its weight. The church suffered the loss of its steeple,
and was otherwise damaged. A stable containing seven horses was blown
away, and not one of the horses was injured.

A cloud gathered, and a cyclone seemed to form at, or over, Charleston.
It followed the Cairo branch of the Iron Mountain Road eastward. Four
miles from Charleston it struck the flag-station known as Hough’s,
having on the way demolished one or two farm-houses, and made havoc of
the forest. The little hamlet of Hough’s was razed from the earth, not a
house being left intact. One dwelling was blown two hundred feet across
the railway track and smashed. The owner, his wife and son were killed,
and another son was badly injured. The three-year-old baby was taken up
unharmed. Another family lived near by in a log house. It was blown
away, and they were left sitting on the floor, wondering.

Such a case as this is by no means rare. It is one of the many freaks of
the wind not easily understood. In the great cyclone of forty or fifty
miles in diameter, the wind comes in gusts or waves, and such effects
might be readily understood; but in the case of the tornado, of at most
but a few Hundred yards in diameter, its passage is too rapid for those
in its path to learn definitely whether it be uniform or not.

Other peculiar feats were noticed at Hough’s. A girl seventeen years old
was blown one hundred and fifty yards into a pond, but was rescued in
time to save her from drowning; and it is said that a man and woman were
blown across a sixty-acre wheat field, and picked up insensible. The
further statement that the bark was peeled clean from the trees, though
seemingly most incredible of all, is very probably true; for the writer
has a vivid recollection of precisely the same phenomenon on the theater
of the Marshfield cyclone in southwest Missouri. In that instance the
bark was peeled from hundreds of hickory saplings, almost from the roots
to their topmost twigs. This effect was inconceivable from any cause
that could be thought of. It was done by missiles flying through the
air, or the trees were bent over and threshed against the ground, or
there was some unknown force prevalent in the storm, similar, perhaps,
to that which shatters the bark or body of a thunder-smitten oak. To an
observer on the ground the first two suppositions seemed to be excluded.
Is this peculiar power of the tornado to be sought, like that of Keely’s
Motor, in some occult force?

From Hough’s Station the tornado may have bounded above the tree-tops
and descended again a few miles further on at Bird’s Point, opposite to
Cairo, Illinois. Anyhow, a tornado struck the former place at 4:35 P.M.
It was first seen above the trees, it showed a yellowish cast, and had
the usual funnel shape. About three hundred yards from the town it came
to the ground and commenced its work of destruction. Eight or ten houses
were blown to pieces, or badly damaged; a roof was carried two hundred
feet into the air; a yearling calf was thrown forty


feet into a big ditch filled with, water, and--nobody was hurt.

At Cape Girardeau, on the Mississippi, fifty miles above Bird’s Point,
there was a tremendous hail, which broke thousands of windows, and a
gale lasting far into the night, with damage to timber, fences, and

Illinois suffered far worse than Missouri. The southern part of the
state fared badly; and the further south, the worse. The storm which
struck St. Louis at 3 P.M., was, a few minutes later, giving the
Illinois towns on the other side a lively experience. Edwardsville,
O’Fallon and Centerville received a heavy gale. At Coulterville,
buildings, barns, and orchards suffered severely, and several persons
were injured. Sparta was struck about 3:15 P.M. From the second story of
the public school building, observers watched the approach of the storm.
Two black clouds from opposite quarters of the heavens came together, as
by attraction, and mingled with a rotary motion. The tornado passed
within a mile of the town on the northeast, and mowed a swath through
the heavy timber. No such rain, hail and wind, mingled with fire, had
ever been seen before. Many barns were destroyed; several houses were
blown to pieces; three or four persons were seriously hurt. A traveling
man was whisked out of his buggy by the wind, carried some distance, and
sustained severe injuries; the horses were thrown down, and the buggy
was completely wrecked.

At Grand Tower, on the Mississippi, forty miles above Cape Girardeau,
there was a terrific tornado at 4:30 P.M. It came from the west, and
swept houses, trees, trains--everything, in its course. Its track is
described as one of “extreme desolation.” Four or five persons, at
least, were killed, and as many injured. Twenty-seven dwelling-houses
were completely demolished, and a great many others unroofed, or
otherwise damaged.

At Murphysboro, Illinois, many windows were broken by the great hail;
while there came an unverified report of fifteen or more persons killed
about Shiloh, and to the north of Campbell Hill. South of Murphysboro,
several houses were blown down; two children were killed.

At Centralia, two and one-fourth inches of rain fell in twenty minutes,
changing later into snow. Farm buildings west of town suffered
considerable damage.

At Carbondale, the dreaded funnel appeared, and two blocks of houses
were unroofed.

Five miles southwest of Xenia, many out-buildings were blown down and
several houses destroyed. A school-house on the prairie was blown away,
and one of the sills carried nearly a quarter of a mile.

In the southern part of Union county, seven miles southwest of Anna, a
tornado swept a track about half a mile wide and four miles long, over
the richest farms, destroying stock, orchards, forests and houses. One
or two persons were fatally hurt. At Mt. Pleasant, twelve miles east of
Anna, there was extensive destruction of property.

At Braidwood, a number of houses and out-buildings were blown away;
trees were torn up, several persons severely injured, and two or three
children are said to have “disappeared.” The writer remembers an
instance that occurred some years ago, when a fourteen-year-old boy was
carried five miles and dropped into a stream: but such a case does not
occur in this country once in many years. One of the freaks told of the
wind at Braidwood is, that it rolled a man in the road and whisked a
watch out of his pocket. It does not appear that any funnel-shaped cloud
was seen here.

At Cairo, out of a fleet of shanty-boats, thirteen were destroyed, and
an old cripple was drowned.

The storm struck Nashville (Ill.) at 4 P.M. The rain,

[Illustration: RUINED DWELLINGS.]

changing to furious hail, fell so fast that one could scarcely see ten
feet. The wind blew with terrific force. The Prohibition Tabernacle and
a two-story brick cooper shop went down. Beginning six miles southeast
on Little Prairie, the damage was fearful, and ranged through a sweep,
to the northeast, of twenty miles. Not less than thirty houses were
destroyed, and twice that number badly damaged. Of numerous casualties,
one or two will illustrate the force of the wind at this place: One
family of seven were sitting in their house as the storm drew near. Two
of the little girls becoming frightened, ran out, when the wind caught
them up, carried them across a field a quarter of a mile wide, and
dropped them uninjured, save from violent pelting of the hail. As the
remaining members of the family were in the act of forsaking the house,
it fell, and all were more or less hurt.

This case would seem to indicate a lack of uniformity in the strength of
the wind; it being powerful enough at one point to carry away children,
while the house, only a few feet away at most, was still standing. One
or two other cases of persons being carried a considerable distance were
reported from Nashville.

All such instances show the powerful upward current of the tornado; for
wind of greater horizontal velocity is often observed, which produces no
such effects. To the uplifting force must be in some degree attributed
the fact that in many cases only roofs or upper stories are damaged.
This same force is responsible for not a few showers of objects that do
not pertain to the upper air: such as the occasionally reported showers
of fish and frogs.

A tornado swept up Bay Bottom in Pope county, accompanied by “rain and
hail in floods and volleys.” A partial report shows a school-house
dashed against a bluff a hundred feet away and reduced to kindling-wood.
A number of residences were destroyed, and several persons were killed.

In all the cases hitherto noted, the tornado, when seen, is reported as
about one-eighth of a mile wide. The next one on the list, while
powerful, is much smaller.

The southwest part of Olney was devastated by a cyclone at 5:35 P.M. Its
track was about a hundred yards wide and a mile long. It shattered or
destroyed the homes of, perhaps, five hundred people. Strange to relate,
only two or three persons were badly hurt. John Bourrell was voted the
wisest man. His house was blown to atoms; but he and his wife were safe
in their “cyclone cellar,” and absorbing much comfort from a $600
cyclone policy on their building.

But the climax of ruin for Illinois was reached at Metropolis, a town of
4,000 people, situated on the Ohio River, thirty-eight miles above
Cairo, and eleven miles below Paducah. A greenish tinge of the
approaching cloud was the only unusual portent. “Suddenly there came
from the southwest a rolling, apparently born of the union of two
clouds, which met in mid-air, and in a moment swooped down into the Ohio
river, now at flood-tide, and on lifting, there followed it a column of
water, estimated all the way from fifty to two hundred feet in height.”
This curious phenomenon swept onward, striking the river front like the
hammer of a Cyclop. In an instant, down went a large number of
buildings, including principal business houses, and the finest
residences of the city. A few persons were seriously hurt, and two or
three were killed. Of course, there were wonderful escapes. One
gentleman had a numerous array of little children; the house was swept
from over the family, and not a soul was hurt. In the country the
devastation was even more appalling. Residences, out-buildings,
churches, even grave-stones were wiped from the face of the earth.

A relief committee was organized. In their dispatch of two days later,
addressed to the St. Louis _Republic_ newspaper, and praying for help,
they say: “Hundreds of homes, the result of a life of labor, have been
swept away in less time than it takes to record it. All kinds of
property have been destroyed. The damage is estimated at over $200,000.”

[Illustration: PATH OF TORNADO--OLNEY, ILL.]

Such is a partial list of the more important casualties of the great
storm. Space is lacking to give detail to all the minor visitations and
incidents. Such storms only attract the attention of the public when
some thickly-settled region is visited. Numerous hamlets and small towns
might be named, of which nothing but the bare fact that a tornado passed
through is recorded. The rural districts are, of course, far more
frequently swept; but the narrowness and short path of the tornado
preclude its doing much damage among them.

Now, we have noticed a dozen different localities, all experiencing much
the same sort of storms. The unthinking person might deem all this
devastation the work of a single storm. Such is the case: but a
distinction must be made between the storm itself, and the tornadoes
produced by it. That there were various tornadoes entirely distinct, or
independent of each other, the reader may clearly perceive, by examining
the foregoing pages. It will be noticed that in several cases the
tornado was seen to form near the spot devastated; and further may be
noted the hours at which the whirlwinds appeared. For instance, the one
which passed near Shawneetown, Missouri, came later than most of those
in Illinois; yet all moved toward the northeast. A brief review of the
main storm will be of interest, and show how the various tornadoes were

It has already been stated that the storm originated somewhere about the
southwest corner of Wyoming. Here, as early as Wednesday morning, the
Signal Service observed an area of very low barometer. It moved rapidly
eastward, with a trend toward the south, passing in the vicinity of
Denver, Kansas City, and St. Louis, thence northeast through the central
part of Indiana to Lake Erie. The central path of the storm was a
violent and progressive movement of the air, doing in its passage
trifling damage in some localities. The cyclonic movements which did the
principal mischief, were all to the south of the storm center, and were
local and violent motions of the air about an axis, while yet there was
a progressive movement from southwest to northeast.

Now, these lesser whirlwinds are produced in exactly the same way as the
great cyclones of many miles in diameter, which we have already seen do
not originate on land often, because of the irregularities of surface
that hinder. But the local currents of wind, in meeting, produce the
whirling motion. Compare with the moving of a current of water. Every
river forms eddies along the bank, which move a short distance down and
toward the main current, and then break up. Consider the great area of
low barometer moving eastward, and it will be seen that the local
tornadoes, suddenly forming and moving but a few miles, are simply
eddies on its edge. It is easy to watch these produced on a small scale;
for nature’s principles are the same in small and great: when we have
mastered the atom, we have mastered the whole object.

[Illustration: SCENE AT OLNEY, ILL.]

Let one observe a great fire in a forest or prairie. On the outskirts of
newly burned areas, when the air has been rarefied by heat, may be seen
sudden and violent movements about a point, as though there was a spirit
in the wind. In a moment it has lifted the ashes and scorched


stalks, and whatever light matters were in its way, and circling,
perhaps, wider and stronger for a time, has borne them onward and upward
toward the heavens, where at length its force was dissipated, and it
mingled with the surrounding air. Similar movements were excited along
the southern limits of the storm area, which we are describing; and
hence, not one cyclone, but more properly speaking, a multitude of
little cyclones--tornadoes independent of each other, but dependent on
the main current, or great eastward traveling storm center--swept
through points in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky; all
rushing toward the line of the lowest barometrical depression, the
actual and advancing storm center. Not since the Signal Service had been
established had the barometer at St. Louis stood so low as 28.46, which,
reduced to sea-level, means 29.08. Toward this region of rarefied
air--this partial vacuum--the cyclonic movements from the south rushed
with inconceivable fury, and as the nucleus of the storm was rapidly
moving eastward, the cyclonic movements were turned from a north to a
northeast course. All these varied movements simply result from the
effort of a disturbed atmosphere to restore an equilibrium.

The illustration of the fire used above also affords a good example of
the way rotation may result from rising air. Any one who has watched a
great fire in calm weather knows that sparks and smoke do not rise
straight up, but in spirals and whirls, the warmer centers rising
faster, just as the middle of a stream flows faster than the edge.

But the powerful winds and the damage done were not all the work of the
marginal whirlwinds. A storm center moving so rapidly must necessarily
have carried a steady high wind. Leaving Wyoming, by Wednesday evening
the storm was in the middle of Colorado; on Wednesday night, it moved
well into Kansas; on Thursday, it crossed States of Missouri and
Illinois, and Thursday night it was passing over Indiana.

The climax of energy was apparently not attained until the storm reached
Illinois. In Missouri, more or less damage was done to fences and
buildings, from Sedalia to St. Louis. At the former place, a roof or two
was blown off, and the teachers in one of the schools were so alarmed
that they dismissed the children. Jefferson City, sixty miles further
on, made a record of damaged roofs and shattered windows. At St. Louis,
there was a deluge of rain at three o’clock in the afternoon, lasting a
half hour; and the wind blew with fury during the evening and greater
part of the night. It drove in and smashed some plate-glass windows,
blew off an occasional roof, and from the top of the corner of St.
Patrick’s School, hurled to the sidewalk a stone weighing, probably,
four hundred pounds.

The story of the Louisville tornado serves to well illustrate all the
peculiar features of the local whirlwinds produced by great storms. They
seldom travel more than thirty miles; usually much less. Sometimes as
large as two miles in diameter, they seldom exceed five hundred yards;
and one of but fifty yards in diameter may be powerful enough to wreck a

Often it is possible to trace the path of a tornado through the forest a
century or more after its passage; for the reason that trees once
destroyed are usually replaced by different varieties. But the tornado
usually originates in the open country, though after its formation it
may sweep through heavy timber.


So far as loss of life is concerned, the tornado is much more to be
feared than lightning. About two thousand people have been killed in
this country within ten years by these rotary storms. Yet, all over the
land, people put up rods that are expensive, and often worse than
useless, as a precaution against lightning, when a small “cyclone
cellar” could be dug that would be far more useful, and less expensive.
While intense electrical displays accompany the tornado, there is no
authentic record of lightning striking during one; and as will be seen
in another place, the amount of electricity present seems to be rather
an effect than a cause: for rapid motion of gases may be made to
produce powerful electric currents.

While the tornado is justly feared in this country, yet, as a
destructive agent, it is far surpassed by a number of

[Illustration: Instantaneous View of a Tornado.]

others whose ravages are less dreaded. It would be comparatively easy to
show, we think, that more persons have been killed in one way or another
by railways in ten years past than by tornadoes.

The one that has been so carefully examined must not be considered as
the worst our country has known. An examination of records of the past
century will show a number that were more destructive to life and
property. Doubtless, an account of some of these would interest the
reader. Place is given to a few.

The tornado has been observed, to some extent, in this country for more
than a century: but only when our central states were well peopled did
it attract very great attention. It is not common in the eastern states,
and but one has ever been recorded west of Dodge City, Kansas. It is not
unknown in Europe, though far less common than with us, having been
noticed a few times in France. In general, it is so rare that a tornado
that passed through Monville in 1845 attracted such attention as to be
noticed in French text-books on physics. To the American, there is
nothing unusual in the conduct of this storm.

Perhaps the earliest detail of a storm of this sort among us is that of
a double one in South Carolina, on the afternoon of May 2, 1761:

“The tornado crossed the Ashley River and swooped down upon the shipping
at Rebellion Wharf with such fury as to threaten the destruction of the
entire fleet. From the city, it was seen coming at first rapidly toward
Wappo Creek, like a column of smoke, with a very irregular and
tumultuous movement. The quantity of vapor which composed this column,
and its prodigious velocity, produced such intense commotion that it
agitated Ashley River to its depths and left the channel bare. The ebb
and flow made the shipping float off to a great distance. When it struck
the river, it made a noise like continuous thunder; its diameter, at
that moment, was estimated at fifteen hundred feet, and its height, as
seen at Charleston,

[Illustration: TORNADO AT MONVILLE.]

at twenty-five degrees. It was met at White Point by another whirlwind,
which descended Cooper River, but was not equal to the first. When they
came together, the commotion in the air was much greater still; the foam
and the vapor seemed to be thrown to the height of forty degrees, while
the clouds that hurried from all directions toward that point seemed to
rush thither and whirl about at one and the same time, with incredible
velocity. The meteor then darted on the shipping in the roadstead, and
reached them in three minutes, although the distance was nearly six
miles. Out of forty-five vessels, five were sunk on the spot; the state
ship, Dolphin, and eleven others were dismasted. The damage, estimated
at more than £200,000, was done in a moment, and even the vessels that
sank were swallowed up so rapidly that the people who were below had
scarcely time to scramble up on deck. The whirlwind of Cooper River
changed the course of the one that came from Wappo Creek, which, had it
not been for that, would, proceeding in the same direction, have swept
away the city of Charleston before it like so much straw.

“This terrible column was first perceived about noon, at more than fifty
miles southwest of the roads. It destroyed everything in its way, making
a complete avenue when it passed through the woods. The loss of the five
ships was so sudden that it is not known whether it was the weight of
the column of wind, or the mass of water driven upon them that made them
go down.”

The tornado occasionally originates at sea and whirls up a heavy column
of water for a few feet, which, meeting the dark funnel from above,
presents the appearance of a pillar of water reaching the clouds. Not a
few ignorant people once imagined that all rain originated from the
water thus sucked up. These columns, or “water-spouts,” are generally a
few feet in diameter, and may sometimes be broken by firing a
cannon-ball through them. They are not ordinarily considered dangerous:
but there are some exceptions, and it is not improbable that many a ship
that left port, never to be heard of again, has been overwhelmed by some
gigantic water-spout.

Of the most destructive tornadoes in the United States, Mississippi
records the two leading ones. The first came on May 7, 1840, and Natchez
was the principal sufferer, though other portions of Adams county were
swept. The day began warm and cloudy, with the wind south, veering to
east. At 2:15 P.M., the sky became a lurid yellow; the storm striking
the river six or seven miles below the city, did not reach it until 2
P.M. The rush of the wind did not last five minutes, and the destructive
blast only a few seconds. Houses were burst outward; three hundred and
seventeen persons were killed in the city and on the river. Sheet tin
was carried twenty miles, and windows thirty miles. One hundred and nine
persons were badly injured, and property to the value of $1,260,000
destroyed. Most of the deaths resulted from drowning; two steamers and
sixty flatboats were sunk, while the city was flooded with nine inches
of rain. Enormous hail-stones fell. A desk fastened with three locks,
was blown open by the explosive force of the expanding air within.
Another curious freak of this expansive power occurred in a tornado at
New Brunswick. A towel hanging on the wall was found apparently blown
nearly through it. The expanding air had driven the towel in a large
crevice which opened in the wall behind it; and the crevice closed as
the storm passed on, holding the towel to puzzle the neighborhood.

The next great tornado visited Natchez, June 16, 1842, and killed five
hundred people.

Next to these, in destruction of life, is the famous

[Illustration: WATER-SPOUT AT SEA.]

Marshfield tornado of April, 1880, in which one hundred and one persons
were killed, and six hundred injured. The town of Marshfield was
literally wiped off the earth. This tornado is notable for its unusually
wide path, and the large area traversed. Four counties were swept; and
though the country was sparsely settled and comparatively little
improved, yet the damage to property was estimated at more than
$1,000,000. Gen. Greely, of the Signal Service, pronounces it one of the
most remarkable in the history of the United States. It formed at the
junction of two streams, a few miles southwest of Marshfield; and, like
the South Carolina tornado of 1761, owed its immense power to the union
of two lesser storms that had traveled down the valleys of the
respective streams. Such a tornado passing over a great city would equal
the earthquake in disastrous effects. Perhaps a better idea of its power
may be gathered from a comparison with the New Haven storm of 1878,
which killed but thirty-four people and destroyed $2,000,000 worth of
property--as much as the recent storm at Louisville. The remarkable
feature about every tornado--the very small destruction of life--may be
better understood when it is stated that, excluding the two Natchez
tornadoes, where the number of houses wrecked is not known, and the
Louisville storm, the twenty most destructive tornadoes in the United
States have killed six hundred and thirteen people, and destroyed over
three thousand houses. This brings us to the peculiar fact that but one
person is killed in every five houses. As the average house may be
counted as containing four persons, it appears that the chances that any
single individual in a wrecked house will not be killed, are nineteen to
one. While the mathematical calculation may be encouraging, yet few will
care to take the risk of a tornado, even though the odds be vastly in
their favor. People place little dependence in arithmetic as a life
preserver. The recent Louisville storm presents a high average, as about
fifty of the victims were taken from a single building. The lowest
average is shown by the tornado that struck Camden, New Jersey, August
3d, 1885, when five hundred houses were destroyed, and but six persons
killed: one for every eighty-three houses. In general, there seems to be
a prevalence of a one to ten rate: but a storm in a city usually vastly
increases the death rate by reason of the number of brick houses, which,
when wrecked, fall much more compactly than frame buildings.


The greatest destruction of property has been in Ohio, where the
aggregate now amounts to about $9,000,000. Next is Minnesota with
$7,000,000, and Missouri and Mississippi with about $4,000,000 each.
Missouri is first in respect to loss of life, and Mississippi next. The
months most liable to tornadoes are May, April, June, and July, in
order; and the time of day the hottest; that is, from 3 to 5 P.M.

These data suffice to show the peculiar acts of the tornado in our land.
There is one case of a great storm attended by tornadoes on its
southeast border, that is even more noteworthy than the great one so
minutely detailed in the preceding pages. A storm center passing over a
wider region, on February 9, 1884, produced, after ten o’clock that day,
over sixty tornadoes in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina,
Kentucky and Tennessee, and North Carolina. Over ten thousand buildings
were destroyed, eight hundred people killed, and twenty-five hundred
wounded. The damage done by any single one was small, while the
aggregate was fearful.

The tornado is occasionally seen in Europe: but in the few instances
recorded, it has been much smaller, and moved much slower than the same
sort of storm in America, though quite as powerful within the territory
traversed. One that was very formidable, was observed near Boulogne, in
1822. It moved about irregularly for an hour, tearing holes in the
ground, snapping off trees, and twisting down houses; yet, it was not
twenty-five feet in diameter. Another one in 1872, swept through a
little town in Italy, and was so powerful as to twist iron balcony
railings together like so many skeins of thread. Several persons were

In some portions of the Sahara and of Arabia, very numerous small
whirlwinds accompany desert storms, whirling up the fine sand in dense
columns, presenting the appearance of clouds in a region where clouds
are unknown. So many writhing columns, swaying like dancing serpents,
present a peculiarly terrifying aspect to the superstitious Arab, who
has only too good reason to fear them. Strange tales of their
destructiveness are rife. It is said that the army of Cambyses was
overwhelmed by one of these desert storms. This story must, however, be
taken “with a grain of salt.” But there is no doubt that a sand storm is
quite as dangerous as a Dakota blizzard.


In tropical regions the tornado or “land-spout,” as many Europeans call
it, gives place to the great cyclone. Still, it appears occasionally.
One which swept the suburbs of Calcutta, in 1838, was but a few yards in
diameter; but in its march of sixteen miles, it killed two hundred and
fifteen persons, wounded two hundred and thirty-three, and destroyed one
thousand two hundred and forty-five houses: thus displaying quite as
great power as any tornado observed in our own land. The speed of
rotation was so great that a bamboo cane was driven through a mud wall
five feet thick, faced on both sides with brick; as great penetrative
power as is usually given to a six-pound cannon-ball.



              “The Storm is on his way!
    With a lightning sword and a thunder shout,
    And his robe on the night-wind floating out,
              The Storm is on his way!

              The Storm is on his way!
    He smites, and the death-swept valleys groan,
    The ocean writhes, and the forests moan,--
              The Storm is on his way!”

The preceding pages show only the destructive power of the small
tornadoes of our land. We are fortunate in that the great cyclone is,
comparatively, a rare visitor among us. A moment’s consideration of this
ravager, as he appears in the tropics, will show how trifling are the
storms that have swept over our own land. A few examples will convince
the most skeptical.

Of the great cyclones which have traversed our country in recent times,
we may mention the hurricane of October 21-24, 1878. Gen. Greeley says:
“It first damaged buildings and sank vessels at Havana. It entered the
United States near Wilmington, N. C., and moving due north, passed over
Washington and eastern Pennsylvania, after which it curved eastward, and
crossing New England, left the coast near Portland, Maine. In
Philadelphia, over seven hundred substantial buildings were totally
destroyed, or seriously damaged, bridges injured, twenty-two vessels
sunk, several persons injured, and eight killed, entailing a loss
variously estimated from one to two millions of dollars. Other loss of
life and great damage by freshets and winds occurred elsewhere in
Pennsylvania. A large number of steamers, ships and coasting vessels
were dismantled, wrecked or sunk along the New Jersey, Virginia and
North Carolina coasts, entailing loss of life and enormous pecuniary
damage. The wind reached seventy-two miles per hour at Philadelphia, and
eighty-eight along the coast.” Another cyclone the next year ruined one
hundred large vessels and two hundred yachts and smacks. Another, in
1881, destroyed four hundred persons along the Carolina coasts, and
damaged property to the extent of $1,600,000.

But these are exceeded by the great Nova Scotia cyclone of 1873. The
property damage alone is estimated at nearly $5,000,000. The Signal
Service report says that “one thousand and thirty-two ships, of which
four hundred and thirty-five were small fishing schooners, are known to
have been destroyed during the 24th and 25th of August, in the
neighborhood of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic shores of Nova
Scotia, Cape Breton and New Foundland. On the other hand, over one
hundred and ninety vessels were destroyed by this hurricane in its
passage over the ocean before it reached Nova Scotia, making a grand
total of at least one thousand two hundred and twenty-three vessels
destroyed within a few days by its power. Two hundred and twenty-three
lives are definitely reported to be lost, and the moderate estimate of
the numerous cases in which whole crews have been lost swells this
number to nearly five hundred; and if to this is added the loss of life
on land, and the loss in the earlier history of the cyclone, the grand
total amounts to at least six hundred lives.”

Had the famed Shah Jehan ever visited the West Indies, it is probable
that he might have pronounced many of its lovely islets fit rivals for
that beautiful creation of his fancy, which bore above the gateway:

    “If there be Paradise upon the earth,
     This it is, this it is, this it is.”

Among the loveliest groups are the beautiful Virgin Isles, and loveliest
of these is the famed island of St. Thomas. A lofty mountain girdles the
island, leaving an opening between two hills into a wide oval harbor,
while the pretty little town lies around the inner side of the port,
sloping up the mountain behind, the queen of a vast natural
amphitheater. Such a fine harbor has rendered St. Thomas almost the
mistress of West Indian commerce; and one would not suspect, in looking
at the sunny slopes and green-clad ranges around the azure harbor, that
in this region is the birthplace of the Storm King. Yet, not a spot on
earth has been more frequently visited by great cyclones.

One of the most notable of its visitations during this century occurred
August 2, 1837. The barometer fell rapidly during the forenoon, and by
noon the storm began. In a short time it increased to a tremendous gale.
At about three o’clock, the wind suddenly ceased. In a few moments it
blew from the other direction, roaring and rolling black clouds before
it, raising up immense sea-waves, covering the island with intense
gloom. Six hours it blew, ever increasing. Tiles and slates whizzed
through the air, to be shattered on the rocks or driven into timbers:
great trees were whirled about, often dashing away houses that seemed
about to weather the storm, while the terrible roar of the wind was such
that even the crash of the thunder could hardly be distinguished. One
authority tells us that the great guns at the fort were blown through
the air and tossed about the beach like chaff! This must be taken with
allowance. It is more probable that the great guns on the beach were
washed up from the wrecks of some old pirate vessels or ships of war.

About 10 P.M. there was a slight cessation of the storm, and the people
were congratulating themselves that the worst was over, when there came
a violent earthquake, which laid in ruins almost everything that was
left. The wreck took fire in two or three places: at once the hurricane
began with renewed vigor: and ere the wretched people had fully
comprehended the magnitude of the calamity, the whole ruined town was a
sea of flame. Buffeted by the wind, blinded by the smoke and the pelting
spray whirled up from the raging sea, the people ran for the slopes of
the hills: the light of the funeral pyre of their hopes and labors
rendering the gloom more horrible, and seeming to rival the gleams of

Day broke at last. The storm was gone. The earthquake staggered the
miserable folk no longer. The warm and brilliant sun of the West Indies
smiled upon the scene. “The whole country round was strewn with large
trees, uprooted or snapped off, and all plantations were destroyed. In
the town the fire was dying out, and it was only here and there that the
ruins were still smoking. The hurricane had swept away nearly all the
wooden houses; those which had been lightly placed upon beams, just
above the soil, being carried off as they stood, while the larger ones,
which had resisted the hurricane, were overturned in an instant by the
earthquake. The whole town was strewn with wrecks that told of the
violence of the catastrophe. The port, so gay and animated the day
before, was dreary and deserted, a few masts here and there emerging
from the water: while all along the shore, and even upon the slope of
the hills, were scattered wreckage and corpses of sailors.”

While we have noticed only the destruction wrought at


St. Thomas, this storm was general throughout the Antilles. In the
Bahamas, it was less violent, they lying on the outskirts of the storm.
Millions of dollars worth of property--merchandise, vegetation, houses,
and vessels--were destroyed, and thousands of lives lost.

Thirty years later, St. Thomas again suffered from the combined forces
of storm and earthquake; and the damage was greater, because the
earthquake, with its sea-wave, came a few days after the storm, as the
work of restoration was well under way, and so involved a second
prostration of the resources of the people. Moreover, the town had grown
considerably in thirty years, and there was much more valuable property
to damage. Fifteen large steamers and many smaller vessels were driven
on the shore by the storm: while the sea-wave, a few days later, found
the port again filled with vessels of different nations. It overleaped
the sentinel hills at the entrance of the bay, and swept with tremendous
force upon the city, drowning with its terrible roar, the despairing cry
of the sailors; then suddenly retired with the wreck of the city to its
dark abyss. The batteries of heavy guns at the entrance of the harbor
were swept away. A few injured vessels wallowed on the waves, but most
had been swallowed up and left no trace behind.

While there is always deep sympathy for those who suffer such
calamities, yet it must remain of the type bestowed upon sufferers in
Arctic expeditions. The character of the climate is well known, and the
whole matter resolves itself into a question of the risk one is willing
to run. There is no blind chance in control of these movements. The
cyclone frequents only certain regions, and its habit and power is
understood. While we pity the sufferers, we can not assert that the
scourge is mysterious or unaccountable, any more than we find mystery in
the fact of eternal snow in the Polar world.


But there have been storms in the West Indies far more destructive than
either of these, or both together. One of the most noted of the century
is the famous Barbadoes storm of 1831, which an eye-witness thus

“On the morning of the 10th of August, the sun arose without a cloud; at
10 A.M. a breeze that had been blowing, died away; towards 2 P.M. the
heat became oppressive; at 5 P.M. thick clouds appeared in the north,
rain fell, and was succeeded by a sudden stillness and a dismal
blackness all around except towards the zenith, where there was an
obscure circle of imperfect light. Till 10:30 P.M., however, there was
no sign of change; then lightning appeared in the north, and very
unusual fluctuations of the thermometer were observed. All this time the
storm was only approaching.

“After midnight the continued flashing of the lightning was awfully
grand, and a gale blew fiercely from the north and northeast, but at 1
A.M., on the 11th of August, the tempestuous rage of the wind increased
as the storm suddenly shifted and burst from the northwest and immediate
points. The upper regions were illuminated by incessant lightning, but
the quivering sheet of blaze was surpassed in brilliancy by the darts of
electric fire which exploded in every direction. At a little after 2
A.M. the astounding roar of the hurricane can not be described by

“About three o’clock the wind abated and the lightning ceased for a few
moments at a time, when the blackness in which the town was enveloped
was inexpressibly awful. Fiery meteors were presently seen falling from
the heavens; one in particular of a globular form and a deep-red hue,
was observed by the writer to descend perpendicularly from a vast
height. On approaching the earth it assumed a dazzling whiteness and an
elongated form, and on reaching the ground splashed around in the same
manner as melted metal would have done, and was instantly extinct.” (It
is evident that the coincidence on this occasion with the day on which
the earth is known to pass through the August belt of meteors, rendered
the effect of this great storm at Barbadoes more striking. It is not
safe to assert that there was any relation between the phenomena.) “A
few minutes after, the deafening noise of the wind sank to a solemn
murmur, or rather a distant roar; and the lightning which from midnight
had flashed and darted forkedly with but few momentary intermissions,
now for nearly half a minute played frightfully between the clouds and
the earth with novel and surprising action. The vast body of vapor
appeared to touch the houses, and issued downward flaming blazes, which
were nimbly returned from the earth upward.

“The moment after this singular alteration of lightning the hurricane
again burst forth from the western points with violence prodigious
beyond description, hurling before it thousands of missiles, the
fragments of every unsheltered structure of human art. The strongest
houses were caused to vibrate from their foundations, and the surface of
the very earth trembled as the destroyer raged over it. No thunder was
at any time distinctly heard. The horrible roar and yelling of the wind;
the noise of the ocean, whose frightful waves threatened the town with
the destruction of all that the other elements might spare; the
clattering of tiles, the falling of floors, and walls, and the
combination of a thousand other sounds, formed a hideous and appalling

“About 5 A.M. the storm abated; at six o’clock the wind was at south, at
seven o’clock, southeast, at eight o’clock, east-southeast; and at nine
o’clock, the weather was clear.

“The view from the summit of the cathedral tower, a few hours later, was
frightfully grand. The whole face of the country was laid waste; no
sign of vegetation was apparent, except here and there small patches of
sickly green. The surface of the ground appeared as if fire had run
through the land, scorching and burning up the productions of the earth.
The few remaining trees, stripped of their boughs and foliage, wore a
cold and wintry aspect; and the numerous seats in the environs of
Bridgetown, formerly concealed among thick groves, were now exposed and
in ruins.”

One peculiarity noticeable, was that in some places trees, timbers, and
many other objects, presented a scorched appearance, as though subjected
to intense heat. The reason of this is not clear, as unusual heat was
not perceptible after the beginning of the storm by any one. It may be
that this was produced by unusual quantities of electricity escaping
through imperfect conductors, for we learn, from other phenomena, that
during this storm there was an unusual state of electrical tension in
the atmosphere. Sparks occasionally leaped from the heads of persons out
of doors. Vast numbers of trees that were not blown down, speedily died:
and it has been suggested that an excess of electricity killed them.

The total loss in this storm is not definitely known. Some further idea
of its fearful violence may be gathered from the fact that at the north
end of Barbadoes, the waves broke over a cliff seventy feet high, and
the saltwater spray was carried inland in such quantities as to kill all
the fresh-water fish in ponds far in the interior. As for the tremendous
roar of the wind, the commanding officer of the thirty-sixth regiment
sought protection by getting under the arch of a lower window outside
his house. He did not hear the roof and upper story of the house fall,
and only found it out by the dust caused by the fall.

Far more destructive was the great hurricane of 1780.


The French and English were at war. Admiral George Rodney was in the
West Indies with an English fleet in several divisions. The French had
sent a convoy of five thousand troops to Martinique. The storm was of
immense width, extending from Trinidad, on the extreme southwest, to
Antigua. The evening of October 9th was red and lowering. By ten o’clock
next morning, the wind was high, and by one o’clock, vessels in the
harbors were dragging their anchors. The water was driven on shore with
such force at Barbadoes, that it was four feet deep in the Government
House. The family took refuge under the cannon, only to find that they
were moved about by the wind. By morning not a building in town was
standing; every tree was either blown away, or stripped of branches and

The sunny islands were suddenly become as bleak and bare as a Siberian

As to the loss, ten thousand perished at Martinique; six thousand at
Santa Lucia; four thousand five hundred at St. Eustatia; three thousand
five hundred at Barbadoes. Scores of smaller islands were devastated,
but the loss in detail is not known. Of the British fleet, the greater
part was destroyed; only one vessel out of nineteen at St. Eustatia
survived. A score of other ships of war and numerous transports were
sunk. Of the French convoy, with five thousand troops, the governor
wrote laconically that it “had disappeared.” Several English vessels at
Barbadoes were carried far in shore and converted into dwellings.
Doubtless, fifty thousand would hardly be too great an estimate of the
total loss of life in this storm. In a similar one in 1813, the
hurricane drove back the Gulf Stream, piling up the water thirty feet
deep in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship _Ledbury Snow_, endeavored to ride
out the storm, and when it was over, found herself high and dry. She had
let go her anchor among the tree-tops of Elliot’s Key. The Barbadoes
region suffered another severe gale in 1782, when the prizes captured by
Admiral Rodney were sunk, a number of merchant vessels and two English
war-ships foundered, and three thousand lives were lost at sea alone.

The temperate zone has its occasional hurricanes, though they are by no
means as powerful or as frequent as those of the tropics. It is stated
that in the year 944, one thousand five hundred houses were destroyed by
a tempest in London. In the year 1090, it is recorded that a violent
storm overturned six hundred and six houses in London alone.

Terrible as is the destruction of the cyclone in the western world, its
fury here can not give a fair idea of the awful havoc it makes in
Oriental regions. All through the Malay archipelago, along the coasts of
China, Japan, the Phillipines, Hindostan, and Farther India, the ravages
of the Storm King have been appalling, far exceeding even the terrible
hurricanes of the West Indies.

Hindostan affords peculiar facilities for destructiveness of cyclones.
Both its great rivers flow, for the latter part of their course, through
low alluvial plains, and their deltas extend into the ocean directly
toward the region of monsoons; so that a hurricane may send a great
tidal wave up the river: while the low rich plains for miles around are
but few feet above tide-water, and teem with a population attracted by
the amazing fertility. So a sudden great storm may totally submerge,
without any warning, hundreds of square miles of these fertile tracts,
with all their inhabitants. Even when the sea-wave is not added to the
horrors of the storm, the losses are fearful. A cyclone at Calcutta in
1867, destroyed thirty thousand houses, wrecked or sunk six hundred
ships and smaller vessels in the river, and killed ten thousand persons
in the city alone. When to this is added the havoc committed by the
storm--one hundred miles wide--in the rural districts, as it traveled on
toward the foot-hills, it is clear that every reader may be devoutly
thankful that such terrible visitants are altogether unknown in our

Terrible as this storm was, there was a greater one on the 5th of
October, 1864. About one hundred ships were lost; and over sixty
thousand persons perished; forty-three thousand in Calcutta alone. It
was accompanied by a “bore” on the Hooghly, the water rising thirty
feet, which is ten feet higher than the highest spring tides; whole
towns were nearly destroyed. It indicated its approach for several days,
and Capt. Watson, of the _Clarence_, seeing the barometer falling, knew
a cyclone was approaching, and saved his ship by steering out of its

Compare this with the storms of our own land, that thrill the country
with horror if but one hundred people are killed, and remember that the
cyclone of India destroyed six hundred lives where one was destroyed in
this region. Compare with the most terrible storms recorded in the West
Indies, and the latter must yield.

Coringa, on the Coromandel coast, has been several times desolated by
these terrible storm waves. In December, 1789, three immense rollers
came ashore during a single storm; the town was destroyed; the
neighboring country inundated. Ships were torn from their anchorage and
thrown high on the land: twenty thousand people were lost; and the heaps
of sand and mud rendered search for bodies and property useless.

In May, 1833, the region at the mouth of the Hooghly was inundated by a
cyclone. Three hundred villages and fifty thousand people were
destroyed. In June, 1822, Burisal and Backergunge, at the mouth of the
Ganges, were overwhelmed, and fifty thousand persons drowned.

But Hindostan has far greater horrors to report. A terrible flood in
1887 was driven by the cyclone over the Ganges delta. The victims
numbered many thousands: exact figures not at hand. But in 1876, a
cyclone swept the Backergunge district, and rolled in a storm wave over
the eastern edge of the fertile delta, covering it with from ten to
fifty feet of water. When the storm had subsided, it was found that more
than one hundred thousand people had perished!

Finally, a great cyclone in 1737, October 11-12, swept the Ganges delta
with a wave thirty feet deep on the land. Three hundred thousand people
perished in this storm! The mind can not grasp the appalling magnitude
of such a disaster.

These cases are the most destructive cyclones on record, and in each
case the destruction is due largely to the character of the region
traversed, though the winds of Bengal are not surpassed in violence by
those of any country in the world. Were the harbor an open seaport,
instead of a large river, no ship could live through such a storm.

Other regions in the east suffer much from tempests. The whole Malay
archipelago, with the Moluccas and Philippines, are visited quite as
frequently as the coasts of Hindostan. A cyclone that swept the
Philippine Islands, November 6, 1885, destroyed ten thousand people, and
millions of dollars worth of property.

The same character of storms is frequently met with in the Japan and
China seas, where it is known as the “typhoon,” our Anglicised spelling
of the Chinese title, “tei-fun.” With one example of the power of this
storm, this chapter must close. In the narrative of Commander Hall, of
the British Navy, is found this description of a typhoon that occurred
at Hong Kong, July 21-22, 1841:

“For days previously large black clouds appeared to


settle on the hills on either side; the atmosphere was extremely sultry
and oppressive, and the most vivid lightning shot incessantly along the
dense threatening clouds, and looked more brilliant, because the
phenomena were most remarkable at night; while during the day, the
threatening appearances were moderated considerably, and sometimes
almost entirely disappeared. The vibrations of the mercury in the
barometer were constant and rapid, and though it occasionally rose,
still the improvement was only temporary; a storm was therefore
confidently predicted. Between seven and eight o’clock in the morning,
the wind was blowing very hard from the northward, or directly upon the
shores of Hong Kong, and continued to increase in heavy squalls hour
after hour. Ships were beginning to drive, and the work of destruction
had commenced on every side; the Chinese junks and boats were blown
about in all directions, and one of them was seen to founder with all
hands on board. The fine basin of Hong Kong was gradually covered with
scattered wrecks of the war of elements; planks, spars, broken boats,
and human beings clinging hopelessly for succor to every treacherous
log, were tossed about on every side; the wind howled and tore
everything away before it, literally sweeping the face of the waters.
From half-past ten to half-past two the hurricane was at its highest,
the barometer at this time having descended to 28.50. The air was filled
with spray and salt, so that it was impossible to see anything that was
not close at hand; the wind roared and howled fearfully, so that it was
impossible to hear a word that was said. Ships were now drifting foul of
each other in all directions, masts were being cut away, and from the
strength of the wind forcing the sea high upon the shore, several ships
were driven high and dry. The Chinese were all distracted, imploring
their gods in vain for help; such an awful scene of destruction and
ruin is rarely witnessed, and almost every one was so busy in thinking
of his own safety, as to be unable to render assistance to any one else.
Hundreds of Chinese were drowned, and occasionally a whole family,
children and all, floated past the ships, clinging in apparent apathy
(perhaps under the influence of opium) to the last remnants of their
shattered boats, which soon tumbled to pieces and left them to their
fate. On the 26th another typhoon occurred, but not so severe as the

The storm at sea presents a class of peculiar dangers and a variety of
thrilling experiences, such as the landsman never knows. The stories of
great shipwrecks and other purely naval disasters form some of the most
interesting narratives in history: and doubtless the reader will be
pleased to notice in detail the perils of the deep, and to learn of the
precautions taken and the means in common use for averting, as far as
possible, the disastrous results of the tempest. Certainly, the brave
tars who peril their lives on the ocean to bring us the luxuries of a
foreign land deserve especial attention, and no apology need be given
for devoting a portion of this volume to the story of their perils and



    “Daughter, the night was made for sleep;
     Why dost thou moan, why dost thou weep?
     Wherefore thy mournful vigil keep?
         Daughter, daughter, my daughter!”

    “Mother, to me the night wind cries.
     Cold on the sands thy lover lies,
     With none to close his glazed eyes;
         Nello, Nello, my Nello!”

The Storm at Sea! From the days of David to the present, the poet and
the novelist have taxed their energies to portray the perils of those
who go down into the deep in ships. The ravages of the hurricane on
shore are confined largely to those portions of the world unknown to the
ancients; but the treacherous deep has been sung in every age. We may
hardly choose which of the myriad wrecks to describe. St. Paul’s
perilous voyage to Rome is familiar wherever the gospel is preached;
Jonah has furnished a comparison for the unlucky for centuries; Virgil
has sung of the perils of exiled Æneas in his search for a foreign home.

The sea has dangers peculiarly its own, and likewise charms possessed by
nothing else in nature. Every one may have heard of the little earnest
woman who at her first sight of the ocean sighed: “Ah--at last here is
something there is enough of!” The sailor knows the ocean’s every mood,
and may sing with Barry Cornwall:



    “I love, oh, how I love to ride,
     On the fierce, foaming, bursting
     When every mad wave drowns the moon,
     Or whistles aloft his tempest tune,
     And tells how goeth the world below,
     And why the sou’west blasts do blow!”

Or if his mind be better adapted for homelier ditties, he may hum:

    “The wind it blew a hurricane, the sea was mountains rollin’,
     When Barney Buntlin’ turned his quid, and said to Billy Bowlin’:
     ‘A strong sou’wester’s blowin’, Billy; don’t you hear it roar now?
     How I pity all unhappy folks as lives upon the shore now!’”

Or if becalmed, and forced for days to lie beneath a scorching tropical

    “As idly as a painted ship
     Upon a painted ocean,”

the inevitable dreariness of the wide waste of scarcely heaving water
will oppress the mind till the sailor may murmur:

    “So lonely ’twas that God himself
     Scarce seemed there to be.”

It is beyond dispute that the sea has been one of the most important
factors in civilizations ancient and modern. Greece was no longer
supreme in power when her naval supremacy was gone; Rome was not
mistress of the world till she became mistress of the Mediterranean. Not
a single great system of civilization has originated in districts far
inland. The great centers--Greece, Rome, Asia Minor, Egypt, Spain,
England--all that have wielded unusual power--are sea-coasts, peninsulas
or islands. The Jew became prominent as a trader from the day Jewish
vessels sailed from Tarshish. To some extent, these facts must be
considered as results of position only, however powerful the tendencies
or traits of any particular stock.

It is not merely as a highway for commerce and ready intercommunication
that the seas have enriched mankind. The submarine world presents views
as strange and weirdly beautiful as the ancient myths of nymphs and

    “Deep in the wave lies a coral grove,
     Where the purple mullet and goldfish rove;
     Where the seaflower spreads its leaves of blue,
     That never were wet with falling dew;
     But in bright and changeful beauty, shine
     Far down in the green and glassy brine.”

And thousands of the human race depend entirely upon the products of the
sea for a livelihood. The fish taken as food would be an enormous item
in any year: but the billows that surge over the deep conceal far more
treasure than these.

    “Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
     The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.”

All our pearls, nearly all our amber, sponges, and as beautiful and
delicate as spun glass, corals of infinite number and variety--all
these, and more, we must obtain from the depths of the sea. Yet, while
eagerness for gain leads men to brave countless perils to obtain these
treasures, thousands of sad hearts will deem them dearly bought, and
recall the more precious treasures of the deep.

    “Yet more! the billows and the depths have more!
       High hearts and brave are gathered to thy breast!
     They hear not now the booming waters roar;
       The battle thunders will not break their rest.
     Keep thy red gold and gems, thou stormy grave!
       Give back the true and brave!

    “Give back the lost and lovely! those for whom
       The place was kept at board and hearth so long,
     The prayer went up through midnight’s breathless gloom,
       And the vain yearning woke ’midst festive song!
     Hold fast thy buried isles, thy towers or throne--
       But all is not thine own.

    “To thee the love of woman hath gone down;
       Dark flow the tides o’er manhood’s noble head,
     Or youth’s bright locks, and beauty’s flowery crown;
       Yet must thou hear a voice--Restore the dead!
     Earth shall reclaim her precious things from thee!
       Restore the dead, thou sea!”

[Illustration: CAST ASHORE.]

Like the atmosphere, the ocean has its great constant currents, which
play an important part in the economy of nature. These flow steadily on,
one beneath another, and are little affected by atmospheric
disturbances. The presence of submarine currents is often shown by
icebergs moving steadily onward against a surface current and moderate
wind. But there is nothing in the sea, so far as known, that corresponds
to the variable winds or local currents of the atmosphere: for as water
is so much heavier than air, its equilibrium is not so easily disturbed
by unusual heating: and moreover, it does not expand under the influence
of heat to an extent in the least approaching the expansion of the air.
Hence, its currents are steady and slow-moving, and, however much they
affect climate and winds by the heating or cooling of the air above
them, they offer no obstacle worthy of note to the sailor. The latter
must then fear only the power of the storm: and were submarine vessels
readily constructed and navigated, the storm would lose its terrors: for

    “When the wrathful spirit of storms,
     Has made the top of the wave his own,
     And when the ship from his fury flies,
     When the myriad voices of ocean roar,
     When the wind-god frowns in the murky skies,
     And demons are waiting the wreck on shore,
     Then far below in the peaceful sea,
     The purple mullet and goldfish rove,
     Where the waters murmur tranquilly,
     Through the bending twigs of the coral grove.”

It should be said, however, that the sea and storm are not responsible
for all the disasters at sea. For years the greatest losses of life and
property were due to the greed of conscienceless owners, who sent rotten
tubs to sea, fearfully overloaded and heavily insured, certain to make a
good profit whether they perished or no. As for the sailors, they were
not worth considering: there were plenty to be obtained. Human life is
the cheapest commodity in any market. By a liberal spending of this
currency men become Alexanders or Cæsars, or Sullas, or Marii:
henceforth they are “Great.”

These abuses were especially prevalent in England, the greatest of
maritime powers; nor were they corrected till Mr. Samuel Plimsoll, in
1870, began a series of earnest efforts to have a systematic inspection
organized. He made a startling arraignment of the atrocious methods of
the land-sharks. He wrote, in 1873, “No means are neglected by
Parliament to provide for the safety of life ashore; and yet, as I said
before, you may build a ship in any way you please, you may use timber
utterly unfit, you may use it in quantity utterly inadequate, but no one
has any authority to interfere with you.

“You may even buy an old ship two hundred and fifty tons burden by
auction for £50, sold to be broken up, because extremely old and rotten;
she had a narrow escape on her last voyage, and had suffered so severely
that she was quite unfit to go to sea again without more being spent in
repairs upon her than she would be worth when done. Instead of breaking
up this old ship, bought for 4s. per ton (the cost of a new ship being
from £10 to £14 per ton), as was expected, you may give her a coat of
paint--she is too rotten for caulking--and to the dismay of her late
owners, you may prepare to send her to sea. You may be remonstrated
with, in the strongest terms, against doing so, even to being told that
if you persist, and the men are lost, you deserve to be tried for

“You may engage men in another port, and they, having signed articles
without seeing the ship, you may send them to the port where the ship
lies in the custody of a mariner. You may then (after re-christening the
ship, which ought not to be allowed), if you have managed to insure her
heavily, load her until the main deck is within two feet of the water
amidships, and send her to sea. Nobody can prevent you. Nay, more, if
the men become riotous, you may arrest them without a magistrate’s
warrant, and take them to prison, and the magistrates, who have no
choice (they have not to make, but only to administer the law), will
commit them to prison for twelve weeks with hard labor; or better still
for you, you may send a policeman on board to overawe the mutineers, and
induce them to do their duty! And then, if the ship is lost with all
hands, you will gain a large sum of money and you will be asked no
questions, as no inquiry will ever be held over those unfortunate men,
unless (which has only happened once, I think), some member of the House
asks for inquiry.

“The river policeman who in one case threatened a refractory crew with
imprisonment, and urged them to do their duty (!) told me afterwards
(when they were all drowned) that he and his colleagues at the
river-side station had spoken to each other about the ship being
dreadfully overloaded as she passed their station on the river, before
he went on board to urge duty (!) and that he then, when he saw me,
’rued badly that he had not locked ’em up without talk, as then they
wouldn’t have been drowned.’”

He also found that some ship-builders put together mere floating
coffins, using “devils,” or dummy bolts, or bolt-heads without any
shaft, to present the appearance of a staunchly built vessel. The old
shell would founder in the first strong breeze. Hundreds of examples
came in his way of entire crews lost in these hulks. What such losses
meant to the poor dependent families at home we may imagine, but may not
readily portray.

Another prolific source of disaster was the neglect to supply captains
with the proper charts. There are notable instances of great vessels so
lost. One ship and cargo, value $350,000, was lost near Boulogne,
because the captain’s chart had not the lights properly marked on it.

The great steamer _Deutschland_, having a large number

[Illustration: WRECK OF THE MINOTAUR.]

of German emigrants on board, ran on an unmarked shoal near the mouth of
the Thames, December 30, 1875, and was lost. The vessel was fourteen
hours on the shoal in the winter storm, ere her signals of distress were
perceived. Fifty-seven of her passengers had been lost in the heavy sea
ere help reached her.

Ship after ship has left her port, never to be heard of again, whose
crews might have still been in peace and comfort with their families,
had the owners had the least trace of humanity, or regard for simple
justice. A single example will illustrate.

In a hovel, Plimsoll found a young wife, scrubbing for a living, trying
to support herself and three children. “She had a loving husband but
very lately, but the owner of the ship on which he served, the _S----n_,
was a very needy man, who insured her for £3,000 more than she had
cost him. So if she sank he would gain all this. Well, one voyage she
was loaded _under the owner’s personal superintendence_; she was loaded
so deeply that the dockmaster pointed her out to a friend as she left
the dock, and said emphatically, ‘That ship will never reach her
destination.’ She never did, for she was lost with all hands--twenty men
and boys.”

Under the owner’s personal superintendence! Could cool calculating
villany go any further? Yet this is but one out of many scores!

Yet, despite the apparent frequency of complaints from those who
suffered most by these practices, the abuses had grown up so gradually
that the masses of the people had come to accept them as almost a
necessary concomitant of naval matters. While holding out stoutly for
the difference of a penny more or less in wages, there was no effort at
concerted action for better treatment. Men accustomed to risking their
lives daily came to look upon the matter as of no great consequence.
Only the worst possible vessels were very seriously objected to; and
these usually had little difficulty in obtaining crews of men long out
of employment, who would accept any risk rather than remain a burden to
their friends and families, however the latter might object to the
proceeding. So thousands went to a watery grave. Official records of the
period showed that one-half the losses at sea were the result of sending
out rotten hulks. Yet, when reforms were suggested, the promoters were
frequently told that if such things did not properly regulate themselves
as a matter of political economy, there was no use striving for a
change. Cool weighing of human life against gold!

Even in staunch ships the accommodations provided for the sailors were
of the meanest sort. Men might wade to their bunks through water, or be
packed in a filthy forecastle like herrings; they were fed on “salt
horse” and moldy biscuit; they might rot with scurvy--if the ship got to
port with her cargo, it made little difference how the crew fared.

Our own ships and the Russian and French vessels the investigator found
far superior in treatment of the sailor: and the majority of English
owners did well by their crews; but Plimsoll’s efforts induced great
improvement. Compulsory survey and no overloading were his main remedies
for the prevention of the terrible loss of life in the mercantile
marine. He cites two cases of great firms--the first engaged in the coal
carrying, and the second in the guano trade--who do not permit
overloading, and the first, in fifteen years had not, out of a large
fleet of steamers, lost a single vessel, although they made from fifty
to seventy double trips per year. The second case deserves particular
mention. About the year 1860, the firm of Anthony Gibbs & Co., of
London, took a contract from the Peruvian Government to charter and
load ships from the Chincha Islands with guano, and as many as three or
four hundred ships left those islands annually for different parts of
the world. At first they were allowed to load and proceed to sea without
inspection or surveying, and were permitted to load as deeply as the
masters thought fit. What was the result? Accidents and losses were
reported every few days, and many of their ships foundered at sea, some
with all hands on board. When the head of the house at Lima, Peru,
introduced proper surveying before loading, to discover what repairs
were needed, etc., allowing no overloading, and not permitting the ships
to go to sea without full inspection of her pumps and gear, a sudden and
wonderful change took place, and for years after not one of these ships
foundered at sea.

There is no sadder record than that which has been made of many a
gallant vessel, sailing with the best prospects--“Missing,” or “Never
heard of.” Occasionally the mysterious fate of some of these vessels has
been revealed by the picking up of sealed bottles containing brief
records of the disastrous end of the missing ships. But such cases are
rare in comparison with the vast majority of the disasters; for the
greatest peril to a vessel in a storm is the vicinity of a reef or
shoal. In the open sea there is comparative safety, even in a
considerable gale, for good seamen; but a shoal or rocky coast may be
fatal to the vessel striking, even though the wind be but moderate. So
nearly all disasters occur along shore; and the time is past in which it
is possible for a vessel to be lost on an unknown or uninhabited coast.
Hence, soon or late, the lot of nearly every vessel is known.
Occasionally a vessel has been abandoned as unseaworthy or unmanageable,
and has surprised those abandoning her by drifting around for months in
the path of other vessels and occasionally fouling with some of them, to
their serious injury.

[Illustration: WRECKED ON A ROCK.]

The polar seas present peculiar perils to the navigator. Almost every
one has heard of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, even though others
may not be familiar. The attempts to find a northwest passage have long
ceased, it being indisputable that it is useless though found. The
great expeditions of later years have been equipped purely from a
scientific standpoint. No conceivable benefit to commerce can result

But the vast majority of fatalities in the polar seas have not been
among the great exploring expeditions, any more than the majority of
disasters in warmer climes are among first-class passenger steamers. The
world over, it is the coasting vessels, the fishing smacks, the second
and third-class freighters that swell the lists of losses at sea. And in
the polar seas the most numerous disasters are among the whaling and
sealing vessels, which visit the regions season after season. Many a
vessel has been crushed like an egg-shell amid the enormous masses of
ice. Often a vessel seemingly hopelessly imprisoned has been abandoned
by the crew, only to be freed by some caprice of the winds and picked up
by some other crew. And again there have been instances of vessels seen
resting in masses of ice far above the water, raised by continual
tilting and piling of ice-cakes beneath. Sometimes a vessel has floated
about thus for a considerable period. Comparatively speaking, losses of
life have been small in proportion to the dangers and property losses.
Where so many vessels are in the same region at a time, the crew of a
crushed ship can generally reach another vessel without great
difficulty. But years ago, when the whaling fleet was smaller, and steam
had not been called to the seaman’s aid, the peril of life was greater;
and many is the vessel that sailed away never to be heard of again.

One of the best stories illustrating this class of dangers is that of
the whaleship _Rufus_. A whaling vessel in 1774 found an abandoned ship;
and on boarding her, found the crew scattered about in the postures
assumed when they first yielded to the fatal sleep. The tale, in verse

[Illustration: CASTAWAYS ON A RAFT.]

remembering, but seldom or never seen, was told many years ago by an
unknown author. The distinctness and simplicity of the style render the
poem worth preserving, aside from the interest of the story.


    Sing not, my Muse, of brightening fields
      Of ether, fair displayed,
    Of whispering bowers, where Zephyr yields
      His fragrance to the glade

    But haste thee to the frozen throne,
      The starry blue domain
    Where Winter, monarch dread and lone,
      Asserts his iron reign.

    Now Europe’s northern cape recedes,
      And Iceland’s utmost shore;
    The sailor turns his face and heeds
      Those viewless forms no more.

    For mountains, distant yet, but bright,
      Edging the arctic tide,
    ’Neath spiry flames of dancing light,
      At masthead are descried.

    For see! in glittering points, the coast
      Divides; the mountain chain,
    On waves afar in silence tossed,
      Trembles athwart the main.

    Anon, the mariner looks forth,
      And scans with cheerless brow,--
    Borne onward by the angry North,
      An arctic navy now.

    “How shall the good ship Rufus speed?
      How live?” the master cried;--
    “God send us help in time of need,"--
      “Amen!” the crew replied.

    Each ice-built crag and snowy cliff
      Chases the foaming spray;
    And, ’mid those moving Alps, the skiff
      Must find her destined way.

    Her destined way?--Her destined fate!
      Now drops the needful gale;
    The waves become a glassy plate;
      The bark forbears to sail.

    Prisoned of God; by mountains pent,--
      Fuel and food consumed;--
    Ask not of me the dire event,
      Nor why they thus were doomed.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Again, borne forth by waves and wind,
      Men spread a venturous sail,
    ’Mid rocks of massy ice to find
      The scarce less massy whale.

    The optic tube now aids the eye,
      And scans the distant sea:
    A distant speck they now descry;
      A speck--what can it be?

    “What can it be?” inquire the men--
      “An iceberg, or a sail?”
    As yet the crew inquire in vain,
      And doubt must yet prevail.

    Yes, doubt prevails, and strengthens still,
      Though fast the object nears.
    “Sure ’tis no sail which at the will
      Of winds and billows steers!”

    Fancy still limns out forms uncouth,
      Yet scarce herself persuades;
    But fancy now gives place to truth
      More startling than her shades.

    A dreary hull, with shattered mast,
      And sails of strangest guise,
    And cordage fluttering in the blast,
      Now meets their wondering eyes.

    The bark they hail;--in many a groan
      The bellowing shrouds reply;
    But bellowing shrouds respond alone;--
      No voice returns the cry.

    Strange!--for, as near with curious haste
      They ply, and glance within,
    Lo! at the cabin window placed,
      A form is dimly seen.

    They mount the floating ruin now--
      Her deck is overlaid
    Man’s height in crusted ice and snow,
      Which shows no human tread.

    To find the hatch beneath the drift,
      They all their efforts lend,--
    Its frozen planks at length they lift,
      And fearfully descend.

    Now pause they at the cabin door;--
      Now enter, as they will;--
    Its quiet inmate, as before,
      Sits unconcerned and still.

    With pen in hand, and half reclined,
      Like those in thoughtful moods;
    To noises deaf, to visions blind,
      He cares not who intrudes.

    No!--for a filmy mold invests
      His long untroubled brow;--
    His eyeballs green sought not his guests,
      Nor can he turn them now.

[Illustration: SINKING OF THE LONDON.]

    A crumbling page before him lay,
      Which told the unspoken woe;--
    “Our cabin fire went out to-day--
      Food spent five days ago;--

    “Locked in the ice three weeks,--our crew
      All dead,--all hope is o’er;--
    Ship Rufus--1762--
      One hour, and I’m no more!”

    Now horror on the souls sunk down--
      On all who viewed the scene;
    Twelve arctic winters then had flown,
      Since this a corpse had been!

    Twelve years on polar surges tossed,
      By northern blasts conveyed--
    Destroyed--preserved, by iron frost,
      Her crew were statues made.

    Perchance this fate-directed prow
      Had crossed ’neath cloudless skies
    The pole, which jealous Nature now
      Shuts out from human eyes.

    Perchance the dreamed of Northern Way
      This guileless keel had plowed,
    While billows with the helm did play,
      And wild winds trimmed the shroud.

    Say when, Stern Spirits of the North,
      They found their watery grave?
    Or do ye still in awful mirth,
      Toss them from wave to wave?



    “‘O father, I hear the church-bells ring,
     O say, what may it be?’
     ’Tis a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast,’
     And he steered for the open sea.

     ‘O father, I hear the sound of guns,
     O say, what may it be?’
     ‘Some ship in distress that can not live
     In such an angry sea.’

     ‘O father, I see a gleaming light,
     O say, what may it be?’
     But the father answered not a word,
     For a frozen corpse was he.

            *       *       *       *       *

     At daybreak, on the bleak sea beach,
     A fisherman stood aghast,
     To see the form of a maiden fair,
     Lashed close to a drifting mast.

     The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
     The salt tears in her eyes.
     And he saw her hair, like the brown seaweed,
     On the billows fall and rise.”

One of the most destructive storms on record, and certainly the most
terrible ever known on the whole English coast is the great storm of
1703. It is the only storm which has ever been made the subject of a
Parliamentary memorial. It raged for a week over nearly the whole of
England. Scores of vessels were driven on shore and perished. At
Bristol, the in-driven sea filled the merchants’ cellars, destroying
sugar, tobacco, and other produce, to the value of hundreds of thousands
of dollars. Eighty people were drowned in the river and adjacent

[Illustration: STORM ON THE SHOALS, 1703.]

marshes; fifteen thousand sheep were drowned by the overflow or backing
up of the Severn. At London, the river was filled with vessels, the
crews of which were nearly all on shore. The storm tore them from their
moorings, and drove them into a bight on the opposite side of the
stream. It was a strange sight they presented after the storm. Defoe
says that “there lay, by the best account he could take, few less than
seven hundred sail of ships, some very great ones, between Shadwell and
Limehouse inclusive; the posture is not to be imagined but by them that
saw it; some vessels lay heeling off with the bow of another ship over
her waist, and the stern of another upon her forecastle; the boltsprits
of some drove into the cabin windows of others; some lay with their
sterns tossed up so high that the tide flowed into their forecastles
before they could come to rights; some lay so leaning upon others that
the undermost vessels would sink before the other could float; the
number of masts, boltsprits and yards split and broke, the staving the
heads and sterns and carved work, the tearing and destruction of
rigging, and the squeezing of boats to pieces between the ships, is not
to be reckoned; but there was hardly a vessel to be seen that had not
suffered some damage or other in one or all of these articles.”

In the city itself, the streets were covered with tiles, slates, bricks,
and fallen chimneys. Common tiles rose to nearly six times their usual
price. Numbers of people were killed by crumbling roofs or falling
houses. In Gloucester, six hundred great trees were prostrated in a
space of five acres. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, and his wife, were
among the more noted dead. The total loss of life has been estimated at
from eight to thirty thousand. The former is Defoe’s, but as he only
counts those of which he obtained direct personal information, this
estimate is certainly too low.

A single item of this storm will give some idea of the peculiar dangers
once incurred by shipwrecked sailors. Mr. Whymper writes, “The
townspeople of Deal, in particular, were blamed for their inhumanity in
leaving many to their fate who could have been rescued. Boatmen went off
to the sands for booty, some of whom would not listen to poor wretches
who might have been saved. Many unfortunate shipwrecked persons could be
seen, by the aid of glasses, walking on the Goodwin Sands in despairing
postures, knowing that they would, as Defoe puts it, ‘be washed into
another world’ at the reflux of the tide. The mayor of Deal, Mr. Thomas
Powell, asked the Custom House officers to take out their boats and
endeavor to save the lives of some of these unfortunates, but they
utterly refused. The mayor then offered, from his own pocket, five
shillings a head for all saved, and a number of fishermen and others
volunteered, and succeeded in bringing two hundred persons on shore, who
would have been lost in a half an hour afterwards. The Queen’s agent for
sick and wounded seamen would not furnish a penny for their lodging or
food, and the good mayor supplied all of them with what they required.
Several died, and he was compelled to bury all of them at his own
expense; he furnished a large number with money to pay their way to
London. He received no thanks from the Government of the day, but some
long time after was reimbursed the large sums he had expended.”

One not versed in the tales of the past might be astounded at such
inhumanity; yet the case cited is comparatively a mild one. People
acquainted with the history of pirates and buccaneers know that coasts
everywhere were once more or less infested with land-sharks, more
merciless than any shark of the deep, who enriched themselves by the
misfortunes of others: and drowning sailors would be disregarded in the
race for plunder. Yet this is but a shadow of the fearful tragedies
often enacted.

Picture a richly laden vessel, homeward bound, with scores of eager
anxious hearts on board, and other scores in port eagerly waiting them.
The captain smiles thoughtfully, as he murmurs, “We shall be at home
to-morrow!” The mother with child in arms repeats, as she thinks of the
waiting husband, “We shall be home to-morrow!” The bronzed wanderer,
returning after years of adventure, wonders if his boyhood’s home is
changed, as he thinks, “I shall be home to-morrow!”

There is but the faintest indication of storm. On shore, cruel, sinister
faces scan the sky and the distant ship as the twilight settles down,
and whisper together, and scowl as they recall past disappointments.
They will take care that they are not disappointed again. Their grizzled
old leader will see to that.

Night gathers apace. The storm bursts--the ship is far off shore, and in
safe quarters. It is time to act. “Now, in the pitchy darkness of the
night, with bowed head, and faltering steps battling against the storm,
the old man leads a white horse along the edge of the cliff. To the tip
of the horse’s tail a lantern is tied, and the light sways with the
movement of the horse, and in its movements seems not unlike the
masthead light of a vessel rocked by the motion of the sea. A whisper
has gone through the village of a chance of something happening during
the night, and most of the men and many of the women are on the alert,
lurking in the caves beneath the cliff, or sheltered behind jutting
pieces of rock.

“The vessel makes in steadily for the land; the captain grows uneasy,
and fears running into danger; he will put the vessel round, and try and
battle his way out to sea.

“The look-out man reports a dim light ahead. What kind? and whither
away? He can make out that it is a ship’s light, for it is in motion.
Yes, she must be a vessel standing on in the same course as that which
they are on.

[Illustration: ON A LEE SHORE.]

It is all safe, then; the captain will stand in a little longer; when
suddenly, in the lull of the storm, a hoarse murmur is heard--surely the
sound of the sea beating upon rocks! Yes! look! a white gleam upon the
water! Breakers ahead! breakers ahead! Oh, a very knell of doom! The cry
rings through the ship, ‘Down, down with the helm--round her to!’ Too
late, too late! A crash, a shudder from stem to stern of the stout
ship, the shriek of many voices in their agony, green seas sweeping over
the vessel, and soon broken timbers, bales of cargo, and lifeless bodies
scattered along the beach, while the shattered remnant of the hull is
torn still further to pieces with each insweep of the mighty seas as
they roll it to and fro among the rocks. Fearful and crafty the smile
that darkened the face of the willing murderer who was leading the horse
with the false light as he heard the crash of the vessel and the shrieks
of the drowning crew! Fearful the smile that darkened the faces of the
men and women waiting on the beach as they came out from their places,
ready to struggle and fight among themselves for any spoil that might
come ashore! A homeward-bound ship from the Indies! Great good
fortune--rich spoil! Bale after bale is seized upon by the wreckers, and
dragged high upon the beach out of the way of the surf. But, see! a
sailor clinging to a bit of broken mast! With his last conscious effort
he gains a footing on the shore, staggers forward, and falls. Is he
alive? Not now! Why did that fearful old woman kneel upon his chest and
cover his mouth with her cloak? Dead men tell no tales--claim no

No fiction of the fancy, this! Only the last great day will ever reveal
how many souls have perished at the hands of those who should have
succored them. Think of a man and his wife reaching the shore after an
exhausting struggle; the man leaving his wife in a sheltered nook while
he goes in search of human habitations, and returning after a few
moments to find his wife, a plundered, naked corpse! And yet, such
practices were tolerably common, even within the range of a century

In striking contrast with the heartless wreckers are those known on the
British coast as “hovellers.” These put out to sea in stormy weather to
ascertain if vessels in the offing are in need of anything, or are
otherwise crippled: and many a ship have they saved from wreck by their
timely aid.

It appears strange that, among a people so dependent upon the sea as the
English, no regularly organized methods of diminishing the losses by
wreck existed till within the present century. Yet such is the fact. A
hundred years ago, there was no boat that could safely venture in a
heavy sea; and if, perchance, some humane people wished to succor a
vessel in distress, few were the means and terrible the risks. The
graphic pen of Dickens, in this abridged narrative, will illustrate the
case. The scene is Yarmouth, England:

“In the difficulty of hearing anything but wind and waves, and in the
crowd, and the unspeakable confusion, and my first breathless efforts to
stand against the weather, I was so confused that I looked out to sea
for the wreck, and saw nothing but the foaming heads of the great waves.
A half-dressed boatman, standing next me, pointed with his bare arm (a
tattooed arrow on it, pointing in the same direction) to the left. Then,
O great Heaven, I saw it, close in upon us!

“One mast was broken off short, six or eight feet from the deck, and lay
over the side, entangled in a maze of sail and rigging; and all that
ruin, as the ship rolled and beat--which she did without a moment’s
pause, and with a violence quite inconceivable--beat the side as if it
would stave it in. Some efforts were even then being made to cut this
portion of the wreck away; for, as the ship, which was broadside on,
turned towards us in her rolling, I plainly descried her people at work
with axes, especially one active figure with long curling hair,
conspicuous among the rest.

“But a great cry, which was audible even above the wind


and water, rose from the shore at this moment; the sea, sweeping over
the rolling wreck, made a clean breach, and carried men, spars, casks,
planks, bulwarks--heaps of such toys--into the boiling surge. The second
mast was yet standing, with the rags of a rent sail, and a wild
confusion of broken cordage flapping to and fro. The ship had struck
once, the same boatman hoarsely said in my ear, and then lifted in and
struck again.

“As he spoke, there was another great cry of pity from the beach; four
men arose with the wreck out of the deep, clinging to the rigging of the
remaining mast; uppermost, the active figure with the curling hair.
There was a bell on board; and, as the ship rolled and dashed, like a
desperate creature driven mad, now showing us the whole sweep of her
deck, as she turned on her beam-ends towards the shore, now, nothing but
her keel, as she sprung wildly over and turned towards the sea, the bell
rang; and its sound, the knell of those unhappy men, was borne towards
us on the wind.

“Again, we lost her, and again she rose. Two men were gone. The agony on
shore increased. Men groaned and clasped their hands, women shrieked and
turned away their faces. Some ran wildly up and down along the beach,
crying for help where no help could be. I found myself one of these,
frantically imploring a knot of sailors whom I knew, not to let those
two lost creatures perish before our eyes, when I noticed that some new
sensation moved the people on the beach, and saw them part, and Ham come
breaking through them to the front.

“I ran to him, held him back with both arms and implored the men with
whom I had been speaking not to listen to him, not to do murder, not to
let him stir from off that sand! Another cry arose on shore, and,
looking to the wreck, we saw the cruel sail, with blow on blow, beat
off the lower of the two men, and fly up in triumph round the active
figure left alone upon the mast.

“Against such a sight, and against such determination as that of the
calmly desperate man, I might as hopefully have entreated the wind.
‘Mas’r Davy,’ he said, cheerily grasping me by both hands, ‘if my time
is come, ’tis come. If ’tain’t, I’ll bide it. Lord above bless you, and
bless all! Mates, make me ready! I’m a-going off!’

“I don’t know what I answered, or what they rejoined; but I saw a hurry
on the beach, and men running with ropes from a capstan that was there,
and penetrating into a circle of figures that hid him from me. Then I
saw him standing alone, in a seaman’s frock and trousers, a rope in his
hand, or slung to his wrist; another round his body, and several of the
best men, holding, at a little distance, to the latter, which he laid
out himself, slack upon the shore, at his feet.

“Ham watched the sea, standing alone, with the silence of suspended
breath behind him, and the storm before, until there was a great
retiring wave, when, with a backward glance at those who held the rope
which was made fast round his body, he dashed in after it, and, in a
moment was buffeting with the water. Now, he made for the wreck, rising
with the hills, falling with the valleys, lost beneath the rugged foam,
borne in towards the shore, borne on towards the ship, striving hard and

“The distance was nothing, but the power of the sea and wind made the
strife deadly. At length, he neared the wreck. He was so near that with
one more of his vigorous strokes he would be clinging to it--when a
high, green, vast hill-side of water, moving on, shoreward, from beyond
the ship, he seemed to leap up into it with a mighty bound, and the ship
was gone!

“On running to the spot where they were hauling in,

[Illustration: THE LIFE-BOAT.]

I saw some eddying fragments in the sea, as if a mere cask had been
broken. Consternation was in every face. They drew him to my very
feet--insensible--dead--beaten to death by the great wave; and his
generous heart was stilled forever.”

Such things weighed heavily upon the humanely disposed; and when a
century ago Mr. Greathead, who had a great heart, stood at
Newcastle-on-Tyne, and saw man after man drop from a great wreck into a
raging sea without the possibility of rescue, he set himself to work
upon the problem of the life-boat. Noticing that the half of a circular
wooden bowl invariably turned concave side upward, when thrown in the
water, it occurred to him at once that a boat with a curved instead of
straight keel would always right itself. Wouldhave, at the same time was
advocating padding the boat heavily with cork: and the first life-boat
was constructed from these ideas. A year or two later, a minister in the
Orkneys suggested that all boats could be made self-righting by fixing
an empty water-tight cask in either end. So the idea of air-chambers
developed: and later the curved keel was made of iron, to aid in
ballasting the craft: so that the modern life-boat, with curved iron
keel, cork padding, air chambers, and tubes to permit water to flow out,
cannot be sunk, or made to float bottom up. The men may sometimes be
washed out of it, or a side stove in, but the boat will always be found
right side up.

Strange as it may appear, though the first life-boat, with its
crudities, saved hundreds of lives within a few years, the Government
took no steps to institute a general system or life-saving service. To
the average American, this seems striking; but governments a century ago
were more concerned about the success in war than about the welfare of
the masses; they studied destruction of life more than its
preservation: and if perchance, some ruler affected peculiar concern for
the welfare of “the State,” it was generally the case that the
definition of Louis XIV was applicable; “The State--that’s _me_!”

But Sir William Hillary and Thomas Wilson made earnest appeals to
Parliament for the establishment of a national life-saving institution;
and Hillary added the more effective argument of many deeds of personal
daring in the venturous work. Between 1821-1846, no fewer than one
hundred and forty-four wrecks occurred on the Isle of Man, and “one
hundred and seventy-two lives were lost; while the destruction of
property was estimated at a quarter of a million. In 1825, when the
_City of Glasgow_ steamer was stranded in Douglas Bay, Sir William
Hillary assisted in saving the lives of sixty-two persons; and in the
same year eleven men from the brig _Leopard_, and nine from the sloop
_Fancy_, which became a total wreck. In 1827-32, Sir William,
accompanied by his son, saved many other lives; but his greatest success
was on the 20th of November, 1830, when he saved in the life-boat
twenty-two men, the whole of the crew of the mail steamer _St. George_,
which became a total wreck on St. Mary’s Rock. On this occasion he was
washed overboard among the wreck, with three other persons, and was
saved with great difficulty, having had six of his ribs fractured.”

So the British institution arose, small at first, but mighty in its work
since. Ten years after, in 1850, it was reorganized, and improved
life-boats secured. The importance of the work may be imagined when we
record that from 1852 to 1871, the wrecks on British coasts alone
averaged one thousand four hundred and forty-six per annum! When we add
the work of our own life-saving service, and the service of life-boats
in many other lands, we may realize how inestimable is the value of such
an institution.

[Illustration: THE LIFE-BOAT AT WORK.]

Among the earlier measures to prevent loss of life are fog-bells,
fog-horns, and lighthouses, to warn the sailor of dangerous shoals. In
earlier days, wreckers sometimes silenced the fog-bell. Southey has
given us a ballad upon the poetic justice said to have been meted out to
a famous pirate who removed the bell placed by the abbot of Arberbrothok
upon the Inchcape Rock, off the Scottish coast. One year later, with a
rich booty, the pirate nears home once more,

    “They hear no sound, the swell is strong;
     Though the wind hath fallen they drift along,
     Till the vessel strikes with a shivering shock,--
     ‘Oh, Christ! it is the Inchcape Rock!’

     Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair;
     He curst himself in his despair;
     The waves rush in on every side,
     The ship is sinking beneath the tide.”

With this notice of the extent to which man may be responsible for
disasters, the subject must be dismissed. Ere leaving the topic of
storms, the reader shall know of one of the most notable naval disasters
of the century, which will illustrate the difficulty with which even
powerful war ships face high winds at sea.



    “Roll on, thou deep and dark-blue Ocean, roll!
     Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain.
     Man marks the earth with ruin: his control
     Stops with thy shores: upon the watery plain
     The wrecks are all thy deed; nor doth remain
     A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
     When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
     He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
     Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.”

During the fall of 1888, no little interest centered in one of the
little inland groups of the Pacific. In 1887, German officers in the
Samoan group conceived that the king, Malietoa, was so prejudiced toward
their interests that he should be deposed. So without much ceremony they
laid hands upon and carried him into exile, placing him on an island
some thousands of miles distant.

There seems no reason to doubt that Germany’s ultimate design was to
formally occupy the islands. It is the old story of the civilized man’s
dealings with the savage; of the man who has ten talents, obtaining the
property of the man with one.

Methods have changed somewhat, however, since the day when our pilgrim
fathers kindly relieved the Red man of such encumbrances as he had in
the way of real estate, and established quit-claim deeds and perfect
titles in their flint-lock muskets. It is not now considered “good
form,” as it was in the days of olden Spanish America, to declare one’s
self Marquis of this or Duke de that, with several thousands of Indians
as slaves or tributaries, without consulting them. The modern method is
that of the European guide who attaches himself to your person
willy-nilly, in order that he rifle your pockets as the need of his
divers imaginary services. It is a less expensive method, and none the
less sure. So the colonizers of our day kindly establish a
“protectorate” over Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth, however, fully
understands the process, as some civilized races have found to their

The Samoans were in high dudgeon at the action of Germany: and when the
foreigners coolly proceeded, without consulting the wishes of the
natives, to select and establish a new king, whom they thought would be
favorable to their own interests, open hostility resulted.

The Samoans had no way to bring back their former king, Malietoa; but
they promptly deposed the creature of the Germans, Tamasese, and chose
instead Mataafa, a relative and personal representative of their exiled
king. The few American residents and frequenters of the islands approved
this, deeming the act of the Germans one of unjustifiable aggression.

Civil war resulted. At the outset, Tamasese’s strong personal following,
and the fear of German interference, gave him a very large party. But in
the half-dozen fierce battles that were fought he was decidedly worsted,
and, forced to flee from the capital, Apia, he shut himself up in a
native fortress eight miles distant.

The Germans had in the meantime actively espoused his cause, and went so
far as to bombard several native villages. Still they did not come into
direct personal collision with the natives until December, 1888. A body
of Germans landed a few miles from Apia, and assaulted Mataafa’s forces.

The island blood was up. The battle was stubbornly contested. The
Germans were utterly routed and driven back to their vessels with a loss
of fifty killed and wounded.

This is precisely the sort of pretext a “protecting” power desires. In
great indignation at the pesky people who had failed to allow themselves
to be thrashed, the Germans formally declared war, and began a series of
high-handed seizures and aggressions. The interests of other nations in
Samoa were endangered. There was but one American man-of-war in the

As soon as the War Department learned of the state of affairs,
reinforcements were sent out, and it seemed highly probable that a
collision between America and Germany might be precipitated at any
moment. Thus, there were collected in the harbor the American warship
_Trenton_, the flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Kimberly, and one of the
largest vessels in the navy, N. H. Farquhar, Commander: the _Nipsic_,
Commander D. W. Mullan; and the _Vandalia_, Commander C. M. Schoonmaker.
The Germans were represented by the warship _Olga_, and the cruisers
_Eber_ and _Adler_. England had sent the man-of-war _Calliope_. In
addition, there were in the harbor ten or twelve schooners and trading
vessels. Such was the force assembled at Apia, March 15, 1889.

The news does not travel rapidly from that portion of the world. During
the spring a report reached America that the looked-for collision
between the assembled forces had occurred, and that the _Nipsic_ had
been sunk by the _Olga_. There was much suppressed excitement; but as
the report was not officially confirmed, this soon ceased.

No one was prepared for the actual occurrence, or the magnitude of the

The town of Apia, the Samoan capital, lies around a small circular bay.
Across the mouth of the harbor, two miles in width, extends a coral
reef, which is visible at low water. A break in the reef a quarter of a
mile in width forms the entrance to the harbor. Only a small portion of
the latter is available for anchorage, as the eastern part is quite
shallow, and on the west the bay has a small fringing reef well out from
the shore. It will be seen that the crowded condition of the harbor
rendered it peculiarly perilous. The war vessels were anchored in the
deep water, the _Eber_ and _Nipsic_ being nearest the shore. The
schooners and lighter craft were in the shoal water next to the fringing
reef on the west side of the harbor.

The town is composed of cottages, built after the native pattern: low,
of elastic materials, and bound well together; so that the low houses,
swaying easily with the wind, are not so easily blown away as structures
of stiffer and more pretentious build. The American consulate, facing
the harbor, lies about the center of the town, with a long strip of
sandy beach before it.

For some weeks the weather had been gloomy and capricious. The time of
the vernal equinox was at hand, and a low area storm of unusual violence
might be expected at any time. During the afternoon of March 15, the
wind began to increase: the war ships lowered their topmasts and secured
their spars; one or two prepared storm-sails for emergencies. The
anchors were all out, and steam was raised lest the anchors should not

The wind increased steadily, blowing from the same quarter continuously.
Though the only recorded observations are at this one point, its
proximity to the equator, the steadiness of the wind and the length of
time it blew indicate a cyclonic tempest of unusual violence.

By 11 P.M. the wind was a strong gale: not too strong in the harbor for
small boats, however; for the crews of nearly all the schooners,
divining what was coming, put out their spare anchors and went ashore,
leaving the vessels to their fate. Mayhap the anchors would hold; but on
their lives they would take no risks.

An hour later immense rollers were coming in from the ocean, finding the
coral reef only a partial check. Ordinarily a reef insures a harbor from
the force of the waves, and leaves only the direct fury of the winds to
be encountered. But the reef at Apia is a lower barrier than such
harbors usually possess, and may not be seen at high tide.

At midnight, rain was falling. The wind still increased. The vessels
were pitching fearfully. At this time the _Eber_, nearest the shore,
began dragging her anchors, and was compelled to aid them with her
engines. At one o’clock the _Vandalia_, also, was compelled to use her
engines. Should the wind increase, their case was truly desperate.

The rain poured in torrents; fiercer grew the gale. By three o’clock
every vessel in the harbor was dragging her anchors. There might be a
collision, or a wreck, at any time. Every able-bodied man was required,
that any emergency might be met. Neither officer nor private could think
of sleep.

Those on shore realized the peril of the situation. Accustomed to heavy
gales, the natives slept soundly for a time in their low huts. At
length, the crash of falling trees and the tearing away of roofs began
to be heard in the storm. Little knots of people crept about in the
darkness, seeking shelter from the tempest. Sand and pebbles, gathered
up from the beach, were hurled by the wind with cutting force. The tide
was rising, and the gale brought it into the streets, a hundred feet
above the usual high water mark. The spray from the dashing surf sprang
high in the air, and beat into the windows of houses nearest the shore.
It was a memorable night.

Long before dawn the natives were huddled in little groups about the
shore, gazing at the shifting lights of the tossing vessels. Their
houses were being wrecked, their crops and trees destroyed, but they
themselves were measurably safe. But those in the harbor!

There was little need of conversation; and, indeed, did one wish to
speak to his neighbor, he was compelled to shout in his ear. As each
peered into his fellow’s face in the uncertain light, he saw the shadow
of a terrible fear and a desperate resolve that spoke plainer than any
words. Explanations were useless; that tacit understanding was enough.
For the time, thrones, principalities, feuds and hostilities were
forgotten. The followers of Tamasese and Mataafa were shoulder to
shoulder. No longer was there thought of the foeman who had exiled their
chief and bombarded their villages. Out in that seething caldron were
scores of human beings, battling for life with wind and wave. That was

As the day drew near, the white men on the shore began to join the
little groups of natives. Through the gloom could be seen the lights of
the plunging ships, and ever and anon there came on the gale the sound
of shouted orders, like a distant echo. The wavering of the lights
showed that, despite steam and anchor, the vessels were slowly dragging
about, crossing and re-crossing each others’ paths. The breathless
watchers on the beach listened for the crash of collision that would be
the death-knell of scores of gallant marines. Some shielded their faces
with bits of tile, and endeavored to distinguish the position of the
respective ships. Less hopeful than the whites, the natives saw no
chance of escape. Which vessel would strike first? Would any be saved?


Between five and six o’clock, it began to grow light. The position of
the vessels was completely altered. Forced from their moorings, they
were drifting toward the inner reef. Each contended stubbornly with the
storm. Volumes of black smoke poured from the furnaces of the quivering
hulls. A number of the sailing vessels were already on the reef.
Fragments of wreckage began to be tossed ashore. The _Trenton_ and
_Vandalia_, being farthest out in the harbor, were scarcely visible
through the mist and spray. The large iron hulls were tossed about like
corks. Wave after wave dashed over their decks. The men swarmed about
the masts and the lower rigging, clinging to anything they could grasp.
The _Eber_, _Adler_ and _Nipsic_ were within a few yards of each other
and close on the fatal reef. Each vessel seemed as though endowed with a
life of its own. They struggled like wild creatures; as the stag might
struggle in the clutch of a panther.

The _Eber_ slowly retreated toward the reef, contesting every inch.
Suddenly she paused, recovered, and dashed forward into the teeth of the
furious storm.

It was her last desperate sally. The current bore her to the right. In a
moment she collided with the _Nipsic_, her bow carrying away a boat and
several feet of the post-quarter rail. Falling back, she fouled with the
_Olga_, and her rudder was carried away. This left her helpless.
Swinging broadside to the wind, she lay a few moments rolling heavily in
the trough of the sea. Over her deck the surf foamed and roared.

At length, a gigantic wave lifted her up and hurled her with awful force
upon the reef. Striking fairly on her keel, she heeled over toward the
sea. No further trace of her was seen. Every timber must have been
shattered. Doubtless more of her crew were crushed than were drowned.

The horror-stricken natives, accustomed to the sea from infancy, dashed
into the surf, struggling with death for the lives of their late
oppressors. They were but savages; they knew no better.

For a few moments, not a hand was raised from the site of the wreck. At
length, a few faintly struggling forms appeared in the surf. They were
grasped by eager hands, and safely reached the shore. Another was seen
clinging to the piling of a small wharf, beaten half senseless by the
furious waves. He was drawn ashore. It was a handsome boyish-faced
lieutenant, the sole surviving officer. Out of a total force of
seventy-six men and officers on the _Eber_, five only were saved. The
young lieutenant was the officer of the watch at the time of the wreck.
The others were all below, and must have been crushed to death. This
occurred about six o’clock in the morning.

Finding no other survivors, those on shore turned to the remaining
vessels once more. Their position had changed again. The situation
rapidly grew more perilous.

The _Adler_ had fouled with the _Olga_, and was close on the reef, some
two hundred yards from where the _Eber_ struck, and like it, was
approaching the shore broadside on. The suspense was prolonged and
painful. For nearly half an hour she lay thus swept by the waves.

Finally, a huge roller tossed her on top of the reef and turned her over
on her side, throwing those on deck into the water. They struggled to
regain the vessel; those who succeeded clung to guns, tackling, spars
and masts; but twenty were drowned. The vessel lay with her keel to the
sea and nearly her entire hull out of water; so those who clung to the
rigging were fairly protected.

During the day the natives succeeded in getting a line to the wreck, and
a number of the sailors escaped. But the line parted while some were
still on the vessel, and could not be replaced. The remainder of the
crew clung to the wreck through all that terrible day and night, and
were finally gotten off when at the verge of exhaustion.

While the _Adler_ was drifting toward the reef, the _Nipsic_ was
battling with fearful odds. Facing the wind, she was

[Illustration: THE ADLER ON THE REEF.]

nevertheless dragging her three anchors, and receding toward the reef.

But her chief danger lay in another source. The gigantic _Olga_, which
had crippled the two vessels already wrecked, threatened to crush her
also. While the _Nipsic_ endeavored by skillful use of steam and rudder
to avoid the _Olga_, a little schooner, the _Lily_, fell in her way and
was cut down in an instant. There were but three men on board; two of
whom succeeded in reaching the _Olga_.

Just then it occurred to the commander of the _Nipsic_ to reinforce the
anchors by attaching a hawser to one of the heavy eight-inch rifles and
casting it overboard. Ere this was accomplished the _Olga_ struck her a
terrible blow directly amidships. Her smoke-stack was overturned and
fell on the deck with a terrible crash. One of her boats was carried
away and the rail splintered. No one at first knew the extent of the
damage. The frightened crew clambered into the rigging, thinking the
ship was sinking. The lumbering smoke-stack dashed from side to side
with the roll of the ship.

It was a frightful moment. Only a few yards away the _Eber_ had
disappeared. The _Nipsic_ had swung around and was rapidly nearing the
spot. Only promptness and most skillful management saved her officers
and crew from the fate of the _Eber_.

Captain Mullane was on the bridge at the time, and took in the situation
in an instant. With the smoke-stack gone it would be impossible to keep
up steam; without steam the reef could not be avoided. At once the
smoke-stack was chocked to prevent its rolling about the deck, and
orders were given to beach the ship while a small head of steam was
still available. Two hundred yards away lay the sandy beach before the
American consulate.

A great throng awaited anxiously the result of this manœuvre. The
vessel’s course was parallel to the terrible reef, and but a few feet
from it. Her crew were gathered about the bow, and those on shore
recognized many a familiar face or personal friend in the driving spray,
on whom they might be looking for the last time. One or two of the crew
had been on shore during the night, and now stood watching the fate of
their comrades.

Barely escaping the reef, the steamer plunged into the sand a few yards
from the shore, and swung around diagonally to the storm. The breakers
dashed furiously upon her stern, and it seemed as though she would be
beaten to pieces in an instant. Those who escaped must do so at once.

Five sailors dashed into a boat; but the falls did not work properly,
and one end of the boat dropped. The men fell into the sea and were
drowned. The surgeon and five sick men were placed in another boat: no
sooner launched than capsized. But the natives had formed a chain by
grasping each others hands; and dashing into surf where a white man
would have perished at once, they seized the men and passed them to the
shore. Several of those on the _Nipsic_ took advantage of the
opportunity and sprang overboard. But two of these were lost.

Meanwhile, all those remaining on board had crowded into the forecastle.
The natives in the surf, under the direction of two of their chiefs,
Seumanu Tafa and Salu Anae, had succeeded in getting lines to the
vessels, and double hawsers were quickly stretched to the shore. Scores
of eager hands were outstretched to assist in the work. The waves broke
high on the beach, and the undertow was so strong that even the natives
narrowly escaped being carried out into the bay. The white men on shore
scarcely dared venture into the surf. The rain poured more heavily. The
clouds of flying sand grew thicker and more


cutting. The hoarse shouts of the officers mingled with the roar of the
storm, and the stricken vessel quivered in every fibre. Fragments of
wreckage were ever and anon hurled amongst those in the surf. The gloom
of the awful tempest combined with all these things to produce a tableau
of chaos itself.

Yet, throughout the whole fearful scene, the natives never faltered, but
sang and shouted words of encouragement to each other as they stood at
their chosen posts. The white men on shore rendered all the aid in their
power; but the posts of danger and need were filled by the natives. An
eye-witness of the scene says:

“To one who saw the noble work of those men during the storm, it is a
cause of wonder that they should be called savages by more enlightened
races. There seemed to be no instinct of the savage in a man who could
rush into that boiling torrent of water that broke upon the reef, and
place his own life in peril to save the helpless drowning men of a
foreign country.

“While the Americans and Germans were treated alike, it was plain that
their sympathies were with the Americans, and they redoubled their
efforts when they saw an opportunity to aid the men who represented a
country which had insisted that their native government should not be
interfered with by a foreign power.”

The coolness of Captain Mullane had mastered the frightened crew. There
was no longer confusion. The officers stood by the rail and directed the
movements of the men. Time after time the rolling billows dashed the men
from the hawser; but the gallant natives succeeded in saving all. By
eight o’clock the _Nipsic_ was deserted. The three smallest of the war
ships were wrecked.

The four large men-of-war were well out in the harbor, and for the time
measurably safe.

But near ten o’clock, the situation became alarming again. Masses of
floating wreckage struck the _Trenton_, as it was lifted by a heavy
wave, and carried away the rudder and propeller. Her anchors, unaided,
would not keep her from the reef, or from fouling with the other vessels
in the harbor.

The _Vandalia_ and the _Calliope_ were drifting toward the wreck of the
_Adler_. As the _Vandalia_ endeavored to steam away, the iron prow of
the Englishman arose high in the air and fell with full force upon the
_Vandalia’s_ port-quarter. The _Calliope_ lost her jib-boom, and the
heavy timbers of the _Vandalia_ were shivered. Every man near the point
of the collision was thrown from his feet by the shock. Water was
rushing through a great rent in the cabin. It seemed that the _Vandalia_
had received her death blow. The frightened men swarmed from the
hatches, but presently returned to their posts.

At this crisis the Englishman essayed a bold manœuvre. Seeing that to
remain where he was would be, in a few more moments, ruin to the
_Vandalia_, he resolved to take all risks himself, and letting go all
anchors, swung around to the wind and endeavored to put to sea. For a
moment the vessel seemed stationary. Then the tremendous power of the
propeller began to tell, and the vessel moved slowly forward in the
teeth of the storm. Volumes of smoke poured from her funnels, and the
ship groaned in every timber. Gradually it became clear that she could
escape from the harbor.

This is one of the most daring feats in the naval annals. It was the one
desperate chance to save the _Calliope_ and her crew from certain death.
An accident to the machinery at this moment, or a slight change in the
direction of the wind as she neared the narrow gate-way of the harbor,
would have been fatal. Down in the fire room, the men


worked as they never had before. The _Trenton_ lay close to the reef,
and the _Calliope_ was compelled to pass between the two. The flagship’s
fires were out, and she could do nothing to save herself. Every man felt
that a few moments longer would find him a grave in the coral reef.
Those on shore were watching with intensest anxiety.

Just then a strange sound came, borne on the wind; a wild ringing cry
from the four hundred and fifty on board the _Trenton_. The Americans
were cheering the _Calliope_. Expecting death for themselves, they
rejoiced that their friends might yet escape, and the heart of every
Englishman went out to the brave Americans who gave their parting
tribute to the Queen’s ship.

There is something peculiarly touching in this incident. It is far above
the _morituri te salutamus_ of the gladiator in the arena. It was an
expression of immortal courage; the dying saluting the victor; the
doomed saluting the saved; manhood distressed greeting manhood
triumphant. The English seamen returned the cry. The _Calliope_ safely
reached the sea. Her commander afterward said: “Those ringing cheers of
the American flagship pierced deep into my heart, and I will ever
remember that mighty outburst of fellow-feeling, which I felt came from
the bottom of the hearts of the gallant admiral and his crew. Every man
on board the _Calliope_ felt as I did; it made us work to win. I can
only say, God bless America and her noble sailors.”

Meanwhile the _Vandalia_, seeing her doom certain, endeavored to reach
the beach, but being a much larger vessel than the _Nipsic_, she could
not come so near the shore. A blow from a terrific wave in the night had
hurled the captain across his cabin and so injured him that he was
unable to control his vessel. His executive officer, Carlin, was in
command, but the captain stood by his side to the last. Carlin’s
coolness and nerve were wonderful. He had been on duty thirty
consecutive hours, and had not tasted food all that time.

In order to reach the beach, the _Vandalia_ was compelled to execute the
same perilous feat that had been performed three hours before by the
_Nipsic_. Slipping her anchors, she crowded on all steam and skirted the
edge of the reef, finally dashing into the soft sand two hundred yards
from the shore and eighty yards from the stern of the _Nipsic_. The
engines were stopped and the fires put out; all hands were ordered on
deck, and the vessel swung around broadside to the waves.

At first, her position being supposed safe, it was thought the two
hundred and forty men on board might well remain until the storm was
over. The men were scattered about the deck and forecastle, clinging to
the guns, the masts, rigging and sides of the ship. Within half an hour
her real danger became apparent; she wallowed lower and lower in the
yielding sand; more and more frequently the seas dashed over her,
flooding the hatchways with water. Her boats were dashed from the davits
and torn to pieces. It was attempted to fire lines to the shore, but all
her powder was ruined. The spray and mist arose in such masses from the
sides of the ship, that those on shore could hardly distinguish her

At this moment a brave sailor volunteered to swim through the surf with
a line, in the hope that his comrades might be rescued. It was a
perilous task, as the water was filled with floating wreckage. Fastening
a cord to his body, he sprang overboard; an immense wave hurled him
against the side of the vessel and struck him senseless. He was drowned
almost within touch of his comrades. Gradually the men were driven from
the gun-deck. By noon it was under water. The heavy billows that swept
over the ship lifted the men from their feet and hurled them against the
sides. The salt water intensified the pain of their bruises. Soon all of
the men sought refuge in the rigging, and a few officers only remained
on the poop-deck. The waves grew more violent.

For once the bold men on shore were powerless. No boat could live in the
surf, and there was no firing apparatus on shore, that a line might be
conveyed to the vessel. The scores on the land were desperate, but the
_Vandalia’s_ doom was sealed.

Finally, they resolved on bolder efforts than had hitherto been made.
Three natives fastened a cord to their bodies, and, passing around the
side of the bay a quarter of a mile above the wrecked war ship,
endeavored to take advantage of the powerful current setting toward the
shore, and so reach the vessel. Powerful swimmers as they were, they
were hurled to the beach without being able to get within one hundred
yards of the vessel. Urged by their chief to try again, effort after
effort was made, but without success.

Seeing no other chance, those on the _Vandalia_ one by one dropped into
the sea, in the faint hope that they might yet reach the land in safety.
Some succeeded in reaching the wreck of the _Nipsic_, only a short
distance away, but many were too weak to draw themselves up to its deck.
As they clung to the ropes, the violence of the waves, in some cases,
tore the clothing from their bodies.

The captain, sick and feeble, was growing weaker every moment. The brave
Carlin stood by him endeavoring to hold him on, and speaking words of
encouragement. He had not sufficient strength left to clamber into the
rigging and refused a life preserver, insisting that it should be given
to some of the others. At length an immense roller plunged toward the
vessel, and the captain bent forward to receive the shock. A heavy
machine gun was torn from its fastening and hurled full upon the
captain. His body passed overboard and was never more seen.


One by one others of the officers were beaten from the deck. The
suffering was not only with those on the vessel. The brave fellows who
labored on the shore and in the surf were cut and bruised by flying
sand and the floating fragments. Exposure to the sea water was making
them stiff and sore. The natives sought occasional shelter and rest
behind an up-turned boat or the masses of drift, and then returned to
the battle.

Finally, as by common consent, nearly all of those left in the rigging
dropped into the sea. It was an easy matter to reach the _Nipsic_, and a
few succeeded in clambering to her deck; but many were too weak and
exhausted to hold on long enough to receive assistance from their
comrades, and too far off to be reached by the natives.

By three o’clock the hull of the _Vandalia_ had almost disappeared. A
few men were still in the rigging, lying exhausted on the small
platforms or clinging to the rat-lines or yards with the desperation of
dying men, expecting every moment to be their last. Their arms and limbs
were bruised and swollen and cut by holding on the rough ropes. For
twenty-four hours they had been without food, and cold and exposure were
doing their work. At this moment the rear of the _Nipsic_ swung to the
sea, so that but fifty yards separated the two vessels. A successful
effort was made to stretch a line between the two; but before all in the
fore-rigging could be rescued, the line parted and could not be

Meanwhile the _Trenton_, without steam or rudder, lay with her head to
the wind, while volumes of water dashed through the hawse-pipes and
flooded the engine room. Had the vessel gone down suddenly, none below
could have escaped. They stood at their posts till waist deep in the
water and the fires were extinct. The berth-deck was flooded. Lieut.
Allen and a portion of the men made repeated efforts to close the
hawse-pipes, but the force of the waves tore away every plug. Still they
labored on, far beneath the decks, momentarily expecting the last.

The admiral and his officers stood on the bridge directing the movements
of the vessel. When almost on the eastern shoals a bold coup was
suggested by Lieut. Brown. Every man was ordered into the port-rigging,
and the compact mass of bodies was used as a sail. The vessel was
brought into the center of the bay again. Then she commenced to drift
back toward the _Olga_, which had been holding up in the gale more
successfully than any of the other vessels. The stars and stripes were
flung to the breeze. If she were doomed, she would go down with flying
colors. The _Olga_ endeavored to steam out of the way, but her bow
struck the starboard quarter of the flagship, shivering the heavy
timbers, carrying away several boats, and throwing the flag to the deck.
Again it was flung from the mast-head. The _Olga_ reached the mud-flat
on the east side of the harbor. Not a life was lost, and a few weeks
later the vessel was hauled off and saved.

The struggle of the _Trenton_ was almost ended. It was five o’clock and
daylight was fading as the immense war ship bore down upon the
_Vandalia_. When she struck the latter, all would be over.

That was a memorable scene. The night was coming on the wings of the
storm. Those in the _Vandalia’s_ main-top still clung, bruised and
bleeding. Their eyes were blinded by the salty spray. They looked on the
black waters below knowing they had no strength for further battle with
the waves. The final hour was upon them. The great black hull of the
_Trenton_ could be seen through the gloom, about to dash upon the
stranded vessel and grind her to atoms. Those on the beach ceased their
efforts in despair, and stood waiting the last act of the tragedy.

At this moment there came over the waves a renewal of the wild cheer of
the morning. Four hundred and fifty voices were heard above the roar of
the storm, “Three cheers for the _Vandalia_!” A cheer in the morning
had animated the British; perhaps another cheer now would encourage the
despairing seamen of the _Vandalia_ to hold on a little longer. A
response went up, feeble, quavering and uncertain, so faint it was
scarcely heard by those on shore. With death staring them in the face,
they sent up a cheer for the flagship; a cheer more pathetic than any
lamentation. That was the saddest cry ever heard. Every heart on shore
was melted to pity. “God help them!” they murmured.

Darkness hid the scene. The last cheer had died away. As those on shore
listened for the crash, another strange sound came up from the deep. It
was a wild burst of music in defiance of the storm. The _Trenton’s_ band
was playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Never before had the thousand
men on sea and shore heard such strains at a time like that. The
feelings of the Americans on the beach were indescribable. The power of
the music vied with the howling of the storm.

Men who during that awful day had exhausted every means of rendering
some assistance to their comrades, now seemed inspired to greater
effort. They dashed at the surf like wild creatures; but they were
powerless. There was nothing left for them to do but wait; and, if they
dared, to hope.

The _Trenton_ proved the _Vandalia’s_ salvation. She bore lightly
against her without a shock, and swung around in the sand broadside to
the sunken ship. Those who remained quickly escaped to the _Trenton’s_

By ten o’clock the beach was deserted, and all that tempest or man could
do had been done. A few watchers patrolled the beach all night in hope
of rescuing some one who might not have escaped to the _Trenton_. But
one person was found--a young ensign.

One hundred and forty-four persons had perished. Ninety-one were from
the German vessels; fifty-one from the Americans; two from a little
trading schooner. Not more than one-third of the bodies were recovered.


The storm died away. It was a strange scene which the morning sun
beheld. The shore was strewn with drifted wreck. The shattered schooners
lay about the reef. The streets were crossed with fallen trees, and
roofless houses stood amid the groves. A fragment of the _Eber’s_ bow
was high upon the beach. Far up the western reef the _Adler_ lay. The
_Olga_ stood unharmed upon the eastern shoal. Before the consulate, the
_Nipsic_ was fast in the sand. Only the bow of the _Vandalia’s_ hull
could be seen. By her side was the _Trenton_, grand though in ruin. And
above the desolation floated the Star Spangled Banner, triumphant over
the storm.



                          “Far along,
    From peak to peak the rattling crags among,
    Leaps the live thunder! Not from one lone cloud,
    But every mountain now hath found a tongue,
    And Jura answers through her misty shroud,
    Back to the joyous Alps, who call to her aloud!

    And this is in the night:--Most glorious night!
    Thou wert not sent for slumber! let me be
    A sharer in thy fierce and far delight,
    A portion of the tempest and of thee!
    How the lit lake shines, a phosphoric sea,
    And the big rain comes dancing to the earth!
    And now again ’tis black--and now, the glee,
    Of the loud hills shakes with its mountain mirth,
    As if they did rejoice o’er a young earthquake’s birth.”

Who has not quailed before the storm? Few, indeed, are they whose
spirits kindle with the flash of the lightning, and joy in the roar of
the thunder, that fills the heavens like the voice of many waters. Bold
is the heart that in such scenes can mount with a Byron, and say to the
Avernian gloom that wraps the frightened world,

                              “Let me be
    A portion of the tempest and of thee!”

Only that fiery, untameable spirit, fearless of man or demon, dare so
approach the King of the Storm, or pat the mane of Ocean in his wrath. A
thousand plaudits has he won--but not a follower: for when the lightning
flames and roars, the cheering rabble slink away in fear, nor dare to
emulate that genius, strange and wild as chaos as itself.

[Illustration: THE LYSE FIORD.]

The fear of the tempest belongs to every age. The ancient Greeks, from
whom the Romans borrowed and modified the myth, told how Hephaistos
toiled in his volcanic forge to form the bolts of Zeus, great father of
gods and men. These flaming weapons could none oppose. By them
rebellious giants were overturned. And the bold Goth, rugged and
vigorous, heard the voice of the war-god, Thor, shout to him:

    “Mine eyes are the lightning,
     The wheels of my chariot
     Roll in the thunder!”

The Arab saw the wild combat of genii, whom the great Solomon had not
subdued. Woe to the luckless wight who should arouse their ill-will! The
Arabian Nights tell us of a contest between one of these spirits of fire
and a beautiful princess, versed in magic. The swarthy Moor beheld the
hand of God, waving on his angels to contest with the hosts of evil: and
the same idea of wild combat in the spirit world is found in the myths
of the Caribs and Lapps. In the Hindoo cosmogony, the lightning and
storm are the chief weapons of Siva, the destroyer, who will one day
blot the world out of existence. Only in the red man’s tales do we find
the idea of the Christian world, of one Great Spirit who rules all
nature. In the Persian mythology, lightning and gloom represent the
contest between the forces of Ahriman, prince of evil, and Ormuzd, the
great creator and preserver of good. And among the old Etruscans, from
whom the Romans borrowed many rites and ceremonies, the lightning was
one of the chief objects in their system of augury and divination. A
favorable flash of lightning outweighed all portents of ill. The thunder
was the voice of the gods, communicating their will to men.

And so the ancients were content to pass the mystery by, unsolved. Now
and then a Pliny, a Seneca, an Aristotle, ventured a timid speculation
upon the origin and cause of lightning, but as electricity was an
unknown force to them, their conjectures were as wild as the chimærical
tales of Cimmerian darkness in ultra-Scythian realms, or of the Utopian
haven of bliss, where the Hyperboreans dwelt. But one of their various
conjectures is worthy of note, as it contains an element of truth. It
was, that the lightning was produced by mutual friction or violent
concussion of the clouds.

Since electricity has been recognized as the agent in the phenomena of
thunder storms, inquiry as to whether it is a cause or a result of the
formation of clouds, has produced evidence in favor of the latter fact
(though clouds differently charged have mutual attraction for each
other), for rapid motion of gases may be made to generate electricity. A
natural sequence would be that thunder storms are most violent where
clouds are heaviest. Hence, thunder storms are naturally most frequent
and violent in the tropics, where the greater heat produces immense
masses of vapor. and are unknown in the polar world, where the
comparative dryness of the atmosphere is unfavorable. The unusual amount
of electricity in dense clouds in rapid motion is shown by the
tremendous electrical displays attendant upon tornadoes and cyclones.
Another illustration of lightning resulting from cloud agency, rather
than controlling them, may be found in the cloudless Sahara, where
evidences of electricity are sometimes to be observed in the time of the
Khamsin, while the thunder storm is unknown. One notable exception to
the rule that thunder storms are violent and frequent in all tropical
regions is to be found in Peru, with its cloudless skies and eternal
sun, where a rainfall or a thunder storm would be as great a curiosity
as a palm tree at the north pole. The mere fact of elevation renders
the thunder storm more violent in mountainous regions, in both temperate
and tropical worlds.

Knowing the character of this mysterious power, we may not enter upon a
lengthy discussion of the changes, chemical, physical and otherwise,
that may be produced by it. Within the scope of this work, only its rank
as an agent of destruction and a historical factor may be considered. Is
electricity to be greatly feared? to be put on a par with the flood, the
hurricane, and the earthquake? Has it ever figured in the history of
nations sufficiently to directly affect their destinies?

The first and most familiar aspect of its power is the thunder storm,
which needs not a word of description. It results merely from the
discharges passing between two bodies oppositely charged. There is one
comparatively rare form of lightning, in which it appears as a globe of
fire slowly descending, with wayward and unexpected dashes to the side,
sometimes coming down a chimney and playing about the floor like a
kitten, much to the discomfiture of the inmates, till it at length
explodes with immense force, hurling zig-zag lightnings all about. This
peculiar freak, several times observed, is as yet unexplained.

The lightning seems throughout most civilized nations to be the most
dreaded of all natural agencies, if we may judge from the many
precautions taken against it. And in truth it is a terrific power,
cleaving the hardest rocks, rending the mighty oak, and fusing the most
refractory substances. Darting into the soil it frequently forms tubes
of vitreous appearance by fusing the earth and stones as it passes. The
writer has seen masses of straw fused in the same way. And when we
remember that French savants have, with the most powerful of batteries
been able to produce tubes only an inch in length and one-fiftieth of
an inch in diameter by passing shocks through powdered glass, we may
well stand in awe at the terrible power that produces tubes thirty feet
long and four inches in diameter in the far more obstinate feldspar and


There are numerous cases of death by lightning; but the instances in
which more than one person has been killed by a flash are comparatively
rare. The freaks played far outdo those of the wind, and puzzle the
wisest. March 20, 1784, about four hundred people were assembled in the
theatre at Mantua, when lightning struck the building, and killed two
persons, injuring ten. But many who were not hurt found the bolt had
melted their watch-keys, earrings, and split diamonds they were wearing.
How such feats could be performed without in the least harming the
possessors is a mystery.

June 11, 1819, while a large assembly were attending divine services in
the church of Chateau Neuf les Montiers, in France, lightning struck the
building, killing nine persons and wounding eighty-two. In 1715 the
lightning fell into the abbey of Noirmoutiers, near Tours, and killed
twenty-two horses, but did no further harm to the one hundred and fifty
monks at supper than to turn over their one hundred and fifty bottles of
wine. In 1855, lightning struck a flock of sheep in France, killing
seventy-eight of them and two dogs, and sparing the old shepherdess. A
French author relates the case of a priest who was killed by lightning,
while the horse on which he rode was unhurt, and quietly continued
homeward with the stiffened corpse. A somewhat similar case has come
within the knowledge of the writer: a man on horseback being killed, and
the saddle perforated; yet the horse remained apparently unhurt. I
remember another instance of a man who was struck, and escaped unharmed;
but one of his boots was torn to shreds and some of the hobnails melted:
and I myself have been struck upon the foot, with no other result than a
peculiar numbness, lasting nearly half an hour.

In many instances a livid streak is the only mark left upon the dead
body; and again it may be torn almost to atoms; while in some cases not
the slightest trace is perceptible. The greater number fall in the first
class. In 1838, some cattle were killed by lightning near Nymnegen, in
Holland. Their bones were shattered to a thousand fragments, as though
by nitro-glycerine; while externally there was no particular token
visible. Some sheep killed in Bohemia, in 1718, were similarly served.
The fragments of bone were driven so thoroughly throughout the flesh
that the carcasses were unfit for food.

In 1869, the mayor of Pradette, France, was killed by lightning, and all
his clothes, with the exception of one shoe, were torn from the body.
“August 11, 1855, a man was struck by lightning on a road near
Vallerois, and entirely divested of his raiment, only a few remnants of
which could afterwards be found. Ten minutes after the stroke he was
restored to consciousness, complained of the cold, and asked how he came
to be without any clothing. No doubt, he would have more easily consoled
himself for the loss of his apparel had he known of the case reported by
Sestier, of a man whose whole right side was burnt, as if he had been
held for some time over a fire-pan, while his shirt, his drawers and the
rest of his dress bore no marks whatever of combustion.” Sometimes the
clothing is found unstitched; again, it is burnt, and again, in some
mysterious manner, seems to be annihilated.

Prof. Tyndall relates his sensations upon having a powerful electric
discharge pass through him: “Life was absolutely blotted out for a very
sensible interval, without a trace of pain. In a second or so
consciousness returned. * * * The _intellectual_ consciousness of my
position was restored with singular rapidity, but not so the _optical_
consciousness. * * * The appearance which my body presented to myself
was that of a number of separate pieces. The arms, for example, were
detached from the trunk and suspended in the air. In fact, memory and
the power of reasoning appeared to be complete long before the optic
nerve was restored to healthy action. But what I wish chiefly to dwell
upon here, is the absolute painlessness of the shock; and there can not
be a doubt that to a person struck dead by lightning the passage from
life to death occurs without consciousness being in the least degree
implicated. It is an abrupt stoppage of sensation, unaccompanied by a

There is another class of peculiar freaks performed by this subtle
force, which the following instances illustrate. Prof. Perty tells of a
thunder storm in Switzerland, when “the lightning sprang from a pear
tree upon the verandah of a house, where it killed a boy and wounded his
mother. The pear tree and the house were burned down. On the arm of the
wounded woman a remarkably elegant impression of twigs and leaves, like
a photographic copy of part of the pear tree, was found.”

There are several cases noted of persons sitting near windows when
lightning flashing near by has produced an exact likeness of the person,
as though engraved on the glass.

“In 1825 the lightning fell upon the brigantine _El Buon Servo_, which
lay at anchor in the bay of Armiro, at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea.
The superstitious Ionian sailors generally fasten a horseshoe to the
foremasts of their ships, probably fancying that this simple means
affords them protection against the evil intentions of wizards and
witches. Of course, the _Buon Servo_ was not without its horseshoe.
Antonio Teodoro, of Scarpanto, was sitting near the mast, when it was
struck by lightning. He was killed at once. No marks of combustion were
found on his body, nor were his clothes torn; but on his back was found
the distinct impression of a horseshoe of the same size as that which
was nailed to the mast.”

In the records of the Academy of Sciences, we find that “the Signora
Morosa, a lady of Lugano, who sat near a window during a thunder storm,
received a shock which did her no further injury; but a flower which
stood in the passage of the electric fluid was distinctly pictured on
her thigh.” She carried the mark to her grave.

Lightning is one of the most useful purifiers of the atmosphere. There
can be no doubt that large quantities of noxious exhalations are
destroyed by electrical discharges. Its beneficial effects in this
respect have been long noted. “Both Hippocrates and Galenus remark that
the water which falls during a thunder storm is more healthy to drink
than that which proceeds from a uniformly clouded sky: and Plutarch
mentions that the rain from a thunder cloud is considered as more
favorable to vegetation, and communicates to plants a particular
flavor.” There are also on record a number of instances in which persons
long in poor health, on receiving light shocks, have greatly improved in
health and appearance. Similar results have been noticed in plant life.
Doubtless such cases as these gave rise to the belief of the ancients,
that to be struck by lightning was to be favored by the gods.

This opinion was especially noted in the case of Mithridates. Slightly
wounded in the forehead by lightning when a child, he escaped unhurt
later in life, when his sword was totally destroyed. These facts caused
him to be held in superstitious fear by the Romans. And Quintus Julius
Eburnus became consul, B. C., mainly because of a similar mark of divine
favor. Those who were killed by a flash were believed to be not subject
to decay, and were robed in white and buried where they fell. So also
those whose tombs lightning struck were peculiarly honored of Heaven.
Lord Byron alludes to this in his stanza upon the bust of Ariosto on the
poet’s tomb at Ferrara, which had been struck by lightning:

    “The lightning rent from Ariosto’s bust
     The iron crown of laurel’s mimicked leaves,
     Nor was the ominous element unjust,
     For the true laurel wreath which glory weaves
     Is of the tree no bolt of thunder cleaves,
     And the false semblance but disgraced his brow;
     Yet, still, if fondly superstition grieves,
     Know, that the lightning sanctifies below
     Whate’er it strikes--yon head is doubly sacred now.”

The identification of electricity with lightning is a comparatively
recent occurrence. The story of Benjamin Franklin, patron saint of the
devout lightning-rod agent, is too familiar to require repetition. Yet,
the idea was first broached in the latter part of the seventeenth
century by two students of the new force, more than fifty years before
Franklin’s experiments.

Thunder clouds usually float from two thousand to five thousand feet
from the earth; but there is one case on record of two priests being
killed by lightning from a cloud only thirty yards from the ground;
while another thunder storm is noted as having occurred eighteen
thousand feet from the earth. As sound travels about one thousand and
ninety feet per second, any one may ascertain the distance of a flash by
noting the time that elapses ere the thunder is heard. All existing
records fail to tell of thunder heard more than four miles; while the
cannonading at Paris in 1871 could be heard one hundred and five miles;
and Waterloo could be heard one hundred and fifty miles.

The action of lightning is instantaneous, and when near by the report is
at first a single sharp crack; but it is always followed by a long
rolling, so characteristic that every name given the thunder in a
measure endeavors to imitate it. The reason of the continued roll from a
single flash is simple, and is to be found in the fact that a flash
usually travels several miles; and as sound travels as stated above, the
sounds generated at different distances come to the ear in rapid
succession, resulting in a continuous roar.

As the flash is due merely to the attraction between two bodies charged
with opposite kinds of electricity, the discharge may pass either up or
down. Cases are on record of persons on a mountain side being killed by
lightning from a cloud below them, and of people on the ground killed by
lightning dashing from them toward the sky.

Among the more notable fatalities resulting from lightning may be
mentioned the terrible thunder storm of 1793, at Buenos Ayres, when the
lightning struck thirty-seven times within the city, and killed nineteen
people. A number of persons were killed on June 18, 1872, in England, at
different places; and numerous others perished within the month from
similar discharges.

Electricity seems to kill by destroying nervous power. Cardanus tells of
eight reapers being killed while taking their meal under an oak. When
the witnesses of the occurrence ran to the spot, they saw a strange
sight. The victims “seemed to be still busy with their frugal repast.
One of them held his glass, another was putting some bread into his
mouth, a third had his hand in the dish. The angel of death had struck
them so violently that the whole surface of their bodies bore the marks
of his black wings. They seemed so many statues sculptured in black

“In another case where ten reapers were killed under a hedge, one of
them had a dog on his knee at the time when he was struck. The
unfortunate man was caressing with one hand his little companion, and
with the other giving him a piece of bread. Both master and dog were
merely inert masses of rigid muscle and stiffened sinew, and yet the
bread was still held by the lifeless hand. The dog, with his mouth
expressively open, seemed still to beg for the proffered morsel.”

A peasant woman in the suburbs of Nancy was struck while gathering
flowers. She was found standing, holding in her hand the daisy she had
been plucking. A French soldier took refuge under a tree during a storm;
a peasant sheltered himself in a copse near by. The soldier was killed
by lightning. The storm over, the peasant crept out and called to the
soldier to come on. Receiving no answer, he


went up and touched the erect, motionless figure. It at once melted
away. Only a little dust remained. A similar result occurred not long
since in a powerful electric light plant. A large rat endeavored to
cross some of the machinery, and at once became rigid, as though an
image of stone. One of the employes, taking a stick, endeavored to push
the carcass off; it at once disappeared in a cloud of impalpable dust.

Terrible results have followed from lightning striking into powder
magazines. August 18, 1769, the powder vault in the tower of St.
Nazaire, at Brescia, was struck. The explosion destroyed one-sixth of
the city completely, and damaged all buildings more or less. Three
thousand persons were killed, while the property ruined amounted to over
$3,000,000. June 26, 1807, the lightning struck a magazine in the
fortress of the Luxembourg, ruining the lower town, and killing or
wounding two hundred and thirty people. In 1856 the powder vaults in the
church of St. John, in the island of Rhodes were struck. More than two
hundred people were instantly killed.

The lightning often shows in itself a sort of explosive power. Every one
is familiar with the blasting of trees, and the throwing of fragments to
a great distance. Some unusually violent effects of this class have been
noticed. In 1762, stones weighing one hundred and fifty pounds, were
flung from a church in Cornwall, to a distance of one hundred and eighty
feet. In the Shetland Isles, during the last century, a rock of mica
schist, one hundred and five feet long, ten feet broad, and from three
to five feet thick, was in an instant torn by a flash of lightning from
its bed, and broken into three large and several smaller fragments. One
piece twenty-six feet long, ten feet broad, and four feet thick, was
merely inverted. A second, twenty-eight feet long, seventeen feet broad,
and five feet thick, was hurled over a high point to a distance of
fifty yards: another mass, forty feet long, was hurled still further in
the same direction, quite into the sea.

Certain localities seem to have peculiar attractive power for lightning.
On the Norwegian coast is a narrow channel between two dark rocky
headlands, where the lightning seems often to play almost incessantly.
The gloomy chasm, so frequently reverberating with the roll of the
thunder, is viewed with superstitious fear by ignorant sailors; and the
boldest heart is filled with awe in the forbidding presence of the Lyse
Fiord. By many he is thought a venturesome captain who will dare take
his vessel through this frowning gateway.

But after a careful consideration of the topic, it is clear that
lightning is less to be feared than almost any other of the atmospheric
phenomena. Comparatively rare are the cases where more than one or two
persons are killed at once. Statistics hitherto collected show that
scarcely one death in two thousand is occasioned by it. And yet no force
seems to be so universally feared. Every people in every age have taken
precautions against it, while the hurricane and the flood pass almost

The ancient Thracians were wont to shoot their arrows at the sky during
a storm, to remind the fire-gods to be a little more careful in their
sport. A similar practice is found among certain South African tribes:
while the South Sea Islanders, far more fearless, tell of Ina, a woman
whom the moon stole for his wife, while she was beating bark-cloth. She
may be seen in the moon to-day--the figure we call the “man in the
moon.” Continually at work, she spreads out her cloth on the sky to
dry--(clouds)--fastening it down with blue stones, of which the sky is
built. When done, she gathers it up, throwing down the stones, which,
falling upon the earth, produce the sound of thunder. The lightning is
the torch the moon holds to aid her in her work.

Augustus was wont to retire to a subterranean vault during a storm, and
it is said the Japanese emperors had a similar custom, having the
additional precaution of large reservoirs of water over the grottos.
When away from home, Augustus usually wrapped himself in sealskin,
believed, not only by the Romans, but by many others, to be
lightning-proof. In some portions of France, the peasants believe snake
skins to be an efficient anti-lightning charm. And among not a few of
the ancients there was a belief prevalent that lightning never injured a
person in bed.

In the passage quoted from Byron on the bust of Ariosto, allusion is
made to the belief that lightning never strikes the laurel-plant sacred
to Apollo. Firm in this opinion, Tiberius, during thunder storms, put on
a laurel crown; and similar virtue is to-day ascribed by the Chinese to
peach and mulberry trees. Not a few persons to-day believe glass to be a
safeguard, and that a person is safe beside a closed window. Seamen, and
not a few of the peasantry of different regions, believe the firing of
guns will break up a thunder storm. Tolling of church-bells is another
powerful protection against the fires of the sky, which has cost many a
bell-ringer his life; a tall steeple being unusually liable to be
struck, and a damp bell-rope forming a good conductor. One authority
tells us of three hundred and eighty-six steeples struck within
thirty-three years, and one hundred and twenty-one bell-ringers killed.
The preventive was all right; but these tollers had sinned away all
right to protection, and perished as victims of Divine wrath, instead of
an absurd custom.

Such are some of the many illusory modes of protection in vogue in times
past, and existing to no small extent in the present. Comment upon them
is unnecessary. We know to-day that the higher objects are most liable
to be struck, and that metals are the best conductors; and on these
facts the whole system of lightning-rod protection is based.

But in regard to even the best conductors, a witty German has found much
room for ridicule. “While I am writing this, symptoms of dysentery are
showing themselves with us in Gottingen. Six persons are said to have
died of this complaint--that is more than twice as many in a few days as
the lightning has killed in our town in half a century--and yet the
public seems remarkably easy upon the subject. I do not even find that
the cheapest _dysentery conductors_ have been resorted to. People still
go about in light clothing, although the wind is already blowing over
the stubble, and I have even perceived, within the last few days, that
some persons sleep with open windows, which are very carefully closed
during a thunder storm, and yet there is not a single instance known
that lightning has ever made its way through an open window, while
dysentery very easily strikes into a bedroom, particularly when, after a
warm day, it makes its appearance in company of rain and a cool wind. Is
not this singular? How would people conduct themselves in these days if
the dysentery was to rise above the horizon in the form of a low black
cloud, changing day into twilight, and whenever it selected a victim,
explode with a violent thunder clap, which made the house shake? I
believe there would be no end of singing and praying. And yet this storm
is now impending on our heads--but without thunder claps and black
clouds, which are, after all, only accessories--and we go about our
affairs as if nothing were happening.”

The fact that objects reaching much above the general surface are most
liable to be struck, places ships at sea in a peculiarly dangerous
position; and considering the relative number of the two, ships are more
frequently struck than houses. The packet boat _New York_, was struck
some years since: the chain which was attached to the mainmast as
conductor was entirely volatilized, not being large enough to act as

The fact that electricity passes most readily from elevated points,
renders the ship the scene of the most beautiful of the more common
electric phenomena. Any one who has visited an electric plant knows how
sparks and flashes of light accumulate on the brushes; and a similar
spectacle may at times be seen on the wires of electric lights at night.
So at sea during cloudy weather, the yards, masts, spars and other more
prominent points often glow with pale lambent flames, of greenish or
bluish tint. One who clambers up to them may find upon near approach
that they almost disappear; while to one a short distance away they are
as distinct as ever. A hand plunged into the flame glows with the same
spectral light. This phenomenon is popularly known among sailors as “St.
Elmo’s fire;” but there is much difference of opinion as to what it may
forebode. Some sailors believe the ghost of a dead comrade is
accompanying the ship. Others consider that St. Elmo has taken the ship
under his protection. A more common, and the rational view, is thus
given by Longfellow:

    “Last night I saw St. Elmo’s stars
     With their glimmering lanterns, all at play,
     On the tops of the masts, and the tips of the spars,
     And I knew we should have foul weather to-day.
     Cheerily, my hearties!--yo-heave-oh!
     Brail up the mainsail and let her go,
     As the winds will, and St. Antonio.”

This phenomenon has been noticed from the earliest times. Shakespeare
wrote three centuries ago, in “The Tempest:”

    _Prospero._--“Hast thou, spirit,
      Performed, to point the tempest that I bid thee?”

    _Ariel._--“To every article.
      I boarded the King’s ship: now on the beak,
      Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
      I flamed amazement: sometimes I’d divide,
      And burn in many places: on the topmast,
      The yards and bowsprit would I flame distinctly;
      Then meet and join.”

When Lysander was about to set sail from Lampsacus to attack the
Athenian fleet, “Castor and Pollux” appeared upon each side of the
Lacedemonian admiral’s vessel, greatly encouraging him. Such were the
names of the strange lights among the ancients: and ever and anon we
find record of their appearance.

This title needs explanation. This peculiar halo is not confined to the
sea, nor to inanimate objects. The electric aureole has been frequently
observed upon persons, and has always been considered a good omen. The
Spartan Gylippus on his march to raise the siege of Syracuse, saw a star
upon his lance and rejoiced at the token of divine favor. Nearly every
tyro in Latin is familiar with the tale that Servius Tullius, when a
child, was found asleep in his cradle with flames playing about him, and
was in consequence educated like a prince, and became king of Rome.
Stories of halos about Constantine the Great, and the Visigoth emperor
Wamba, are also told. It is said that during Cæsar’s African war, flames
sprang from the standards of the fifth legion during a stormy night: and
at a time when Rome, almost in despair at the triumphs of Carthage and
the death of two Scipios in Spain, was seriously meditating the
abandonment of the contest, Lucius Marcius ventured upon a harangue to
encourage the dispirited legions. While he spoke, a flame rested upon
his helmet. Roused by the wonderful mark of divine favor, the Romans
went forth yet again, and gained one of their greatest victories. What
might have been the fate of the world if Carthage, not Rome, had
prevailed? Who dare assert that an electric flame has not changed the
destinies of the universe?

But the earliest story of this sort comes from the famed expedition of
the _Argo_, in search of the Golden Fleece. During a fearful storm
Orpheus invoked the gods of Samothracia; and immediately divine lights
appeared upon the heads of Castor and Pollux, two members of the party,
and the storm ceased. So after death the two mythical heroes were
promoted a place among the demi-gods, and became the especial patrons of
sailors: and the strange lights on shipboard were supposed to indicate
their presence. A single light, however, was supposed to bode evil, and
to be the work of the mischief-making Helena.

Since the extension of travel and scientific research, this phenomenon
has been so frequently observed as to be no longer considered
remarkable; and it is supposed to be due to electric clouds or currents
coming in direct contact with objects, so that instead of the flash of
lightning from a distance, there is a steady discharge, often with some
hissing or crackling sound, noticeable at the brushes of any electric
machine; in fact, the noise is seldom absent. It almost invariably
appears before or after a thunder storm: and has hardly ever been
observed during one. To this same cause must be attributed the
occasional showers of luminous rain and dust.

But no amount of science can rob such appearances of their terrors for
the uninitiated. Of scores of instances we might name, a single one will
suffice. Prof. Siemens tells of an unusual electric disturbance during a
Khamsin, while his party and his Arab guides were upon the summit of
the great pyramid. Hearing a hissing noise as the wind rose, he at
length concluded it must be due to electricity: and “holding up a full
wine-bottle, the head of which was coated with tin foil,” the same
hissing was increased. The bottle was then wrapped with moist paper, to
increase its capacity. Even before this, a severe shock could be
obtained from the head of the bottle.

“The Arabs, who for some time had been looking on with astonishment at
our proceedings, came to the conclusion that we were practicing magic,
and insisted upon our leaving the pyramid. Their remonstrances being of
no avail, they now wanted to use the right of the stronger, and to make
us descend by force. I retreated to the highest stone block and loaded
my bottle as strongly as possible, while the leader of the Arabs seized
me by the other hand and was endeavoring to drag me down. At this
critical moment, I touched him with the neck of the bottle, and the
effects of the shock it produced were such as to surpass my keenest
expectations. The son of the desert, whose nerves had never before felt
a similar commotion, fell flat down upon the ground, as if struck by
lightning; and then springing up with a dreadful howl, soon vanished out
of sight, followed by all his comrades.”

These cases of halos and electric aureoles thus far mentioned, have
clearly played a far more important part in the history of nations than
the more frequently occurring lightning stroke, merely because of the
wonderful hold they have had upon the superstitious tendency of man.
Leave Servius Tullius out of the history of Rome, or leave out the
speech and aureole of Marcius, and who can say how different the face of
the earth might be?

More frequently observed, and because of its frequency, comparatively
unheeded in northern climes, is the aurora, which in the temperate zone
has frequently inspired terror equal to the earthquake, though
absolutely harmless. The writer recalls that a bright aurora not so very
many years ago caused not a few superstitious folk to believe the end of
the world was at hand. They believed the red streamers to be the chariot
of fire in which the Lord was speeding earthward. This was the great
aurora of September 3, 1859, which was visible from the United States to
Siberia, from the Cape of Good Hope and Australia to the north of
Europe. It was the most tremendous ever known, and well calculated to
terrify the superstitious.[A]

 [A] And even so late as 1872, the brilliant aurora which was seen as
 far south as Alexandria, was believed by the intelligent Parisians to
 forebode terrible wars, and the speedy overthrow of the hated Germans,
 who had so lately trampled their capital and their pride. And in
 earlier days the northern light had been deemed the harbinger of war,
 famine or pestilence.

Humboldt, and others since, have supposed the aurora to be light emitted
by the earth itself; but to-day its electric character is proven beyond
a doubt. Electric discharges passed through a tube containing greatly
rarefied dry air produce the same effect on a small scale; and every
aurora produces a powerful disturbance of magnetic instruments. In most
cases, they are attended by a hissing, crackling noise: so the Siberians
are wont to say that “the raging host is passing.”

We find occasional references to the aurora among ancient writers, but
little attempt to explain it. So we have even few myths, it not being
common enough in warmer climes to hold a place in popular tales. But in
Iceland, and more northern regions, it is of constant and brilliant
occurrence, merely because it requires dry air, and the coldest air is
the driest. So among Scandinavian races appears the myth embodied by
Longfellow in the “Saga of King Olaf.” The war god, Thor, speaks:

    “The light thou beholdest
     Stream through the heavens
     In flashes of crimson,
     Is but my red beard,
     Blown by the night wind,
     Affrighting the nations.”

And Scott has told us of the belief in Scotland and the northern isles,
of spirits abroad in the upper air:

    “The monk gazed long on the lovely moon,
     Then into the night he looked forth:
     And red and bright, the streamers light,
     Were dancing in the glowing north.
     So had he seen, in fair Castile,
     The youth in glittering squadrons start,
     Sudden the flying jennet wheel,
     And hurl the unexpected dart.
     He knew by the streams that shot so bright,
     That spirits were riding the Northern light.”

The light emitted by the aurora varies much in intensity. Ordinarily it
is not greater than that of the moon in her first quarter; but a few
instances are recorded where it was powerful enough to make itself
perceptible by day; and on one occasion it was strong enough at night to
cast a shadow in the midst of a Newfoundland fog. As the phenomenon has
been carefully studied only within a century, it is not safe to affirm
with certainty what records of the past three hundred years have induced
many to believe; that it is of special frequency at periods of one
hundred and fifty years. This can only apply to the temperate zones; for
in the polar world it is to be seen on almost every clear still night.

M. Martins has given us a striking picture of the auroras. “At times
they are simple diffused gleams or luminous patches; at others,
quivering rays of pure white which run across the sky, starting from the
horizon as if an invisible pencil were being drawn over the celestial
vault. At times it stops in its course: the incomplete rays

[Illustration: LAND OF THE AURORA.]

do not reach the zenith, but the aurora continues at some other point; a
bouquet of rays darts forth, spreads out into a fan, then becomes pale
and dies out. At other times long golden draperies float above the head
of the spectator, and take a thousand folds and undulations, as if
agitated by the wind. They appear to be at but a slight elevation in the
atmosphere, and it seems strange that the rustling of the folds, as they
double back on each other, is not audible. Generally a luminous bow is
seen in the north; a black segment separates it from the horizon, its
dark color forming a contrast with the pure white or red of the bow,
which darts forth the rays, extends, becomes divided, and soon presents
the appearance of a luminous fan, which fills the northern sky, and
mounts nearly to the zenith, where the rays, uniting, form a crown,
which in its turn, darts forth luminous jets in all directions. The sky
then looks like a cupola of fire: blue, green, red, yellow and white
vibrate in the palpitating rays of the aurora. But this brilliant
spectacle lasts only a few minutes; the crown first ceases to emit
luminous jets, and then gradually dies out; a diffuse light fills the
sky; here and there a few luminous patches, resembling light clouds,
open and close with an incredible rapidity, like a heart that is beating
very fast. They soon get pale in their turn; everything fades away and
becomes confused; the aurora seems to be in its death-throes; the stars,
which its light had obscured, shine with a renewed brightness; and the
long polar night, sombre and profound, again assumes its sway over the
icy solitudes of earth and ocean.”

In the presence of such brilliancy and beauty, both poet and artist may
despair. It may be copied only by the master hand that sent it flaming
through the heavens. There is naught under the sun whereunto to liken
it, and it is the electric flash which men may least fear; and yet,
even it has wrought evil at times; for its magnetic power disturbs the
compass; and the electric storms it betokens have more than once in the
past caused electric wires to set objects near them on fire. I well
remember the powerful electric disturbances that attended a magnificent
aurora in 1884, which was visible as far as southern Arkansas. Depots
were fired in many places by electric switch-boards; one in Pennsylvania
taking fire four times. During this electric storm, telegraphs and
telephones were temporarily useless.

Such are the phenomena presented in the atmosphere by this most
mysterious power. Dreadful in the lightning’s leap, strange and uncanny
in the aureole’s glow, wildly and weirdly beautiful in the flickering
flash and flow of the Northern Light, we have seen that, though it has
played an important part in the history of the world because of its
appeal to man’s superstition, it is notwithstanding the occasional bolt
of death, to be considered, while one of the most powerful and
universal, one of the least to be feared of all the forces of nature;
and is practicably responsible for few great disasters.



    “I bring fresh showers for the thirsty flowers,
       From the seas and the streams,
     I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
       In their noonday dreams.
     From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
       The sweet birds every one,
     When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
       As she dances about the sun.
     I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
       And whiten the green plains under.
     And then again I dissolve in rain,
       And laugh as I pass in thunder.

     I am the daughter of earth and water,
       And the nursling of the sky,
     I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores,
       I change, but I can not die.
     For after the rain, when with never a stain
       The pavilion of heaven is bare,
     And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams,
       Build up the blue dome of air,
     I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
       And out of the caverns of rain,
     Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
       I arise and unbuild it again.”

The cloud is well worth Shelley’s admiration; for though it be but a
vague oppressive mist when it enwraps, yet afar it assumes either beauty
or gloom, as its seeming whims may dictate. Few are they who have never
paused in silent admiration of some beautiful fleecy spirit of the upper
deep, changing every instant like the shifting figures of a
kaleidoscope, or presenting fantastic likenesses of natural objects, or
ever and anon presenting pictures of strange monsters, such as only the
superstitious and timid can imagine. Often in times past have nations
stood aghast at the portentous signs observed in season of some great
calamity. A lurid beam of light from the hidden sun, darting through a
rift in the clouds, has been reported as a flaming sword. Shortly before
the destruction of Jerusalem, the sky was filled with horses and
chariots, rushing to battle. After the siege the wretched survivors
recognized too late what was the purpose of the warning.

Wordsworth speaks of these bizarre fantasies:

    “Lo! in the burning west the craggy nape
     Of a proud Ararat! and thereupon,
     The Ark, her melancholy voyage done.
     Yon rampant cloud mimics a lion’s shape,
     There combats a huge crocodile--agape,
     A golden spear to swallow! and that brown
     And mossy grove, so near yon blazing town,
     Stirs and recedes--destruction to escape,
     Yet all is harmless--as the Elysian shades
     Where spirits dwell in undisturbed repose,
     Silently disappear and quickly fades,
     Meek Nature’s evening comment on the shows
     That for oblivion take their daily birth
     From all the fuming vanities of Earth.”

And naught can present so sombre and terrifying an aspect as those
phantoms of the air, when mailed with the lightning and flying with the

Yet, upon the cloud the welfare of the human race is dependent, as much
as upon any other force in nature: for rain or drouth, famine or plenty,
snow or flood, all follow in its path. More than once has rain or storm
decided the destiny of nations. Far different might our own lot have
been, if that bitter storm of Christmas night, 1777, had not given
Washington an opportunity of surprising the carousing Hessians in
Trenton, and so reviving the drooping spirits of his countrymen. Hardly
would he have escaped, but that the sudden frost hardened the ground and
enabled him to steal away by night with his artillery, leaving the
chafing Cornwallis the privilege of attacking the deserted camp on the
Assanpink in the morning. It was a winter storm that enabled the bold
Vermonters to surprise the frowning fortress on the upper Hudson.
Napoleon could invade Russia, and drive the Cossack pell-mell before
him; no mortal power could control the elements; and his splendid hosts
melted away like snow in the breath of the icy storm; and once more the
Cossack sang to his steed:

    “Now fiercely neigh, my gallant gray; thy breast is broad and ample.
     Thy hoofs shall prance o’er the fields of France and the pride of her
         heroes trample.”

Again the “Man of Destiny” was conquered by the elements.

    “There was a sound of revelry by night”

as the dread combat of Waterloo prepared. The plan of the “Genius of
War” was superb. But all his contests were problems of artillery. “The
Lord is on the side of the strongest battalions and heaviest
artillery"--bold manner of saying that “when one seeks for the reason of
the successes of great generals, one is surprised to find that they did
everything necessary to insure them.” But he who would insure success
must have the clouds at his beck. That night it rained. The mud crippled
his artillery and left the contest to the rifle and bayonet. Waterloo
was lost. A shower of rain changed the face of Europe--the history of
the world.

Scriptural narrative and the sage Josephus tell us how the Philistine
host were cut down by the motley rabble of almost unarmed Israelites,
routed mainly by a terrific thunder storm that beat in their faces,
flamed upon their weapons, and transformed the disciplined army into a
panic-stricken multitude. What might have been the future of Israel and
the Jewish faith, but for the intervention of that storm? We need not
multiply instances.

[Illustration: FIELD OF WATERLOO.]

The causes that produce the different phenomena of condensation in rain,
hail and snow, are not known. Rainfall is the most indefinite of all the
atmospheric phenomena in location, quantity, frequency, and
distribution. The winds do not vary greatly, one year with another; but
such is not the case with the rain. Sometimes the condensation is slow
and the moisture falls on the earth as mist. Some suppose that the
rainfall is due merely to the cold of great elevations: and this would
seem to be well supported by the prevalence of fogs on the Newfoundland
banks, where the constant cold current and the occasional icebergs
produce a similar degree of cold at sea level, condensing the moisture
from the warm seas southward. Others urge that two masses of saturated
air of different temperature combine, necessarily condensing the
surplus; and the Newfoundland banks are again referred to as an

Light on fog-banks often presents peculiar and beautiful illusions. The
writer remembers having seen a whole town apparently wrapped in flames,
the effect being produced by the lights from many windows shining
through a light mist that was curling and twisting before a light
breeze. Similar causes produce the peculiar halos and mock-suns and
mock-moons not infrequently seen in the sky. These, and the beautiful
rainbow, all depend upon the reflection and refraction of light in
passing through vapor masses. These curious spectacles once had no
little terror for the ignorant and superstitious. Shakespeare doubtless
alludes to some such case in the dialogue between Hubert and King John,
making Hubert narrate an exaggerated version of the facts, as the
superstitiously inclined rabble reported it:

    _Hubert._--“My lord, they say five moons were seen to-night;
      Four fixed; and the fifth did whirl about
      The other four with wondrous motion.”

    _King John._--“Five moons?”

    _Hubert._--“Old men and beldams in the streets
      Do prophecy upon it dangerously;
      Young Arthur’s death is common in their mouths.”

Sometimes an appearance more terrifying to the uninitiated is seen. The
traveler in Germany may hear strange myths of specters that frequent the
mountains. It was long said that spirits dwelt on the summit of the
Matterhorn. Gigantic phantoms roamed the Harz Mountains. One of the best
known of all these apparitions is the famous “Specter of the Brocken.”
The wanderer on the lonely height at sunrise may see upon a neighboring
summit a gigantic shadowy figure, moving about, and mimicking every
motion of the traveler. Of course, it is but his shadow on a neighboring
fog-bank; but the solution remained a mystery long enough to terrify
many a simple peasant into needless invocations of the saints. But
similar appearances are occasionally observable in many localities. The
Spaniard Ulloa records that on the mountain Pambamarca, in Peru, he saw
his shadow on the cloud surrounded by three complete circular rainbows.
The same peculiarity has been frequently noticed elsewhere, but never on
so grand a scale. We find no peculiar myths concerning halos in general,
it being generally considered that they announce the approach of rain;
and the fog-bank is of no especial danger save to the seaman, or the
traveler overtaken and blinded by one in mountain fastnesses; though
their depressing influence has led one writer to exclaim:

    “Fly, fly, profane fogs! fly hence far away,
     Taint not the pure springs of the springing day
     With your dull influence; it is for you
     To sit and scowl upon night’s heavy brow.”

And the fog, though not ornamental--unless we except that dry haze, the
Indian summer--may be useful in preventing a frost, or in keeping a
parched earth from drying too rapidly. But for this last, all the world
prefers the rain, and sings with Longfellow:


    “How beautiful is the rain!
     After the dust and heat,
     In the broad and fiery street,
     In the narrow lane,
     How beautiful is the rain!
     How it clatters along the roofs
     Like the tramp of hoofs!
     How it gushes and struggles out,
     From the throat of the overflowing spout,
     Across the window pane it pours and pours,
     And swift and wide,
     With a muddy tide,
     Like a river, down the gutter roars
     The rain, the welcome rain.”

Not always welcome; for we find the same poet moaning:

    “The day is cold, and dark, and dreary,
     It rains, and the rain is never weary.”

And certainly, the farmer who looks through the driving rain at his
ruined crops has little sentiment left to expend upon its beauty. But
the world over, after a rain every feature of a landscape stands out
with singular clearness; the haze commonly prevalent has for the nonce

The amount of rainfall varies so vastly in different countries, that it
would be tedious to the reader to enter upon a detail of the different
amounts. In general it is greatest upon those portions of the land first
reached by regular incoming sea winds. So in South America, Peru and
southern Ecuador are practically without rain, as the Andes and the
Amazon forests deprive the trade winds of their moisture ere they reach
the Pacific coast; while southern Chili seldom sees the sun; lying in
the track of the return trades, whose moisture is at once precipitated
by the Andes. So in India the monsoon which pours deluges of water along
the southwestern coasts, brings but twenty-three inches a year to the
central plateau; and by the time Central Asia is reached, it is so dry
the steppes of Tartary must remain almost a desert. And in our own
land, we find in general the heaviest rain from the eastern coast to the
central region: while the western plateau along the eastern slopes of
the Rockies is unusually dry, and liable to protracted drouths: and in
the Mojave desert, and in southeastern California, the rainfall is less
than two inches per year. On the North Pacific coast the rainfall
increases rapidly, as in the southern Andes; but in general our highest
mean rainfall is in the southern portion of the Gulf States. The highest
average in the world is so far credited to Sumatra, one hundred and
thirty inches. This, of course, refers to tracts of considerable size;
for a small tract in Assam, on a mountain slope, where is the town of
Cherrapungee, has a rainfall of four hundred and ninety-three and
two-tenth inches per annum--more than forty-one feet! Twenty-two feet of
rain have fallen there in a single month! A better idea of this may be
obtained by observing that our average rainfall, from Missouri eastward,
is about three feet a year. The rains of the Amazon and Congo basins are
enormous, and would suffice to swell our Mississippi to as great volume
as either of them. On the other hand, the lowest recorded rainfall for a
large tract is that of Greenland--fifteen and five-tenth inches; while
Australia, with fifteen and seven-tenth inches, is but little better
off. It may be mentioned here, that the term “mean rainfall” includes
snow also: ten inches of snow being ordinarily estimated as one inch of

A point long mooted, now considered as definitely settled, was, the
influence of forests upon rainfall. There was no doubt that forests
retarded the descent of water into the streams, and so lessened the
danger of floods; and observations of late years have shown that the
forest also increases the amount of rainfall, aiding in the work of
condensation. In the northern lumber regions, the rainfall in the
cleared tracts is less than in the time of the forests, while floods are
more sudden and dangerous.

These general features being noticed, mention of a few extraordinary
rainfalls may be of interest. The most remarkable rain in one day
occurred September 13, 1879, at Purneah, in Bengal, when thirty-five
inches fell; about as much as Illinois gets in a year. At Nagina,
thirty-two and four-tenth inches fell. Some extraordinary showers have
been recorded in our own country, the most rapid being one and one-half
inches in five minutes: the most rapid long one, ten inches in three
hours; but no record of a day in anywise approaches the Bengal rain.

A peculiar phenomenon of occasional occurrence in the Western States is
that of “cloud-bursts,” or “water-spouts” as they are sometimes called,
when immense masses of water fall in a few minutes. As the entire amount
of moisture that can be held by the atmosphere at ordinary temperature
would make but two inches of rain, it must follow that to produce such
downpours as are here recorded, immense quantities of moisture from a
wide area must be drawn in and condensed rapidly at a single point.
Perhaps this is done by a reverse cyclonic movement, the atmosphere
rapidly descending in a “spout,” instead of ascending.

August 11, 1876, a tremendous downpour occurred at Fort Sully, Dakota:
“and on the opposite side of the Missouri River, the water draining from
a canon was reported to have moved out in a solid bank three feet deep
and two hundred feet wide.” Two others of nearly equal violence occurred
during the same month: one in Utah, and one in Kansas. “June 12, 1879,
on Beaver Creek, ninety miles south of Deadwood, Dakota, there was a
cloud-burst, which, without a gradual rise of water, in a few minutes
covered the country and drowned eleven persons.” A cloud-burst in June,
1884, sent a torrent eight feet deep from the hillside into Jefferson,
Montana, drowning several persons. Another one in June, 1885, destroyed
a town in Mexico, drowning over one hundred and seventy of its eight
hundred inhabitants. Cloud-bursts near Pittsburg, on the night of July
25, 1874, destroyed $500,000 worth of property, and drowned or crushed
in the wrecks, one hundred and thirty-four persons. A cloud-burst in
Arizona, August 6, 1881, changed the Hassayampa River from a dry ravine
at sunset to a river a mile wide and from two to fifteen feet deep by 11
P.M.; by noon next day the river was again dry. Two days later a
downpour at Central City, Colorado, suddenly left from four to six feet
of water in the two principal streets.

Snow is practically unknown over two-thirds of the land surface of the
earth, and the damage done by it is confined largely to the inland
regions of the temperate zone. And even then heavy snowfalls do no great
injury unless followed by extremely cold wind. The blizzard laden with
“icy sand” is fearful.

    “The night sets in on a world of snow,
     And the air grows sharp and chill,
     And the warning roar of a fearful blow
     Is heard on the distant hill.
     And the Norther! See! On the mountain peak,
     In his breath, how the old trees writhe and shriek!
     He shouts on the plains, Ho-ho! Ho-ho!
     He drives from his nostrils the blinding snow,
     And growls with a savage will.”

The extreme ranges of temperature produced suddenly by high area or
anti-cyclonic storms are the most dangerous features of the blizzard;
while the only damage done by snow is to blind the person caught away
from home, and cause him to lose his way. The past ten years have been
marked by severe storms in our own winter season, the most terrible
being that of January 11, 1888, when the wind blew from thirty to fifty
miles an hour, and large numbers of persons in the west were frozen, and
thousands of cattle perished. At Helena, Montana, the thermometer fell
fifty degrees in four and one-half hours. The snow-laden wind reached a
speed of forty miles an hour at Galveston, Texas. At Brownsville, Texas,
the temperature fell forty degrees in eight hours. Two months later came
an exceedingly heavy snow attended by high winds, in the eastern Middle
States. This is popularly known as the “New York blizzard.” Snow drifted
in many places ten or fifteen feet deep.

    “The fence was lost, and the wall of stone,
     The windows blocked, and the well-curb gone,
     The haystack had grown to a mountain lift,
     And the woodpile looked like a monstrous drift,
           As it lay by the farmer’s door.”

The chief damage in all snow storms results from the temporary
obstruction of roads and cessation of business. No very great
destruction of human life has ever resulted, save in case of armies
overtaken by the storm. Napoleon lost four hundred and fifty thousand
men on his Russian expedition. Both armies suffered terribly in the
recent Russo-Turkish war, as they lay facing each other at Shipka Pass.

The constant accumulations of snow in the colder regions of the earth
produce those immense rivers of ice known as glaciers, the fragments
breaking from which as they enter the sea are known as icebergs. These,
borne by currents to the southward, have no small influence in modifying
the climate. In mountainous regions the accumulations of snow and ice
produce snow-slides and avalanches; but owing to their entirely local
character, the damage wrought by them is comparatively insignificant,
not even approaching the lightning in the total.

Hail has been far more destructive. As stated elsewhere, the cause of
hail is hitherto unexplained. The storm usually travels in narrow belts.
Many are the wonderful tales told of it. It is said that May 8, 1802, a
mass of ice weighing eleven hundred pounds fell in Hungary. Again, we
hear of an ice-block the size of an elephant, which fell near
Seringapatam, in the reign of Tippoo Sahib. The good father Huc, in his
travels in Tartary, reported the fall of an ice-block the size of a
millstone, which, in very warm weather, required three days to melt. And
we are told that in the time of Charlemagne, there fell hailstones
fifteen feet long, eleven feet wide and six feet thick. All these we
steadfastly do not believe.

Yet, there are well authenticated records of many disastrous hail storms
and enormous hailstones. A storm in France, in 1788, traveled in two
bands: one, four hundred and twenty by ten miles; the other, five
hundred by five miles. Five million dollars worth of property was
destroyed. In 1865 a severe storm swept a wide path from Bordeaux to
Belgium, accumulating in such masses that it was not all melted in one
or two localities for four days. One bed was one and one-fourth miles
long and two-fifths of a mile wide, containing twenty-one million cubic
feet. Doubtless similar accumulations in depressions, adhering together,
gave rise to the tales of enormous blocks mentioned above.

An enormous hail storm in India, in 1853, is said to have killed
eighty-four persons and three thousand cattle. During a storm at Naini
Tal, in 1855, hailstones weighing one and one-half pounds fell. Our own
land has had a number of severe hail storms within the past ten years,
that have done immense damage to crops, and occasionally killed cattle,
while smaller animals have perished by hundreds. Frequent are the
records of hailstones as large as oranges, goose-eggs, and occasionally
as large as a fist, with gathered drifts two or three feet deep. Europe
has also had several of her smaller towns nearly destroyed by combined
flood and hail. Yet, none of these equal in fatality the great hail
storm of two years since at Moradabad, India.

It smashed in windows, glass doors and the lighter roofs, “The verandas
were blown away by the wind. A great part of the roof fell in, and the
massive pucca portico was blown down. The walls shook. It was nearly
dark outside, and hailstones of enormous size were dashed down with a
force which I have never seen anything to equal. * * * There were long
ridges of hail one or two feet in depth. * * * Not a house in the civil
station that did not receive the most serious injury.

“Two hundred and thirty deaths in all have been reported up to the
present time. The total number may be safely put as under two hundred
and fifty. Men caught in the open and without shelter, were simply
pounded to death by the hail.”

Spain and southern France have on record some showers of extremely large
hailstones. In 1829, masses of ice weighing four and one-half pounds
fell at Cazorta, Spain. Houses were stove-in by them. During a hurricane
in the south of France, in 1844, there fell ice-masses weighing eleven

Mysterious and ominous to those ignorant of their cause have been the
many showers of “ink, blood, sulphur,” falls of red or green snow, and
similar phenomena. Such things were believed to betoken the wrath of
God, and to forebode war, famine, pestilence, flood, and other dire
calamities. Of course, the good people knew exactly what any shower
meant--after the calamity occurred. When it didn’t occur, the shower was
simply a warning.

That such phenomena are readily explained goes without saying; and not a
few of the wise of days past have refused to be seriously alarmed,
though they could not find a correct solution of the mystery. Some of
the philosophic minds of other days endeavored to explain these
occurrences by supposing blood vaporized from battle-fields was mingled
with rain, not knowing that the red portion of the blood can not

The microscope has solved these mysteries. The rains of blood are merely
stained by earthy matter: sometimes organic, gathered by the wind;
sometimes volcanic dust, thrown out by eruptions; and in one case, where
numerous blood-spots appeared on houses and fences in Provence, in 1608,
and the priests asserted it was the work of the devil, the spots at
length proved to be the excrement of butterflies. Rains of melted
sulphur have been found to owe their color to the yellow pollen of pine
trees. Ink is merely sooty rain-water. Showers of this character are
more frequent than might be supposed. More than a score have occurred in
Europe in the present century; and a number in this country. Red and
green snow owe their color to microscopic vegetable life, and are quite
commonly met with in the Arctic world. One bold headland has long been
known as Crimson Cliff, from the extensive deposits of red snow there.



    “‘Mother dear, the water’s coming after!
       Mother, ’tis between us and the hill!’
     Looking down, they see the flood, with laughter
       Lapping idly ’neath the window sill.

            *       *       *       *       *

     ‘Mother, in the water we are wading!
       Mother, it grows deeper as we go!’
     ‘Hasten, children! hasten--day is fading!’
       Higher creeps the river, black and slow.

            *       *       *       *       *

     ‘Mother, ’tis so deep, and we are dripping!
       Mother, we are sinking! Haste, oh haste!’
     In her arms uplifting them and gripping,
       On she plunges, wading to the waist.

            *       *       *       *       *

     Flowers the river snatches, while it calls so--
       Flowers its lean hands never snatched before,
     Will it snatch these human flowers also,
       Where they cling, sad creatures of the shore?”

Every country is confronted with a serious problem in its great rivers.
In some lands the only problem is, how to get rid of flood-water as
quickly as possible: in others, comes the additional question of
securing sufficient water for irrigation during the dry season. Egypt
occupies an anomalous position, the latter question being the only one
of any practical interest. Without rains, she depends on the rise of the
Nile for her existence, and no one dreams of such a thing as endeavoring
to check the overflow. During seed-time the fellaheen may be seen
sometimes in mud knee-deep, busily planting their fields; and in summer
they may be seen hoisting water from the stream and emptying it into
their irrigating ditches.

In our own land, we have hitherto had no need of irrigation, except in
those districts where there is no fear of a flood: such as the arid
regions of our southwestern states. In China, the people are contending
with both sides of the problem; and their success in the second feature
has not greatly surpassed their achievements in the first. In most other
lands, the flood problem is the chief one. The Amazon at flood time
rises from sixty to one hundred feet, and its volume is almost
inconceivable. But since the larger part of its course lies in an almost
uninhabited region, the high water gives no concern to the people. The
Orinoco rises so high, and is in such a level region, that during part
of the year one of its upper tributaries flows backward and reaches the

The great length of the Mississippi and Missouri present the gravest
difficulties. The sources of each lie in regions where heavy snows fall
during a considerable part of the winter: and all the melting snows of
the central portion of the country--from western Pennsylvania to
Colorado, Montana and central Dakota--must find their way to the sea by
way of the single stream. By reason of the difference in latitude and
altitude, the melted snows of the head-waters usually swell the lower
river in May and early in June, after the spring rains are over. But it
quite often happens that after unusually heavy winter snows the warm
weather sets in in the mountains very early: so that the great floods of
the upper valleys reach the lower river just when extremely heavy rains
are prevalent in the central and southern regions. This forms a
combination that is terrible to combat, and is the cause of all the
trouble. The present system is effective in ordinary cases; but for the
occasional great exceptions it has hitherto proved insufficient. We do
not seem to be any nearer a practical solution of the problem than when
it first presented itself. Yet, the government of the United States
spends millions of dollars every year in attempts which have, so far at
least, proved totally futile to confine the great river within its
banks, and so avoid the perils which every spring threaten an area
larger than all New England and the Middle States.

The wonderful and often terrible changes that come with the changes of
season, and which produce such effects as the illustrations show, are
simply inconceivable to one who has not seen them. That a stream so
quiet and comparatively small as the Mississippi is at low water, should
become a raging torrent of twenty miles average width, and ten feet
average depth from shore to shore, throughout the eleven hundred miles
from Cairo to the sea, is simply incredible until one has seen it. This
river, however, did that in 1882, when the great general overflow
occurred. Unnumbered lives were lost that year, and the damage to
property was never even estimated. Details were hard to get when
communication was so nearly cut off as it then was; and after the floods
were over, no effort was made to reckon the extent of the disaster.

Since that spring the reports have not indicated any flood equal to the
present one; and the only reason why this year has not proved as
disastrous as 1882, is that the levees have been strengthened since
then. The fact, however, that the levee system has, as a whole,
successfully withstood the pressure of the highest water known for many
years, is by no means as reassuring as it seems on first consideration;
for there is grave reason to believe that the levees themselves serve to
increase the very danger against which they are a guard.

The planters of the earlier days made efforts to protect themselves by
means of “levees:” a name given by the

[Illustration: TROPICAL FLOOD.]

French to dykes, or artificial banks, and meaning simply “raised
places.” But of later years, both state and national resources have been
spent freely in endeavoring to curb the restless giant. More than
$25,000,000 has been spent in this way since the war. The Mississippi
River Commission, organized in 1879, under the supervision of the War
Department, as the Signal Service has been, had nominally in view the
increasing of facilities for navigation; but as the methods employed for
the two objects have necessarily been much the same, no little has been
done for protection.

The character of the lower Mississippi and its valley gravely increase
the difficulties of the case. Its bed has been worn for ages through a
somewhat elevated region, and at present the resultant valley has a
width varying from twenty to one hundred and fifty miles. The result has
been that the channel of the river shifts continually, and is extremely
crooked, literally turning time and again to every conceivable point of
the compass. These curves present the most vexatious features the levee
system must contend with; for it is easily perceived that the levee on
the convex side of the bend in the river has the current directed full
against it, adding the great eroding power of the water to the weight it
must sustain.

“The levees are relied on as the chief aid to the work of the
commission, but the commission does not construct them, or even work
directly to strengthen them. These levees are nothing more than
artificial banks or heaps of soil shoveled up along the line of the
natural banks. The commission is working to narrow the wide places in
the river, so as to secure a uniform width of three thousand feet. This
is done by constructing revetments, consisting principally of mattrasses
of wire and brush, which are secured by rubble-stone. In other places
great quantities of stone are


dumped, and various similar means are used to encourage the scour in the
shallower parts of the river, and also to prevent the undermining of the
natural or artificial banks.

“On a convex shore, where the water is shoal, the levee has been carried
along the river edge as near as possible, as there is no danger, under
such conditions, of a caving bank. Where the bank is liable to give way,
the levees are placed further back, and where a break in the levee
itself has occurred from the caving of the bank, loops are made, joining
the two broken parts. It must be borne in mind that the banks proper
along the river are about forty feet high above low water, and as the
river rises five to seven feet over these banks, the levees are
constructed of sufficient height to restrain the waters within their
proper limits. The material is found on the spot, either clay or sand,
as the case may be. A so-called “muck” ditch a few feet wide is dug
along the center line of the projected levee, down to where the earth is
comparatively free from all organic matter, such as grass and roots of
trees. By this method some adhesion to the ground is gained, and the
artificial construction is not easily swept away. The earth is taken
from the front of the levee line as near the water as the circumstances
will permit. Standard levees have a “crown,” or width at the top, of
eight feet, except in the case of a very low levee, when the “crown” is
not less than its height. The side slopes are one vertical to three or
three and one-half horizontal. Present levees are carried up from two to
three feet above the high-water mark of their position.”

The river channel, in general, in the upper danger region, adheres to
the right side of the valley, and on the left the danger lies chiefly at
a few points where the bluffs recede considerably from the river.
Throughout the middle and lower flood districts the bends of the stream
are so numerous and capricious that the danger lies equally upon either
side of the stream. Hence, the levee system is not uniform. The whole
alluvial front of the river is leveed on the left bank, the principal
line extending from Horn Lake, just below Memphis, to Vicksburg,
covering the great Yazoo Basin. On the right bank of the river there are
four principal sections which are liable to be overflowed. The first is
known as St. Francis front, which runs from Commerce, Missouri, to the
St. Francis River. The White River front is the second, extending from
Helena, Arkansas, to the mouth of the White and Arkansas Rivers. The
third and fourth, known as the Tensas and the Atchafalaya fronts, run
respectively from the Arkansas River to the Red River in Louisiana, and
from the Red River to New Orleans. The first two sections have received
no government work except in limited localities, where it was merely
incidental to the work of river improvement undertaken by the
commission; and those fronts are everywhere exposed to the overflow,
except where private enterprise has done the work. The Social Circle
Levee, near Laconia, Arkansas, is an example, and a notable one, of what
has been done by the residents. These unprotected tracts have all been
submerged, and the low lands turned into an enormous lake.

The overflow waters that pass over the upper part of this section spread
over the northeastern part of Arkansas as far back as the high ground,
reaching their greatest width about opposite Memphis, and then pass back
into the Mississippi by way of the St. Francis River. The overflow below
Helena is carried back by the White River. From Arkansas City down, the
river, comprising the third and fourth sections, is completely leveed.

Throughout all the lowland districts are hundreds of farms and valuable
plantations, the soil being built up by


ages of alluvial deposits. Most of the towns are built on high ground;
there being a few notable exceptions. A general flood in this valley
means that millions of acres of land are submerged, and such crops as
are in the fields are destroyed. More frequently, the land is flooded
just at planting time, and the land remains wet too long to allow
certain crops to be planted in season. Thus, the water in the flooded
districts may abate in time to allow a fair cotton crop; while the
chance for corn is lost. Fences and small outbuildings are floated away,
and often large numbers of stock are drowned; but, after, all, the
chief damage is usually indirect: the evil of hindrance rather than of
destruction. Further, the retiring water leaves numerous pools and
marshes that are rank breeders of malaria, adding vastly to the
unhealthiness of the country.

In many places there are marshy or timbered tracts adjacent to the river
that are not available for cultivation. In these districts the levees
are often erected at the border of the cultivable land, so that the
river has a large area of waste land over which to spread the surplus
water without doing any injury. Such areas really aid to reduce the
high-water level. In some cases, a second or third levee is built some
hundreds of yards to the rear, to serve as a sort of reserve, in case
the river break through the first.

Doubtless the reader has pictured to himself a flooded district as
something like a stream in a mountain gorge; an immense torrent of water
rushing at race-horse speed, uprooting trees, tearing away huge
boulders, sweeping away houses in an instant, without a moment’s
warning, and drowning young and old by scores. If such be his idea, he
will find it necessary to remodel it; or, rather, to cast it away
entirely. Let him follow a guide to the scene of danger. A great levee,
the protection of thousands of acres of rich lands, and perhaps millions
of dollars worth of property, is announced unsafe. Sometimes it is
decided to abandon the river line, weakened for long distances, and
erect a new levee some hundreds of yards to the rear.

But if the design be to hold the line already established, then the
scene is an animated one. All along the narrow ridge of earth patrolmen
are watching the work at every point. Hundreds of men work day and night
throwing up and strengthening the levees, upon which the salvation of
the district depends. Break after break occurs,

[Illustration: A MOUNTAIN TORRENT.]

and it is as fast mended. The waves caused by the rough March winds send
great volumes of water splashing over the weak embankment, almost
washing the men off their feet. The work is continued all day, force
relieving force at night. Thousands of lanterns flashing in the
darkness, as the men pass to and fro with wheelbarrows filled with sacks
of earth and lumber, present a scene weird and ghostly. At intervals
during the night the sound of steam whistles tell of some new break,
some new danger to face and overcome. Often the negroes seem little
disposed to work, even at good wages, preferring to sit on the levee and
fish. But when the danger is fully upon them, they can work furiously.
Sometimes, in leading the forlorn hope, some energetic old fellow may
shout to his terrified, pious brethren, “Dis is no time for prayin’--go
to work!” Out on the border districts where help is not easily obtained,
even the wives and daughters of planters--ladies of culture and
refinement, it may be--sometimes turn out and toil in the mud and rain,
contending with the foe that threatens their homes. If the levees before
a great city be threatened, as frequently occurs, the scene becomes
still more exciting. Business is almost entirely suspended in the city
and the clerks in the dry goods stores, the lawyers, the merchants and
the common laborers stand shoulder to shoulder with picks and shovels
fighting the common enemy. What the outcome will be no one knows. All
are alarmed. Hundreds of boats are moored to back-doors, ready for use
when the worst shall come. Merchants have placed their goods high up in
their stores, hoping the waters will not reach them when they rise.
Housekeepers have packed up their goods out of the way of the water and
laid in stores enough to last for weeks, in case it becomes necessary to
stay indoors for that length of time. All railway communication with the
outside world is cut off, nearly all the tracks being several feet
under water. The mails are sent miles away, by boat.

[Illustration: “NO TIME FOR PRAYIN’: GO TO WORK!”]

Such cases were frequent in the recent floods. Greenville, Mississippi,
is one of the towns that suffered much. The water from crevasses above
came down upon the town, and were stopped by a levee around the city.
But while the enemy in the rear could be held in check, it was not so
easy to repel the attack upon the river front; and here the water won
the day. All efforts were in vain. The forlorn and miserable city
appeared as though some savage caricaturist had endeavored to perpetrate
a burlesque upon Venice. A few skiffs crept about the muddy currents
that answered for streets. On outhouses and fences occasionally might be
seen a few melancholy looking fowls. Here some grocer paddled about to
see if his patrons wanted aught; yonder went a funeral party in a single
boat. Many a weary mile would have to be traversed to reach a dry grave.
The lower floors of most houses lay beneath the water, and from the
second-story disconsolate people looked out upon the turbid waste,
wondering what the end would be.

If the scene upon the levee is exciting when efforts are made to avoid
breaks, still more so is it when a small break is being closed. The
scurrying to and fro; the hoarse shouting of orders; the wild cries for
aid from threatened points; men plunging up to their necks in the
rushing flood, driving stakes, dragging sacks of earth, heaving in
boulders and rubble stone; others bringing timbers and planks from
hundreds of yards away; the dim, smoky glare of countless torches; the
burly figures of wearied men begrimed almost beyond semblance of
humanity--such a picture is more like a strange nightmare that one never

Then suddenly there is a general melting away of hundreds of feet of the
sodden levee. The fight is lost. Scores of the laborers leave for their
homes to save what they can of their property. From farm to farm the
news spreads. In the dead hour of the night, when all is serene, the
dread cry comes, “the levee is broken,” and then comes a wild stampede
for safety, many in their night clothes, women dragging their babes,
husbands carrying their


wives, and the poor negroes, wild with terror, unable to do anything but
stand and view the scene of the waters rushing to bear them to their
doom. Magnificent plantations of yesterday are to-day seas of rushing,
foaming water. Here and there in the shallows stand a few shivering,
half-starved cattle; and occasionally is seen a family, still hoping
that the flood may not be disastrous, clinging to their residence.

The view of a crevasse in an inland levee, miles away from the channel,
is strikingly grand; but for those in its path the grandeur is lost in a
feeling of despair and danger. The ocean presents a different spectacle,
for the ocean has no swift current, and its waves are greater. The
foaming mountain torrent can not compare with it, for the mountain
torrent is at best but a few yards in breadth. But in the swollen river
is found an apparently illimitable expanse of water, heaving restlessly
under the swift foot of the wind, or foaming and dashing at the roar of
the storm, hurling itself in billows upon the toilers on the levee, and
striking them into the ditch beyond, yet, with all the fury expended
laterally, rushing seaward almost with the speed of a train. For miles
between the levee and the main channel the stream pours through a great
forest, or canebrake, or cypress swamp.

The fearful noise of a crevasse may be heard for a long distance. No
need to tell the planters far inland the meaning of that distant hoarse
murmur. Approaching the break, the murmur swells to a deep sullen roar.
The water comes tearing through the dense forest at race-horse speed,
not in a broad belt, but closing in from every direction, pouring into
that break as into an immense funnel. As far as the eye can penetrate
into that dense, gloomy forest, it is raggedly carpeted with a heavy,
tossing sheet of snow-white foam. It breaks over stumps, snags and the
up-turned roots of fallen trees, flinging white clouds of spray up among
the branches of trees overhead, mounts in snowy billows over piles of
driftwood, it snarls, hisses and roars like some mad monster at
everything in its path, and then plows in one solid foaming mass into
that raging maelstrom between the ragged, frothy jaws of the crevasse.

[Illustration: BREAKING OF THE LEVEE.]

“Nearest the break, just as it sweeps into the crevasse, it curls on
either side, and huge breakers mark the line where it chafes the
crumbling ends of the levee. Once beyond the broken barriers, it plunges
into a wild, lonesome-looking swamp, that still shows the tracks of the
former disaster. Here, for the first time, the real power of this
tremendous flood begins to assert itself. Supple young trees, eight or
ten inches in diameter, are bent and stripped of every leaf, their naked
branches and twigs whipping the foaming surface of the rustling

“It sweeps into the standing timber with a hoarse roar, foaming around
sturdy trunks, and here and there one sees a tall tree swaying to and
fro like a drunken man: then caught in some fierce eddy, it is twisted
from its roots, and reeling around and around it falls into that
tremendous current and is swept away to swell the tangled dams of drift

As far inland as the eye can reach there is nothing but flood to be
seen, the currents opening out and racing away in every direction. At
some distance away may be seen a flooded settlement, the water washing
the windows of fifteen or twenty abandoned cottages. On a huge mound
some five or six feet out of the outflow, is a group of disconsolate
horses and mules who have taken refuge from the rising flood, and other
hungry-looking brutes wander over the levee.

But once out of the immediate neighborhood of the break, the character
of the scene changes. The current slackens, as the water spreads out
like an immense fan, and at length becomes almost imperceptible. It may
come in the night, giving no warning of its approach. It steals through
the grass-lands like a serpent. The slumbering family hear no sound. The
water creeps stealthily around the house, like the Red men in the olden


The morning sun finds it lapping uneasily in the breeze against the
threshold. The wakening family find it crawling across the floor toward
their beds. They look upon a region that appears a vast marsh; grass
tops, bushes, little islets and tall trees, everywhere rising out of the
water. In the barnyard the drowsy cattle chew their cuds in peaceful
unconsciousness of the wily foe. The pig in the lower corner of the lot
grunts contentedly to find his wallow freshly moistened. The quacking
duck paddles complacently about the fields. The farmer watches anxiously
the progress of the flood, trusting that there may be no necessity of
leaving. Valuable property that can not be removed is taken to the
second floor, if there be one. A boat, if there be one, is carefully
overhauled to be ready for an emergency.

Noon comes. The flood has risen but a few inches. The cattle eye the
water curiously. The negroes in their cabins speculate upon the future,
and each tells his tale of “hair-breadth ’scapes and ventures” in other
days, and one and all agree that “_dis_ ain’t no flood--sho! no! You
orter hab seed the big high water way back in seventy-four. _Dat_ was
sumfin’ like;” and in humble submission to the opinions of some old
granny of unknown age and grizzled wool, it is unanimously allowed that
“we ain’t got no cause to be skeered _dis_ time; not much!” So the
happy-go-lucky fellows sit and chat, while some oily skinned picaninnies
wade to deeper parts of the water, cast in their hooks and begin to swap
tales of the wonderful fish their progenitors had caught in other
floods, and to wonder if more brilliant achievements may not be recorded
of them.

The wind rises. The great crevasse, miles away, has widened till it is
hundreds of yards in extent and many feet in depth, pouring upon the
land millions of cubic feet of water every minute. With the swelling
breeze, the flood goes surging inland in long, low, lazy waves. The
planters who have not already taken flight, conclude it is useless to
endeavor to remain. If the way is open, the cattle are driven inland to
the hills. Some of the negroes straggle after their employers; others
cling to their rude log cabins--all they have to lose--it may be that
the flood will not be serious. So long as corn meal and bacon abound,
they may enjoy an endless picnic. They can fling their lines from time
to time into the stream, and perchance vary their repasts with fish-fry
or turtle stew.

Evening comes. The lazy waves now nearly reach the window-sills upon the
lower floors. The cattle left behind low uneasily as they move about in
water knee-deep. No one is near to feed them, and the udders of the cows
are swollen with milk. Here and there a mule is seen, stamping
impatiently and braying mournfully for lack of feed. The water displays
a decided but wayward current, swirling now this way, now that. All the
land is covered. Here and there numerous snakes have crawled into the
bushes to escape the yellow flood. Out in a lowland tract a deserted
shanty bobs idly along, now grounding a moment, now floating lazily
around a great tree, finally becoming an item of the great mass of drift
that has lodged at the edge of the forest, and swarms with small animals
flying from the clutch of the crawling water. The game of the canebrakes
and swamp regions has fled to the uplands, and from time to time some
needy refugee family, heedless of game laws, adds venison to its scanty

The night wears away. The negro cabins are deserted: most have floated
away with the growing current. The simple folk have abandoned them. Some
have made their way to the levees, hoping for a passing steamer. Others,
dwelling above the crevasse, have little to fear from currents; and as
the water rises around them, they take to hastily constructed rafts,
transferring their few household effects thereto, and dwelling for days
in a floating camp, sheltered from the rain by a wagon-sheet or old
quilts stretched over a low ridge-pole. Mooring the rafts to trees, they
lead, to others a romantic, to themselves a precarious existence.


A whole village deserted by its people wears a singularly melancholy
aspect. Let the reader row with a press correspondent through the little
town of Bayou Sara La, as it appeared during the recent overflow. The
town lies on rolling ground, dotted here and there with low hills or
drifts of sand and alluvial deposits, left thereby the floods of ages

“Even over the center of the roadway back from the front street, which
is just behind the levee, it is unusual to find less than four feet of
water, while in many places a nine-foot oar can not be made to touch
bottom. In some of what, in times of low water, are beautiful residence
streets, the boat as it went gliding on the shining moonlight flood
would pass so close under the spreading branches of the great live oaks,
which interlock their boughs over the roadway, that her occupants would
be compelled to bend down almost level with the gunwales to avoid being
swept off the thwarts. The freaks of the currents wandering through the
flooded streets seem wholly unaccountable. Sometimes they would run
parallel with, and at others directly at right angles to the streets.
Often progress would be blocked by long sections of wooden-plank
sidewalks, gates, doors and cisterns that had formed barriers across the
street, while at every turning the boatman would be compelled to dodge
huge floating masses of drift in which out-houses, timbers, sections of
roofs and other heavy wreckage inextricably commingling were slowly
floating on the lazy current.

“The air was soft and balmy as that of a midsummer night, and the mellow
light of the young moon that was already hanging low over the great sand
hills to the westward, spread a soft pale light of deep blue on the
bright spangled sky. There were faint night breezes waving the topmost
branches of the great shade trees, but they did not touch the
rippleless, shining flood which gleamed in long narrow paths. The white
moonbeams that, like ribbons of burnished silver, but slept inky and
motionless under the black shadows of the trees, and the rounded
outlines of each great shade tree was sharply reflected in the
mirror-like surface of the water and bordered by a dainty rim of silver.
Houses with snow-white walls were faithfully mirrored in that
motionless, glittering flood. While to the eastward of each lay a long,
deep shadow--a starless night--huge shapeless masses of wreckage
drifting past black opaque shadows that grew longer and more intense as
the young moon sank so low that her lower horizon was dipping behind a
great hoary-crested sand hill in the west. The scene was exquisitely
beautiful, but at the same time weird and uncanny. Not a human voice was
heard, but near at hand between the lower whispering of the softly
dipping oars came the ever varying chorus of the frogs mingling with the
low musical murmuring of the mighty river and the deep sullen roar of
the crevasse on the far off southern shore. There the sides of the skiff
would brush the perfumed shrubbery of a submerged lawn; there could be
seen the tree-tops of a splendid orchard just rising out of the flood,
their lower limbs swaying and bending with the current. In all this
scene of beautiful ruins there was a sense of utter loneliness that was
strangely oppressive. Of those who a week ago filled this bright and
hustling little town to overflowing, only six families remain. The
others have all fled to the adjoining hills, leaving their houses to
their fate till the water shall have subsided.”

Such villages as are not deserted have little to do with the world
beyond. The post-offices are often exhausted, in addition to the fact
that the nearest points not blockaded are miles away; so that the
telegraph only brings


news from beyond, or tells the world how fares the little hamlet. The
operator may be driven to the upper story, or to the roof, there to
dispute possession with stray turtles or snakes, or to listen to the
hoarse remonstrance of some old bullfrog whose nocturnal rest is broken
by the clicking of the key. All around is a dreary waste of water, on
which the gleam of the moon appears like a ghostly foot-path, and the
dark shadows of the naked-limbed trees menace like gaunt spectres. From
his elevated position the operator may see the flash of the search-light
of a steamer miles away, as the vessel flits along the stream,
collecting refugees from the shores; and ever and anon the deep harsh
bray of the fog-horn breaks the stillness. Save for these distant tokens
of life there is

    “Death and silence! death and silence!
     Death and silence all around!”

At the great crevasse itself the spectacle is exciting. The fight is not
abandoned. Desperate efforts are made to secure the ends from further
washing. That once done, there is hope of closing the gap. At the
extremity of the break a floating pile-driver is fiercely hammering
heavy timbers into the spongy soil. There a tiny, fussing tug is engaged
in trying to float a mat of brushwood against the broken bank, while a
score of anxious men are watching an opportunity to peg it down. Others
endeavor to weave pliant branches among the driven piles to afford a
better hold for the guano sacks of earth that are being thrown into the
break. From these moist earth is often washed out by the powerful
current as though it were melting sugar; while now and then some timber,
undermined by the steadily deepening current, leaps upward as though
endowed with a life of its own, and dashes away on the foaming stream.
After hours of the fierce contest, the ends are at last secured. The
pigmy has stopped the giant. The work progresses more easily, now that
the workers are sure of their ground. The stubborn creatures contest
every inch of space. The roar of the battle goes up incessantly. One
fights for life, the other for liberty--such liberty as the tyrant asks
of his subjects; such liberty as the wolf asks of the sheep, or the hawk
of the doves; such liberty as the strong has always demanded of the weak
and defenseless.

By and by the voice of the struggling monster grows weaker. The
persistent creatures that swarm about him assault him with renewed vigor
and pertinacity. The roar of the conflict dies away by degrees. Step by
step the two bands of men approach each other. Only a narrow channel
remains. Presently the forces clasp hands over the chasm. In a few
moments there remains but a tiny, remonstrant, murmuring trickle of
water. Another stroke and it is finished. The pigmy has conquered the
giant. The ant has chained the elephant.

But what, in the meantime, has been the fate of the district along the
levee front? Here the water does not rise slowly and stealthily as in
the regions far inland, where the force of the current is lost. The
planters and all their available forces, it may be, have been busily
fighting the rising floods, but have been finally vanquished momentarily
by wind and wave. Hoping to hold the levee, few, perhaps, have removed
their families, goods, or chattels, or livestock. Then when the break
comes, the raging flood rushes in over the fields and woods, demolishing
out-houses, shaking cottages, drowning stock, hurling masses of drift
against dwellings that might otherwise stand--seeming as though a living
genius of destruction.

Here a family, carrying only a few changes of clothes, and a purse but
too scantily filled, hurry wildly toward the river front, in hope that a
passing steamer may pick them up; there a planter who has saved his
family is hurrying a drove of cattle to the levee, vaguely wondering, in
the mean time, how he shall feed them if the flood lasts long; here a
negro family, chattering noisily like frightened crows, trudges through
water and mire knee-deep or waist-deep, bearing on their heads bundles
of dirty bedding, or old clothes--one or two lugging sacks of meal and
flitches of bacon, with a blind confidence that they


have made sufficient provision for every emergency. There a forlorn
squatter is punting a rude raft with his few belongings slowly athwart
the restless flood. Yonder a band of negroes, unaware of the break in
time to reach the river, have congregated in an old gin house, and swarm
upon its roof, yelling and gesticulating wildly in their terror, for
aid, which they fear will never reach them; and, as the water rises
higher, roofs, barns, hen-coops, and carcasses go floating past or lodge
against their frail support, increasing their peril every moment. Some
moan and cry; others pray vigorously, confessing their misdeeds with
voluble freedom; occasionally there is some old crone who terrifies her
auditors with the assertion that “de Lord is sendin’ another ’varsal
flood on men for deir wickedness,” at which the wicked groan and cry,
and the pious clap their hands and shout, trusting to shortly see the
salvation of the Lord. In the distance appear a few figures perched in
trees, seeming like enormous crows; over yonder, some unfortunate has
shinned up a telegraph pole, which creaks and sways with the rush of the
water, threatening constantly to return the trembling refugee to the
flood beneath. The last unfortunates have straggled to the levee. The
rest must wait for relief. Here and there a few cattle stand lowing in
water half over their sides; a restless, snorting horse plunges
impatiently about. A floating tree-trunk strikes them from their
hillock, to swim aimlessly about till other drifting masses ride them
down. A hen-coop floats past, on which a hungry chanticleer is perched,
occasionally challenging the flood, and in the meantime, with sidelong
glance eyeing the confusion and in undertones discussing the case with
his half-starved, feathered harem.

It is a motley throng that huddles along the levee. That narrow strip of
earth, but eight feet wide at best, is

[Illustration: CAMPS ON THE LEVEE.]

all that is left as a footing for hundreds. The wares swash heavily at
their feet; or sometimes, as the wind blows stronger, they leap clear
over the frail embankment. Trudging wearily back and forth on the
clayey, slippery dykes are planters, once well-to-do, with families of
culture and refinement; others of a middle class, and occasional
specimens of a type denominated by the “man and brother” as “po’ white
trash” are to be seen among the throng. The “man and brother” is usually
in the majority in the lowland districts, and adds greatly to the
picturesqueness of the levees in time of flood. Some rear their tiny
excuses for tents along the bank, and spend the time in uneasily
watching the turbid water. Occasionally some Dinah or Chloe, who has
been on the levee for a week, goes through the motion of washing clothes
in the surging stream, gaining thereby the approval of conscience over a
duty performed, whether the garments be improved or not. Here there is
little concern, these being wandering roustabouts who had nothing to
lose; there some grizzled Uncle Tom bemoans the loss of his two scrawny
mules, and the few pigs and fowls, and his favorite cow, which represent
the savings of years from his toil in his little patch of corn and
cotton; and he feels even sorer over his losses than the rich planter
who has lost a hundred times as much. So the little bands assemble,
mingle and disperse, comparing notes, and all waiting in painful anxiety
for some steamer to pick them up before the sodden levee shall dissolve
beneath their feet and leave them struggling in the stream. At length
the government relief boat appears, and gathers the throngs by hundreds,
to transport them to higher lands. Beyond the levee, skiffs and
flat-boats move about the submerged region, picking up the people who
have taken refuge on the housetops, among the trees, or on piles of
drift. None on the levee fear being passed in the night, for the
powerful search-light illuminates every straggling group.

[Illustration: WAITING FOR A STEAMER.]

On reaching a place of safety from the waters, scores of the refugees
are almost penniless, and the question of food is a pressing one. The
liberal contributions of scores of generous souls suffice but for a
short time. The government must again come to the front, and issue
rations, or a money equivalent, sufficient to maintain the destitute
till the falling of the waters allows them to resume labor upon their
lands. After that, the crop-lien system in vogue in the South enables
the people to get credit of their merchants until the cotton-picking or

[Illustration: THE SEARCH-LIGHT.]

When the waters subside, and the people return, it is often difficult
to find old landmarks. In one place huge trenches may be washed out; but
away from the immediate vicinity of the crevasse the land is covered
with mud, varying from a few inches to four or five feet in
thickness--sufficient guarantee of amazing fertility, when the ground
becomes dry enough to work. In the numerous little depressions in the
surface are stagnant pools that linger for a month or two. The larger
ones, if not before filled, are converted into ponds or marshes, which
only thorough draining will destroy. The air is tainted by the hundreds
of carcasses that are entangled in the heaps of drift. The hot dank
soil, steaming under the summer sun, brings disease in the wake of the

Louisiana, from its character, is usually the principal sufferer: the
Arkansas borders fare little better. All along the course of the stream
the land is dotted with lakes and pools and marshy lands, created by
former overflows. Along the lower portion of the river bayous or sloughs
open from either bank, and meander lazily toward the gulf. As showing
the character of the country may be mentioned the Little and St. Francis
Rivers, which flow southward from southeast Missouri, nearly parallel to
the Mississippi, and but forty miles from it at their furthest points.
In flowing one hundred and twenty miles south they double and twist,
expanding into sluggish bayous as broad as the Mississippi itself, or
into shallow island-dotted lakes; and the total length of the numerous
bends and whimsical curves of the main stream, St. Francis, is over two
hundred miles. In like manner, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is but fifty miles
from the mouth of the sluggish sandy Arkansas as the crow flies; but to
follow the windings of that stream the distance is nearly three times as
great. The backwater of the Mississippi finds its way into these
sluggish channels, and renders comparatively useless any levees on the
banks of the great river near their mouths: and from the northern border
of Arkansas to the gulf the old Father of Waters pursues a course as
intricate in its windings as the St. Francis. It is asserted by many
that the mouth of the stream was once perhaps not far below Memphis, and
that all the land to the southward has been produced partly by slow
upheaval of the sea-bottom and partly by the alluvial deposits of the
river and the gradual extension of its delta, which now projects many
miles into the gulf. This would account for the low and swampy character
of the land in the entire region.

The writer has endeavored to give an accurate general view of southern
floods. While differing in some features from floods in other lands,
they themselves are much alike. The description of a flood of to-day
would answer with but little adaptation as a narrative of fifty years
ago: and further details of particular flood scenes are unnecessary.
Such great overflows are not common, the levees holding the river in
check on ordinary occasions. Yet, one flood season deserves more than
passing notice.



    “And rearing Lindis backward pressed,
     Shook all her trembling bankes amaine,
     Then madly at the eygre’s breast
     Flung up her weltering walles againe,
     Then banks came down with ruin and rout,
     Then beaten foam flew round about,
     And all the mighty floods were out.

     So farre, so fast the eygre drave;
     The heart had hardly time to beat,
     Before a shallow, seething wave,
     Sobbed in the grasses at our feet.
     The feet had hardly time to flee,
     Before it broke against the knee,
     And all the world was in the sea.”

The great flood of 1874 is remembered as the most destructive of human
life in the history of the Mississippi valley. It came almost without
warning. The rolling river rose rapidly, and the levees broke in many
places before the masses suspected danger. Hundreds of people were
drowned; and as for the losses of property, no attempt was made to
estimate the amount. Certainly it amounted to many millions. Perhaps
only the Chicago fire could compare with it in this respect. Another
great year of high water was 1882: but the damage done was smaller, as
the levees had been heightened and strengthened.

But the floods of this year, in area submerged, in long duration, in
height of water, and in the pertinacity with which they were contested,
eclipsed all records. There is no measuring the extent of the calamity.
There is nothing in the recorded history of the Mississippi valley

[Illustration: THE SCENE AT HIGH WATER.]

to compare with it. In some places the gauges were completely
overflowed. Levees that had withstood former waters, and had been
strengthened since, snapped like whip-cords, under the tremendous

Early in the present year, the Signal Service warned the people of the
lower Mississippi that very high water might be expected, as the snows
of the upper Ohio region had been very heavy, while the unusually early
spring would bring the flood water into the lower river at the time of
heavy spring rains. There the levees were carefully examined, and every
precaution against high water taken. But the people, though expecting
high water, had not reckoned upon such a flood as came. The river rose
above the great flood of 1874, passing all previous records by two feet,
and reaching a foot higher than the levees had been built to sustain.

On January 1, Cairo reported eighteen feet and rising, while the river
was falling from Louisville up the Ohio, was falling at St. Louis, and
stationary on the lower Mississippi. From the first day of the year the
river rose at Cairo, and in ten days the river had risen thirteen feet.

From Cincinnati down the Ohio increased in volume for four days, and on
January 16, at Cairo, it passed the danger line (forty feet) by
three-tenths. The rise in sixteen days had been one and three-eighths
feet a day. At that time the river was rising slowly from Evansville
down, and falling above. A few days later came another rise in the Ohio,
aided by the Tennessee and Cumberland, and by the 1st of February the
water at Cairo was almost a flood. The volumes of water continued till
the lower Mississippi was bank full. By the latter end of February, the
danger point had been reached at Memphis, Shreveport, Vicksburg, and New
Orleans. Cairo was already in trouble.

On March 12, Cairo reached its maximum, 48.9. The Signal Service Office
had given out a prediction of fifty-one feet, but the failure of the
upper Mississippi to rise, prevented that stage being reached. The river
at St. Louis had then but five feet of water.

On March 14, Chief Signal Officer A. W. Greeley sent out a warning from
Washington to the people living on the lower Mississippi. He told them
that the rain they had had for four days had been drained into the
tributaries of the great river and would swell it considerably. The
greatest flood ever known might be expected within a few days. All stock
and valuable movable property should be taken to the hills. New Orleans
had then higher water than ever before.

The river was then rising in the lower Missouri, and St. Louis was
reporting rapid increase in the stage of water. Cairo had fallen, but
the upper Ohio and lower tributaries brought back the upper line of the
flood to near the maximum stage.

The lower Mississippi tributaries began to swell. The Arkansas and Red
Rivers overflowed their banks. Low levees grew weak and succumbed. Low
lying towns and plantations were flooded.

Then came the nights and days of terrible struggle along lines of levee
that protected vast tracts of lands. Men were pressed into service
whether they liked the work or no, and the shotgun patrol was
established for the protection of the safer levees from being cut. The
upper Mississippi swelled rapidly, and while not reaching a dangerous
stage itself, it added enormously to the peril below. Then came floods
in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The first serious trouble from the Mississippi in Arkansas occurred in
Phillips county, above the mouth of the White River, where some five
hundred people were driven from their homes to the highest points by the
backwater, and the cattle, gaunt, wild-eyed, starving, were forced to
subsist on cane, twigs of cotton wood and other trees felled for them.
Three times the backwater and heavy local rains flooded this region,
while the retiring flood left a deposit of mud from one to five feet in
depth, precluding the possibility of turning the hungry cattle upon the
land for two or three weeks, and rendering it impossible to raise a crop
of corn or more than half a crop of cotton. At Cairo, the rivers were
one hundred miles in width, covering fifty miles of Missouri lowlands,
and extending to the hills in Kentucky; while Cairo itself was partially
flooded. The railroads in that section were forced to stop, and the
people fled to the hills for their lives. Steady rains fell in Arkansas,
Ohio and lower Missouri River valleys, and by the time these began to
subside, the floods in the streams below had passed previous records.

The greatest danger and trouble was in the valley from Arkansas City
southward. Heavy rains produced a break in the levee at that place.
March 28, the levees broke at two points on the eastern shore, between
Arkansas City and Memphis, Tennessee, submerging many thousands of acres
of land, and sweeping southeastward to the Yazoo River. Greenville,
Mississippi, a city of 10,000, is partially protected by a high ridge
through the city; but there was no means of holding back the enemy in
the rear. The town is situated at the extremity of a sharp eastward
curve, and a violent storm at length aided the rapid current in cutting
away the front defense, and the town was forced to yield. Strenuous
efforts to close the breaks above completely failed; and all that could
be done was to secure the ends of the crevasses to prevent their
widening. Cattle were herded for a time on the levees and embankments,

[Illustration: NEGROES MOVING OUT.]

but these gradually yielded, and the animals were drowned in droves.
Defenses yielded where least expected. By April 3, there was two feet of
water in the streets of Greenville. There was nothing left but to make
the best of the situation. People took to the upper floors, and appeals
for state, national and individual aid were sent out. The telephone
lines leading out of the city were destroyed, and communication with the
outer world was greatly hindered. Occasional reports of destitution and
suffering came from Greenville, but these were contradicted by meetings
of leading citizens, who said, “there is no destitution here that home
people can not relieve. If the negroes want to wait for government
rations and refuse from $1.50 to $2.50 per day to work on levees, their
starving arouses no sympathy. While all these sensational reports of
destitution are traveling about, the steamboats are running into Memphis
and Vicksburg begging for levee hands, and the native negro is sitting
on the levee fishing.”

The water swept rapidly southward, submerging almost the entire region
between the Yazoo and Mississippi. Meanwhile, the trouble in Louisiana
was just beginning. The banks began caving near the levee in Madison
Parish Front, compelling the erection of a new levee in the rear of the
old one. But the fight went on stubbornly for three weeks, both along
the river front and along the bayous in the interior. Atchafalaya River
was forty-five feet above low water. The contest for the levees there
was as bitter as along the main stream. Occasional breaks occurred, but
they were closed or kept from spreading by the twenty thousand men who
labored day and night along the stream between Bayou Sara and New

Ere long it appeared that the greatest danger was along the Concordia
and Pointe Coupee parish fronts. (A parish in Louisiana coincides with
what is known as a county elsewhere). Considerable appropriations were
made, and the head of the third district levee system, Captain D. C.
Kingman, conducted the fight on the Pointe Coupee front in person. The
battle ended here in disastrous defeat. The men held their ground
manfully till April 20, no serious breaks having then occurred. All that
day the men were compelled to work in a drenching rain storm that

[Illustration: STOCK RAFT.]

was beating fiercely against the already overburdened and sodden levees
on the west bank of the river. The danger at the great Morganza bend
grew excessive. It was hoped that during the night the storm would
cease, or at least that the wind might shift to some other quarter, but
when the morning broke there were the same leaden skies overhead, with
darker masses still scurrying to the westward before a fierce easterly
gale that was as fresh and strong as ever, and which hurled storms of
white-capped waves upon the rain-soaked earthworks. Bags of earth and
sand were piled up along the levee, to prevent the waves from washing
over. Wilder and more furious raged the storm: higher and higher beat
the waves, as the day passed. “In the teeth of drenching surf and
blinding rain, the battle with rising flood went bravely on. Sacks were
piled upon sacks and revetments of plank and jute bagging were carried
up till the superstructure upon the crown of the levee looked like a
fair-sized levee itself. Not only the men, but even the women and
children fought bravely for their homes in the teeth of that wild
furious storm.

“As Monday night closed in, the situation was more gloomy than ever. The
heavy leaden sky was deeply shadowed by low hanging clouds of dull slaty
black, driven before the fierce gale that was sweeping up the reach,
thrashing it into long ribs of foam that every now and then broke clear
over the levees all along the New Texas system, and beat savagely
against the great Morganza, just below them.

“A nightfall dark and wild with wind and storm was followed by a night
black and tempestuous, and still the desperate fight went on. Here and
there ruddy, flaring torches struggled with the murky gloom, but within
their dim halos could be seen the big breakers hungrily licking the tops
of the sodden barriers that throbbed and quivered beneath every cruel

“Planters’ wives and daughters stood ankle-deep in mud, filling sacks
and helping to lift them upon the shoulders of the men who were carrying
them to the levee. Two bold Creoles stood at one weak place, though they
felt the levee dissolving beneath their feet. They sank to their knees
in the mud and water, but still they stood stubbornly on the sinking
dike, piling sacks in the breach, though again and again the flood
seemed to be in the very act of overpowering and sweeping them away in
the very center of a crevasse. It was a bloodless battle, but many a man
has won fame on a gory battle-field who never turned a more steadfast,
unflinching gaze into the very jaws of death than did those brave
defenders of their homes during that terrible night.”

Suddenly there was a wild outcry and a hurried mustering of forces at
the old Morganza levee. But men and materials were no longer of any use.
The dull yellow flood poured through the gap like a mighty cataract.
Four hundred feet of the embankment were gone in a few moments.

At once there was a _sauve qui peut_. The volunteer forces of the
neighborhood hurried away to save what they could. As the Morganza levee
was backed by a wide uninhabited swamp, there was little danger of any
lives being lost by the sudden breach, though the people had clung to
their homes to the last.

Meanwhile, numerous other breaks were occasioned by the storm. The first
occurred at Bayou Sara, and others followed so rapidly that within
twenty-four hours fifteen huge crevasses were pouring their torrents
upon the land. Two other breaks occurred in the Morganza; and so vast
was the volume of water drawn out by the three that the river at Bayou
Sara, a few miles below, fell a foot in twenty-four hours, while the
decline above was but an inch or two. Despite the gloomy outlook, the
men toiled wearily on and finally succeeded in closing most of the
breaks; but the great Morganza crevasses defied every effort. Then came
breaks in the Atchafalaya, and the turbid waters united and swept
southward one hundred miles to the sea. Some towns were abandoned to the
snakes and frogs; in others the people put false floors in their
dwellings and prepared

[Illustration: PICKING UP REFUGEES.]

for a siege. Government steamers plied up and down the country, picking
up the refugees and all accessible livestock. The effort to keep back
the water was at an end, and all that could be done of any especial use
was in the way of salvage. The only remaining question was that of
providing for the destitute. Appropriations from the State treasury were
made, and corporations and private individuals contributed liberally.
On April 24, two great breaks occurred in Concordia Parish, north of
Pointe Coupee, thus much increasing the submerged area. From the items
given, and the fact of breaks in east Baton Rouge, and the Nita
crevasse, and twenty or more below New Orleans, the reader may see that
a large portion of eastern Louisiana lay more or less under water. By
the end of April there was no fear of further danger, simply because
there was little harm left to do. The continual east wind added to the
distress on the lower river by sweeping Lake Pontchartrain and the gulf
water across the land, up to the levees on the river.

The one peculiar feature of the recent flood is that but few lives were
lost--perhaps not a dozen, all told. The warning of the Signal Service
put people on their guard, and there was no occasion for surprise.

The damage to property can not be estimated. Three thousand square miles
of land were more or less flooded in Louisiana alone; and while much of
this was useless swamp land, the larger part comprised some of the most
valuable sugar plantations in the State. Fifty thousand people were
directly affected by the flood in this region. All the railroads in this
district suffered severely from wash outs and loss of time and custom.
Any estimate of the damage done to planters should include not only real
estate and personal property, but also the amount of loss from inability
to raise the customary crops. This single item would be very large. But
when we consider the terrible havoc committed in other lands and
attended by fearful loss of life, we may be devoutly thankful that
things were no worse with us.

The levee system is attended by peculiar perils. There must be constant
watching and repairing. At seasons of danger, patrols are needed, even
when the levees are


sound; for human nature is full of rank selfishness, and people who find
their property endangered are apt to cut the levee upon the opposite
side above them, to relieve themselves by flooding others. Hungry wolves
will eat a wounded companion; but man is almost the only animal that
seeks an opportunity for wounding his fellow that he may have a pretext
for devouring him.

The craw-fish is another persistent enemy of the planter, undermining
levees with his numerous tunnels, and even penetrating the low lying
fields at a distance from the river, not infrequently damaging the roots
of growing crops. The ground becomes like a sponge, and water oozes from
the levees in countless places.

There are other objections to the levee system; and while the
Mississippi River Commission, and a majority of engineers endorse it,
there are not a few equally capable men who denounce it as false in
theory, and mischievous in practice. The problem remains a puzzling one.
If the floods are unrestrained, a large portion of the river bottom
becomes uninhabitable a considerable portion of each year. As to
controlling them, a man of much experience said at the time of the flood
in 1882, “I have lived on the river for thirty years, and I have studied
it, for it was my business to do so. I have been steam-boating all that
time. I am now certain that I don’t know anything about it, or about
what ought to be done to it.”

Another said, “When God put the river into this valley, He told it to go
wherever it pleased, and it always has done so, and always will.”

Yet, the problem can not be considered hopeless, though mere experiments
are dangerous. There is little doubt that the levees would have
withstood the unprecedented high water of the present year, had it not
been aided by the severe and protracted easterly storm. But the levees
must remain a constant expense. More than $90,000,000 have already been
spent upon them, and the question is an even more vital one than ever.

The chief opponents of the levee system advocate the increase of
outlets. A glance at a large-scale map of Louisiana will show the reader
how very narrow the mouths of the river are in comparison with its
breadth above; and when it is remembered that these passages required
deepening ere large vessels could reach New Orleans, it is clear that
the outlet men have good reasons for asserting that the proper thing to
do is to open as many outlets to the sea as possible. Yet, the majority
of engineers declare this to be unscientific, and radically wrong. The
levee men propose to narrow the channel and to rely upon the “scour” of
the water to keep the river bottom free enough to afford a clear passage
to the sea. The “scour” is aided as far as possible by clearing away
obstructions where it is desired to maintain a channel, and by placing
other obstructions in places where natural shallows have been formed.
This is the work carried on by the commission, and is one in theory with
that executed by Captain Eads in the South Pass of the Delta. He claimed
that if the water flowing through the pass should be confined within
comparatively narrow banks, it would scour out the bottom, and so deepen
its own bed. The primary result was exactly opposite to this. The water
refused to do the work expected of it, and following the law of nature,
sought the line of least resistance. Finding the South Pass obstructed,
or rather narrowed, much of it turned aside and poured through the
Southwest Pass and the Pas a l’Outre, and instead of scouring out the
South Pass, scoured the other two to the depth of two feet below where
their beds had formerly been. As soon as this was discovered, the two
passes were partially dammed up, and the water thus forced through the
South Pass.

It is evident, at a glance, that the amount of “scour” will only be as
much as will permit ready exit of the water at ordinary stages. The
moment that point is reached, the “scour” ceases, and does not again act
unless the river be still further narrowed. Hence, this plan, while
increasing facility of navigation, only robs Peter to pay Paul, so far
as protection is concerned; for what is gained in depth and speed, is
necessarily lost in breadth. The “scour” system has even failed to hold
its own, and has had to be reinforced by dredging machines.

This last fact tends to confirm the arguments of the outlet advocates.
They urge that the immense amount of silt carried by the river is
destructive to the entire scheme. During flood time this silt is nearly
equally distributed throughout the water. When an overflow occurs, the
immense quantity is shown by the vast alluvial deposits left in the
submerged region.

According to the believers in the anti-levee theory, if overflows are
prevented, the earth held in suspension, instead of being deposited
where it will enrich the land, will gradually sink to the bottom of the
river. The result will be that the river-bed will be steadily raised
until the surface of the water at ordinary stages will be as high as the
present floodmarks. Levees will have to be built higher and higher, the
river will be raised far above the adjacent country, and should a break
occur at any point, the consequence will be disastrous in the extreme.
As an example of the effect of confining a silt-bearing alluvial river
to its bed, the Hoang-Ho in China is cited. By constant dyking the
bottom of the stream has been raised above large tracts of the adjacent
country and some of the most

[Illustration: FLOOD IN CHINA.]

terrible catastrophes in the history of floods have resulted from a
break in the dykes during floods.

The natural result of the continual raising of the bottom is that where
any serious breach occurs, it is simply impossible to repair it. So the
great river has changed its channel entirely several times in the past
two thousand years. In 1852 it burst through its banks three hundred and
fifty miles from the sea, and cut a new channel through the northern
part of the province of Shantung to the Gulf of Pechili, where it
emptied nearly two hundred and seventy-five miles north of its former
mouth in the Yellow Sea. The sharp angle at which it turned off is
noticeable on the maps. This region being almost unknown to foreigners
at that time, no one can say how many thousands or millions of lives
were destroyed by “China’s Sorrow.”

But the greatest disaster of this sort occurred in 1887, when the heavy
fall rains of the northwest provinces swelled the streams, and the
Yellow River finally broke its banks at a sharp bend in the Ho-nan
province, where the town of Cheng Chou is situated. Frantic efforts were
made to close the gap, but in vain. It rapidly grew to a width of one
thousand two hundred yards. Some distance away the yellow torrent turned
into the valley of a small stream known as the Luchia, down which it
rushed in an easterly direction, overwhelming everything in its path.

“Twenty miles from Cheng Chou it encountered Chungmou, a walled city of
the third rank. Its thousands of inhabitants were attending to their
usual pursuits. There was no telegraph to warn them, and the first
intimation of disaster came with the muddy torrent that rolled down upon
them. Within a short time only the tops of the high walls marked where a
flourishing city had been. Three hundred villages in the district
disappeared utterly, and the lands about three hundred other villages
were inundated.

“The flood turned south from Chungmou, still keeping to the course of
the Luchia, and stretched out in width for thirty miles. This vast body
of water was from ten to twenty feet deep. Several miles south of
Kaifeng the flood struck a large river which there joins the Luchia. The
result was that the flood rose to a still greater height, and pouring
into a low-lying and very fertile plain which was densely populated,
submerged upward of one thousand five hundred villages.

“Not far beyond this locality the flood passed into the province of
Anhui, where it spread very widely. The actual loss of life could not be
computed accurately, but the lowest intelligent estimate placed it at
one million five hundred thousand, and one authority placed it at seven

The inundated provinces were under water four months. Two million
survivors were left destitute. The mind quails at the appalling
magnitude of such a catastrophe.

Such is the warning given by the Yellow River. It is urged that if the
Mississippi is heavily leveed, the same results will follow. The Po is
another instance. The bed of the stream has been raised by dykes until
it is higher in many places than the tops of the houses, and such
disasters as have befallen the dwellers near the Yellow River of China,
have only been avoided because of the fact that the Po is a
comparatively diminutive stream. It is said that the same state of
affairs exists on a smaller scale still on the Tiber. But the opponents
of the outlet theory ascribe the China floods to ignorant engineering--a
charge that can not be easily made to stick, when it is remembered that
the Chinese have some of the most remarkable specimens of engineering
skill in existence.

In support of the outlet theory, a number of experienced river captains
and pilots assert that the bed of the river has been slowly rising
during the past thirty years; that levees are needed at points where
none were years ago, while at the same time there is less water in the
channel at those points than formerly. At the time of this writing
Captain Condon is urging that an outlet be made through Lake Borgne,
from a point ten miles below New Orleans. His company is to assume all
costs, only asking that if successful, they shall be paid $500,000 for
every foot of reduction of the high water level. He asserts that
one-fourth of the flood waters can be readily drained off by this means.
This Lake Borgne idea, commendable as it appears, has been agitated,
more or less, for forty years, without being tried. A noted government
engineer, Charles Ellet, urged it at the time of the flood of 1853,
without avail.

Whatever be the result of present deliberations, we must hope that no
effort will be spared to thoroughly test the merits of any system agreed
upon. But the long deliberations and the slow movements of the
governmental committees are vexatious to those most vitally concerned. A
prominent Louisianian says: “If the government and the people had raised
$500,000, placed a larger force, and held that Morganza levee, it would
have cost less than the mere relief expenditures, to say nothing of the
millions of total loss of the flood.” And _Harper’s Weekly_ affirms that
“in one respect the casual observer is moved to sarcastic reflections.
When a flood does come, like the present one, or even one of much less
dimensions, the work of the commission is of necessity suspended, and at
first sight it seems extremely ridiculous to see engineers waiting for
the water to subside before they can place confines many feet below the
present surface, which confines are intended, in part at least, for the
purpose of preventing similar overflows in the future.”

[Illustration: THE HOLLAND DYKES.]

Holland, the land of windmills, is another region which has a continual
struggle with this levee question. The native name of the country,
“Nederlands,” or Netherlands, refers to the character of the region,
which lies as an average, about on the sea level; while a great portion
is even somewhat lower. The thrifty people who settled here, erected
dykes to keep back the sea, and built windmills to pump out the water,
thus reclaiming a fertile tract from the bottom of the sea. But the
great dykes need incessant watching and repairing; and the expenditures
upon them up to the present time, have been greater than would have been
required to build them outright of solid copper. As the safety of the
dykes involves all that pertains to temporal life and welfare, the
people have learned not to trust to a single line of defenses. Second
and third lines are erected in the rear of the first; and many large
towns are completely girdled with defenses of their own.

Since the population of this region is nearly five hundred to the square
mile, while our own land does not average over eighteen to the same
area, it is at once clear that the breaking of the dykes is a far more
serious and terrible matter than the rupture of our levees. Some fearful
disasters in Holland are recorded. In 1421, the dykes gave way at Dort,
and more than one hundred thousand people perished. In 1530, there was a
general failure of the dykes, and the people, not dreaming of danger,
were suddenly overwhelmed; four hundred thousand perished, and the loss
of property was proportionate. Two great floods have occurred within
this century, doing terrible damage.

The Dutch, though peaceful and phlegmatic, are a liberty-loving people,
and have often shown themselves ready to sacrifice everything for their
freedom. They have found more than once its safety in the loss of all

One of the most thrilling and memorable incidents of the sort occurred
in 1574. Under the leadership of William the Silent, one of the noblest
of men, the Dutch

[Illustration: THE RELIEF OF LEYDEN.]

were struggling to throw off the yoke of Spain. Leyden was besieged. The
town was well fortified. The Spaniards endeavored to starve the city
into surrender. They swarmed about the outworks and taunted the famished
people as “beggars.” The contest grew daily more hopeless for the
besieged. Hundreds were dead of starvation. But the survivors hurled
defiance at the Spaniards. They were digging up every green thing,
devouring roots of grass, old leather, offal, anything that could in the
least aid to sustain life. But “so long as a dog barked in the city, the
Spaniards might know they held out.” A few faint-hearted ones pleaded
with the burgomaster to yield. But the brave Van der Werff, gaunt, pale,
wearied with care and watching, told them they could only surrender when
they had eaten him; so long as he lived, the city should not yield.

It was a terrible time. Scores crept into out-of-the-way places to die,
that their misery might not be seen by their friends. The Dutch without
wished to help their friends within--but the lines of the enemy were too
strong. As the last resort, the “Silent Man” ordered the dykes cut. It
was done. The country folk abandoned their homes. A fleet of two hundred
vessels sailed in over the land fifteen miles. They reached the
Landscheiding, a great dyke five miles from the city. Three quarters of
a mile nearer the town was a second dyke, the Greenway; within that was
the Kirkway.

The rising water frightened the Spaniards. But at ten inches, it
stopped. The Spaniards renewed their taunts. Again it rose two feet; the
vessels drew nearer: then they lay aground in sight of the famished
citizens. Then arose a strong southwest wind--and after days of weary
waiting, the fleet was close on the last line of fortifications. It was
the first of October. In the morning the “beggars” of the sea would
make a desperate attack upon the Spanish hordes.

In the night there came a terrible crash. The sea had undermined the
wall. The citizens were filled with panic, fearing an immediate
irruption of the enemy. They stood under arms through the weary night.

The morning came. Not a Spaniard was in sight. Fearing a sortie of the
hunger-maddened people, they had fled in the darkness. The city was
saved by the drowning of the land.

A story is told of Frederick the Great, illustrative of the same
indomitable spirit. After establishing the supremacy of Prussia, he was
suspected of designs upon the independence of the Netherlands. The Dutch
envoy at his court, newly appointed, Frederick endeavored to overawe by
a display of his power. A great military review was held; and Frederick,
who took a peculiar delight in tall men, caused troop after troop of his
gigantic grenadiers to file before the weazened little Dutchman, and
asked his opinion. Of each one the envoy said: “Very good, _but not tall
enough_.” Frederick, much nettled at this oft repeated criticism, asked
the ambassador what he meant by it. “I mean,” he retorted, “_that we can
flood our country twelve feet deep_!” Frederick left the Dutch in peace.

Though the most terrible calamities of any kind--whether from flood,
famine, or earthquake--are to be found in the history of China, yet
other nations have shared in disastrous floods. We mention a few:

A notable flood occurred on the coast of Lincolnshire, England, A. D.,
245. It seems to have been a high tide, aided by the wind. Three
thousand people and many cattle were drowned by a flood in Cheshire, A.
D., 353. Four hundred families were drowned in Glasgow, A. D., 758, by
an overflow of the Clyde. A tidal wave destroyed several English
seaports in A. D., 1014. The Severn leaped its banks in 1483, submerging
the adjacent lowlands, and drowning hundreds. Fifty thousand people
perished in Catalonia, Spain, during a flood in 1617. In Yorkshire,
England, occurred a remarkable outburst of subterranean waters in 1686.

“In September, 1687, mountain torrents inundated Navarre, and two
thousand persons were drowned. Twice, in 1787 and in 1802, the Irish
Liffey overran its banks and caused great damage. A reservoir in Lurca,
a city of Spain, burst in 1802, in much the same way as did the dam at
Johnstown, and as a result one thousand persons perished. Twenty-four
villages near Presburg, and nearly all their inhabitants, were swept
away in April, 1811, by an overflow of the Danube. Two years later,
large provinces in Austria and Poland were flooded, and many lives were
lost. In the same year a force of two thousand Turkish soldiers, who
were stationed on a small island near Widdin, were surprised by a sudden
overflow of the Danube and all were drowned. There were two more floods
in this year, one in Silesia, where six thousand persons perished, and
the French army met such losses and privations that its ruin was
accelerated; and another in Poland, where four thousand persons were
supposed to have been drowned. In 1816, the melting of the snow on the
mountains surrounding Strabane, Ireland, caused destructive floods: and
the overflow of the Vistula, in Germany, laid many villages under water.
Floods that occasioned great suffering occurred in 1829, when severe
rains caused the Spey and Findhorn to rise fifty feet above their
ordinary level. The following year the Danube again overflowed its
banks, and inundated the houses of 50,000 inhabitants of Vienna.” The


overflowed in 1840 and poured its turbulent waters into the Rhine,
flooding one hundred square miles of land, and drowning thousands.
Another great flood in France occurred in 1856. In 1875, still another
drowned a thousand people near Toulouse; while India, the same year lost
many through floods.

But no such destruction of life ever visited our own land till within a
year past, and the event is more to be deplored, in that it was caused
by unexcusable negligence. That flood we must next consider.



    “A sullen hoarse murmur, and nameless fear!--
     A sound like the tread of a hurrying host!--
     A roar like the storm, as the wild waters near,
     Like the dash of the sea on a crag-bordered coast!

     A wave like a mountain sweeps swift through the vale
     Ten thousand wrecked homes tossing dark in its spray,
     Wild cries of death-anguish echo mocks with her wail--
     And the fiend of the flood now has claimed his prey!”

India, profiting by long and sad experience, has provided, as far as may
be possible, against the contingencies of drought and famine, by the
establishment of a magnificent system of storage reservoirs, to furnish
water for irrigating when rain is wanting. Some of these tanks are fine
specimens of engineering, and so far as records go, no disaster has ever
attended their establishment. But to be ready and efficient, for
purposes of irrigation, the water must be above the level of the
surrounding country: hence, the only practicable plan has been to dam up
the courses of streams and ravines in the hills. As nearly all Bengal is
comparatively low and level, this method is not applicable there; hence,
the terrible famines consequent in a comparatively small decrease of the
average rain supply. But in the Deccan, in the Madras presidency, and in
Ceylon, the reservoir system has been carried to an extent astounding to
the white man, who depends with tolerable certainty upon the rain, and
who is accustomed to consider other races as universally indolent and
improvident. In fourteen districts of the Madras presidency


are nearly fifty-five thousand irrigation reservoirs, four-fifths of
which are in regular operation. Their size may be estimated by the fact
that the retaining dykes average half a mile in length. One ancient
reservoir, now broken, had a dam thirty miles long, shutting in an
artificial lake of eighty square miles. The Veranum tank covers
fifty-three square miles, has a dam twelve miles long, and produces
$55,000 per year. In Ceylon may be seen a gigantic dam of cemented
stone, fifteen miles long, one hundred feet wide at the base, and forty
feet wide at the top.

The same plan is of late years being extensively operated in our western
tracts for the reclaiming of extensive tracts otherwise not cultivable.
With these exceptions no great use of the reservoir system has been made
in this country. Every saw-mill, grist-mill or factory in our land
usually has its dam in an adjacent stream to insure a fair supply of
water: but none of these can be properly considered general precautions
against drought. The only prominent public works of the sort are the
Croton storage reservoirs, by which New York is supplied with water.
There are eighteen reservoirs, with a total capacity of fourteen
thousand millions of gallons. China has a great canal irrigation system,
which is, perhaps, safer in some respects than the Hindoo system, but
which can not command as large an increase of supply in time of drought,
the water being drawn from the rivers, and thus having comparatively
little fall. But the canals so thoroughly intersect the whole country as
to serve as public highways: and in many sections there are no other

Doubtless the methods of construction in India have been learned by long
experience. Certain it is that for many years, at least, no serious
trouble has ever arisen from defective retaining dykes. The public
welfare is so intimately connected with these pools that they are
carefully inspected and repaired. The destruction of the system might
at any time precipitate a terrible famine.

Not having a similar condition of things to contend with, the average
American is not concerned about the few dams scattered about the land,
not one in a score of which would cause any serious loss were it to
break: and even were such death-traps scattered over every county, it is
doubtful if a race who will crouch behind a Mississippi levee and refuse
flight till the last moment, could ever be brought to a proper
realization of the danger, or their culpable negligence. The American is
in a hurry: and so if speed be obtained, trains may wreck, vessels
collide, or boilers burst, and the coroner’s jury will obligingly render
a verdict of “nobody to blame.” Since he also wants things at the bottom
market price, he encourages the production of countless unsafe
buildings, dams, and similar structures, merely because they are cheap.

The most terrible lesson ever given to cheap dam builders in the history
of our country is one, which, with the reader’s indulgence, we shall
endeavor to narrate.

In southwest central Pennsylvania, among the foot-hills of the
Alleghanies, lies the peaceful and picturesque valley of the Little
Conemaugh. Here, in 1889, within a stretch of a dozen miles, lay five
industrious and thriving towns: South Fork, Mineral Point, Conemaugh,
Woodvale and Johnstown. The last of these, embracing as it did, Cambria
and Conemaugh Borough, was a city of thirty thousand people. The
population of South Fork was two thousand, Mineral Point had eight
hundred, Conemaugh and Woodvale about two thousand five hundred each.
The total population of the valley within the distance named could not
have been far from thirty-eight thousand.

Johnstown was the center of interest as of population. Thither came on
May 30th--“Decoration Day"--people from Altoona, Hollidaysburg,
Somerset, Latrobe, Ebensburg and Wilmore, and from the four other towns
already mentioned. There was a great concourse, a long and impressive
procession of soldiers and secret orders, with bands of music, flags,
regalia, banners, bunting and devices. With solemn pomp the cemetery was
visited, and flowers were strewn on the graves of the patriotic dead.
This sad but pleasing duty ended, the procession turned again toward the
city, and entering the Opera House, listened to an eloquent oration. It
was a day of more than ordinary interest and elation for Johnstown. The
city stood happy and unsuspecting on the very brink of an awful doom.

During the day the sky had been overcast, and there were occasional
light showers. At nightfall the clouds lowered more heavily, and seemed
to descend nearer to the earth. At nine o’clock there was a gentle rain;
at eleven, a tremendous down-pour, which continued with little
interruption during the remainder of the night. It seemed as if the
windows of heaven had been opened.

The site of Johnstown is at the Junction of Stony Creek with the Little
Conemaugh. Before eight o’clock on the morning of the 31st of May, both
streams were bank-full. As the day advanced the lower parts of the town
were inundated. By eleven o’clock there was a depth of five feet at the
corner of Main and Market streets, and at the Cambria Iron Company’s

Still higher the waters rose. In the houses most exposed, carpets were
removed from the floors, and pianos and organs were lifted on chairs and
tables. Soon the two angry streams were mingling their waters in the
business center of the town. Both streams had been as high before, but
never both at the same time. Some thought the Cambria Iron Company,
which had narrowed the channel below the stone bridge, was responsible,
and should be required to widen it again, and so make a free exit for
the waters.

By two o’clock the water was two to ten feet deep all over the city
proper, and the people had retired to their houses. There was
inconvenience and cessation of business, but no one apprehended serious
danger. They surveyed the providence of God without fear; little
thinking of the destruction that, swifter than the avalanche, would
presently come through the heedlessness or the greed of man.

Twelve miles up the river, eastward, and at an elevation of four hundred
and fifty feet above the city, lay Conemaugh Lake. This was an
artificial reservoir, covering four hundred, or perhaps four hundred and
fifty acres of land, and having an average depth of thirty feet. Across
the south fork of the Conemaugh, about two miles above its junction with
the main stream, had been built a dam, sixty-two feet high in the
center, and eight hundred and fifty feet long. The valley, narrow at the
dam, widened above into an extensive basin. Proposed in 1836, and
authorized three years later, this reservoir had been finally
constructed in 1852, as a feeder to the Pennsylvania canal, fourteen
miles below. A culvert at the bottom of the dam contained fine iron
discharge pipes, each two feet in diameter, which could be opened at low
water thus sending the contents of the reservoir to the canal at
Johnstown. In 1857, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, having bought the
canal, abandoned it, and the reservoir was thenceforth disused. In July,
1862, the culvert beneath it gave way, owing to some imperfection of the
foundation. The depth of water in the reservoir was, at the time, not
greater than forty feet; hardly more than half its actual capacity. The
breach widened into a chasm, and the water of the reservoir was
discharged, with the exception of about eight feet at the bottom; but so
slow was the process, owing to the substantial character of the dam, and
the resistance it presented, that little harm resulted.

From 1862 to 1880, the reservoir was empty, and the property, containing
something more than five hundred acres, was a waste. In 1875 it was
bought by Congressman John Reilly, and was by him, four years later,
transferred to the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. This was an
association of three gentlemen; suggested and organized by Colonel B. F.
Ruff, a successful railroad and tunnel contractor. All these parties had
ceased from membership in the club prior to the great disaster.

The original dam, constructed with care and solidity, had involved an
expenditure of $240,000. It was built in regular layers and solidly
rammed, and when finished was higher in the middle than at the ends,
having a spill-way cut through rock in the side of the hill. The cost of
reconstruction was no more than $17,000. No engineer, good or bad, had
charge of the work. The material used was, for the most part, not more
substantial than shale and earth and straw. The pipes at the bottom were
permanently closed, and as the dam advanced, the water was discharged
through a board flume over the top. It was at first intended to raise
the new dam to a height of no more than forty feet, but it was presently
discovered that to cut down the spill-way through rock would cost more
than to construct the dam to the original elevation. This was
accordingly done, though not perfectly, as the dam was two or three feet
lower than the old one, and had, besides, a sag in the middle. A fatal
mistake, if once the water should begin to flow over the crest.

Another mistake was the obstruction of the spill-way with an iron
grating placed to retain the fish, without taking the precaution at the
same time to enlarge the passage. This would have been expensive; and
here, as in the construction of the dam, it is apparent that economy was

The sum of the mistakes made in the summer of 1880, and which culminated
in the disaster of 1889, were, according to the report of a corps of
engineers, who made a careful survey, “the lowering of the crest, the
dishing, or central sag of the crest, the closing of the bottom culvert,
and the obstruction of the spill-way.”

The people of the towns below had often discussed the possible rupture
of the dam, but they scarcely feared it. Had it not been built by men
who understood their business; and might not these be trusted, as men
trust their lives to the doctor and their souls to the priest? Had it
not resisted the flood of June, 1887--the highest ever known--and why
then should it yield to any other? It is certain that in the towns below
some were not thinking of the reservoir at all; while, in case it should
give way, few had formed the remotest conception of the possible
disaster. On the very day of the awful calamity, when the streets and
sidewalks of Johnstown were already under water, a leading citizen, to
the question, “How much higher do you think the water will rise if the
reservoir should burst?” answered quietly, “About two feet;” and we have
not heard that any ventured to correct the estimate.

Unsuspecting souls were they, and yet wholly like other men. Those long
resident by the volcano have ceased to fear its fires. Familiarity, even
with danger, breeds contempt. The evil which still delays, we fondly
believe will never come. And as to the consequences, if those who build
dams know so little, why should simple townsmen be expected to know
more? Had they guaged that reservoir, and did they know that up there in
the mountains were six hundred and forty millions of cubic feet of
water, enough to make a veritable Niagara, for more than half an hour,
ready to rush down upon them? Had they calculated the awful energy of
twenty millions of tons of water falling four hundred and fifty feet in
a progress of a dozen miles; and this progress down a pent-up valley, in
some places not more than three hundred feet in width? Had they
considered that the flow of a mountain of water, sixty feet high at
starting, must be far more rapid on the top than at the bottom? That the
base, entangled among obstructions, and overspreading them, would
furnish to the water above, an inclined plane, smooth as glass, along
which it would shoot with the speed of an arrow, to fall over the edge
of the retarded water beneath, and furnish in its turn a ready passage
for the water above and behind? That in consequence of this law, the
flood would come not by a gradual rise, giving time for escape, but like
a rolling mountain, to smite with the impact of a falling asteroid, and
crush in an instant everything in its way? Had they reflected that such
a body of water would outrun the swiftest Paul Revere who might mount
steed to fly with the warning to the towns below? That to the doomed,
the first announcement of danger would be the stroke of the destroyer?
That to the living there would be absolutely no more time for flight
than to the sinner, of preparation for judgment after Gabriel shall have
blown his trumpet? It is safe to say that few, if any, had even remotely
conceived the possibilities in the case. Men learn by experience, and
even from experience they fail to learn; for the lesson of to-day is
forgotten to-morrow: and human heedlessness is perpetual.

The crest of the dam stood four or five feet above the spill-way.
Towards noon of the 31st, persons on the watch saw the water of the
reservoir rising at the rate of a foot an hour. Meanwhile a rumor had
spread that the dam was leaking, and this attracted other observers.
Some declared that jets of water were leaping from the lower side to a
distance of thirty feet. Somewhere about half-past two o’clock water
began to run over the top. The structure was then evidently doomed; for,
though riprapped with stone on both slopes, no rampart of earth could
long withstand the abrasion of a torrent running over its crest, and
down its lower face. A South Fork pastor reached the spot at ten minutes
before three. A foot of water was then running over the dam. A few
minutes later a break was made “large enough to admit the passage of a
train of cars;” then presently the whole thing dissolved almost
instantly, like a phantom. A breach was made four hundred and
twenty-nine feet wide clean down to the bottom, and with the noise of
seven thunders and a tread that shook the hills like a young earthquake,
out rushed a mountain of water “tree-top high.” At such a sight the awed
spectator could only gasp, “God have mercy on the people in the vale
below.” Rushing onward a mile in three minutes, or as some have claimed,
twice or thrice as fast, in an instant down went a mill, two houses and
some barns, up went an iron bridge tossed like a thing of straw, and a
moment later the flood was at South Fork. Two trains, a passenger and a
freight, detained by a wash-out further up the road, were standing at
the station. Warned by the awful roar, the passenger train sprang out
just in time to save the lives of the people on board. The engineer of
the freight, seeing it impossible to move with his heavy train,
unhitched the locomotive, opened the throttle-valve, and with the
fireman, flew for life. The seething mountain leaped on the train and
dragged it away, regardless

[Illustration: THE BROKEN DAM.]

of two brakemen, who surrendered their lives. The village of South Fork,
standing in the angle above the junction of two streams, and on high
ground, was comparatively unharmed, though two lives and considerable
property were destroyed.

On rushed the river down a valley, having from the lake to Johnstown an
average grade of more than thirty feet in a mile. A mile and a quarter
below South Fork the river strikes at right angles a projecting cliff.
The baffled stream makes a detour of two miles and returns almost into
itself, having accomplished an absolute advance of no more than
seventy-five feet. A railroad cut no longer than this quits the river
above, then regains and crosses it by a viaduct below. The railroad bed
at the upper end of the cut is twenty feet above the stream, while at
the lower end it is seventy. Here the torrent divided; a part of it,
twenty feet deep and forty feet above the river-bed, flowing through the
cut, the other part following the channel around. When this latter
portion returning struck the cliff at the lower end of the cut, the
water rose to the enormous height of one hundred and twenty-five feet.
From this point the monster, towering to heaven, and like a “wild beast
dreadful and terrible and strong exceedingly,” and ravening for prey,
sprang upon Mineral Point, a little more than a mile below. The town was
instantly “wiped out,” forty houses being swept away and sixteen persons
drowned. The rest doubtless were saved by clinging to the wreck; or
warned by the ominous roar, they had fled to the neighboring hills. The
Methodist church, lifted from its foundation and tossing on the torrent,
solemnly, and for the last time tolled its bell, as if recognizing the
end of its days and usefulness; and continued to toll until its burial
was accomplished beneath the waters.

Two miles and a half below Mineral Point the flood encountered another
bend of the river, with a cut and viaduct in all respects similar to
that which has been described. Here again was enacted the grand and
terrific scene which took place above. Then from this augmented height
the torrent swept down upon East Conemaugh and Franklin, a mile below.
These villages standing on opposite sides of the river, constituted the
first of that series of boroughs known by the name of Johnstown.

An engineer, backing up the road, and pulling at the nose of his
locomotive a train of freight cars, had proceeded a third of a mile
above Conemaugh. Here the roar of the coming flood broke upon his ears,
and looking up the river he saw the descending avalanche. Instantly
reversing his engine and drawing the throttle, his whistle all the while
shrieking a wild alarm, he pushed at utmost speed the obstructing cars
back to the yard of the Pennsylvania road. Then leaping from his engine,
and leaving his whistle still to sound its warning, he ran to his house
near by, and with his family escaped to the hill just as the rolling
torrent dashed its billows at his feet.

Three passenger trains and one freight had been standing on the
side-tracks some hours, detained by the wash-out already mentioned. The
passengers were reading, writing, conversing, worrying, walking up and
down the tracks in the rain, or watching the driftwood and the
constantly rising river, but conscious of no danger. Something was said
about a reservoir somewhere up the road, which might burst and come down
upon them, but they gave the matter no second thought. Twice was one of
the trains compelled to move, as the water undermined the track, and
caused it to fall into the river. Once they were startled by the crash
of a bridge, which yielded to

[Illustration: FLEEING ENGINE.]

the rushing waters, and was swept away. It was near the hour of four in
the afternoon, and they were still wearily waiting. Suddenly they were
startled by the long, shrill shriek, close to their ears, of engineer
Hess’ whistle, and looking out of their windows up the river, they saw
an enormous mass of wreckage, roots, trees, and driftwood borne aloft on
the back of the torrent, and rushing toward them. With one impulse, the
most of the passengers leaped from the trains and fled for their lives.
Those in the first train had to run round, or creep under the second in
order to reach the town, and thence the hill. Between the trains and the
town there was a ditch ten feet wide, and five and a half feet deep, and
filled with water. Into this, many plunged--nine women and girls
together. A gentleman who had leaped across tarried a moment to give a
helping hand, and all were rescued, save one, an aged woman. She was
apparently dazed; for, refusing the proffered hand, she said, “I will go
this way,” walked toward the maddened waters, and was lost. The rest
fled amain to the rising ground near by, with the raging torrent not ten
feet behind them. Gaining the hill they turned to behold a grand and
awful scene--the crashing, tumbling buildings lifted from their
foundations and hurled against each other; the shrieks and cries and
screams of agonizing, despairing, dying men and women, and all Conemaugh
going down in the fierce river. The round-house sprang from its seat
like a toy tossed from a giant’s hand, and more than thirty great
locomotives were rolled along “like so many pebbles.” All the trains
were carried away. In some of the cars the passengers could yet be seen,
while on the top of one car, loosened from the rest, were two men
struggling desperately to keep their hold as it rolled from side to
side. The whole four trains drifted down about five hundred feet, when
they were stopped in a singular manner. Some inexplicable movement of
the water lifted the head of one train and threw it across that of the
other. Engines from the round-house were rolled down and piled against
these, a mass of trees and drift were added, and the whole four trains,
with the exception of two or three cars, were arrested and anchored in
the midst of the flood.

But, though the whistle was a warning, and the hills were a refuge to
the people of East Conemaugh, the lives of twenty-four were lost; while
of the passengers on the trains, twenty-six are known to have perished.

One family were carried down in their house, which held together till it
drifted against the steep hillside, some distance below, where it was
arrested long enough for them to make their escape.

Two sisters, clinging to driftwood, were being swept past the woolen
mill in Woodvale, when a rope was thrown to them and they were saved.

One man was carried on a drifting log clear through Johnstown and over
into Kernville, to find deliverance at the end of a wild, three-miles
ride. Another, overtaken at the fair grounds, climbed on the ticket
shed, and thence upon a telephone pole. This being quickly broken down
by the impact of some solid body, he mounted a passing log and dashed
ahead all the way to the stone bridge, a distance of more than two
miles. Here he took hold of some wreckage, and by the backwater was
carried to Main street, near the Presbyterian church, whence he worked
his way to final safety.

A quarter of a mile below East Conemaugh was the town of Woodvale. The
story of its calamity has few details, since all its five thousand
inhabitants were either drowning or engaged in a mad struggle for their
lives. Every one of its eight hundred houses was lifted in a minute--not

[Illustration: WRECK OF THE TRAINS.]

remained; nothing but parts of the walls of the large woollen and flour
mills. To the hills forty or sixty rods distant, not many succeeded in
escaping. Relatively but few attempted it, for when the whistles sounded
the alarm, the hills were too distant and the flood was too near. Such
as fled were overtaken by the raging waters, and, to make destruction
doubly sure, a freight train was standing between them and the hill, and
this at the supreme moment, began to move. Thus many perished when there
was but a step between them and deliverance. The houses were mostly
frames, and the people were commonly swept away with their shattered
dwellings. We know there were thousands of wonderful escapes, the
recital of which would fill a bulky volume; but more than one-third of
the total population were quickly counted with the dead.

Laden with corpses and debris gathered from five towns; with cars and
trees and all the nameless accumulation from a valley twelve miles long,
the torrent now swept down on Conemaugh Borough. This in turn was
quickly swept away, though more of the inhabitants succeeded in escaping
to the hills. At the lower end of the borough were the Gautier Mills, a
part of the great Cambria Iron Company’s plant. These occupied perhaps
ten or twelve acres of ground. When the flood struck them with their
hundreds of fierce fires, there were thunderous explosions that shook
the hills, and the whole seemed to rise up at once and slide forward on
the slanting flood. One or two experiences from this part of the town
must suffice for hundreds more. One lady drifted far down across the
Seventh Ward and lay all night among the wreckage, within easy reach of
seven dead persons, while the luxuriant hair of a dead woman drifted
frequently across her face, half buried beneath the water. A wealth
German lady, a prominent member of the Lutheran church, said, “My son
Henry and his wife, my son Charles and my son-in-law were all drowned;
my pastor and his wife and four nice little children were lost; there is
not one brick of our good, big church left on top of another; and here
is the key, which alone remains. I think my heart must break from
overmuch sorrow.” A few days later she sank into the grave.



                    “They shall sleep
    Where death may deal not again forever,
    Where change may come not till all change end.
    From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
    Who have left naught living to ravage and rend.
    Earth, stones and thorns, of the wild ground growing,
    While the sun and the rain live, these shall be,
    Till a last wind’s breath, upon all these blowing,
                            Roll the sea.”

           *       *       *       *       *

    And till in his triumph, where all things falter,
    Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
    Like a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
                        Death lies dead.”

The Johnstown flood has no parallel in suddenness and destructiveness,
save in the convulsions of the earthquake and volcano, agencies which
will be noticed shortly, but which have never wrought such serious havoc
in our own land as elsewhere. But the most deplorable feature of this
terrible calamity is, that it might easily have been averted. It was due
entirely to the culpable carelessness of a club of wealthy
pleasure-seekers. It would be senseless to prate of “mysteries of
Providence” in this connection.

Nothing can give so clear an idea of the exact character of the terrible
flood--totally different from the overflow of a river--than the personal
narratives of survivors. A chapter devoted to these will be of interest,
and serve also to illustrate the breaking up of family and social ties
that are an inevitable consequent of great calamities of every kind.

The flood was slightly less sudden at Johnstown proper than higher up
the valley. Yet, to the inhabitants, in every part of the city, it was
almost instantaneous. All narrators agree in the statement that they
were taken completely by surprise. Few of them, whether by sound of
whistle, or sight of cloud, or of coming torrent, had so much as a
minute’s warning. Mr. Rose seems to have had the longest notice of any.
He reckons less than three minutes after he looked from his window and
saw the flood a mile above, before his house fell, and himself and
family were struggling beneath the water. His carriage-house was broken,
perhaps three minutes in advance of his dwelling. The water which
overthrew it was a sort of advance guard preceding the main body. This
partial division of forces was doubtless due to the two great bends in
the river, which have already been described, or rather to one of them,
since one would have nearly the effect of two. The upper bend was two
miles round, while the railroad cut across the neck was only
seventy-five feet. The smaller portion of water pouring through the cut
got nearly two miles the start of the main body, which had to flow round
the bend. The water which got the start at the first cut had to flow
round the second bend, not being high enough to command the short way
through the second cut. Practically, therefore, the distribution of
water made at two bends and cuts was only a little more than that which
was made at one. Had there been no bends and railroad cuts between
Conemaugh Lake and Johnstown; had the flood been confined for the entire
distance to a single channel, then the towns below would have recognized
no previous swell whatever; a single gigantic wall of water would have
struck Johnstown as distinctly as it struck South Point; the
inhabitants, in most cases, would not have had time even to reach their

[Illustration: MILL CREEK.]

upper stories; the wave, even more than it did, would have crushed as
with the single blow of a mighty hammer, and the number of survivors who
could tell a tale of wonderful deliverance would have been
correspondingly diminished. The lesson of these facts is for those who
dwell below dams or reservoirs. If there be nothing in the nature of the
channel to distribute the water, and the rupture be instantaneous, the
destruction of life and property will be awful to contemplate.

At the Gautier Works, the flood, while extending over all the valley,
was yet parted into three principal divisions. One of these, following
the course of the Conemaugh, rushed down against the foot of the hill,
just above the Stone Bridge, and would have instantly swept away that
magnificently solid structure, had it not stood parallel to, rather than
at right angles with the torrent; another turning to the left, swept
across Conemaugh Borough and the upper wards of Johnstown, destroying
hundreds of stone buildings, the German Lutheran church, and the Hulbert
House; while the third swept straight down through the middle of the
city, demolishing the Y. M. C. A. Hall, the Municipal buildings, and
scores of the finest residences. This last, turned into a reverse
current by the damming of the water at the bridge, was presently rolled
back, to ensure the destruction of whatever had escaped in its downward

Thousands of people, drifted from the towns above, were dead already, or
still struggling in the water; and to these were now quickly added many
thousands more. Of the people of Johnstown, it may be said that not a
soul had time to fly. We hear nothing at all about escapes to the hills.
At the scream of the warning whistle, some were startled, and looked up
the river. According to their place in the town, they saw, at the
distance of a mile, half a mile, or only a hundred yards away, an
ominous and inexplicable dark cloud, which might be smoke or spray,
hanging upon the surface of the water. They felt that something unusual
had taken place, but of its nature they were not well aware. Those who
saw it at the greatest distance had hardly time to scramble to the upper
stories of their dwellings, before, even there, they found themselves
struggling in the water; while the vast majority, on looking forth, saw
buildings, not a half block above them, already leaping from their
foundations. Simultaneous with the roar and rush of the torrent, came
the crash of houses, the shrieks and cries of men, women and children,
the revolution of everything as in a kaleidoscope, and then, driven with
the speed of a race-horse, houses, furniture, cars, locomotives,
railroad tracks, the Gautier plant, animals alive and dead, trees,
lumber and infinite wreckage were rushed onward to be jammed and piled
at the railroad bridge in a maze of ruin fifty feet high and covering
forty acres of ground. Here the laboring waters finding no ready exit,
were in part turned to the left up Stony Creek, and in part rolled
swiftly backward across the center of the city, bearing the drift on
their bosom, and in some instances dropping shattered houses within a
square or two of their former places. The wreckage above the bridge,
entangling and holding fast, hundreds, if not thousands, as well of the
living as the dead, presently caught fire, thus adding, through all the
long awful night, to the horrors of flood, the fiercer horrors of flame.
From the roaring conflagration, a sickly, baleful gleam was thrown
through a mile radius of surrounding gloom; but like the Miltonic fires
of perdition, from those flames

    “No light, but rather darkness visible,
     Served only to discover sights of woe.”

Some say they saw hundreds throw themselves backward into the flames,
to perish, and the record of the morgues, showing how often a charred
arm or leg or half a body was interred, prove that upon many, dead or
alive, the fire did its awful work, while in many cases, doubtless, it
was done so effectually that not a remnant could be found.

As the night drew on, St. John’s Roman Catholic church which had
successfully withstood the angry waters, was seen to be on fire, driving
out the miserable creatures that had taken refuge in it, and with its
fierce heat scorching those on the surrounding drift, till they were
fain to relax their hold and drop into the water. Those flames, as they
climbed the beautiful spire and seized the emblem of Christianity on its
lofty top, seemed to mock the confidence of those who in their last
extremity were still clinging to the cross. In the tower of the Lutheran
church, near to Stony Creek, the town clock was still sustained far
above the raging waters. The flood had struck the city at four, and as
the hour of five drew on, when drifting corpses were now everywhere, and
thousands clinging to the wreck lay at the mercy of the flood or flame,
the mechanism of the clock serenely moving brought the hands to mark the
hour, and slowly five times the ponderous hammer smote the massive bell,
tolling the knell of thousands which that hour had rushed into eternity.
On the ears of the living, the sound of those slowly beating strokes
fell with a horrible sensation; for at the end of another hour would be
tolled a dirge for them. There was something terrible in the calmness of
that clock, faithfully telling the flight of Father Time, reckless
whether he had brought joy or woe to mortal men.

But not engulfing flood, nor burning temple, nor holocaust of victims at
the bridge could shake the steadfast confidence of many in their God.
One little boy, when his mother and the rest were clinging in the drift
at the

[Illustration: AT THE STONE BRIDGE.]

bridge, asked, “Mamma, where is that God that Mr. Beale and Mr. Moore
told us about, and said that he would save us?” but another little boy,
despairing of temporal deliverance, was heard closing his prayer with
the beautiful words of the 23rd Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy
rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” A son asked his mother, “Will we
die?” She answered, “I can not tell; but one thing I _do_ know, that God
does all things well, and if he wants us to-night, he will take us; if
not, he will find a way for our escape. We will go and sit down and see
what the Lord will do.” A pastor, just escaped with his family to the
third story, and waist-deep in water, before he could reach it,
instantly opened and read from the family Bible, which he had caught up
in his flight: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in
trouble; therefore, will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and
though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the
waters thereof roar and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the
swelling thereof.” One of the sweetest singers in the city had retreated
with her family to the attic; the house was lifted and apparently moving
to destruction, when, to soothe her children and her husband, she calmly
sang, “Jesus, lover of my soul.” While she continued to sing, the end of
a large tree, having great roots, was driven through the house,
anchoring it firmly just in the edge of Stony Creek River. A man who was
carried over the Stone Bridge, saw a lady on a piece of wreckage
shooting down the valley of death, and heard her singing those same
immortal words of Charles Wesley; written by him at night, by a feeble
spark, in a spring-house, where he was hiding from a raging mob:

    “Jesus, lover of my soul,
       Let me to thy bosom fly,
     While the raging waters roll,
       While the tempest still is high.”

A venerable man was seen upon his knees, with clasped hands, gazing
steadfastly at the cross above St. John’s Roman Catholic church; while
another, converted the previous winter, full of faith, and always
rejoicing in hope, was last seen kneeling upon the roof of his house,
riding with the torrent, and shouting, “Glory to God.”

The narratives of the survivors, whether from the upper, middle, or
lower portions of the city, all alike serve to show that the suddenness
of the doom could only be equalled by its awful horror.

The Hulbert House, built of brick, and one of the finest hotels in
Johnstown, stood in the upper portion of the city. There were about
sixty persons in it at the time of the catastrophe, and of these, the
lives of forty-nine were lost. Many of these were in the office, when an
unusual whistling of engines was heard. Imagining a fire had broken out
in the midst of the flood, they all ran to the upper stories, except the
proprietor, the clerk, and one guest. Two or three minutes later, the
clerk walked to the window, and looked across the Conemaugh in the
direction of Prospect Hill, and seeing what he mistook for a great cloud
of dust, exclaimed, “My God, the hill is falling!” At that, the
proprietor ran to the door, and looking up the street, realized at once
the situation. Directing the other two to hasten upstairs and spread the
alarm, he ran to the kitchen to warn the girls; then fleeing to the
fourth floor, he reached it just as the building fell. One of the few
survivors declares that the catastrophe overtook nearly all the guests
no further advanced than to the foot of the stairway on the third floor,
and as yet unapprized of the nature of their danger.

Rev. D. M. Miller, pastor of the Presbyterian church in East Conemaugh,
had his home in Johnstown. To him and his family the deluge came without
a moment’s warning. They were in an upper room, fearing, suspecting
nothing, till they saw houses not half a square away starting from their
places, reeling and crackling onward over fences, telephone poles and
fruit-trees, and jostling against each other. Before they could fly in
any direction, they were waist-deep in water. Beneath the lower sash
which was raised, Mr. Miller sprang out upon some floating timbers,
urging his wife to follow. She, however, mounted the bed, which being
instantly forced up to the ceiling she was almost smothered. The water
had closed the opening beneath the sash, and up to her neck in water she
now set herself desperately to effect an opening at the top of the
window, but she only tore her hands in the vain attempt to wrench away
the slat. Mr. Miller, by this time recovering from his first plunge,
with one hand caught hold of the spout beneath the eaves, and with the
other, battered through two panes of glass, cutting himself badly.
Drawing up one foot, with it he now kicked out the sash, when his wife
dived out under the lintel, expecting to reach footing on the roof of a
small porch below. The porch, however, was gone, and she disappeared
deep beneath the turbid flood. A moment later, by some violent
ebullition of the water, she was thrown to the surface, and at once laid
hold on the spout. Meanwhile, the house was drifting rapidly toward
Stony Creek. When the vast number of houses adrift struck the hill
beyond the stream there was a fearful rebound; many houses were crushed
to splinters, many were upset, and scores of clinging wretches were
mangled, killed, or plunged into the water and drowned. The current,
arrested by the hill, divided; a part turned to the left up Stony
Creek, carrying many houses nearly a mile; part turned to the right, to
add its freightage of life and ruin to the already tremendous gorge
above the bridge, while between these currents a central portion was
rolled back in the direction whence it came. On this portion Mr.
Miller’s house was carried, till wandering round and having described
two-thirds of a complete circle, by the subsidence of the water it found
rest at last not more than a hundred yards from its original position.
During much of this journey the pastor and his wife, up to their necks
in water, and battered and bruised incessantly by the terrible drift,
were clinging to the spout. At last two of their neighbors being in some
manner, incomprehensible to themselves, thrown upon the roof and sitting
on the comb, after a time espied beneath the eaves the heads of the
unfortunate couple. To creep down to the edge of the steep roof,
slippery through incessant rain and recover the pastor and his wife was
an undertaking fraught with extreme peril, yet these men, as did
hundreds more in this awful hour, freely risked their lives in the
effort to save others. A little later a woman and a boy were recovered,
and brought to the same roof, on the comb of which six persons now sat
until nightfall, when the house having ceased from its wanderings, they
managed to creep into the attic. This being unfinished, there was no
floor on which even the sick could lie; so, in the dark, in their torn
and wet and filthy garments, through all the long, dreary hours of an
endless night, through the forenoon of the following day, and until the
middle of the afternoon, on a narrow board, they sat together until the
rescuers came. Then there was a laborious clambering over broken houses
and great piles of wreck, a tramp of half a mile through mud and water,
when they found at last rest and refuge and friends. Twenty-eight hours


had passed without a wink of sleep or a morsel of food, while their
wounds and bruises were such as for a time to render doubtful their

Mr. Calliver, a machinist, had his dwelling in one of the upper wards of
the city. His wife, an invalid, had not walked for seven years. He was
watching the flood, and telling his neighbors that the worst was already
past, when, looking up the river, he saw houses bounding from their
places and skurrying towards him. He shouted to his family at once to
flee to the attic, but, before they could reach it they were knee-deep
in water. The house was floated, and borne swiftly away, but fortunately
did not turn over. It drifted out of the main current, struck upon
something, and was held fast, while other buildings were drifted onward.
Union street school house was near, and to this place, late in the
afternoon, by clambering over the accumulated drift, it became possible
to escape. Here they found themselves in the company of nearly two
hundred others rescued in various ways. Some were crippled, some were
shivering with cold, and all had lost their nearest and dearest friends.
Many were in awful suspense concerning the fate of loved ones. A
sleepless, endless night dragged its slow hours along, and when at last
Mr. Calliver, watching anxiously from the roof, saw the first gleam in
the east, he cried out in an ecstasy, “It is morning! it is morning!”
After deliverance came, being curious to know what it was that had so
opportunely arrested his floating house, he made examination, and found
that, of several open cars that had drifted into the neighborhood, one
had dropped endwise into a cellar, and his house driven upon the end
that was elevated had been penetrated with the shaft of the brake-wheel,
and securely held in that place.

Rev. David J. Beale, D.D., pastor of the Presbyterian church, to whose
authentic and thrillingly interesting book “Through the Johnstown
Flood,” we are principally indebted for our statement of facts, and to
which the reader is referred for a fuller account, records an
experience, which, like those already narrated, serves to show that the
visitation was as sudden as it was awful. His first intimation of the
coming ruin was a roar, increasing like that of an approaching train,
and a moment later the torrent had struck his residence. Urging in
advance of him his family and two neighbors who were present, he rushed
up stairs, and reaching the second floor found himself already
waist-deep in water. At that instant, a man was shot by the force of the
current through the window, and to the sudden interrogatories, “Who are
you? Where did you come from?” breathless and strangling, he could only
answer, “Woodvale.” He had been carried on a floating roof a mile and a
quarter, and as it violently struck the parsonage, he was pitched from
his hold and dashed through the window. In another minute the whole
company were in the third story, witnesses, blanched and mute, of the
awful scene of destruction and death.

They recognized many acquaintances and friends riding on to death. They
saw two little children, almost nude, clinging to one roof; four young
ladies, in agonized embrace, clinging to another; houses for squares
north and west torn from their places, and the whole drawn onward, to be
crushed and jammed in the gorge below. Meanwhile, Capt. A. N. Hart, his
wife and two children, were seen struggling in the wreckage which had
drifted near the parsonage, and Mr. Beale, descending into the water in
the second story, assisted them to enter through the window. Their
arrival in the garret increased to fifteen the number of persons there

The parsonage now began to show evident signs of giving way, and it was
decided to abandon it. After an unsuccessful attempt to gain the roof,
the whole party were safely passed by means of a rope from the highest
window to a floating roof below. They had hoped to reach the church,
which still stood secure, a short distance away; but, on making the
attempt, they found themselves confronted with fifty feet of water which
could not be crossed. They now began a perilous journey over wreckage to
Alma Hall, half a square away. This was a four-story building, the
largest and strongest in the city. Their way lay over logs and roofs and
houses, fixed or moving box cars, and various debris which often
concealed them from one another. One of the young ladies, crossing open
water on a scantling, fell and disappeared, all but her floating hair,
by which she was caught and recovered. About dark they gained the hall,
and found no less than two hundred and sixty fortunate unfortunates like
themselves, rescued in wondrous ways from ghastly death.

Then followed the long night of sleepless horror, unillumined, save from
the burning church, and from the horrible holocaust at the bridge. The
suppressed moans of those with bruised bodies and broken limbs, the
crying of little children, cold and wet and hungry, and without a place
to lay their heads, the anxiety for loved ones, the mourning for them
that were certainly lost, the momentary dread lest the building should
give way and yet overwhelm all with sudden death, conspired to make it a
night never to be forgotten. Morning came at last, and then, as the sun
rose above the hills, might have been seen a curious and mournful
procession. Descending through a window, they walked and jumped, and
crawled and clambered over several blocks, filled with broken buildings,
cars, trees, furniture, bridges and dead bodies, till they reached the

What a spectacle of human misery was there presented!

[Illustration: THE GORGE AT THE BRIDGE.]

Fully three thousand people were gathered, weary, wet, cold, haggard,
hungry, homeless, shoeless, hatless, coatless, ragged, muddy, many
almost naked, gazing in mute despair, in awful anguish that could shed
no tear (for no tears were shed) upon miles of wreck, containing by the
thousand the dead bodies of husbands, wives, parents, children, lovers,
and precious friends. Could humanity be called to suffer more?

Mr. Horace W. Rose, Esq., a prominent attorney about fifty years of age,
had spent his life in Johnstown, and remembered distinctly all the great
floods it had experienced. The highest he had seen was in 1887, and he
had little fear that ever he would see another higher. He was not
alarmed when the water entered the lower story of his dwelling, but as
he saw it advance above the wash board, and with its foul freight stain
the beautiful paper recently put upon the wall, he was not without a
feeling of sadness. He conversed pleasantly with his neighbors, and
twitted their children with invitations to come across the way and make
a friendly visit. Fifteen minutes before the catastrophe he was engaged
in shooting rats, and continued the occupation until hearing a loud
crash, he ran to the back part of his house, and saw that the water had
broken down his carriage-house and was driving the carriage into the
yard. At the same moment he heard cries, the alarm of a bell, and the
loud screams of a steam whistle. Feeling that something awful must have
happened, he ran to the third floor, followed by all his family, and
looking out through a window, which permitted a view of nearly a mile up
the Conemaugh, the awful fact was at once apparent. “I saw stretching
from hill to hill, a great mass of timber, trees, roofs and debris of
every sort, rapidly advancing, wrecking and carrying everything before
it. It was then about the midst of what was known as the Gautier Works,
a department of the Cambria Iron Works, which covered perhaps ten or
eleven acres of ground. A dense cloud hung over the line of the rolling
debris, which I then supposed was the steam and soot which had arisen
from hundreds of fires in the Gautier Works as the waves rolled over
them. I stood and looked as the resistless tide moved on, and saw brick
buildings crushed in an instant pass out of sight, while frame tenements
were quickly crushed to atoms.

“Members of my family asked me if there was no escape. I answered, ‘No;
this means death to us all.’ My wife with blanched face said, ‘Won’t our
big strong house stand?’ I replied deliberately: ‘No, Maggie; no
building can stand this awful jam, and we are all lost.’

“The press of the heaving, surging mass rolled steadily on, and in less
than three minutes, as nearly as I can estimate time, from the moment I
saw the front of the angry torrent it was upon us. The great Municipal
building above me fell with a crash. The stately dwelling of my
neighbor, John Dibert, was broken to atoms. I walked rapidly to the
southeast window, and saw the front of the brick dwelling above and
adjoining mine, crushed to rubbish. Several persons were floating
directly down Main street, in front of me; a large frame building
directly opposite me careened, at the attic windows of which I saw a
number of ladies, one of whom held an infant in her arms; there was a
crash, a sensation of falling, a consciousness that I was in the water,
and all was dark. A moment later, I felt the press of a heavy shock, a
sense of excruciating pain, involving my right breast, shoulder and arm.
The thought came upon me that I was being crushed to death, that I could
not long endure the agony I then suffered, and that death would come
soon. I watched for the change, expecting in a moment to know the
reality of eternity. I heard the moan of my eldest son, who was at my
side when the crash came.

“I felt myself struggling, with my left hand clutching at something, I
know not what. I heard the voice of my youngest son, as I thought,
imploring me to aid him. I told him I was powerless to succor him. A
moment later I realized that he was endeavoring to have me reach a
higher elevation, when I told him my whole right side was crushed; he
came to my relief and aided me in getting upon a fragment of the slate
roof. A moment after, a little boy whom I had sheltered, appeared and
informed me that my wife was drowned; he had barely made this
announcement when I saw my only daughter, June, rise up out of the water
among the debris to perhaps her waist, and immediately sink out of
sight. As she sank, I saw my wife rise out of the water to about her
waist, and almost immediately sink out of sight; a moment after, they
rose together, and I saw my son Winter, a lad of twenty years, a strong,
robust person, and heard him say, ‘Ma, hold on to me, and I can save
you.’ I was lying on my side, perhaps twenty or twenty-five feet distant
from where my wife, daughter and son were struggling, the skin torn from
the right side of my face, the blood flowing profusely from the wound,
the skin torn from the back of my left hand, my right collar-bone
broken, my shoulder-blade fractured, the ribs crushed in upon my lung,
my right arm from shoulder to wrist lying limp on my side, powerless to
give aid or assistance to my loved ones. At this moment a young man
seemed to shoot up and out of the debris at my side; I realized that he
was an acquaintance, but could not name him. I at once, however,
addressed him, saying, ‘Young man, won’t you go and help Winter save my
wife and daughter? I am helpless; my whole right side and arm are
crushed.’ He made no reply, but


at once hastened across the debris, and aided in relieving my wife from
the timbers in which she was pinioned. Then he immediately disappeared
from my sight; but I afterward learned he was Harry Philips, who was
reared in Johnstown, was then practicing his profession of dentistry in
Pittsburg; was home on a visit, and in the house of Dr. L. T. Beam, and
was the only person who escaped with his life, while his mother, niece,
nephew and brother-in-law were lost in the flood. My eldest son had
disappeared. I believed I had heard his dying moan. All the other
inmates of my house at the time it was struck, were now floating on
different fragments of houses, and being rushed with fearful velocity in
a westerly course to and across the Stony Creek River.

“They saw a stout roof on the edge of the debris and succeeded in
reaching it; an old lady on bended knees and holding with her hands,
floated by on a shutter, and Winter assisted her to gain the roof; the
current suddenly turned and swept them rapidly up Stony Creek, a
distance of half a mile; they came to rest above Morris street in the
Fifth Ward, and lay for a considerable time; some inexplicable force
then carried them across the river, and they lay for a while in the
mouth of Franklin street; the Catholic church was on fire, and the town
clock struck five; a cold and pitiless rain poured down upon them; the
current now changed and buildings and wreckage were borne rapidly down
the stream; as houses were broken to pieces, clinging wretches with wild
shrieks sank to watery graves; the two sons were separated from the
remainder of the family on the roof; it drifted once more down the
stream, was struck by a heavier building and pushed upon the bank; over
various drift they climbed till they reached a three-story brick which
stood intact; they entered it just as the town clock struck six--two
awful hours, and yet no member of the family lost. Happier far their
fate than that of many others. The two boys returned to their parents at
four o’clock the next day.”

These incidents will suffice. Thousands of the same sort might be given.
No wonder that many were crazed with grief. One woman, wife and mother,
sole survivor of a happy family, was found sitting in the wreck, holding
in her arms her family clock which she had found. She told her story
without a tear. Her mind was unbalanced. A man who had never been known
to touch liquor was found the day after the flood, reeling to the
bridge, drunk and raving, determined to drown himself. In agony at the
loss of all he held dear, he had taken to drink, that he might remember
his misery no more; but in vain: whisky could not destroy his terrible
memories. Talmage in a letter to the New York _World_, said: “Such an
avalanche of horrors never slipped upon any American city. Horrors piled
on horrors, woe augmenting woe; bankruptcy, orphanage, widowhood,
childlessness, obliterated homesteads, gorged cemeteries and scenes so
excruciating it is a marvel that any one could look upon them and escape
insanity * * * *

“Was the work of devastation as great as I supposed? Far worse. Types
can not tell it. Only the eye can make revelation. But the worst part of
it can not be seen. The heart-wreck caused by the sudden departure of so
many can be open only to one eye, and that the All-Seeing. Think of one
family of fourteen all dead except one, and that the wife and mother,
and she the witness of their drowning. I saw the grave trench in which
two hundred and sixty were buried, and the whole graveyard like a
national cemetery, in which the unrecognized dead have a particular
number placed above them and are recorded in the undertaker’s rooms
with a description of the body and clothes.”

On many a life a shadow has been cast that will never be lifted. Many a
heart will ache until it breaks. One who had lost wife and children and
was alone, whose verses and whose name the world has never heard, more
than thirty years ago wrote the following most touchingly beautiful
lines, which will find an echo in the hearts of thousands of survivors
of the Johnstown flood, as well as among countless millions of others in
every age of the world:

    Down by the cedar sitting,
      Lonely and sad and still,
    Watching the shadows flitting
      Over the distant hill.
    Yearning for by-gone hours,
      Never again to come;
    Longing for beauteous flowers,
      Never again to bloom.

    Ever there flits before me
      A shadowy form and face;
    Ever it hovers o’er me,
      Wearing a nameless grace.
    Above my brow there lingers
      A breath like summer air;
    Unseen and loving fingers
      Stray through my tangled hair.

    Silence, slow creeping nigh me,
      Out from the leafy shade,
    Bringeth the dead hours by me,
      And rests on the darkening glade.

    O ye beloved of spring time,
      Can ye come back no more?
    Bending I trace your footsteps
      Over the distant shore;
    Down to the misty river,
      Into the depths of death,
    Seeking your presence ever,
      Praying with sobbing breath,
    “Can ye come back no more?”
      Echoing clear from the unseen shore,
      Answer sweet voices “No more, no more!”

    O for the pearly gates
      Of the golden nightless plain,
    Where your gentle spirit waits
      For the hour we meet again.

    Out from the darkness, soft and plain,
    Comes the glad echo, “_We meet again_.”



    “Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)
     Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
     And saw within the moonlight of his room,
     Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
     An angel writing in a book of gold:
     Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
     And to the presence in the room he said,
    “What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
     And with a look made all of sweet accord,
     Answered: “The names of those who love the Lord.”

    “And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
     Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
     But cheerily still, and said, “I pray thee then
     Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

     The angel wrote and vanished. The next night
     It came again with a great wakening light
     And showed the names of whom love of God had blessed,
     And lo, Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!”

It goes without saying that the destitution and suffering occasioned by
the flood were fearful. Everywhere might be seen hundreds of sad-eyed,
disconsolate, almost famished creatures, groping about the wreck, almost
unconscious of present necessities by reason of present woe. Scores were
compelled to drag their precious dead from the wreck and bury them with
their own hands--a trying task. Other scores found never a trace of many
whom they sought. Hundreds of telegrams of anxious inquiries will never
be answered.

The pressing necessities of the hungry people soon drove many to seek
escape from the place. Yet all railroads were damaged, and in Johnstown
itself one could hardly get about the streets. A stranger describes it
as it appeared on June 1:

“Johnstown proper was partly a lake, partly several small streams,
partly a vast sandy plain, and partly clusters of more or less ruined
houses. Around, among, between, inside and on top of these houses,
wherever the rushing torrent had been checked, were piled masses of
wreckage; trunks of mighty trees, household furniture, houses whole and
in fragments, bridges, locomotives and railroad cars, hundreds of tons
of mud and gravel. Thickly strewn through it all were hundreds of
corpses and carcasses. The only communication between this section and
the Pennsylvania Railroad and the village of Peelerville on the north,
and Kernville on the south, was across swollen torrents in skiffs, which
required constant bailing to keep them above water. From the Stone
Bridge of the Pennsylvania Road, for a distance of half a mile, no river
could be seen, simply a dense mass of drift from twenty to fifty feet
deep, apparently inextricable, bound together with miles of wire, here
blazing and there smoldering, and enveloping the bridge in a cloud of
nauseating vapor and smoke, giving unmistakable evidence of the presence
of burning flesh. Not a thoroughfare was passable for a team, and very
few for a horse. Locomotion was difficult, the mud was deep, the streets
obstructed often to the roofs of houses, the rain was incessant.

    “How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
     How complicate, how wonderful is man;
     How passing wonder He who made him such,
     Who centered in our make such strange extremes
     From different natures marvelously mixed.”

The flood quickly called forth the best and the worst exhibitions of
human nature. We shall mention first the evil, as a back-ground against
which the good may stand more conspicuous. We believe that to most men
it will be simply incomprehensible that anybody should think of adding
so much as the weight of a hair to the calamities of Johnstown, as they
were seen on the morning of that first day of June. Ghouls were quick to
enter, snatching from the living, robbing the bodies of the dead.
Johnstown doubtless had her complement of thieves, and these were
speedily reinforced by many more--crooks and jailbirds, pickpockets and
burglars, from cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Pittsburg; for
“where the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
Residents guarding silverware and other valuables were, in some
instances, overpowered in broad daylight and their goods taken away from
before their eyes. These crimes were diligently laid at the door of the
Hungarians, but better knowledge acquitted them of the charge and proved
that they were not more guilty than others.

The American, accustomed by republican training to regard himself as the
chief source of law, is never slow to take things into his own hands in
cases of extremity. We are told that a few of these ghouls were
summarily dealt with; and under the circumstances the most conservative
find it hard to condemn the grief-crazed men. One correspondent asked
Deputy Sheriff “Chall” Dick if the reports of summary execution were
true. Chall replied slowly:

“There are some men whom their friends will never again see alive.”

“Well, now, how many did you shoot?” was the next question.

“Say,” said Chall. “On Saturday morning I was the first to make my way
to Sang Hollow, to see if I could not get some food for people made
homeless by the flood. There was a car-load of provisions there, but the
vandals were on hand. They broke into the car, and in spite of my
protestations carried off box after box of supplies. I only got half a
wagon load. They were too many for me. I know when I have no show. There
was no show there, and I got out.

“As I was leaving Sang Hollow and got up the mountain road a piece, I
saw two Hungarians and one woman engaged in cutting the fingers off of
corpses to get some rings. Well, I got off that team and--well, there
are three people who were not drowned and who are not alive.”

“Where are the bodies?”

“Ain’t the river handy there?”

Another form of robber appeared in the relic-hunter. He is a phenomenon
inexplicable--at least to the writer of these pages. Why men should
think to chip off pieces of the Washington Monument, or from Lincoln’s
coffin, or from the granite sarcophagus in the great pyramid, and carry
them home and put them in a cabinet, and call people to admire them,
without thereby simply advertising themselves as vandals, passes
comprehension. Why a chip from Johnstown should be better than the same
kind of a chip from any other place, no man can tell. But the world has
always had a good stock and store of this kind of fools, well described
by our neglected and forgotten poet, Robert Pollok, as men who roamed
about the world searching for pieces of old pottery and the like, and

    “Wondered why shells were found upon the mountain-tops,
     And wondered not at that more wondrous still,
     Why shells were found at all.”

These relic-hunters, commonly of genteel appearance, were in force at
Johnstown, picking up knives, forks, silver spoons, communion
vessels--anything they could call fools like themselves to gape at
because it came from Johnstown, and sometimes judiciously preferring as
mementoes the things that were of greater value.


There were professional thieves who entered the morgues and identified,
with expressions of sorrow, their dear departed dead, strangers never
seen before, in order that they might secure the valuables found on
their persons. There were others who offered their services for the
recovery of the dead, and who were placed upon the details sent out for
that purpose, and plundered many corpses before the arrival of Mann’s
detectives pointed them out as the worst of thieves and robbers.

Besides these there were sleek scoundrels, too base and black for
respectability even in the pit, who approached weeping, orphaned,
beautiful young girls with alluring offers of jewelry and fine clothes
and delightful homes, in great cities. Their object has no need to be

It is pleasant to turn from these few ghoulish and degraded human
reptiles to the mighty army of noble men and women who succored

The story of the help rendered, how much, by whom, and in what ways can
not be detailed in this place. It will be enough to give a brief and
general statement, while for full particulars, even to the long list of
the dead, known and unknown, the reader must be referred to Dr. Beale’s
most interesting book.

The faults and evils of government have been conspicuous since man was
upon the earth. The contemplation of these has turned some
shallow-brained people into anarchists, who think the ideal state of the
race must be one in which there is no government at all.

There was no government in Johnstown while the flood was sweeping it
away. All human laws were then suspended, for there was no human power
that could enforce them. It is curious and instructive, in a condition
of complete anarchy, to note the spontaneous movements towards organized
government--movements simply evoked by the popular need. Government was
introduced into Alma Hall almost before the sun had set on that dreadful
day. Two hundred and sixty-four men, women and children, from various
directions clambering out of the debris, had been gathered there. They
were wretched enough already, but disorder would only add to their woes,
and for the sake of order, and to feel that the strongest and wisest
were at the helm, they were ready to submit themselves to command.
Accordingly, a meeting was at once called on the stairway to elect a
director to control the whole building and one of the stories, and two
subordinates to take charge of the other two stories. Orders were at
once issued that there should be no lights, lest the escaping natural
gas should explode, and that all persons having spirituous liquors
should surrender them to the directors. These orders were cheerfully

As this company was wending its mournful way the next morning to Adam
street, Dr. Beale saw a man taking some valuables, and ordered him to
put them down. With this hint as to the capabilities of bad men, he sent
a boy a little later to the nearest telegraph station with a message to
Governor Beaver to send the military. The response came soon in the
presence of the National Guard, the services of whose officers and men
were, in almost every way, of inestimable value.

But the necessity for government was instant, and could not await the
coming of a National Guard. The community called Johnstown consisted of
seven straggling boroughs, each with its own officers. Some of these
were dead, all were scattered and paralyzed, while furthermore, the
common calamity demanded common action, and this called for a single
government instead of seven. Accordingly, before the sun was high in the
heavens on that first day of June, government had been organized.
According to our Declaration of Independence, it must have been a
lawful government, for it had for its basis the consent of the governed.

But it was not a republican government; it was an absolute
monarchy--Charles L. Dick, Esq., was elected generalissimo to direct all
matters according to his will,--the best government in the world if
always there were a wise and good man at the head; for the wisdom of one
man is better than the folly of a multitude.

It makes one proud of his race as he watches this stricken community in
the midst of overwhelming sorrow and loss taking action immediately for
preservation and recovery. Barbarians would not have done it; Asiatics
would not have done it; nor would anybody else have done it so quickly
and so well as Anglo-Saxon English-speaking republicans, full of energy,
resource, and indomitable courage, and habituated to the idea of a
“government _of_ the people, _for_ the people, and _by_ the people.”

Avoiding details let us see in brief what was done.

Within eighteen hours after the flood, there was a force of three
hundred qualified policemen guarding the vaults of the First National
and Dibert’s banks, and patrolling the town. A few were armed with
shot-guns, the most with base ball clubs extracted from a wrecked store.
The size of their batons was an indication that they were not on dress
parade, but were equipped for war. Committees were quickly appointed on
finances, on supplies, on morgues, on the removal of dead animals and
debris, on police, on hospitals; and these committees entered on their
respective duties without an hour’s delay. Farmers and others were now
crowding to behold the ruin, and there were many with hearts to
sympathize and hands to aid. Dr. Wm. Caldwell, one of the oldest and
best known merchants in the place, met the wondering comers and engaged
many of them for service in the removal of the wreckage and the
recovery of the dead. Details were at once constituted and sent forth
under proper leaders for these purposes. Within a brief while, Charles
Zimmerman had removed more than two hundred dead animals, and Thos. L.
Johnson, his assistant committeeman, one of the owners of the great
plant at Moxham, had made visible progress in clearing the streets of

A crying and instant need was a hospital. Before the flood there was
only one hospital in Johnstown. This was built by the Cambria Iron
Company for the use of their own men. This hospital was now almost
instantly filled and running over; but before sunset on this memorable
Saturday, June 1st, the committee had opened another. Telephonic
communication was broken, but a boy was sent on horseback to Shoyestown
with a message to Pittsburg for hospital equipments--cots, mattrasses,
pillows, medicines and other necessities; and such was the energy of all
concerned that by two o’clock on Sunday, less than twenty-four hours
from the sending of the message, the equipment was in Johnstown. At that
time every bench and counter and even the floor was crowded with the
sick and wounded from all parts of the city.

It is impossible to describe the varied movements of that dreadful day.
There was little shelter and less food, death everywhere, and some
doubtless imprisoned in heaps of wreck, and not yet dead, but dying of
wounds, or of cold and exhaustion. The first patient in the Bedford
street hospital had been taken up, presumably dead, and carried to the
morgue; there he was found to be yet alive, was removed to the hospital
and died of congestion the next day. The claims of the dead and of the
living seemed to be equally urgent. Many of the living, for food and
shelter, pushed to the country; the farmers received them with

[Illustration: AT THE MORGUE.]

open doors. They sent wagon loads of provisions to the valley of death;
the dairymen came with milk and distributed it freely; but what was this
among so many? It is needless to say that the flood, even where
buildings had escaped wreck, had overflowed cellars and lower stories
and destroyed or badly damaged almost everything eatable in the city.

Not a few of those who survived the flood are notable for their untiring
and abundant labors. It was no time for perpetuating sectarian
differences. Dr. Beale pays a warm tribute to Father Davin, a Catholic
priest, who stood at his post, laboring with superhuman energy, though
constantly urged to take even a short rest. But he could not rest in
view of so much misery. He and Dr. Beale turned their respective
churches into morgues, and labored like heroes, incessantly. Father
Davin’s health gave way under the terrible strain, and he finally went
to the mountains; but it was too late. He died of overwork and

Nor must the work of that much abused fraternity, the newspaper
reporters be forgotten. None but reporters can appreciate the
difficulties under which those men worked; and one, a pale, earnest,
sympathetic little Philadelphian, toiled on till his health failed. He
died at the sea shore, whither he had gone to recuperate. These men we
must thank for the prompt and full reports sent throughout the country,
stirring it to prompt and energetic measures of relief.

The advantages of Christian over Asiatic civilization are never more
apparent than when the calamity of some calls for sympathy and help of
all the rest. Then, in an hour, the news is borne to every city and
hamlet in a broad continent, in another hour the press has thrown it off
in millions of sheets, and every street is vocal with the cry of the
newsboy proclaiming the disaster, millions of hearts are throbbing with
sympathy, voices from opposite sides of great cities are talking to each
other over the telephone, a meeting is called and quickly assembled,
counsel is taken, performance is prompt, and before the day is done, the
railroad train, bearing the necessary forms of aid, is flying with the
speed of the wind to the relief of the sufferers.

Not often, even in a Christian land, has relief been so prompt or so
bountiful as it was to Johnstown. Pittsburg read the news in the papers
of Saturday morning. The Mayor called a meeting for one o’clock. It was
crowded to overflowing, for the interest was intense. A committee was
appointed, and work began instantly. By four o’clock nearly twenty cars
were ready. Seventy volunteer aids were on board--all that could be
taken--and the train was flying towards Johnstown. At 10:30 P.M. Sang
Hollow, four miles from the scene of death, was reached. Here
three-quarters of a mile of track had been washed entirely away, and the
train stopped. But the men from Pittsburg stopped not. They sprang out,
and trip after trip through the mud and dark, in the use of hands and
shoulders, they bore onward their precious burdens of food for the
starving brothers and sisters. Long before daylight, the installment of
provisions--a car load and a half--was deposited at the Stone Bridge.
Further than this it was impossible to go. The flood had broken the
embankment beyond the bridge and a furious river a hundred feet wide was
sweeping through.

But while these valiant relievers were struggling forward under boxes
and parcels, the railroad management was working a veritable miracle.
Men and material were placed on the ground, the grade was restored, the
track was laid, and at seven o’clock the next morning the train was
quietly standing at the Stone Bridge!

Was ever human energy more conspicuous, or in a better cause? Some
corporations must have souls--at least, the Pennsylvania Railroad--for
this triumph was stimulated not by self-interest, but by the interests
of thousands dead or ready to perish. And it was General Superintendent
Pitcairn of the Pennsylvania Road who moved the mayor to call the
Pittsburg meeting.

The Baltimore & Ohio Road also signalized its achievements and
generosity. By Monday morning it had entered the south side of
Johnstown, bringing relief, or exit to the suffering people.
Superintendent Patton called on the villages and towns along the road to
load as many cars as they pleased, and they would be transported to
Johnstown without charge. The services of both the Baltimore & Ohio and
the Pennsylvania Roads were of inestimable value, and from first to
last, in a spirit of true philanthrophy, they co-operated with the
efforts for the relief of a stricken people.

The labors of the Pittsburg committee knew no pause nor rest for ten
days, until the State, whose duty it was in so great a calamity, stepped
in, and through the Flood Commission, took hold and continued the work.
Even then their labors did not cease, but were continued in hearty
co-operation with the officials appointed by the State. During those ten
days from the first of June to the eleventh, they had placed in the
field under the most efficient management between 6,000 and 7,000
laborers, they had supplied a population of about 30,000 people with
food; they had looked after sanitation and hospitals and morgues; they
had accomplished much in the way of opening the streets and clearing the
properties of filth and debris deposited by the flood. They had been the
ministers not only of the charities of the twin cities, Alleghany and
Pittsburg, but of other and more distant cities. These, recognizing the
integrity and efficiency of the Pittsburg committee, directed their
benefactions to them, with the request that they would control their
administration. A total of $831,295 passed into their hands; of this
$560,000 was turned over to the Flood Commission, the balance having
been expended by themselves. Of this total, $250,770 was contributed by
the cities of Pittsburgh and Alleghany.

In the ladies’ committee, Pittsburg developed another agency that was
vastly beneficial. Established in rooms of the Second Presbyterian
church, they began work on the 4th of June, and their doors thereafter
were open day and night. A special committee was always on duty and
waiting to receive every train, both of the Baltimore & Ohio and the
Pennsylvania Roads. These brought scores and hundreds of refugees who
had lost everything, and who did not doubt that in Pittsburg, at the
hands of people they had never seen, they would receive sympathy and
aid. They were met at the depots, conducted to the rooms of the
committee, fed and clothed, and sent to comfortable quarters till they
could see a way to provide for themselves. Many were seeking homes in
the country or cities beyond, and the railways generously furnished free
transportation to all who were certified by the ladies’ committee.
Situations were procured for many, and many fragments of families,
seeking permanent homes in Pittsburg, were aided even to the
anticipation of their winter supplies.

Philadelphia has long been an example to other cities, in that it has
had a permanent committee of relief, ever ready with men and means to
answer the call of some unusual distress. At the announcement of the
great calamity, this committee was at once summoned by the mayor. R. M.
McWade, city editor of the _Public Ledger_,

[Illustration: CONEMAUGH VIADUCT.]

a gentleman who had raised $25,000 and sped with it to Charleston, South
Carolina, at the time of the earthquake, was present, and at once moved
the appropriation of $5,000, saying that when the facts should become
known, ten times the sum would be required. Others did not wait for
organized effort, but hastened with medicines, surgical instruments,
shoes and carloads of prepared food--bread, butter, bacon, cheese,
coffee--to the field of disaster. Personal contributions were many and
liberal. On the 11th of June the committee placed $500,000 subject to
the order of Governor Beaver. As late as the 4th of August the committee
was induced through Dr. Pancoast to appropriate $10,000 to the Red Cross
Hospital in Johnstown. Philadelphia is truly a city of “brotherly love.”
Newsboys and bootblacks anxiously offered their mites; and in the
penitentiary hundreds of convicts gave eagerly of the hard-earned
pennies gained by working extra time, till the warden placed a limit
upon the amount each might give. The total contributions of Philadelphia
amounted to nearly $800,000.

New York went promptly to work on the 2nd of June. The churches
beginning. Monday, the 3d, liberal contributions were placed in the
hands of a committee, by individuals and corporations. The poor or bad
boys in the charity and reform schools were an example to many, for they
of their penury cast in all that they had. The boys in the House of
Refuge on Randall’s Island, gave $258.22. Perhaps such lads may be yet
worth saving.

The total amount contributed by the City of New York was very close to

Boston gave upwards of $500,000, Chicago about $200,000, Baltimore gave
liberally, and received and cared for a multitude of refugees. Fifteen
hundred rendered homeless by floods at Johnstown and elsewhere arrived
in Baltimore in one day.

We may not detail further. The reader who desires the fullest account of
what was done, and how, and by whom, must be referred to Dr. Beale’s
most interesting book. It may suffice in this place to say, that
contributions were forwarded, not only from the principal cities and
from every State in the Union, but from foreign countries. Ireland sent
$18,252.21; England, $33,158.36; Canada, $4,454.64; Mexico, $130.40;
Turkey, $876.57; Italy, $9.46; Austria, $481.70; Germany, $34,199.36;
Prussia, $100; Wales, $68.60; Saxony, $2,637.20; Persia, $50; France,
$24,511.13; Australia, $1,251.12. Total, $120,187.79. These figures
prove that there are men everywhere who love their fellow men, and that
the whole world is of kin.

The total loss in the Conemaugh valley was between $8,000,000 and
$9,000,000; the total bestowment about $3,000,000. The loss of life is
estimated variously; from 4,000 to 10,000. It will never be definitely

The aid of the sympathetic public--was it charity? No, it was duty. I
_owe_ to help my fellow man in distress just as much as I _owe_ to pay
my debts, and sometimes more. Mercy is _due_ to men no less than
justice. “If any man seeth his brother have need and shutteth up the
bowels of his compassion against him, how dwelleth the love of God in
him?” We might add: How dwelleth the love of _man_ in him? He that does
not love his fellow men is not entitled to a place among them, any more
than fleas or serpents are entitled a place in human beds.

    “That man may last, but never lives,
     Who all receives, but nothing gives;
     Whom none can love, whom none can thank,
     Creation’s blot, creation’s blank.”



    “Then--see those million worlds which burn and roll,
     Around us--their inhabitants beheld
     My spher’ed light wave in wide Heaven; the sea
     Was lifted by strange tempests, and new fire
     From earthquake rifted mountains of bright snow
     Shook its portentous hair beneath heaven’s frowns,
     Lightning and inundation vexed the plains,
     Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads
     Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled;
     When plague had fallen on man and beast and worm,
     And famine: and black blight on herb and tree.

           *       *       *       *       *

     * * and the thin air, my breath, was stained,
     With the contagion of a mother’s hate,
     Breathed on her child’s destroyer.”

Signs and wonders, grave omens, strange portents, have by the ignorant
and superstitious been believed to precede and presage the approach of
famine and pestilence. Comets have terrified the multitudes; the rabble
has quailed at the aurora, and blanched with fear at the sight of
colored rain and snow. And yet nothing is clearer than that famine is
the result of the simplest meteorological causes. A deficiency in
rainfall is sufficient cause--is almost the only cause. Elsewhere we
have noted how dependent we are upon the winds and clouds, and we need
spend no further explanation of their causes and variations.

Owing to the decidedly local character of our own rains, the probability
of a general famine in this country is very slight, though local
droughts are of continual occurrence. Europe has been affected with
serious famines at various periods; but the greatest “harvest of death”
has been in Oriental lands. During the present century there have been
two or three severe famines in Asia Minor, the last but two or three
years since. But it is in India and China, with their overcrowded
populations and lack of facilities for inter-communication, that famine
becomes most terrible in its ravages. The story of one is that of
another; a deficient rainfall, a failure of the rice crop, a multitude
eating grass, dead leaves, straw, offal--millions starving. As these
lines are written come reports of great dearth in some provinces in

One of the best known famines of recent date is the great Bengal famine
of 1866. When the rice crop failed the British government at once used
every possible means to facilitate the importation of rice and
established large systems of public works that the people might earn
money wherewith to buy. Yet it was but the chief of many great employes.
Great companies pushed great projects. The customary wages remained
steady; but rice had trebled in price. Hence, even by doing double work
the people could not procure their usual food. And no allowance had been
made for the scores of isolated villages where the news of relief
measures penetrated not. So the employed grew weaker continually and
less able to labor and earn; those unemployed perished by hundreds.
Private charity supported thousands; for the Hindoo dreads the beggars’
curse as much as the loss of caste. The women added their labors to
those of the laboring husbands, but this did not suffice to support the
weakening families.

Then government charity was broached; but it was at once seen that
efforts in this direction would cause the cessation of individual
charity. Every village looks after its own poor; every noble family
continues to dispense alms, even when every vestige of wealth and
greatness is gone. It would not do to take steps that might instantly
suspend this work. Yet the famished crowds grew daily greater, and the
residents of the European quarter of Calcutta were horrified by the
influx of thousands of squalid creatures in the last extremity of

At this crisis another factor came into play. Every pious Hindoo
merchant writes at the top of his day-book each day the name of the
divinity whose favor he courts, and immense sums--even millions of
dollars--are spent in the annual celebration in honor of Kali, the
especial favorite of Bengal. A wealthy and humane Hindoo merchant
suggested that Kali would be better pleased if her celebration fund were
used to relieve her starving worshippers. The idea became popular at
once; and the fund, promptly swelled by the exigencies of the case,
aided greatly in the relief of the destitute. When we remember that Kali
is a fiend incarnate, who delights in human blood, and wears a necklace
of skulls, we can but consider the suggestion of the pious merchant as
savoring of the ludicrous.

Another objection to government charity was in the fact that the
government could only hope to establish a few great central depots.
Again, the Hindoo does not discriminate between the professional
beggars, fakirs, hermits, yogis, and those whom we consider more
deserving: and such discrimination as it was certain the government
would make would only render it odious, and probably cause grave
disturbances. So the government lost three weeks when it should have
been actively at work. Meanwhile English residents were spending
liberally their means in private relief depots.

The government found its way out by making quietly large grants to the
private relief committees established. But it was two or three months
ere the best scheme was adopted. Rice could be imported in abundance.
How to place it within the purchasing power of the people was the
problem. The government turned merchant, and established depots where
the laborer could buy at a price within his means. But while placing the
market rate within reach of the needy one-third, the rate for the
remainder must not be disturbed, or the merchants would be antagonized.
It was easily accomplished. The market was opened but a short time each
day; and the “respectable” Hindoo would never expose himself or his
family to be jostled by the hungry labor-stained multitude that at once
thronged the places. And public opinion, all-powerful in little Bengali
towns, strongly condemned any one who without good reason, bought at the
relief depots.

By June, every one was anxious to know if the rains would come and
insure the September crops--there are two rice harvests each year.
Thousands of sacrifices were offered, and sometimes human beings were
offered. But the rains came, and the fall brought abundant crops.

The total loss of life was about 1,250,000, of whom one-fourth starved
outright, while the remainder perished from disease and pestilence
resulting from the scarcity of food. A famine in the same region in 1769
carried off 6,000,000; but then the government did nothing, and after
the scourge immense tracts of cultivated land returned to their original
wilderness. The reverse was the result in 1866. The methodical work of
the government and the great corporations left the land far more
improved than ever before; with the increasing facilities for
communication and transportation, a repetition of the disaster even of
1866 is almost impossible--certainly beyond probability.

We may not go into details of scores of famines, ancient and modern; we
have selected this one, showing how, even in adverse circumstances,
prompt work lessens the ravages of the destroyer. Judging from the
percentage of 1769, the loss of life in 1866 would, but for the relief
work, have been about 9,000,000--one-third the population of Bengal. The
only other calamity in recent years at all comparable, is the terrible
famine of 1876 in China. How many perished then may not be definitely
known; but it has been variously estimated at from 15,000,000 to
50,000,000. We may not dwell upon the horrors of such things--the
hideous cannibalism that has at times resulted; as when we are told that
during one famine in Egypt, in the dark ages, human flesh was openly
sold in the markets!

A terrible scourge that frequently visited the old world in the middle
and dark ages is that known as the “Black Death.” As to its real
character and source, the world is yet in ignorance. Whether it was
readily conveyed in the atmosphere or not seems a mooted point. Modern
medical science has robbed many contagious diseases of their terrors.
Small-pox is easily guarded against. Diptheria has no terrors for clean
streets. Yellow Jack has little chance against sound sanitation and
hygiene. The germ theory of disease has greatly aided disinfective

In contagious diseases, infection proceeds chiefly from personal contact
with a diseased person or objects that have been touched by him. In
malarial diseases there is no danger from personal contact; the disease
resulting clearly from a poisoned atmosphere. But in the case of what
are known as epidemics, the source of infection is not clear. The
disease may attack thousands in a short time, and yet not appear readily
communicable by personal contact. Doubtless in these cases the
atmosphere is the medium of infection. Hence, disinfective measures are
of little or no use against them. So while such can not properly be
classed among atmospheric phenomena, yet it would seem that in the
atmosphere we find the chief vehicle of the disease.

We may not here undertake any discussion of the several deadly
contagious diseases that are known to modern medicine. Suffice it to say
nearly all of them may be classed as filth diseases, arising from impure
food or water, or filthy streets. Most notable of these is perhaps the
terrible Asiatic cholera, that has swept Europe frequently, and which is
now known to originate in the overcrowding and filth attendant upon the
great twelve-yearly festival in honor of a Hindoo idol. Had the people
of the middle ages, who regarded its ravages as a visitation of God upon
them for their sins, been aware of its origin, they might have been
disposed to wonder why they should be punished for the idolatry of a
people thousands of miles away. Possibly such reflections might have
originated either a new species of crusade, or have opened the
missionary movement several centuries earlier than it really began.

Comparatively speaking, there is little mystery left in connection with
the greater contagious plagues known to modern medicine. But the famous
Black Death, or Plague, or the Pestilence, as it is variously called,
remains a secret so far as its origin and its proper treatment are
concerned. Its symptoms are somewhat variously described by various
ancient writers. In one point all agree: that when near death the body
of the victim was covered with dark, gangrenous or carbuncular spots and
swellings, or boils made their appearance in the glands of the neck,
armpit and groin. It may be that the plague of boils and blains sent
upon the Egyptians was none other than this Black Death. And doubtless
it is identical with the terrible plague that visited Athens, B. C.,
430, continuing its ravages through three years. People died in swarms,
and the dead lay about the streets.

During the middle ages it appeared in Europe on an average, every fifty
years, its last visitation being upon London, in 1665, when 100,000
people perished. Here its danger was increased by the fact that its
character was more insidious than usual. The plague described by
Thucydides was characterized by high fever and unquenchable thirst, and
a reddish inflammation or eruption of the skin lasting seven or eight
days before the appearance of the fatal spots; while from Defoe’s
account of the plague in London, these symptoms, though common, were
anything but universal; and frequently persons felt no special disorder
till the appearance of the spots told that death was at hand. Both in
Athens and London, contact with the dead bodies seems to have been fatal
to any animal. The suddenness of death in many cases calls to mind the
last plague of Egypt, or the fate of Sennacherib’s host:

    “Like the leaves of the forest, when summer is green,
     That host with their banners at sunset were seen;
     Like the leaves of the forest, when autumn hath blown,
     That host in the morning lay withered and strown.

     For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
     And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
     And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
     And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still.

     And there lay the steed, with his nostrils all wide,
     But through them there rolled not the breath of his pride;
     And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
     And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.”

The horrors of the plague are beyond description. The panic consequent
upon the appearance of Yellow Jack in the South gives but a faint idea
of it. And this very panic was a most--we had almost said the
most--powerful factor in the augmentation of the plague’s fatality. It
is also the case with cholera that a disturbed condition of the mind is
fatal in the mildest form of the disease. Some one has thus embodied
the case, though of course with exaggeration: A traveler leaving Bagdad
met Cholera entering. “For what are you come?” “To slay 10,000 people.”
Each went his way. On returning, the traveler met Cholera once more.
“But you killed 30,000!” “Nay, friend, I killed but 10,000; _scare_
killed the rest!”

Occasionally this panic took a terrible form; as when during a season of
plague in Germany, the idea seized the people that the Jews had
occasioned the plague by poisoning the wells; and Jews were murdered,
tortured, and burned by the hundreds; which reminds one of a modern
writer’s sarcastic definition of hydrophobia. “A peculiar periodical
madness, impelling men to destroy dogs.”

Of the thousand tales of interest that have come down to us, we may give
place to one, a story of Florence. This city had twenty-three
visitations of the plague; the first in 1325, the last in 1630. The
plague of 1338 is the noted one described by Boccaccio. The story which
we condense here is an incident of the plague of 1400.

Among the noble families who were sworn foes, were those of Rondinelli
and Almieri; and one might as soon have expected the lion to mate with
the serpent, as to hope for an alliance between the two families. But
Cupid has never bothered his meddlesome pate with politics or theology;
and so it came about that, as with Montague and Capulet, Antonio
Rondinelli fell in love with Ginevra Almieri, one of the most beautiful
women of the time--certainly unsurpassed in Florence. Of course, Signor
Almieri could not for a moment think of such a hateful match, and so
Ginevra was given to Francesco Agolanti. The young wife remained
faithful; but she gradually faded; and in four short years sunk into a
sort of lethargic stupor, resulting in death. The plague was then at its
highest, and the panic was great. Every death from uncertain cause was
a source of alarm, and burials were informal and hasty. The poor young
wife was promptly bundled off to the family vault beneath one of the
great cathedrals.

It seems that it was merely a case of coma, or suspended animation. The
lady revived, only to find herself entombed with the skeletons of her
husband’s ancestors. Horrible as this would be for any one, it is a
wonder that the weak nerves of Ginevra did not give way entirely under
the strain. She screamed and called--only the dead heard. She groped
about her tomb, and found a ladder; clambering up, she found a ray of
moonlight streaming through a crevice, and learned her location. She
looked abroad

    “Upon the moonlight loveliness, all sunk
     In one unbroken silence, save the moan
     From the lone room of death, or the dull sound
     Of the slow-moving hearse. The homes of men
     Were now all desolate, and darkness there
     And solitude and silence took their seat,
     In the deserted streets: for the dark wing
     Of a destroying angel had gone by
     And blasted all existence, and had changed
     The gay, the busy, and the crowded mart
     To one cold speechless city of the dead.”

After desperate effort, and with strength astounding in a frame so weak,
she forced up one of the paving stones that formed the roof of the
vault, and dragged herself out. Sitting wearily down for a brief rest, a
sudden shower came up and chilled her to the bone. She rose and went to
her husband’s house. He, at a second story window, astounded at the
ghostly figure in grave clothes that roused him in the dead hour of
night, “when ghosts do mostly walk abroad,” and doubtless remembering
that his treatment of the living wife had not been such as to recommend
him to the favorable notice of her ghost, shut the window with alternate
imprecations and invocations, and covered his head with the
bedclothes--well-known in all ages to be thoroughly ghost-proof.
Ginevra was similarly repulsed from the houses of her father and of
various relatives. As a last resort, though exceedingly repugnant to a
woman of her delicate feeling, she betook herself, almost chilled to
death, to the house of Rondinelli. To his inquiry as to who was there, a
weak voice responded, “Do you not know me, Signor Antonio? It is
I--Ginevra. Neither my father nor my husband will receive me. Will you,
too, turn me away?”

Great as was Antonio’s fear of ghosts, the bare possibility that Ginevra
was actually there in the flesh was a far stronger consideration; and he
hastened to test the reality of his fair visitant. Having her properly
cared for, he hastened to the vault, where the displaced stone confirmed
her story.

A few days later, Antonio boldly applied to the civil authorities to
marry the “late Ginevra degli Agolanti,” and backed his application with
certificates of the death and burial of the lady! The authorities
hearing the facts--and mayhap being romantically disposed--decided that
the lady was legally dead, that her relatives, by their own unwilling
confession, had persisted in so regarding her; hence, she was no longer
bound by any legal tie to the living, father or husband! She was
absolutely free!

So Antonio and Ginevra were married, and of course, “lived happily ever



    “And it bubbles, and seethes, and hisses, and roars,
     As when fire is with water commixed and comblending,
     And a hell-molten surf thunders wild on its shores,
     While a red-tumbling flood from its caverns outpours,
     Hurling hills from their place, and the mountains downrending,
                    So the chaos eternal
                    Born of fury infernal,
     Boils and belches and rumbles, unreined and unending.”

It is an axiom that there are three misstatements in the popular
description of a crab: “A fish, of a red color, that runs backward.”

_Ques._ What is a volcano?

_Ans._ A volcano is a burning mountain, from the summit of which issue
smoke and flames. (_Old Geography._)

The writer remembers the surprise he felt when a lad of nine, full of
childish confidence in the infallibility of text-book misinformation, on
reading in Prescott’s “Conquest in Mexico” that Cortez obtained sulphur
to replenish his stock of powder by lowering one of his soldiers into
the crater of Popocatepetl. He wondered how so reputable a historian as
Prescott had been induced to credit such an extravagant “yarn” on the
part of the Spanish chronicler. To his youthful fancy, fired by the
teachings of primary geographies, a volcano was a sort of chimney to a
titanic iron furnace in full blast; indeed, he would have supposed it
safer to descend into an iron furnace than into the crater. He
speculated long on the matter, and wondered if fire-proof dresses were
known in those days.

No small part of the non-traveling public has similar misconceptions of
the character of volcanoes; and to obtain the truth it is not so
necessary to learn as to unlearn. The description quoted from the old
text-book is false in every particular. The mountain can not be said to
be burning any more than melted lead. Nor does anything that answers to
either smoke or flame issue from it. Be it known to all, that the
greatest portion of the surface of an active crater is usually covered
with a solid crust, in which there may be a small fiery lake, or inner
secondary cone or crater. Into many craters it is possible therefore to
descend: and into one volcano of the Mediterranean Sea an enterprising
Scotch firm have long had quite remunerative chemical works.

The name is taken from one of the Lipari Islands--a small group near
Sicily--which was known to the ancients as Vulcano. When the Romans
imported the Grecian god, Hephaistos, to be their chief blacksmith, they
assigned him Vulcano as his forge, and rechristened the lame old fellow
with the adjective appellation of Vulcanus.

Men much prefer the marvellous or mysterious to the true. And, while
their reverence is of a merely superstitious sort, the reverence of the
ignorant often surpasses that of the learned. A superstitious people
readily manufactured a myth to explain the awe-inspiring demonstrations
of volcanoes; and the myth itself, because of its religious character,
would discourage any attempt to closely investigate volcanic phenomena
as sacrilege and impiety. There are similar volcano myths in the island
and Asiatic world. So firm was the belief of the Sandwich Islanders in
the certainty of dire vengeance upon all who trespassed on the domain of
Pele, the goddess of Kilauea, that when a princess of the blood royal
safely defied the goddess, ate her sacred berries, and threw rocks into
her boiling lake, the people at once abandoned their whole race of gods.
If there was no Pele, they knew of no god. Such reasons prevented the
ancients and the barbarian world from obtaining any light on volcanic

Similar causes operated with equal force to hinder investigation during
the middle and dark ages. Christian teachers seized upon them as
convenient openings to the abode of eternal torment. The Arian heretic,
the Emperor Theodosius, was assigned to Vulcano; while poor Anne Boleyn,
for whose sake the “Defender of the Faith” defied the Pope, was sent by
the latter to Mt. Ætna, as the shortest route to her destination.

Similar ideas are noticed among semi-barbarous races. The Aztecs deemed
Popocatepetl, the greatest of their volcanoes, to be the place of
punishment for wicked rulers. These gentry were supposed to cherish no
good will toward their subjects, whose complaints had brought them to
that place of torment, and to be always seeking opportunity for
vengeance. The people held them in great awe, and were wont to invoke
the aid of the gods when it became necessary to travel near the
volcanoes. It is related that the high priest, Tezozomoc, was wont to
give aloe-leaves inscribed with sacred characters, to such persons.
These leaves were amulets to preserve the wearer from harm. Southey uses
this story in _Madoc_:

        “So ye may safely pass
    Between the mountains, which in endless war,
    Hurtle with horrible uproar, and frush
    Of rocks, that meet in battle.”

This mountain was in eruption when Cortes reached Tlascala on his march
to Mexico. It was believed to bode evil to the people of Anahuac.
Learning the native superstition, Diego de Ordaz, captain of artillery,
determined to beard the demons in their den, and with some companions
ascended the mountain. Their safe return convinced the natives that the
Spaniards were in league with the spirits, and did much to dishearten
them. In memory of this feat, the Ordaz family has a volcano pictured on
its coat of arms.

The Javanese call their greatest volcano Maha-Meru. Meru, in the
Sanscrit mythology, was the home of Brahma, and the Malays, having
adopted the legend, consider their greatest volcano the fittest symbol
of his throne and power.


Virgil’s Æneid affords a passage containing the Roman myth concerning
Mt. Ætna, and showing that the people of Virgil’s day were acquainted
with the phenomena of that mountain. Thus Dryden has translated:

    “The flagging wind forsook us with the sun,
     And wearied, on Cyclopean shores we run.
     The port, capacious and secure from wind,
     Is to the fort of thundering Ætna joined,
     By turns a pitchy cloud she rolls on high,
     And flakes of mountain flames that arch the sky;
     Oft from her bowels massy rocks are thrown,
     And shivered by the force, come piece-meal down;
     Oft liquid cakes of burning sulphur flow,
     Fed from the fiery springs that burn below.
     Enceladus, they say, transfixed by Jove,
     With blasted limbs came trembling from above,
     And where he fell, th’ avenging father drew
     This flaming hell, and on his body threw.
     As often as he turns his weary sides,
     He shakes the solid hill, and smoke the heaven hides.”

This conception was borrowed from the Greeks, one of whose poets has
told us

    “How shaggy-breasted Typhon lay,
     From sea-girt Cuma to Trinacria’s bay.”

Yet, even among the ancients an occasional great mind disregarded
popular superstition, and enunciated just and rational views upon the
matter. The elder Pliny lost his life in an effort to observe closely an
eruption of Vesuvius. But the ideas advanced by these men were speedily
forgotten; and the exact scientific examination of volcanoes is of the
past hundred years, the great Italian, Spallanzani, being the first to
publish a series of valuable observations on the volcanoes of his own

The ancients were acquainted only with the few active volcanoes
distributed about the Mediterranean Sea, and the casual thinker might
hence suppose their opportunities for observation were quite limited.
But volcanic principles are the same everywhere, differing only in
violence. In the Lipari Islands is situated the volcanic cone of
Stromboli, which has been in a state of constant activity, though very
mild, for at least two thousand years. This affords excellent
opportunities for study, and much of our most valuable information on
the topic is derived from careful observation of it. When the wind is
steady in any quarter, a person may sit to windward for hours within a
few yards of the boiling mass, while the noxious vapors and gases are
borne away in the other direction.

The expulsive agent is in all cases steam, mingled to a greater or less
degree with other vapors or gases. Its operation may be simply
illustrated. Pure water does not readily boil over in any open vessel of
ordinary dimensions. But if the vessel be very deep in proportion to its
width, and the heat is applied at the base only, it boils over more
readily. Now, if instead of water, we substitute porridge, thick
molasses, or any similar thick or viscid material, the bubbles of steam
rise slowly; and if rapidly generated, they force the matter out at the
top ere they escape. Such bubbles as reach the top, burst, throwing tiny
particles of the mass into the air.

How great a portion of the material expelled from volcanoes consists of
steam and other gases is not easy to determine. But that the quantity of
vapor is enormous is indisputable. Vesuvius is noted for the “pine tree”
of vapor that overhangs it. The ascending steam and gases, on reaching
an upper atmosphere as light as themselves, spread out horizontally in
every direction, thus much resembling in outline the stone-pines that
are a prominent feature in the Neapolitan landscape.

Some effort has been made to connect volcanic eruptions with atmospheric
pressure; for, say the theorists, a fall of two inches in the barometer
removes a pressure of over 2,000,000 tons from each square mile. A
sufficient answer to this is, that this, after all, is only one pound to
the square inch; while the force that can cast up volumes of melted
matter from a great depth must needs be many tons to the square inch.
Clearly these gentlemen would perch us on a sort of universal fire-box,
and poise the lid on a hair trigger.

But heavy rainfalls and terrific thunder storms are almost invariable
accompaniments of explosive eruptions. That these are the result and not
the cause of volcanic action is clear. An electrical machine was
invented by Sir William Armstrong, in which electricity was generated by
forcing steam at great speed through a narrow orifice. This same
principle would produce volcanic thunder storms. The immense volumes of
vapor, reaching the open air, must rapidly cool and be precipitated as
rain. The Italians dread these torrents, sweeping down immense
quantities of mud, more than they do the streams of lava.

If an eruption causes an immediate fall of two inches of rain over an
area seven miles square, it will be found that such a rainfall amounts
to more than seven millions of tons of water. Yet the rainfall often is
greater, and the area affected is larger; while it is not to be supposed
that the entire volume of vapor cast forth is at once precipitated on
the earth. This computation can not be assumed as anything more than a
mere illustration of the tremendous forces brought into operation.

The solid substances emitted by volcanoes are popularly styled ashes,
cinders, or scoria and lava. But what is called ashes would be more
appropriately named dust; for it is merely finely divided lava, and in
no way resembles genuine ashes.

Lavas present a general resemblance to the slag and clinkers of smelters
and brick-kilns, but vary considerably in appearance and chemical
composition. We need not touch this question further than to state that
oxygen forms nearly one-half the weight of all lavas, silicon one-fourth
of most, and aluminum one-tenth. From fifteen to twenty per cent. is
made of various others, magnesium, calcium, iron, sodium and potassium
being most common. Hence, the compounds present are always of the class
known to chemists as silicates, substances requiring great heat to melt.
These, from being long melted, abound more or less in crystals; but if
any one re-melts them and cools them suddenly, the result is a simple
glassy mass, with no trace of crystals.

[Illustration: VIEW IN ACTIVE CRATER.]

Scoria or cinders differ from ordinary lava only in the peculiarity of
having partially crystallized in some portions and then stiffened or
solidified while large bubbles were yet imprisoned or in the act of
bursting; thus leaving the mass very ragged and cellular. But if the
lava contains no readily formed crystals, the imprisoned bubbles of
steam slowly rise to the surface, and being greatly elongated by the
flowing of the lava, produce the beautiful material known as “pumice.”
It is to lava exactly what froth or foam is to water. Usually it is much
lighter colored than the lava on which it floats, for the same reason
that well-worked molasses candy is nearly white: they both contain a
vast number of minute air bubbles. Pumice floats on water, and its
decomposition being generally very slow, it drifts about the sea
currents, and is often found thousands of miles from any volcanic
region. In the immediate neighborhood of volcanoes it often accumulates
on the sea to such an extent that vessels can hardly force their way
through it. In the Sunda Islands it has been seen on the sea three feet
in depth. During the year 1878 the accumulation of pumice near the
Solomon Isles was so great that it took ships three days to force their
way through. Sometimes such masses accumulate along the coast line to
such an extent that a person can not readily tell where the shore line
is. One may land and walk about on the great floating raft of pumice,
unable to guess within even a mile of the actual shore. Deep sea
soundings show that the entire ocean bottom is covered more or less with
the pulverized pumice and volcanic dust. From the wide distribution it
is not probable that the layer attains any great thickness.

The Mangaians of the South Pacific told the earlier missionaries of a
feat of one of their heroes which at first was unaccountable. This
demigod, Maui, a sort of Pacific Hercules, raised the sky to its
present position. Not getting it high enough to suit him, he put his
head between the legs of his old father Ru, and heaved him and the
half-raised sky up together. Ru stuck fast among the stars, and Maui
left him there till his body dropped to pieces and his bones fell over
the ground below. To prove the truth of their story they brought the
missionaries bits of pumice, which they said were the bones of Ru.
Singularly enough the white porous stone looked much like bone. The myth
had been invented by the simple folk to explain the origin of pumice.

The ashes, or volcanic dust, is excessively minute, and in consequence
readily penetrate crevices that are hardly visible. Professor Bonney,
examining dust thrown out by Cotopaxi, has calculated that it would
require from four thousand to twenty-five thousand particles to make up
a grain in weight. The substance known as tufa is merely volcanic dust
or ash upon which rain has fallen while the former was still hot. The
resultant paste solidifies into a porous and loosely compacted rock.

Why some volcanoes nearly always throw out dust and fragments, while
others throw out mere molten streams, was for a time not clearly
understood. Some suggested the dust was the result of the continual
collision of fragments as they rose and fell, and hence would increase
in quantity as the eruption continued. This clearly would not meet the
case of volcanoes which, without showing any previous signs of activity,
burst into action with tremendous volumes of dust.

It was at length noticed that dust and fragments always were accompanied
by tremendous explosions; while eruptions of melted lava were far more
quiet, shocks being few and the explosions insignificant as compared
with the former. This gave a clue to the mystery.

Many liquids and solids have the power of absorbing vast quantities of
gas. Under pressure their absorbing powers may be vastly increased.
Sometimes the property appears only at high temperatures. Silver when
melted absorbs twenty-two times its volume of oxygen. If suddenly cooled
the oxygen is given off with a rapidity verging on explosion. This is
called the “spitting” of silver. Tiny cones and melted streams appear on
the cooled surface--volcanoes in miniature. The same property belongs to
the oxide of lead, and some other metals.

Now water can be made to absorb more than a thousand times its bulk of
ammonia; more than five hundred times its bulk of hydrochloric acid.
Alcohol may absorb three hundred times its volume of sulphurous acid.
Charcoal may absorb one hundred times its volume of ammonia, eighty-five
times its volume of hydrochloric acid, sixty-five times its volume of
sulphuretted hydrogen, fifty-five times its volume of sulphurous and
thirty-five times its volume of carbonic acid. Iron, steel and melted
sulphur absorb many gases.

We have already seen that immense volumes of gases are thrown off in
volcanic action. Now if a column of lava rises comparatively slowly in
its “chimney,” the imprisoned gases rapidly escape, producing violent
boiling, but not a positive explosion. But if it rises very rapidly, the
sudden removal of the pressure causes so sudden an expansion of the
compressed gases in its upper portion as to amount to a tremendous
explosion, which reduces the lava to microscopic dust.

This very principle was made practical use of in a mechanical
contrivance invented to make paper pulp out of common cane, such as the
farmer’s boy delights in for a fishing pole. The hard, woody fibre was
placed in a powerful iron cylinder full of water. A strong lid being
adjusted, the whole was heated far above the boiling point of water.
Naturally, every cell would be forced full of moisture by the immense
pressure. After some hours heating, the lid was suddenly removed, and by
the sudden expansion of the water into steam the cane was blown to

[Illustration: CRATER OF ORIZABA.]

A beautiful product of the volcano of Kilauea is the substance known as
“Pele’s Hair.” Small particles of glass shot violently into the air
leave behind them long, glittering filaments, like gossamers. Birds
often build their nests of these beautiful threads. Man, taking a hint
from nature, has learned to manufacture the glass hair for himself by
passing jets of steam through the molten slag of iron furnaces. It much
resembles cotton wool, and is used for packing boilers and piston-heads,
and similar purposes.

The appearance of fire at the summit of a volcano is rarely ever real
flame. Any who has seen the peculiar appearance occasioned by brilliant
illumination on a moist or foggy evening may readily perceive the cause.
The phenomenon popularly known as the “sun drawing water” is of the same
character. The immense cloud of vapor ascending from the volcano glows
with the light sent up from the molten mass below. So it may be seen
brilliant by night, and only a dark cloud by day. Stromboli has been
called the light-house of the Mediterranean. In constant action, the
brilliant light at night slowly fades: then suddenly breaks out as
bright as before. This alternating results from the bursting of bubbles
in the crater, which expose a new, hot surface. This rapidly cools; then
another bubble bursts; and so the process continues. This may have
suggested the alternating light now in common use in great light-houses.

In the Galapagos, and other volcanic islands of the Pacific, occurs
another curious feature of volcanic action. Some places abound in
seeming mounds or domes, which may be sometimes readily broken in with a
heavy stone. These are produced by bubbles which partially cooled, when
the lava below found some rent or outlet in another quarter and flowed
away, leaving the solidified bubble.

Sometimes the cavern left by the retreating lava abounds in strange
beauties. A sailor, who with a comrade, explored one of these volcanic
caverns, gives the following account of it:

“In a sharp, deep valley of Albemarle we had broken in the roof of a
bubble; and as we looked in we saw we had opened the way into a tunnel
about fifteen feet in width, and extending either way as far as we could
see from our position. By the lights which entered from above, we made
out the floor as about twenty feet beneath us, and that the walls were
curiously marked with columnar forms. My companion, who had dabbled in
the sciences, proposed that we should take an underground view of
volcanic action and appearances.

“So, on the following day, provided with a couple of lamps, a coil of
knotted line, and a couple of waist-lines and iron poles for staves, we
proceeded on our exploration. We descended with the knotted rope around
our bodies, and stuck our feet into the rough side, lighted in our way
by a single lamp. We carefully watched for any side openings which might
confuse us or lead us astray in returning, but we saw none and felt
safe. It soon became evident that the tunnel had not been formed by a
rent of the mass after cooling, but rather by the molten lava’s having
drained away after a crust had formed upon it. This may account for the
singular and beautiful formations by which we found ourselves
surrounded. After proceeding some distance through a passage with a
pretty uniform width of fifteen to twenty feet, and of about equal
height, we paused to examine the formation of the cavern. The dim light
of our lamps illuminated the pilastered walls, and a roof raftered and
groined with straight and curved beams of crystalline structure many
feet in length. Some of these were of a reddish appearance, and others
had a vitreous lustre, resembling immense crystals, in places broken
into the semblance of foliage, which reflected an olive green light. The
gloomy splendor of this solemn architecture was relieved by the gold or
amber reflections of crystals of sulphur, which, like marigold or
sunflower, gleamed in the passage.

“The broad bases of the pilasters were enriched with counterfeits of
fern, palms, and growths intricate and delicate as the penciling of the
frost spirit’s pictures. But these metallic pictures, under the limning
of the fire-fiend had been inlaid with the brilliant facets of igneous
minerals, green and brown in tint. Tempted onward by the increasing
beauty of the scene, our lamp revealed new objects of interest in the
increasing lustre of the arched ceiling, and the carved and painted
walls. Our lamp was multiplied by the sparkle from the faces of unknown
minerals. In places the passage was divided by central columns of basalt
crystals, which terminated in curves, and were in form and tracery
varied beyond man’s power. The rude Goth for his cathedral, the Moslem
for his mosque, the Celestial for his pagoda, might have drawn
inspiration from this solemn portal to Nature’s vast workshop.

“As we advanced further into the recesses of the mountain, the character
of the cave changed. The angular crystalline forms which indicated the
sudden withdrawal of the molten matter, or the deposit of elements
sublimed by intense heat, yielded to smooth and rounded structures, like
the worn rocks of the river side, giving the impression that the walls
had served as a sluice to fiery torrents pouring from the volcano. A few
steps farther showed us the singular curtain-like foldings of a
substance resembling lampblack. Absolutely without lustre, and absorbent
of every ray of light, it was present, as it were, only to the touch.
With certain misgivings under this curtain of gloom, we entered a cavern
the form or extent of which could only be known by touch of hands, for
no possible brilliancy of light would command an answering reflection
from the absorbent surface. Broken as was the surface to the touch, to
the eye it was without form. The floor was invisible, and we were
guided in our steps by our staves alone. It was like stepping into
primal chaos, before light and form had birth. A profound chasm seemed
to yawn at our feet; yet the rocky floor rang to the blow of the staff,
and with cautious tread we proceeded. The flame of the lamp met no
responsive glow; save from the two intruders who stood awe stricken in
this strange emptiness; it stood in the still blackness unflickering,
like a solid. Feeling the broken walls, the hand was met by an oily
softness; the eye was useless, and even the touch now failed to guide
us. Solid walls were not to the eye; rocky barriers seemed simply
impenetrable darkness to the hand.

“From repeated contact with sooty walls, we also became covered with
this strange, light-absorbing powder, until we were enveloped in an
invisible mantle, and also passed from each other’s sight. Eye alone
answered to eye in their reflections of light. Too deeply impressed for
conversation, we stood still with outstretched hands. My comrade asked
at length, ‘May it not be even so in the valley of the Shadow of Death?’
And we looked for strength into each other’s eyes and linked our arms
that we might have the companionship of touch. We were now thoroughly
frightened, and turned to retrace our steps; but which way? We stood in
a sea of nothingness--locked in the foundations of the mountain. The
walls were lost to the sight, and were nothing to the touch. We stooped
to the deep dust of the floor and held the flame to read our
foot-prints; but the soil absorbed the light, as the sand of the desert
does the raindrop. We reached forward, and the hand failed to meet the
wall; we reached downward; there, too, was empty space. The light showed
no defining edge between the solid rock and the void. We swung the lamp
from the brink on which we lay; it revealed nothing. We dropped a heavy
stone into the chasm and listened for the rebound. No sound was
returned as it sank into the profound. We cast another stone across to
test the width, but this, too, was lost to the senses. Silently they
passed away, as the mist wreath on the hill side. And then we knew we
had been preserved from death. A careless step and we had found a grave
in the depths of the world’s foundations. We realized that we were lying
in trembling safety on the threshold of the extinct volcano, and lifting
our useless eyes from the impenetrable blackness, the awful whisper
‘Lost!’ passed between us. We were afraid to move; but the wasting oil
of our lamp warned us that time must not be lost. Presently our ears
caught the heat of surf on the rock as the tide came in, and following
this direction, we finally reached the entrance, almost fainting from
joy when we stood beyond this chamber of gloom. Once more we stood under
the wondrous tracery and reflections of the outer gates of the
inter-world of mysterious.”

A most thrilling experience, and one giving a fine picture of what may
be found in the mysterious depths of a lava bubble. In some cases the
bubbles are very thin; and an unwary passer might be suddenly plunged
into unfathomable depths should he tread on one. Usually, however, they
are formed over horizontal currents or passages.

We have endeavored to give the well-established facts concerning the
principles of volcanic action. It only remains, ere we leave this phase
of the subject, that we notice the one point on which as yet our
knowledge is not clear. That point is, the source of the heat which
produces the remarkable effects.

Several theories are advanced. One class of scientists believes that the
earth is a mass of molten matter, with only a thin outer shell of cooled
material. That a very


high temperature exists at no very great distance from the surface is
beyond a doubt. The observations made in mines and artesian wells show
that the average increase in the temperature is one degree for every
fifty-five feet in depth. One noted variation exists in the deep wells
at Buda-Pesth, in Austria, where the temperature increased up to 3,000
feet; but beyond that depth it became cooler again. The Comstock lode in
Nevada, the richest mineral vein in the world, is nearly at the limit of
practicable working, the normal temperature being as high as one hundred
and fifty degrees.

Even if it be conceded that the material of the earth is a molten mass,
there would be two theories to explain it: one, that the earth was
originally in a state of fusion, and was slowly cooling; the other, that
the great pressure from without keeps an otherwise solid center greatly
compressed and heated, and consequently liquid. Either supposition is
based on well established facts; but it does not appear clear that the
molten globe with a cool shell can settle the entire question.

The objections to this are several. One, the complete absence of
uniformity in the increase of heat as we descend. While the total
average is as given above, the variations are so many and vast, that
there does not seem to be any general law, as there should be if the
molten interior possessed the least uniformity. In some shafts the
increase is one degree for twenty feet; in others, one for every one
hundred; in some, the temperature increases much more rapidly at great
depths, in others, much less rapidly.

A second objection is, the vast difference in the character of lavas,
even in districts very near each other. Thirdly, there seems no definite
connection between volcanoes in the same region. Two adjacent ones may
exhibit very different conditions. Mauna Loa is about 10,000 feet above
Kilauea, a great crater of the same mountain. Yet the upper is often in
a violent state of eruption when the latter is perfectly quiet. It would
be difficult to conceive how these are supplied from the same source. If
the interior were a molten mass in a state of equilibrium, as would be
necessary if the uniformity of its motions in the solar system were to
be preserved, any undue pressure would compel the molten matter to
escape from the lowest opening. This would be in accordance with the
simplest laws of liquids. Then we should find volcanic action most
vigorous at the lowest active volcano; but such is not the case. The
idea of a uniformly liquid interior seems hardly tenable.

There is still other objection to this theory. Experiments have been
made with various materials to ascertain the change affected in them by
heat. It is found that a block of granite five feet long, by a change of
ninety-six degrees in temperature, is expanded .27792 of an inch;
crystalline marble, .03264; sandstone, .0549. If, then, a portion of the
earth’s crust ten miles in thickness be heated six hundred degrees, its
crust would be raised two hundred feet; or a change of one degree, the
rate of expansion being fairly uniform to five hundred or six hundred
degrees, would raise the surface four inches. How important this matter
is may be better understood when we consider that if the interior of the
earth be a uniformly molten mass, with a crust ten miles thick, a
contraction of one-twelve thousandth of an inch should force out of the
crust a cubic mile of lava. We should find then a change in temperature
one forty-eight thousandth of a degree should effect this, if the crust
were ten miles thick.

We are then forced to conclude that the earth is not cooling to any
appreciable extent; or that the liquid interior is still capable of
indefinite compression without necessarily being forced out through
orifices in the crust; or that the interior is not a uniformly molten

Such are the arguments against a melted interior.

The reader should avoid the assumption of a uniform rate of contraction
or expansion of heat. Within very narrow limits, such a hypothesis may
be allowed; but to assume that it is universal, would be to affirm that
if you could only make the earth cold enough it would shrink to nothing
at all! The earth and the temperature would swallow each other, like the
two snakes, till neither was left. To illustrate more seriously, suppose
a race of men existed whose only experience of temperature ranged
between forty and two hundred degrees. They could consistently
calculate, from the change of water between these limits, that it would
require a temperature of many thousands of degrees to expand it to
seventeen hundred times its bulk. Yet we know they would have to raise
it only to two hundred and twelve degrees to produce the required
effect. And if they could go below forty degrees, they would be
astonished to find that water then expanded instead of contracting.

That the earth, if it cools, does so very slowly is clear, from the
character of the materials thrown out. Lava from Mt. Ætna has been
observed slowly moving nine months after the eruption. Lower portions of
the beds have been found to be abnormally heated ten years after pouring
out. Compare the thickness of a lava bed with the depth from which it is
thrown, and it will be seen that little heat is lost in the subterranean
depths. One instance, showing how slowly the lava is to part with its
heat, may be given:

In the year 1828 a great mass of ice was discovered on Mt. Ætna. In
consequence of the protracted heat of the season, supplies of ice at
Catania and the adjacent regions failed entirely, and the people
suffered considerably for the want of an article considered necessary to
health as well as comfort in that hot climate. The Catanian authorities
caused search to be made for some crevasse or natural grotto on Mt.
Ætna, where drift-snow might exist. Near the base of the highest cone
was found a vast mass of ice, covered by a lava bed. How old it was
there is no means of knowing; nor can we tell how much of the ice might
have originally been melted by the overflowing current. But there it
was, so hard and firm that the workmen quarried it with great

Lastly, it appears that the causes of earthquakes and volcanic action
must be the same. A violent volcanic outbreak causes earthquake shocks
at once, as though relieved by a safety valve. The experiments of Mr.
Robert Mallet, the best known authority on earthquake phenomena, tend to
prove that the shocks necessarily originate at a comparatively short
distance below the surface. So, from two independent lines of
investigation, the same conclusion is reached.

These objections have caused inquiry to be made as to what causes might
locally develop heat. Here there are so many possible methods that
scientists may not be expected to unite. One is the chemical theory:
water coming in contact with quick-lime, or metallic sodium or
potassium, would evolve intense heat. One or two locomotives have been
invented which need no fuel, obtaining their heat supply thus.

But it is objected to this that the products of volcanic action are not
such as would result from such a cause; that all experience indicates
that water has already penetrated every portion of the earth, the
deepest borings always crossing veins, and all great mines requiring to
be artificially drained.

One other theory is, that the slow contraction of the globe from the
radiation of heat into space necessarily affects the outer portion most
directly, and in consequence, the shrinking of the crust at the weakest
points produces unusual pressure there, which can evolve intense heat,
as is shown by the fact that nearly all rocks so twisted or strained
are more or less changed in their internal structure by heat. It is also
evident that a region once thus weakened and seriously broken would
necessarily form a fairly permanent volcanic tract. As the work of
nature all goes to preserve equilibrium or balance of forces, an unusual
upheaval would necessitate unusual subsidence near at hand; and in fact
the highest mountain is always near the deepest ocean.

This explanation, combined with that of chemical action seems to us the
more tenable. None of these theories conflict with the nebular
hypothesis of Kant and Laplace.

In looking over the areas of volcanic action, we will find they have
changed considerably from the areas of the past.

In the continent of Europe there is but one active volcano--Vesuvius;
but there are six others on islands in the Mediterranean. Africa has
four active volcanoes on the west coast, and six on the east; while ten
others are to be found on adjacent islands. Austria has no volcanoes, so
far as is known. In Asia are twenty-four active volcanoes; but twelve of
these are on the peninsula of Kamtschatka. On the American continent we
find a larger proportion. North America has forty-five, most of which
are in Mexico and Central America; and South America has thirty-seven.
Of these continental volcanoes all are near the sea, except four which
are reported to lie in the great unexplored tableland between Siberia
and Thibet; and some are said to exist in the Chinese province of
Mantchooria. No white man has visited them.

But it is in the island world that we must look for the most numerous

A great ridge runs through the Atlantic; and along this lie a number of
islands with active centres. Jan Mayen, in the Arctic circle, has an
active volcano; Iceland, thirteen; the Azores, six; the Canaries, three;
east African islands, eight; the West Indies, six; three submarine
volcanoes have been observed at different times in the Atlantic. But
through the same region the number of extinct volcanoes is far greater.
Of those which exist several seem approaching extinction.

But in the isles of the Pacific and between the Pacific and Indian
oceans we have a vast series of volcanic vents of wonderful activity. In
the Aleutian Islands are thirty-one; in the Kurile Isles, ten or more;
Japan and the adjacent groups have twenty-five. Southeast of the Asiatic
continent is the most active region on the globe. Fifty volcanoes are
here known. Farther south are four in New Guinea, one or two submarine
vents, a number in New Britain, the Solomon group, the New Hebrides,
three in New Zealand, and Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic circle. Add
to these the islands of the Central Pacific, and we have more than
one-half the volcanoes of the globe. Besides there are a large number of
nearly perfect volcanic cones which must recently have become extinct.

In conclusion, we find all the oceanic islands are either of volcanic or
coral formation; and as we find that the coral polyp can not live at a
greater depth than one hundred and twenty feet; as we know the ocean in
the immediate neighborhood of these islands to be many thousand of feet
in depth; as we know coral islands to be circular, often enclosing a
lagoon of water, it is fair to suppose that the polyps have not built
through long ages of subsidence, as is usually supposed; but that they
have built upon the rims of extinct craters lying near the surface. The
fact that these circular reefs always have one or more breaks in their
circuit is additional reason for the belief. The fact of a coral island
lying within a barrier reef, then,

[Illustration: CORAL REEFS.]

resolves itself into a volcanic crater with an inner cone, as every
active volcano has. It is rather ludicrous to suppose that polyps, among
the lowest of created beings, leading an ephemeral existence, should yet
have such unanimity of purpose, such perfect mutual understanding, as to
undertake to build their reefs in a more or less circular form; it is
preposterous to suppose the unvarying form of the structure is the
result of mere chance. Clearly we must find some other influences; and
the most reasonable is to suppose the foundations of these islands were
laid by the same agency that raised all other Oceanic islands from the
bed of the sea.

The volcano thus plays an important part in the earth’s economy. Not
only does it add to land areas by upheaval from the deep. The amount of
material thrown out by the Javanese volcanoes alone during the past
hundred years is greater far than all the silt borne to the sea by
American rivers during the same period. Krakatoa, in its recent
eruption, threw out more than the Mississippi bears to the sea in sixty

There is some doubt as to how much volcanoes effect by direct upheaval.
The formation of many observed cones shows that the majority are mainly
built up by the materials thrown out, and not by any great elevation of
the adjacent surface. In the case of a volcano already existing, it is
of course not easy to know what proportion of its mass is merely
accumulation of lava, cinders, or tufa.

As to the form of volcanic cones, those of ashes, cinders, and scoria
are of course steepest; those of lava thrown out when liquid having a
very gradual slope. The difference may be readily illustrated by
comparing a heap of sand and pebbles with a heap of stiffening molasses
candy. One is steeply conical; the other, rounded or dome-like. But
either form of volcano may abound in crevices and apertures from which
issue sulphurous vapors and gases. These fumaroles, as they are called,
are usually surrounded with mineral deposits, often resembling the most
delicate filigree work.

Having considered the general phases and principles of volcanic action,
we may now notice some of the more famous eruptions of the past.



    “E’en while they cheered the gladiator’s thrust,
     And shouted as the lion crunched his bones,
     Up sprang the Fire King from his ages’ sleep
     Shook wide his robe of ever-deepening night,
     And flung his fiery banner on the wind.
     The groaning earth then trembled at his tread,
     And thousand thunders rent the raging mount,
     While prince and pauper, ’mid the scorching gloom,
     Groped through the gaping streets; the ocean hissed,
     And palaces and marble temples reeled,
     And crushed or prisoned; still the ashes fell,
     Till mansions, statues, homes and colonnades,
     And Strength, and Beauty, Love, and Life, and Death,
     Lay heaps on heaps, in one black ruin blent.”

For nearly seventeen hundred years there lay beneath a sea of ashes near
the Naples Bay, a city whose destruction had not been described by the
younger Pliny; and in the lapse of years its site had been forgotten.
During the construction of an aqueduct in 1592, workmen frequently came
upon foundations of buildings. No curiosity seems to have been aroused.
Nearly a hundred years later other buildings were discovered, with the
inscription “POMPEII.” Still there was no practical interest. Then the
attention of the learned was drawn to the discoveries at Herculaneum;
and Alcubierre, a Spanish colonel of engineers, in examining the
subterranean canal, was led by the discovery of a house and statues to
conjecture that some great treasures might lie buried there. Obtaining
permission of the King of Naples, he began excavations in the year 1748.
In a few days he unearthed “a picture eleven palms long by four and
one-half high, containing festoons of eggs, fruits and flowers, the head
of a man, large and in good style, a helmet, an owl, various small birds
and other objects.” Then was found the skeleton of a man, covered with
the lava mud. By his side were eighteen brass coins and one of silver.
Then was found an amphitheatre, with a seating capacity of ten thousand.
But the work was poorly conducted: valuable pictures were detached from
the walls, and the buildings again covered with rubbish. No strangers
were allowed to copy anything.

When the French occupied Naples, the work was for a time better
conducted; then it again declined. When Victor Emmanuel became King of
Italy, a distinguished antiquarian scholar, Guiseppe Fiorelli, was
appointed director-general of the works. Since then, the work has been
well done, Signor Fiorelli noting “every appearance or fragment which
might afford or suggest a restoration of any part of a buried edifice;
replacing with fresh timbers every charred beam, propping every
tottering wall or portion of brick work,” till the tourist sees to-day a
town in the integrity of its outlines and order of its arrangement.
“Temples, baths, markets, tombs, stand out just as they stood eighteen
hundred years ago. The villa of the port, the forum, the counting-house,
the baker’s shop, the school-room, the kitchen, carry us into the very
heart of Roman life in the brightest days of the empire. The jewelry of
beauty, the spade of the laborer, the fetter of the prisoner and the
weapon of the soldier are all there, reproducing and realizing the past
with a vividness which can scarcely be conceived.”

Relics and historic records give us an ideal of the past. How correct is
the ideal may be inferred from the fact that no two antiquarians have
the same conception of a Druid temple. With all the details of
Scripture and Josephus, we have not an exact model of the temple.
Inhabited ruins change with their possessors: those uninhabited decay in
the war of elements. But Pompeii was, so to speak, hermetically sealed,
in the height of its prosperity, preserved from Goths and Vandals, and
is laid before us to-day as it stood over eighteen centuries ago,
allowing us to see how sudden was the storm that burst upon it long
years ago. The paintings are “undimmed by the leaden touch of time;
household furniture left in the confusion of use; articles, even of
intrinsic value, abandoned in the hurry of escape, yet safe from the
robber, or scattered about from the trembling hand which could not pause
or stoop for its most valuable possessions; and in some instances the
bones of the inhabitants, bearing sad testimony to the suddenness and
completeness of the calamity that overwhelmed them.”

“There are the very ruts which were made by the wheels of chariots,
flying, perhaps, from the impending ruin; there are water-pipes, in the
cavities of which, sealed by the hand of time, the splashing fluid can
still be heard; there are rude and grotesque inscriptions, scratched by
some loiterer on the stucco, and as fresh as when they excited the mirth
of the passer-by; there are egg-shells, bones of fish and chickens, and
other fragments of a repast of which skeletons lying near were partaking
when the catastrophe overwhelmed them; there is fuel ready to be
supplied to furnaces for heating the baths; there are the stains left
upon the counters of drinking shops by wet glasses; there are the vials
of the apothecary, still containing the fluids he was wont to dispense;
there are ovens in which loaves of bread, carbonized, but otherwise
perfect, may yet be seen; there are vases with olives still swimming in
oil, the fruit retaining its flavor, and the oil


burning readily when submitted to the flame; there are shelves, on which
are piled stores of raisins, figs and chestnuts; there are amphorae
containing the rare wine for which Campania was so famous.”

Here you saw a new altar of white marble, wondrously beautiful, just
from the hands of the sculptor; “an enclosure was building all round;
the mortar just dashed against the side of the wall was but half spread
out; you saw the long, sliding stroke of the trowel about to return and
obliterate its own track; but it never returned; the hand of the workman
was suddenly arrested, and the whole looks so fresh and new that you
would almost swear that the mason had only gone to his dinner, and about
to come back immediately to smooth the roughness.”

The younger Pliny tells us of his uncle’s death, and of the suddenness
of the calamity. The people were in the amphitheater when the volcano
burst forth. The elder Pliny, in command of the fleet at Misenum, was
called by his sister to notice a strange cloud that had just appeared.
He had just returned from a walk, bathed, and gone to his study. This
was August 24, A. D. 79, about 1 P.M. The dense cloud occasionally
glowed with light; again, it was of inky blackness. It was the “pine
tree banner,” since become so familiar to the Neapolitans. Pliny at once
started for his galleys, determined to have a closer view of the strange
scene. As he went to the shore he received a note from a lady who lived
at the base of the mountain, urging him to come to her assistance. He
set out at once to render what aid he could; “for the villas stood
extremely thick upon that lovely coast.” They neared the mount; cinders,
pumice, ashes, and glowing stones fell on and among the vessels. Sternly
ordering the frightened crew to press on, Pliny stood in the bow of his
vessel, calmly dictating notes and observations on the awful scene.
Reaching Stabiae, he found a friend in great fear, preparing for flight,
and waiting for a change of wind. Pliny ordered baths, and sat calmly
down to supper, assuring his friend that the lurid flames on the
mountain sides were but villages fired by the heated stones. Retiring to
rest, his anxious friends heard him snoring. Finding they were about to
be entombed in the falling cinders, they roused him, and all, tying
pillows on their heads as protection from the showers of stones, sought
the seashore; but the waves ran too high for them to embark. It was
still dark as Erebus in the limit of the cloud, though already broad
day. Drinking some water, Pliny stretched himself on a mat; but an
unusual rush of sulphurous vapor compelled the company to disperse, and
two servants assisted him to rise, but he at once fell back dead.
Perhaps the noxious vapors were in greater quantity near the ground. His
nephew tells us he always had weak lungs. The company fled. Three days
later, Pliny’s body was found “looking more like a man asleep than
dead.” At Misenum, fourteen miles away, the earth was constantly and
violently shaken. Houses were toppling down. Chariots could not be
steadied, even by supporting them with large stones. The sea rushed
back, leaving many marine animals stranded high and dry. The dark cloud
on Vesuvius flamed and roared. The cloud enveloped Misenum and spread to
Capreæ. “Nothing was to be heard but the shrieks of women and children,
and the cries of men; some were calling for their children, others for
their parents, others for their husbands, and only distinguishing each
other by their voices; one was lamenting his own fate, another that of
his family; some wished to die that they might escape the dreadful fear
of death; but the greater part imagined that the last and eternal night
was come, which was to destroy the gods and the world together.” Then
came the flash of flames; then darkness and ashes, blinding, crushing,
burying. Stabiae also was buried. But the destruction of the two great
cities is given no word; it was sudden and complete. The ruins show they
were shattered by an earthquake. Then showers of broken lava rushed upon
Herculaneum; while Pompeii, farther away, was reached only by the
cinder-showers. Dion Cassius tells us the people were seated in the
theatres when the shock came.

In their terror, every object was distorted and magnified. “A multitude
of men, of superhuman stature, resembling giants, appeared sometimes on
the mountains, sometimes in the environs; stones and smoke were thrown
out; then the giants seemed to rise again, while the sounds of trumpets
were heard.”

Cassius, however, wrote a century and a half after the disaster; and the
chief value of his testimony is to show how terrible and lasting an
impression had been made upon the Campanians, from whom he derived his

After the desolation, the site of Pompeii was searched for such relics
as might be of practical use elsewhere. The search was rough and
destructive. The Emperor Alexander Severus made the place a “sort of
quarry from which he drew a great quantity of marbles, columns and
beautiful statues which he employed in adorning the edifices which he
constructed at Rome. Modern research has discovered but few gold and
silver articles, coins, and statues. It has developed however, a far
more fearful and faithful picture of the eruption than has been given by
any historian. The clouds of falling ashes so enveloped each object as
to preserve an exact impression, from which casts have been made,
showing every curve and line, even to the texture of the clothes. So we
look upon the death-agony, and conceive the terrors of the scene.

Here is the arena. Here were skeletons; perhaps of gladiators already
slain; perhaps of wounded men, unable to rise, who rolled and gasped,
and struggled in the choking gloom. There is the prison; you may see the
fetters still round the leg bones of the inmates.

Here stood the temple of Isis. On that pedestal was a beautiful image of
her, draped in purple and gold. In the next room lay a priest beside the
battered wall, with axe in hand. In the next room sat a priest overtaken
at his dinner. In other cloisters lay other priests, who had remained at
the temple, perhaps deeming Isis would protect them in that awful hour.
Close by the prison door lay a skeleton with a handful of silver coins.
Mayhap some one had perished there while endeavoring to bribe the jailor
to release a prisoned friend. Close by that column, in his narrow niche,
a Roman sentry stood, full armed; observing to the last, stern,
unflinching obedience to superior powers, who neglected to relieve him
in the terror of the time.

In the vault of a beautiful suburban villa of Diomed, lay eighteen
adults, a boy, and an infant, huddled together in attitudes terribly
expressive of the agony of a lingering death. To the skulls of the
children still clung their long, blonde hair. There was the impress left
by the bust of a young girl of striking beauty. Near the garden gate
without the house were two skeletons; one with a bunch of keys and a
quantity of money; the other with a number of silver vases. Doubtless
the family had thought to escape by retiring to the well-provisioned
cellar; while two slaves endeavored to profit by the confusion to escape
with their booty. The stifling sulphureous vapor found them out.

In the house of the Faun stood the skeleton of a woman; her hands
raised over her head. Her scattered jewels lay about the floor.
Endeavoring at length to leave the house, she found the doorway blocked
with ashes. The flooring of the upper rooms began to fall, and she
lifted her arms in vain attempt to stay the crumbling roof. Thus was she

In a garden near by a woman was found seven feet from the earth. She had
surmounted many obstacles, but perished as she scaled a wall.

Beneath a staircase lay a man who had with him a vast treasure of gold
and silver. He had preserved it at a terrible cost. Near by were five
others who had met a similar fate. They lay fifteen feet above the
earth. Plunderers were these, overpowered by a rush of mephitic gas
while delving for buried treasures.

Here lay two bodies, feet to feet--mother and daughter, perhaps. The
former lay outstretched and tranquil; the young girl of fifteen, in an
attitude expressive of frightful agony. Her legs are drawn up and her
hands clinched. With one hand she had drawn her veil about her head, to
screen herself from the ashes and smoke. The form and texture of her
dress are clearly seen; and through its rents the fair young skin
appears like polished marble.

Close by lay a young woman of high rank; young, richly dressed and
beautiful. One upraised arm and her clenched hands tell plainer than
words her agony and despair. A man--tall, stalwart, in coarse dress and
nail-studded sandals, lay at hand. Upon his back, with straightened
limbs and extended arms, he had resolved, since unable to escape, to die
like a man. His powerful features are clearly shown, and a portion of
his moustache adheres to the plaster cast.

Such are sights from which the veil of time has at last been lifted. How
many perished in that fearful outbreak we shall never know. Seven
hundred skeletons have been found in one-third of the city of Pompeii.
Perhaps two thousand perished there. But of the scores who fled from the
city, from suburban villas, from villages along the mountain, and who
were overtaken by the fiery storm ere they reached a place of safety,
who shall tell? Who may declare the fate of the lady who appealed to the
Roman admiral Pliny for relief? Such questions each may determine for
himself. History will preserve an eternal silence.

Such are the facts concerning the first great historic eruption of
Vesuvius. That volcanic phenomena were known to the ancients we have
already seen; but the character of Vesuvius seems to have been
unsuspected. The Greeks knew of the mountain top as a depressed plain,
covered with groves and wild vines. Spartacus and his gladiators, with
their thousands of followers, had their fortified camp there. Strabo
called it a volcanic mountain, but Pliny the elder did not include it in
his list of volcanoes. The fertile, rounded slopes were covered with
well-tilled fields.

But the neighboring regions were active, though Vesuvius was not.
Pithecusa, the modern Ischia, was often and terribly shaken, and various
attempts to settle upon it were in consequence abandoned. Poisonous
gases poured forth, even when there was no active eruption.

Still nearer Vesuvius lay the noted lake Avernus, which in Roman
mythology was the gateway of hell. It was said to exhale noxious vapors
so powerful that birds could not cross it. At the present day it is only
a pretty lake, without any unusual properties. It appears to cover an
extinct crater.

In the year 63 a great earthquake was felt in the Vesuvian region.
Hundreds of lives were lost, and great damage was done in many cities;
and numerous lighter shocks occurred during the next sixteen years. No
one seems to have apprehended any danger from the mountain. How long it
had remained dormant is unknown. But Pompeii and Herculaneum are both
built upon lava beds. That Pompeii itself was a very old city is clearly
established. In general outline it is elliptical, nearly two miles in
circuit, the entire area being one hundred and sixty acres. Characters
upon many of the foundation stones would seem to indicate a period
earlier than the Etruscan occupation; while other portions, especially
the towers, are certainly of later date. It is quite fair to suppose
that Vesuvius, from these facts, had lain quiet for a thousand years or

One effect of this first eruption of Vesuvius was to break down the
western wall of the crater and destroy the entire side of the mountain
next the sea, leaving as the only remains of the ancient crater a little
ridge on the south flank, and that portion, which under the name of
Somma, still encircles the present cone.

From the time of its first eruption, the restlessness of Vesuvius has
been well observed. The next action occurred in the year 203. In the
meantime the sides of the crater had become overgrown with brushwood and
forest trees, and the basin itself was a favorite haunt of wild boars.
In the year 472 the mountain broke forth with more violence than at
either of the former periods. The roaring was simply indescribable. The
clouds of ashes spread over the entire adjacent region. Houses toppled
down miles away. Scores of people were suffocated. The ashes fell in
showers at Constantinople and Tripoli.

Other eruptions followed in 512, 685, and 993. No stream of molten lava
issued at any of these. But in 1036, a great eruption took place, during
which, we are told, the lava poured forth from fissures in the sides,
as well as from the top, and ran in a broad and deep stream into the
sea. Thirteen years later another similar outbreak occurred; then ninety
years passed without any disturbance.

Of these eruptions, little beyond the bare fact is known. But from the
time of the last one referred to, 1139, scientific men have carefully
watched each outbreak. In 1198, the neighboring crater of Solfatara Lake
was in eruption; in 1302, Ischia, dormant over fourteen hundred years,
exhibited wonderful activity. For more than a year earthquakes shook the
island, and at length there burst forth a lava stream from the southeast
side of the mountain, flowing two miles, to the sea. Many houses were
destroyed during the two months’ eruption; and not a few of the
inhabitants abandoned the island. But Vesuvius was quiet till 1306.
Again it broke forth in 1500. During this time Ætna was in a state of
unwonted activity.

The eruption of 1538 broke forth at the foot of the mountain, and was
marked by some peculiar features. The plain between Avernus, Monte
Barbaro, and the sea, was first raised a little, and many cracks made in
it, from some of which water issued. The sea retreated about two hundred
paces, leaving many fish on the sands at the disposal of the people of
Pozzuoli, a little watering place on the Bay of Baiæ. On the evening of
September 29, numerous shocks of earthquake occurred, and about two
o’clock in the night an immense fissure opened near the lake and
extended toward the town. Smoke, fire, stones, and mud made of ashes,
were vomited furiously, the whole process being attended by a terrible
roaring, as of continual loudest thunder. Stones and masses of pumice
larger than an ox were thrown out. The gulf in the town widened, and not
a few houses were broken to pieces, or swallowed up in the chasm.

The large stones were thrown about as high as a crossbow would carry,
and then fell, sometimes into the lake, sometimes into the chasm again;
but mostly upon either side of it. The mud was ash-colored, very liquid
at first but rapidly thickening; and within thirty-six hours the site of
Pozzuoli was covered by a volcanic cone. A contemporary chronicler,
present at the time, says this cone was one thousand paces in height; by
which he probably meant slant height. The cone at present is four
hundred and forty feet above the Bay of Naples. Two days later it again
began to cast forth stones and ashes; and again on the seventh day.
Several persons who had ascended the hill were killed in this sudden
outbreak by falling stones, or smothered by the sulphurous vapors. This
“Monte Nuovo” or New Mountain, is a mile and a half in circumference at
the base, and four hundred and twenty-one feet deep. It is apparent,
then, that its bottom is nineteen feet above the sea level. The Lucrine
Lake was almost filled up. Only a shallow pool remains.

Falconi writes that from Naples the flames were seen, bursting forth in
the night, between the hot-baths and Tripergola. The next morning might
be seen the poor people flying in terror, begrimed with the black and
muddy shower, which continued throughout the day. Flying from death,
death was painted in their countenances. Some bore their children in
their arms; some carried sacks full of goods; some led donkeys loaded
with valuables, or such as were unable to walk.

The few eruptions after 1039 had been feeble. We find the mountain
coming to be regarded as extinct as a volcanic crater. Nearly five
centuries passed. Bracini, who visited it in 1631, writes that “the
crater was about five miles in circumference, and above a thousand feet
deep; its sides were covered with brushwood, and at the bottom was a
plain on which cattle grazed. In the woody parts wild boars frequently
harbored. In one part of the plain, covered with ashes, were three small
pools; one filled with hot and bitter water, another salter than the
sea, and a third hot but tasteless.” Such was the general character of
the crater in A. D., 78, save that it was not so deep.

In December, 1631, with a sudden, tremendous roar, the mountain flamed
into action. This outbreak has never been surpassed in fury and
destructiveness by any eruption of Vesuvius, unless we except the one
which destroyed Pompeii. The fatalities between the two eruptions had
been few, the most of the mischief being damage to property. One of the
eruptions failed to throw out any marked amount of matter of any sort.

But in 1631 the woods and pastures, vines, and fields within the crater,
were annihilated. Explosion followed explosion in swift succession. The
great crater was filled with molten rock. Stream after stream poured
swiftly forth, till seven rivers of fire were desolating the land. Crops
were fired by the cinder showers. Millions of tons of ashes were
scattered over the land. The mountain slope was dotted with ruined
villages. Resina, a populous little town on the site of Herculaneum was
completely destroyed. Storms of wind and rain swept the mountain, and
the huge rivers of mud buried whatever had escaped the lava and ashes.
The crater itself was shattered and nearly destroyed. Hundreds of cattle
were destroyed by the fiery storm. Not less than eighteen hundred people
perished in this great convulsion. Thirty-five years later another
outbreak occurred; and since then the mountain has been in constant

The next unusual activity of especial note occurred in 1737. Breislak
has estimated the outflow of lava at

[Illustration: VESUVIUS IN 1737.]

10,237,096 cubic meters; enough to cover a square mile twelve and a half
feet in depth. Immense quantities of white ashes were thrown out, and
the entire mountain was filled with rents and fissures, from which
poured volumes of noxious vapors that suffocated man and beast. The
quantity of ashes thrown out doubtless exceeded the volume of lava. In
1766 occurred another unusual convulsion, the mountain continuing
vigorously active from March till December, vomiting lava streams and
huge volcanic “bombs.” These last are masses of lava enclosing a bubble
of gas, which is set free by the breaking of the bomb as it falls. In
1779 the lava streams for a time threatened Naples itself.

Sir William Hamilton, long time English ambassador in Italy, has left a
careful record of the eruption of 1793-94. Passing by such features as,
common to all its eruptions, we have noted elsewhere, we may note the
more striking particulars: Millions of heated stones were thrown high in
the air, and fell in beautiful curves about the cone. It might be
likened to the bursting stars of our pyrotechnic displays. Nearly half
Vesuvius was covered with fire. “Huge masses of white smoke were vomited
forth by the disturbed mountain, and formed themselves at a height of
many thousands of feet above the crater into a huge, ever-moving canopy,
through which, from time to time, were hurled pitch-black jets of
volcanic dust, and dense vapors, mixed with cascades of red-hot rocks
and scoriæ. The rain from the cloud canopy was scalding hot.”

“As the lava rushed forth from its imprisonment it streamed a liquid,
white and brilliantly pure river, which burned for itself a smooth
channel through a great arched chasm in the side of the mountain. It
flowed with the clearness of honey in regular channels, cut finer than
art can imitate and glowing with all the splendor of the sun.” Various
were the effects of stones thrown in. “Light bodies of five, ten or
fifteen pounds weight, made no impression; but bodies of sixty, seventy
and eighty pounds were seen to form a kind of bed on the surface of the
lava and float away with it. A stone of three hundred weight that had
been thrown out by the crater, lay near the source of the current of
lava. I raised it up on one end and then let it fall in upon the liquid
lava, when it gradually sank beneath the surface and disappeared. If I
wished to describe the manner in which it acted upon the lava, I should
say that it was like a loaf of bread thrown into a bowl of very thick
honey, which gradually involves itself in the heavy liquid and then
slowly sinks to the bottom.”

As it flowed down the mountain the brilliant whiteness disappeared. Then
it began to wrinkle, where flowing slowly, like the cream on a pan of
milk when poured off. Crusts formed, which were speedily cracked to
pieces, as the current underneath pressed on. On such crusts a person
may cross the stream, if not particular as to singeing his boots. Being
cooled when near the bottom, yet forced on by the pressure behind, the
whole mass “resembled nothing so much as a heap of unconnected cinders
from an iron foundry, rolling slowly along and falling with a rattling
noise over one another.”

This eruption continued from February, 1793, to July, 1794. Rocks were
hurled two thousand feet into the air. The lava flowed from fifteen
different sources, and pouring in one stream from twelve to forty feet
thick, flowed three hundred and eighty feet into the sea, requiring but
six hours from the time of the outbreak to reach the shore. The sea
boiled for one hundred yards around. The town of Torre del Greco was
destroyed, and a number of persons were killed. The natives insisted,
when the paroxysm was over, on rebuilding on the old site. The
Neapolitans have a jest concerning their own exemption from the
calamities which Torre has endured: “Naples sins and Torre is punished.”
The lava of this discharge is estimated at about twenty-one million
cubic metres.

Several eruptions of Vesuvius have occurred during the present century.
Of these, the most notable are those of 1822 and 1872. They have given
us exact information upon a point where formerly there was only
conjecture, viz: the height which the material thrown out may reach.

In 1822, the ashes for twelve days fell in a continuous shower. The lava
which had boiled up and hardened till the appearance of a depressed
crater was lost was blown away. An immense abyss was formed,
three-fourths of a mile in length and two thousand feet deep. The entire
top of the cone was then blown away. Masses of lava weighing many tons
were hurled two or three miles. Darkness prevailed in broad day, as far
away as Amalfi, where the ashes fell to the depth of several inches. The
dense column of ashes and vapor was thrown ten thousand feet above the
level of the sea. In no known eruption has the electrical display been
so brilliant and continuous. The roll of thunder could be clearly
distinguished from the rumble of the volcano.

In recent years an observatory has been erected on the mountain, and all
its phenomena carefully noted. During the eruption of 1872 instantaneous
photography was pressed into service. A comparison of the whole view
with the height of the mountain, showed that the vapors and fragments
were thrown twenty thousand feet into the air--nearly four miles. This
outburst began on April 24, and reached its climax in two days. The
entire mountain filled with fissures and cracks--in the words of Prof.
Palmieri, “sweated fire.” Enormous volumes of steam poured from the
crater, with such a prodigious roar, that the terrified Neapolitans
rushed from their houses, and spent the night in the open air. The lava
floods rushed down the mountain side; and one of them destroyed two
villages, besides many country houses adjacent. The whole region for
several days quivered with shocks of earthquake.

Such have been the more important eruptions of Vesuvius. Its position,
by an ancient and populous city, has made it the most celebrated of
volcanoes. There seems no doubt that it is supplied from the same source
which feeds the others in the neighborhood, as well as Mt. Ætna. When
Vesuvius is quiet, Ætna is active, and vice versa. Close observation has
established a well-defined daily periodicity: so that the most favorable
period for visiting the crater may always be known beforehand.

In fine, about sixty eruptions of Vesuvius are on record. Of these,
twenty-three were during the last century, and twenty-five during this.
The activity of the entire region seems on the increase.



    “Hast thou observed the ancient tract,
     That was trodden by wicked mortals,
     Who were arrested on a sudden,
     Whose foundation is a molten flood?
     Who said to God, Depart from us,
     What can Shaddai do to us?
     Though he had filled their houses with wealth.
     (Far from me be the counsel of the wicked!)
     The righteous beheld and rejoiced,
     The innocent laughed them to scorn,
     Surely their substance was carried away,
     And their riches devoured by fire.”

Such is Dr. Henderson’s translation of Job XXII, 15-20. By many the
passage has been supposed to refer to the destruction of the cities of
the plain, and used to support the theory that a volcanic eruption was
the means of their overthrow. If the theory were true, the catastrophe
is the earliest historic eruption. A brief statement of the reasons for
the belief may interest the reader.

The entire Dead Sea valley is depressed far below the level of the sea.
From the Dead Sea to the head of the Red Sea is a well-marked trough,
supposed to indicate that the Jordan once emptied into the Red Sea. The
adjacent Sinaitic peninsula is a volcanic region, which may have been in
eruption when the Israelites passed it. Dr. Robinson reports water marks
left high on the cliffs, far to the south of the Dead Sea. Fragments of
lava have been picked up among the salt-crusts and bituminous deposits
on the shores.

In short, the region is one in which, at some time, volcanic action
occurred. It lies between two great volcanic


centers: Sinai, and the volcanic region of Arabia and Syria. The
question really is, whether any disturbance occurred there at so late a
period as the destruction of Sodom.

The idea advanced by several thoughtful men is, that in the bituminous
plain occupied by the cities, fissures opened and flames and cinders
issuing, rained upon the inflammable surface, speedily destroying the
cities, which sunk with the earth till the sea covered them. Such cases,
minus the bitumen, have several times occurred. And, again, the sea
might have existed before, and merely have been extended by the
convulsion. Such is the substance of the theory.

Cases in support of it are not wanting. The city of Euphemia, in
Calabria, was so swallowed up in 1638. Kircher, who was near at the
time, tells how he and his companions, unable to keep their feet, during
the violent earthquake, lay upon the ground till the paroxysms were
somewhat abated. Rising and looking for Euphemia, only a frightful black
cloud was seen. It slowly cleared away revealing a loathsome and putrid
lake. No trace of the city or its inhabitants was ever found.

In the island of Trinidad is a vast lake of pitch, of which the Indian
legend tells the origin. The words are Kingsley’s:

    “Once that dark and loathly pitch-lake
       Was a garden, bright and fair,
     And the Chaymas, from the mainland,
       Built their palm ajoupas there.

     There they throve, and there they fattened.
       Hale and happy, safe and strong,
     Passed the livelong days in feasting,
       Passed the nights in dance and song.

     Till they cruel grew, and wanton,
       Till they killed the colibris,
     Then outspoke the Great good Spirit,
       Who can see through all the trees.”

The spirit proceeded to remind the Chaymas of all the good things he had
provided for them; how he had allowed them unlimited use of all things
which could be of any possible good to them; how he had even been
patient with their thanklessness. Only the colibris or humming-birds,
useless to the Chaymas, he had reserved for himself, that he might have
pleasure in their beauty and happiness. The story continues:

    “But the Chaymas’ ears were deafened;
       Blind their eyes, and could not see,
     How a blissful Indian’s spirit
       Lived in every colibri.

     Lived, forgetting pain and sorrow,
       Ever fair and ever new,
     Whirring round the dear old woodland,
       Feeding on the honeydew.

     Then one evening roared the earthquake,
       Monkeys howled, and parrots screamed,
     And the Guaraons, at morning
       Gathered here, as men who dreamed.

     Sunk were gardens, sunk ajoupas,
       Hut and hammock, man and hound,
     And above the Chayma village,
       Boiled with pitch the cursed ground.”

The salient points of the evidence being presented, the reader may draw
his own conclusions. Perhaps the cities were fired in the manner
suggested--perhaps lightning ignited the bitumen. But it is generally
supposed that their site lies beneath the sea.

After the account given of Vesuvius, the reader will no doubt be
surprised to learn that this noted mountain can not rank as more than a
respectable fourth-rate volcano. It will require but a brief comparison
with others to show that such is the case.

By far the largest volcano in Europe, and next to Vesuvius, the most
noted, is Mt. Etna, in the island of Sicily. It was well known to the
ancients, and appears to have been in eruption from the most remote
historic times. Diodorus Siculus records that a violent eruption caused
an adjacent district to be deserted by its inhabitants before the Trojan
war. Thucydides tells of three eruptions between the colonization of
Sicily by the Greeks and the Peloponnesian war--431 B. C.

Notwithstanding the great antiquity of the records of this mountain, but
little detail is known of its earlier eruptions. The first of which any
extended account exists is the great outbreak of 1669. The convulsion
began with a tremendous earthquake. Many villages and towns in the
adjacent districts were leveled to the earth. In the plain of St. Lio, a
fissure six feet wide and twelve miles long and of unknown depth opened
from north to south with a terrific, crashing noise, and extended nearly
to the top of the mountain. Flashes of intense light poured from it.
Five other parallel fissures afterwards opened, one after the other,
emitting smoke, and the most horrid bellowings, which were heard to the
distance of forty miles.

This explains the manner in which dykes or banks of lava are thrown up
amid other rocks. The light emitted by these fissures would indicate
that they were, to a certain height, filled with glowing lava.

The lava, during this eruption, having overwhelmed and destroyed
fourteen towns, some of them containing three or four thousand
inhabitants, at length arrived at the walls of Catania, a populous city,
situated ten miles from the volcano. These walls had been raised sixty
feet high, towards the mountain, in order to protect the city, in case
of an eruption. But the burning flood accumulated against the wall, so
as to fill all the space around and below that part, and finally poured
over it in a fiery cataract, destroying every thing in that vicinity.

From Catania the lava continued its course until it reached the sea, a
distance of fifteen miles from its source, in a current about eighteen
hundred feet broad, and forty feet deep. While moving on, its surface
was, in general, a mass of solid rock, or cooled lava, and it advanced
by the protrusion of the melted matter, through this hardened crust.

As an illustration of the intense heat of volcanic matter, the Canon
Recupero relates that in 1766 he ascended a small hill composed of
ancient volcanic matter, in order to observe the slow and gradual manner
in which a current of liquid fire advanced from Ætna. This current was
two and a half miles broad; and, while he stood observing it, two small
threads of lava, issuing from a crevice, detached themselves from the
main stream, and approached rapidly towards the eminence where he and
his guide were standing. They had only just time to escape, when they
saw the hill on which they stood a few minutes before, and which was
fifty feet high, entirely surrounded, and, in about fifteen minutes,
entirely melted down into the burning mass, so as to be incorporated
with, and move on along with it.

According to Hitchcock, 77,000 persons perished during the eruption of
1769, and eighty-four square miles were covered with lava.

The slowness with which lava cools may be inferred that ten years later,
workmen endeavoring to sink a shaft through the bed were forced to
abandon the work when near the bottom, by reason of the heat.

While this was Ætna’s greatest outbreak, several of terrible
destructiveness have occurred since. In 1693 an eruption was accompanied
by earthquake shocks, which in three days did more damage than the lava.
Catania was almost destroyed; great sea-waves rolled in upon the


wreck; the vessels in the harbor were dashed against each other or upon
the beach: the ringing of the bells and the roar of the mountain and sea
was mingled with the cries of thousands of unfortunates struggling in
the ruins. Not less than 16,000 people perished in Catania alone.

In 1755 occurred an eruption which is memorable for the great flood
which attended it. Immense quantities of snow and ice, accumulated about
the summit, were melted by the intense heat, and the waters rushed down
in a column thirty feet deep and one and three-quarters miles wide, into
the plain below. The lower portion of the valley was filled with the
debris. Those who were not buried in the rubbish were swept out to sea.
The total loss of life is not exactly known, but amounted to many

Second in volume to the eruption of 1669, but very slightly destructive,
is the eruption of 1852-53. It began August 20, 1852, and continued nine
months. “The united width of the lava streams was two miles, with a
depth of from eight to sixteen feet, piled up in some places to one
hundred feet. It reached to near Zarafana,--almost six miles, descending
thirty-five hundred feet in sixteen days. The Val del Bove, from the
upper part of which it proceeded, looked like a sea of fire. Explosions
as of artillery were frequently heard, and the scoriæ were sent up to
great heights.” The intense heat set fire to the trees in the vicinity.

In January, 1865, a considerable eruption took place from an immense
fissure on the northeastern slope of the mountain. Seven active craters
developed along the fissure, sending out a lava stream one and one-half
miles wide.

Three other eruptions have taken place from Ætna since 1853; but, save
some damage to property, these have been comparatively unimportant, save
from a geological standpoint. One began in 1874 from a fissure on the
north side, but suddenly ceased. Prof. Silvestri, after examining the
locality, asserted that the next eruption would take place from this
same fissure. Five years later his assertion was verified, large streams
of lava being sent out, with heavy showers of ashes and sand. Large
areas of forest were destroyed, and the stream drew alarmingly near some
populous villages, but stopped not far from a small river. The area of
the lava bed was about seven hundred and fifty acres, the volume being
about twenty-three and a half million tons.

Ætna’s last eruption was in May, 1886; a few houses were destroyed, but
no lives were lost. Ætna and the adjacent Lipari Islands exhibited
unusual activity during the entire seventeenth century, having a total
of fourteen eruptions; as many as are recorded in all their previous
history. The next century witnessed fifteen outbursts from Ætna, and
during the present one there have been eleven.

It will be noticed that both Vesuvius and Ætna seem to have reached
their maximum activity at the close of the last century. The same is
true of the volcanoes of Iceland. This island, which is as large as
Ireland, is built up entirely of volcanic matter. It doubtless began
with a single, great submarine volcano; but to-day it has at least
thirteen active vents. It presents us with the most tremendous outpour
of matter in the history of the world. For seven hundred years there has
not been an interval of forty, and seldom of more than twenty, without
eruptions and earthquakes in some portion of the island. Single
eruptions of Mt. Hecla have lasted six years. Often during violent
earthquakes, old mountains have disappeared; new ones have been raised
up; rivers turned from their courses, or dried up altogether. The old
Norseman who discovered the island might much more appropriately have
named it Fireland. Doubtless had his ancestors known the island they
would have chosen it as the home of the terrible fire giants.

But Iceland is the realm of both frost and fire; and there is no more
romantic or painful chapter in history than the story of this hardy and
spirited race to maintain their foothold in the face of such terrible
odds. Those who hold that a nation’s progress and stamina are in
proportion to its material advantages, would have to make an exception
in favor of blood. The plucky Norsemen have held their own in this
region for nine centuries; nor is there any deterioration. No nation can
to-day show a better intellectual or moral condition than these poor but
hardy islanders. Yet there is not a region of the world that has been
more frequently or terribly scourged than this semibarren island.

The best known volcano in Iceland is Mt. Hecla, which ranks with Ætna
and Vesuvius in fame. It is not the highest nor most remarkable of
Icelandic volcanoes; but the frequency of its eruptions, together with
the fact that it may be easily reached, have brought it to the front. It
is five thousand feet high, and lies but thirty-five miles from the sea.
The larger portion of the material thrown out by it consists of slag,
cinders, pumice, and ashes, the slope of its cone being about 35
degrees. It has nothing answering to the customary crater; the eruptions
break from fissures in its sides; and, in consequence, it may emit
several streams or showers at once.

Hecla has been in eruption about thirty times since its character was
first known, and has at times made fearful havoc. Its last great
outbreak was in 1878.

Hecla has adjutants in this volcanic field that are more savage and
relentless than the generalissimo. One of the most destructive outbursts
of recent times occurred in the Vatna district in 1875. In this region,
about sixty

[Illustration: MT. HECLA.]

miles by one hundred and fifteen, is a very nest of volcanoes. The
convulsion lasted several months, the entire region being active; and
great numbers of people perished. So great was the destruction of
property, crops, and flocks that the people, reduced to starvation, were
compelled to appeal to Britain and Denmark for assistance. This has
happened more than once in Iceland’s history.

But far up in the impenetrable deserts of the interior is a mountain
which has seldom shown any activity; but when in full blast, its power
is unsurpassed by any volcano on the globe. This is the fearful Skaptar
Jokul, or Skaptar mountain. A single instance of its power will suffice.

One of the most stupendous outbreaks recorded in history is that of
Skaptar Jokul in 1783. In the quantity of lava ejected, it is hardly
surpassed by any single eruption; and few disturbances of the sort have
surpassed it in fatality. Immense volumes of ashes were hurled into the
air, spreading over the whole island in dense clouds. Streams were
poisoned by the minerals and alkalies thrown out. Immense numbers of
sheep and cattle perished. Thousands of acres of pasture lands were
ruined. Where the grass was not killed, it often was rendered poisonous,
like the water, by the mineral dust falling upon it. The hills were
dotted with the decaying carcasses. The air was filled with horrible
stench. The ashes fell in such volumes into the ocean that the fish
deserted the coast. The flying clouds of dust spread to Europe. The
appalling horror of the scene can hardly be imagined. Death stalked
abroad in his most repulsive form.

“The river Skapta, a considerable stream, was for a time completely
dried by a torrent of liquid fire. This river was about two hundred feet
broad, and its banks from four to six hundred above the level of the
water. This defile was entirely filled for a considerable distance by
the lava, which crossed the river by the dam thus formed, and overflowed
the country beyond, where it filled a lake of considerable extent, and
great depth.

“This eruption commenced on the 11th of June. On the 18th of the same
month, a still greater quantity of lava rushed from the mouth of the
volcano, and flowed with amazing rapidity, sometimes over the first
stream, but generally in a new course. The melted matter having crossed
some of the tributary streams of the Skapta, completely dammed up their
waters and caused great destruction of property and lives by their
overflow. The lava, after flowing for several days, was precipitated
down a tremendous cataract, called Stapafoss, where it filled a profound
abyss, which that great water-fall had been excavating for ages, and
thence the fiery flood continued its course.

“On the 3rd of August, a new eruption poured forth fresh floods of lava,
which, taking a different direction from the others, filled the bed of
another river, by which a large lake was formed, and much property and
many lives destroyed.

“The effect of this dreadful calamity may in some measure be imagined
when it is known that, although Iceland did not at that time contain
more than fifty thousand inhabitants, there perished nine thousand human
beings by this single eruption, making nearly one in five of the whole
population. Part of them were destroyed by the burning lava itself; some
by drowning, other by noxious vapors which the lava emitted, and others
in consequence of the famine, caused by the showers of ashes, which
covered a great proportion of the island and destroyed most of the
vegetation. The fish, also, on which the inhabitants depended, in a
great measure, for food, entirely deserted the coast.”

The quantity of lava which Skaptar Jokul emitted during this eruption
was almost beyond belief. The two principal branches were respectively
forty and fifty miles long. The branch which crossed the Skapta was from
twelve to fifteen miles wide; the width of the other was seven miles.
The usual depth was one hundred feet; but two and three hundred were
frequent; and where the streams dashed across gorges or narrow valleys
the depth was six or seven hundred. It would be quite safe to estimate
the average depth at one hundred and fifty feet. These two principal
streams were, then, sufficient to cover one thousand square miles to a
depth of one hundred and fifty feet. Contrast with this the twenty
million cubic meters estimated to have been poured forth in one of the
great Vesuvian eruptions. This last would cover one square mile to a
depth of twenty-five feet. Vesuvius sinks to an insignificance that is
pitiable; its great outbreak produced but one-six thousandths as much as
the single eruption of Skaptar Jokul! Such calculations may give us a
comparative estimate of the two; but no figures can give us any
conception of the force required to elevate such a stream of melted rock
through the crust of the earth. And if we compare the resultant
fatality, it is clear that this great convulsion, in a very sparsely
settled island, destroyed more lives than all the outbursts of Vesuvius
in its densely populated neighborhood.

This eruption of Skaptar was preceded by several outbreaks in the sea;
some of them close to the shore; some many miles from land. Such
phenomena have become tolerably familiar. Livy informs us that a
disturbance of this kind near Sicily, occurring with similar phenomena
at the time of Hannibal’s death, so terrified the Romans as to induce
them to proclaim a day of supplication to the gods to avert their
displeasure. Santorin in the Grecian Archipelago is a similar
production. And in 1831 an island was thrown up to the southwest of
Sicily, where previous soundings had shown a depth of six hundred feet.
It was preceded by a violent spouting of steam and water. The sea around
was filled with floating pumice and dead fish. The crater reached a
height of two hundred feet, being three miles in circumference. Its
circular basin was full of boiling, dingy, red water. It continued
active three weeks, and then slowly sank, leaving a dangerous reef
eleven feet below the surface; while a single black volcanic rock
projected from the sea near the center of the reef. It is known as
Graham’s Island. Thus we see that volcanic action is not confined to the
land, and that the areas affected are continually shifting.

Jorullo, in Mexico, affords an example of the way in which new volcanoes
are constantly being formed. In the parallel of the City of Mexico exist
five volcanoes, extending in a line across the country as if thrown up
along some immense fissure or subterranean fault, extending from sea to
sea. Of these Popocatepetl is perhaps the largest, and Jorullo the most

There formerly existed in Mexico an extensive plain of remarkable
fertility, covered with fields of cane, cotton and indigo, and watered
by irrigation from the reservoirs in the basaltic mountains that bounded
it. This region, the _Malpays_, had no volcano within eighty miles, and
lay twenty-six hundred feet above the sea. In June, 1759, alarming
rumblings were heard in the earth, which were succeeded by severe
earthquakes. These phenomena lasted several weeks, to the great
consternation of the inhabitants. In September it seemed that quiet was
restored, when suddenly, on the night of the 28th, a fearful
subterranean noise was again heard; fissures opened, and hot stones were
thrown out. Part of the plain rose up like

[Illustration: JORULLO.]

an immense bubble to the height of sixteen hundred feet. Imagine the
astonishment of the natives when morning showed them a mountain where
the night before was a level plain! It almost seemed as though some
magic had transported them to another land. Smoke and ashes spouted
forth; five smaller cones were thrown up, the least of which was three
hundred feet in height. The plain was dotted with thousands of small
conical mounds, called by the natives _hornitos_, or ovens. Each emitted
vapor for a time; but at length all the upheavals, save Jorullo, ceased
action, though the plain remained so hot as to be uninhabitable for many
years. Jorullo continued to throw out lava several months, and has been
in more moderate action ever since.

In some respects the terrible outbreak of Skaptar Jokul has been several
times exceeded. While almost alone in the immense quantity of lava
thrown out, we have seen that great streams of lava are not accompanied
by the most violent explosions. In the number of lives destroyed,
Skaptar has also been exceeded; but if Iceland had been as densely
populated as Ireland, which it equals in area, the convulsion might have
destroyed half a million or more.

One of the best examples of the force of steam on a smaller scale is
seen in the eruptions of volcanoes, is to be found in the geysers of
Iceland. These lie in a strip of ground one hundred yards wide and about
a quarter of a mile in length. The ground is dotted with numerous dark
apertures and conical mounds, from which clouds of steam ascend
continually. Of these the Little Geyser is no longer active, being
merely a pool of still, hot water. The Great Geyser is periodically
active, and the Strokr, or Churn, may be excited at any time by throwing
a quantity of earth into it. As a matter of course, these boiling
springs never do any damage, the quantity of water thrown out being of
no consequence. The water holds in solution a vast quantity of silicious
matter, which is deposited around the mouth of the geyser, forming
sometimes a saucer-shaped basin, sometimes a nippleshaped mound. From
the rate at which the deposits are made, it is estimated that the Great
Geyser is about ten hundred and sixty years old.

One of the most tremendous outbursts of which we have any authentic
account occurred in the island of Sumbawa. It is one of the Molucca
islands; and the mountain from which the outbreak occurred is called

[Illustration: GEYSER.]

“This eruption commenced on the 5th of April, 1815, but was most
terrific on the 11th and 12th of that month; nor did it cease entirely
until some time in the following July. The explosion so much resembled
the firing of heavy cannon at a distance that the people of many
vessels at sea supposed there was a great naval engagement within
hearing, but could not imagine what nations were engaged.

“The commanders of some ships, and several English forts, gave orders to
prepare for battle, though they were several hundred miles distant from
the mountain. At Sumatra these tremendous explosions were distinctly
heard, though not nearer than nine hundred and seventy miles from
Tomboro. They were also heard at Ternate, in the opposite direction from
Sumatra, at the distance of seven hundred and twenty miles from the

“So immense in quantity was the fall of ashes, that at Bima, forty miles
from the mountain, the roof of the English resident’s house was crushed
by the weight, and many other houses in the same town were rendered
uninhabitable from the same cause. At Java, three hundred miles distant,
the air was so full of ashes that from this cause, at mid-day, it is
said, the darkness was so profound that nothing like it had ever before
been experienced during the most stormy night.

“Along the coast of Sumbawa the sea was covered with floating lava,
intermixed with trees and timber, so that it was difficult for vessels
to sail through the mass. Some captains, though at a long distance at
sea, mistook this mass for land, and sent out their boats in order to
ascertain the safety of their situations. The sea, on this and the
neighboring coast, rose suddenly to the height of twelve feet, in the
form of immense waves, and, as they retired, swept away trees, timber,
and houses with their inhabitants. All the vessels lying near the shore
were torn from their anchoring and cast upon the land. Violent
whirlwinds carried into the air, men, horses, cattle, trees, and
whatever else was in the vicinity of the mountain. Large trees were
torn up by the roots and carried into the sea. But the most calamitous
part of the account still remains; for such were the tremendous effects
of the burning lava--the overflowing of the sea, the fall of houses, and
the violence of the whirlwind, that, out of twelve thousand inhabitants
on this island, only twenty-six individuals escaped with their lives,
all the rest being destroyed in one way or another.

“The whole island was completely covered with ashes, or other volcanic
matter. In some places the bottom of the sea was so elevated as to make
shoals where there was deep water before; and in others, the land sunk
down and was overflown by the sea. Adding those who were killed on other
islands, the total death roll was over twenty thousand.”

This entire region is one of wonderful activity. Mount Api, in the
island of Banda, in the same group, has had twelve violent eruptions in
two hundred and thirty-four years; and, indeed, it is hardly ever really
quiet. The volcano of Abo, in the island of Sanguir, broke out in 1711,
burying a large number of villages in cinders, covering extensive areas
of forest and plain, and destroying many thousands of people. This same
volcano burst forth suddenly in March, 1856, vomiting torrents of mud,
streams of lava, and clouds of ashes and scoria, doing almost as much
mischief as on the former occasion. In the island of Timor, a gigantic
volcano, long known as the Peak, began a violent eruption in 1638. When
the convulsion was over the mountain had disappeared; partly blown away,
partly sunken, and the site is to this day covered by a great lake.

But the center of this great volcanic region lies in the island of Java,
which possesses about fifty craters, half of them still active. The heat
and vapors poured out, combined with the power of the sun, combine to
make this one of the most noted tempest regions in the world. Nowhere
else are such terrific thunder-storms so common; and more than twenty
water spouts are sometimes seen at one time.

One of the most remarkable eruptions of modern times is that of
Papandayang, in this island, which occurred in 1772. The mountain burst
forth suddenly, with a tremendous roaring. Cinders and ashes were almost
insignificant. Immense boulders were hurled about the neighboring
regions. The mountain was veiled in a cloud of glowing vapor. A tract of
land seventeen miles long and seven miles wide, with over forty
villages, was swallowed up. Several thousand people perished. When the
cloud finally vanished it was found that four thousand feet of the upper
portion of the mountain had been blown away. The broad, ragged mass
remaining was of little more than one-half the original height. Two
other mountains in the island were in action at the same time; while
several intervening active cones remained quiet. Mt. Guntur, in the same
island, has had a number of violent eruptions. The last, occurring in
1800, sent forth in addition to lava streams, a torrent of white, acid,
sulphurous mud, which swept a populous and fertile valley, engulfing
hundreds of men and animals in its course. We shall notice by and by a
still more remarkable Javanese convulsion.

Time would fail were details to be given of the numerous volcanoes of
Sumatra and Celebes and the adjacent islands, or of the eruptions and
boiling springs of New Zealand, or the towering cones of New Guinea, or
of the peaks of the Canary, Cape Verde and Azores. Let us notice briefly
a few of the more noted volcanoes of America.

Our own land is free, for the most part, from such disturbances; the
only recorded outbreaks being those of Rainier and St. Helens, in 1842.
But in prehistoric times it had numerous volcanic areas. The Raton peaks
in New Mexico once sent out lava streams that spread over the country
between the Upper Arkansas and Canadian rivers; and St. Helens, Hood,
Edgecombe, Baker, Rainier, Fair Weather and Shasta, are cones well known
to the western tourist. These, except Hood and Shasta, are still active.

But better known examples of great internal heat are found in the hot
springs of different portions of the country; though these merely show
the existence of subterranean heat, and afford no conception of its
power or violence. Quite as famous is the famous geyser basin of the
Yellowstone. Here is a region surpassing greatly the geyser district of
Iceland, both in area, and in the number and power of the geysers. The
whole region is pierced with fumaroles, around which sulphur and other
minerals crystalize in beautiful forms; and steam jets break through the
soil in countless places. Certain of the geysers are exceedingly
periodic; and others, like the Strokr of Iceland, may be incited to
action at almost any time by casting in earth or stones. The more
powerful of these “toy volcanoes” send water to a height of four hundred

In the southern portion of the continent and in South America we find a
region of remarkable activity. Central America has had several violent
convulsions at a comparatively recent period. The volcano of Las
Virgines, in Lower California, had a great eruption in 1746; but the
country being sparsely peopled, little harm was done, and the fact of
the eruption was made known by the light and clouds seen from vessels at
sea, and the ashes and cinders that fell in the adjacent regions of

If eruptions be measured by the violence of explosions,


then the famous outburst of Cosequina must rank among the greatest, if
not itself the greatest, that is known to history. The narrative of its
eruption, as related by an eye-witness, seems almost beyond belief; but
the facts are too well authenticated. The extent of the destruction of
life, though certainly reaching many hundreds, was never definitely
known. The personal narration serves to show the fearful impressions
made upon those who experience such awful convulsions:

“The wonder to me is how any man could live through such a burst as
Cosequina’s in San Salvador. ’Twas the 21st of January, 1835--as fine a
morning as ever was seen on earth. The Bay of Fonseca was smooth as
silk; never a cloud in the sky. The lazy folks of Playa Grande and
Nagascolo were lying in the hammocks beside the doors, smoking and
dozing, and not a soul had a notion of ill from any side on that sunny
morning, which was to be the last for half of them. They lay in hammocks
and smoked and dozed like worthless cusses, as they are; and most of
’em, no doubt, had full in sight the big mountain on t’other side the
gulf. They’d nigh forgot to call it a volcano. Not for a thousand years,
as the Indians told, had smoke or mischief come from that hill; they’d
ha’ laughed silly any one as had talked danger from Cosequina.

“At ten o’clock that morning that mountain burst out again, and in a
fury such as never yet was known in the upper world--no, nor ever will
be again, as _I_ believe, till the last day. Suddenly it burst out--not
muttering beforehand, nor smoking--but crash! all on the moment, as if
to remind men what evil power was yet left in nature to destroy them. At
ten o’clock that day the voice of the mountain was heard after one
thousand years’ silence--in such a thunderous roar was it heard that
beast and bird fell dead with the sound alone, and great cliffs pitched
headlong into the sea! There’s thousands still alive to witness. For a
while the streets of Playa Grande and Nagascolo must have seemed like
streets of the dead; for every soul was stunned. Folks were lying in
their hammocks or on the floor, motionless and senseless as corpses. The
sky was still bright and blue, but on the mountain side was a cloud like
ink, which rolled down like a cap to the foot. Naught afterwards seemed
so horrible as the sudden heaping of that jet black mound in the place
of the sunny, green hill.

“But it didn’t long offend any man’s sight--over heaven and sea the
cloud opened and spread. Lightning and thunders burst from the heart of
the ocean, and sheets of flame glared luridly the sides of Cosequina.
The darkness spread so quick, that at Leon, two hundred miles away, they
were lighting the church candles within an hour after the outbreak. But
candles, nor torches, nor houses aflame couldn’t disperse that darkness.
For three days no soul in Leon saw another’s face, nor ventured out but
to the howling churches, to grovel there. Night dragged after night, but
no day shone over the land. A lighted torch could not be seen at arm’s
length! The ashes fell softly and silently, till buildings crushed down
headlong with the weight. Tigers were in the churches, and panthers
entered house doors in search of companionship and protection. Hundreds
committed suicide in their madness, and hundreds more became simple for
life. Men’s faces were blistered by the hot winds; the paint fell from
the statues; the crash of falling, and the faint light of burning houses
doubled the horror of darkness. Such a time as that was never seen on
earth since the plague of Egypt, I guess!

“But of course the most awful work was around the Gulf of Fonseca. The
water rose in waves twenty feet high, dashed over the Estero, and swept
off the towns of Playa Grande and Nagascolo, slick as a prairie fire.
Scarce a soul escaped for twenty miles about. The cattle crushed over
the barrancas in search of water, and were destroyed in herds of
thousands at a time; for none could see, nor hear, nor breathe. Rivers
were dried by the heat, and choked with ashes; forests burned up; the
very grass withered throughout the whole length and breadth of
Nicaragua, and hasn’t sprung since. _Sacate_ (‘a broad flag-like blade’)
alone escaped, and the country which was once the grazing land of
Central America was ruined till eternity, for that business.

“During this time of death, as they still call it, at Balize, one
thousand miles away, the commandant called out the garrison, and kept
them under arms twenty-four hours, thinking all the navies in the
universe were at action in the offing. There ’twas too dark to see fifty
yards oceanwards. The roar of Cosequina was heard miles around,
spreading fear and perplexity. Four thousand miles in radius the ashes
fell; they lay on the roofs at San Francisco, California.

“Well, the mountain’s behaved like a decent sort of powder-cask ever
since. The fuse has always been burning and spitting; but you see
there’s a big consumption of power in such a burst, and I guess the old
machine wants to recuperate awhile.”

Those familiar with the terrific effects produced on the gunners by the
discharge of heavy artillery, can understand that the atmospheric
concussion produced by tremendous volcanic explosions might kill large
numbers of birds and small animals in the vicinity.

As to the distance to which ashes may be carried, a late eruption in
Iceland was announced by a Professor in Germany long before any vessel
brought the news. The atmosphere was unusually full of dust which, on
examining with a microscope, he pronounced to be pulverized Iceland
lava. The detonations of Cosequina were heard over the peninsula of
Yucatan, along the shores of Jamaica, eight hundred miles distant, and
as far as Bogota in South America--nearly ten thousand feet above the
sea. Ashes fell on vessels twelve hundred miles westward at sea.
Fortunately the eruption was soon over.

Another unusual outbreak occurred in Central America from the volcano of
Leon in 1867, beginning November 27. First there were a number of
violent explosions, which shook the earth for a great distance. Immense
quantities of black sand were then thrown out, and a column of vapor and
fire, filled with meteor-like specks, was hurled to a height of three
thousand feet. Closer observation showed the “specks” to be rocks four
or five feet in diameter, and weighing thousands of pounds. The showers
of sand lasted three days, covering the earth for fifty miles around.
The forest for leagues was scarred by the swift-falling showers of sand
and stones; and for half a mile around the cone the trees were leveled
to the ground.

Central America contains twenty-nine volcanoes, eighteen of which are
active. Twenty cones are in sight from the town of Leon. One cone,
Izalco, suddenly manifested signs of activity, but no eruption took
place. But the sudden heating rapidly melted the snow on the mountain,
and the torrents of water inundated the town of Guatemala, destroying
thousands of dollars worth of property, besides many lives. The mountain
has since been known as “Agua,” or water.

South America is noted for the frequency and extreme violence of its
earthquakes; of which more hereafter. Though possessing a greater number
of very lofty volcanic cones than any other region, the direct effect
of its eruptions have not been so disastrous as the results of many
eruptions elsewhere. There is but one very notable exception; the
earthquake that destroyed Riobamba in 1794 was followed at once by an
outpour of mud from Tunguragua, which overwhelmed forty thousand people,
still dazed by the shock, or struggling in the ruins of their villages.

One notable incident is the continual subterranean roaring heard for a
considerable period over twenty-three hundred square miles of Northern
Venezuela, a number of years ago, during a violent outpour of lava from
the volcano of St. Vincent, an island six hundred and twenty-three miles
to the northeast. No motion of the earth was perceptible. It has been
supposed that the noise was merely the roar of St. Vincent conveyed
through the crust of the earth; but this would raise the question as to
why the same noise was not audible at points nearer to St. Vincent?
Another suggestion is that the source from which the lava of St. Vincent
was derived lay beneath Northern Venezuela; and a fact brought in
support of this is, that the great earthquake of Caracas was immediately
followed by action at St. Vincent. Similarly, the great eruption of
Cotopaxi, in 1744, was attended by subterranean rumbling at Honda, four
hundred and thirty-six miles away, and eighteen thousand and one hundred
feet lower. Between are the colossal mountains of Pasto, Pichincha and
Popayan, with countless valleys and ravines.

The cone of Cotopaxi is the smoothest and most symmetrical in the world;
perhaps because its eruptions are almost entirely of ashes or
fragmentary lava. As no villages lie in its immediate neighborhood, the
clouds of ashes have not done so much damage as might be expected.

The first sign of an eruption is the melting of the snow upon the cone.
Torrents of water sweep down the mountain. Such an outbreak occurring in
1741, after two centuries repose, the amount of snow accumulated may be
imagined. The rush of the water tore away blocks of lava, ice and
scoria; the plain below was covered with dashing waves. Twelve miles
from the mountain the waters still had a velocity of fifty-six feet per
second, or about two-thirds of a mile a minute. Escape from such a
current would be impossible. Six hundred houses were swept away and one
thousand people destroyed. The sides of the cone glowed in the night
with a reddish light. Cotopaxi also had a great eruption in 1533, which
hurled lava blocks containing one hundred and thirty cubic yards to a
distance of nine miles. Such masses would weigh more than two hundred
and eighty tons. Such feats will serve to give clearer ideas of the
immense power of volcanic action.

Perhaps a statement of the force required to raise a column of lava
would interest the reader. Lava being about twenty-eight times as heavy
as water, a column of it eleven and three-sevenths feet high, and one
inch square, would weigh fifteen pounds. Then to raise lava to the tops
of various volcanic cones would require pressure or initial velocity as

                                  Pressure per      Initial velocity
                  Height.         square inch.      per second.

  Stromboli        2,168 feet.     2,640 pounds.      371 feet.
  Vesuvius         3,874   “       4,710   “          496   “
  Hecla            5,106   “       6,195   “          570   “
  Ætna            10,892   “      13,230   “          832   “
  Teneriffe       12,464   “      15,135   “          890   “
  Mauna Kea       14,700   “      17,865   “          966   “
  Popocatepetl    17,712   “      21,525   “        1,062   “
  St. Elias       18,079   “      21,975   “        1,072   “
  Cotopaxi        18,869   “      22,380   “        1,104   “
  Sahama          22,965   “      27,756   “        1,212   “

When we remember that our powerful steam engines are operated by
pressures varying from one hundred and twenty to two hundred pounds per
square inch, it is evident we can have no adequate conception of the
magnitude of a force of twenty-seven thousand pounds to the square inch.
And yet such a power must be but a tithe of the force exerted; for it
represents only the force necessary to throw the lava from the surface
to the tops of the mountains; whereas the lava reservoirs are far
beneath the surface. Also, the above calculation considers only the mere
weight of the lava; it allows nothing for the resistance of cohesion,
friction, or a heavy crust to be often burst through. When we consider
all these, each of which must far surpass the weight of the single
column of lava, it is evident that the pressure that can hurl lava
blocks of two hundred and eighty tons nine miles from a mountain must
reach a million pounds per square inch. These are meaningless figures.
Human thought cannot grasp so stupendous a power.

Perhaps the best known of the great volcanoes are those of the Sandwich
Islands. We find there the largest extinct crater in the world. The
great dead crater of Haleakala, in East Maui, is thirty miles in
circumference. The crater of Kilauea, on the flank of Mauna Loa, is
about seven miles in circumference. Several great eruptions have
occurred in these islands during the past fifty years; and in one of
these convulsions the volume of lava poured out was at least equal to
the great outburst of Skaptar Jokul in Iceland. And when we consider the
frequent recurrence of the Hawaiian eruptions, it at once appears that
in this region lies the greatest lava producer on the globe.

But in regard to destruction of life or property, there has so far been
no more harmless region in the world. There are two reasons: The lava
poured out is very liquid, and cools slowly; hence a cone formed from it
has a very gradual slope. The actual grade of Mauna Loa is but five or
six degrees. So a lava stream descends it very slowly; and the light on
the mountain warns the people of the outbreak. The shore region is the
only one inhabited, the interior being covered with dense forests. So
the lava may burn a path directly through to the sea, and yet do no
great damage to the interests of the people. The greatest damage done to
the island has not been from an outpour of lava, but from earthquakes
and sea-waves. The great eruption of 1868 was accompanied by continual
shocks--two thousand being felt in a fortnight, and numerous tidal waves
being produced; yet the total fatality was but one hundred, and nearly
all of these were old or weak persons who were unable to swim well
enough to escape from waves that overtook them. A few were overwhelmed
by a torrent of soft, red clay that broke from a fissure in the
mountain. Cliffs and crags were thrown down by the earthquakes, and the
top of one hill was thrown one thousand feet. The lava stream reached
the sea at Nanawale, fifty miles from its source, and pushed
three-fourths of a mile into the sea.

Again, in an eruption in 1880, two lava streams poured out toward the
town of Hilo; and though the great crater continued in full blast, it
was nine months before the people could be sure whether the streams
would destroy the town or not. At length the lava was within five
minutes walk of the town. Many collected their chattels and left. Then
the action on the mountain suddenly subsided; and in a few days the
“great red dragon” lay stiff and cold, almost at the people’s doors.

Since the natives build their houses almost invariably of one story and
of the lightest materials, earthquakes can do comparatively little
damage to most property. Hence, with all the activity of the great
volcanoes, the inhabitants are far more secure than those of many other
regions apparently not so dangerous. Persons may readily visit the great
crater in eruption, though at full blast; and excursion parties are
organized to visit this “Niagara of fire” on every occasion of unwonted
activity. Nowhere else in the world can volcanic action on the grandest
scale be so carefully observed.

The details given hitherto will serve to illustrate the terrible havoc
wrought by subterranean forces. So far only outpouring of volcanic
matter has been especially noticed. But ere examining the terribly
destructive force of earthquakes alone, it is meet that the story of the
tremendous eruptions of the century be closed with the story of the
greatest of the age; and indeed, when all details are considered, it may
rank as the most tremendous convulsion of all history. In certain
details, Skaptar may have exceeded it: in destruction of life. Ætna
surpassed it in 1669; but as a whole, it is simply without a parallel.

The reader will rightly judge that such a convulsion could hardly occur
elsewhere than in the Malayan archipelago. Already the terrible outburst
in Sumbawa has been noted; also several others in Java.

Java and Sumatra formerly formed a single island, but were separated by
a terrific earthquake in 1115. Shocks are felt in one of the two islands
nearly every month. The list of calamities occurring there during the
past hundred years is appalling. Besides the convulsions before noted,
an eruption of Galung-gung, in 1822, overwhelmed one hundred and
fourteen villages and destroyed four thousand people. In 1843 Mt. Guntur
cast forth 30,000,000 tons of ashes, doing immense injury to life and
property. In 1867 there was a tremendous earthquake which killed many
thousands in the interior of the island, and dried up or greatly
obstructed the water courses. Immediately afterward the volcano of
Gunung-Salak ejected such a quantity of cinders and lava that the work
of obliterating or obstructing the streams was complete. The cess-pools
and marshes bred pestilence and epidemics, which have carried off from
Batavia alone nearly a million of inhabitants in the past twenty-two
years. In 1872 the volcano of Mirapi burst out and destroyed several
thousand people in the province of Kadu. Sixteen severe earthquakes were
felt in 1878, and another one in 1879.

At length, in 1883, Krakatoa, a volcano on a small island in the Straits
of Sunda, in the very center of the greatest subterranean furnace on the
globe, began to manifest some uneasiness. As in the case of Cosequina,
people had almost forgotten to call it a volcano. And when the mountain
muttered and fired a little in February, they regarded it with some
curiosity, and then, when it quieted down, thought no more about it.

On the 25th of August the people of Batavia heard peculiar subterranean
mutterings, as they thought, but the roar increased till it might have
been compared to a battery of fortress artillery. An avalanche of stones
and ashes began to fall, and continued all night. Krakatoa had begun.

By morning it was impossible for Batavians to reach the Straits of
Sunda. The bridges were down and the roads impassable. The waters of the
straits were in fearful turmoil. Explosions beneath the sea followed
each other in rapid succession. The waters were sixty degrees hotter
than usually. The rebounding waves were dashing upon Madura, five
hundred miles away, mountains high.


The dance of death had hardly begun. Louder and louder roared Krakatoa;
ere noon, Maha-Meru, the greatest of Javanese volcanoes, had joined in.
Then Gunung-guntur opened; others rapidly followed, till fifteen
volcanoes of Java were in eruption; most of them in full blast. The
awful scene was beyond description. Krakatoa could still be heard
thundering above all the rest.

Before nightfall Gunung-guntur, the greatest active crater in the world,
four miles in diameter, was spouting enormous streams of lava and
sulphurous mud. Tremendous explosions followed with showers of cinders
and stones, as though the old giant were endeavoring to out-do the
leader of the dance. Terrible was the slaughter by the flying fragments.

The sea was more violently agitated. Dense clouds of hot, sulphurous
vapors, charged with electricity, hung over the waters, and added
whirlwinds and thunderstorms to the scene. Fifteen large waterspouts
could be seen at one time.

On the shore, men, women and children ran wildly about. There was no
safety upon sea or land. Houses were crumbling, the atmosphere
darkening, the storm increasing. Hundreds of people were buried beneath
ruined houses. Hundreds more were struck down in their flight. Immense
crevices opened and swallowed; huge waves rushed inland and devoured. It
seemed as though Java were to buried, with a rain of fire, in the
unfathomable depths of the sea.

Towards midnight, it seemed as though the Prince of Darkness might be
present in person to direct the work of destruction. “A luminous cloud
far more colossal than that which had appeared above Gunung-guntur,
gathered above the chain of the Kandangs, which run along the southeast
coast of Java. This cloud increased in size each minute, until at last
it came to form a sort of a gray and blood-red color, which hung over
the earth for a considerable distance.

“In proportion as this cloud grew the eruption gained fresh force, and
the floods of lava poured down the mountain sides without ceasing, and
spread into the valleys, where they swept all before them. On Monday
morning about two o’clock, the heavy cloud suddenly broke up, and
finally disappeared. When the sun rose, it was found that a tract of
country extending from Point Capucine to the south as far as Negery
Passoerang, to the north and west, and covering an area of about fifty
square miles, had entirely disappeared.

“There stood the previous day the villages of Negery, and Negery
Babawang. Not one of the inhabitants had escaped. They and their
villages had been swallowed up by the sea. The population was not so
dense in this part of the island as in others, but for all this the
total number of victims fell little short of fifteen thousand.

“The chain of the Kandangs, which runs along the coast of Java in a
semi-circle for sixty-five miles, had also disappeared.

“The waters of Welcome Bay, in the Strait of Sunda, those of Pepper Bay
to the east, and those of the Indian Ocean to the south, had burst in
upon the country, where they formed a raging torrent.”

All the furies of the deeps of earth and sea seemed freed to work their
will and wreak their wrath. The great Papandayang now joined in the
chaos. The cannon-like reports could be heard fifty miles away.

Then Sumatra was infected with the wild fury. From one of her volcanoes
three columns of lava shot up from three different places, and three
leaping red streams of lava dashed forth for the plains below. The
mountain hurled after them showers of stones. Volumes of black dust
flew after, making thick, stifling darkness which could be felt. Banks
of ashes lay upon the roofs of houses, or muffled the city streets. A
tornado hurried by, bearing stones, dust, roofs, trees, houses, and men.

In Java the fierce Papandayang burst open. From the seven great fissures
the lava in its basin plunged out and reached for miles from the
mountain’s base. On the site of the island of Merak, which was swallowed
up by the sea, the next day fourteen volcanic mountains sprang up,
forming a chain from St. Nicholas Point, Java, to Hoga Point, in

In Batavia and Anjer were three thousand five hundred European
residents; eight hundred of these never saw the light again. An
overwhelming avalanche of rock, mud, and lava, poured upon their quarter
in Anjer; then the sea leaped upon those struggling in the ruins and
swept away all. Not so much as a trace of them was left. Two thousand
inhabitants perished, besides a large number of fugitives from other
quarters. Bantam was submerged, and one thousand five hundred people
drowned. Waves dashed completely over the island of Serang, and not a
single inhabitant escaped. The storms of rock and lava numbered their
victims at Cheribon, and at several noted pleasure resorts.

The great temple of Boro-Buddor was ruined, its dome being beaten in by
the showers of rock. This is a most deplorable architectural loss. It
was the largest Buddhist Temple in the east, and had no equal in the
world. Erected eleven hundred years ago, it stood on an eminence in a
circular valley. It had a great central dome one hundred and forty-five
feet high, surrounded by seventy smaller domes. On the platforms beneath
were four hundred and fifty chapels, cut in openwork out of granite, and
each having a statue of Buddha. The walls of the temple contained a
complete picture-history of Buddha, there being four thousand
beautifully chased bas-reliefs. Not a stone was left uncarved. The great
chapel under the central dome was reached by a series of four grand
staircases of five hundred feet each. No other structure is comparable
to it. A few may be even more splendid; but it was decidedly _sui

The list of calamities grew rapidly. The town of Tamarang was devoured
by the lava. Red-hot stones fired many houses. Eighteen hundred people
perished. The island of Onius was terribly shaken and then plunged into
the sea. The island of Midah was swallowed up. No one escaped. The
lighthouses on Sunda Strait were wrecked. The town of Tjeringen was
destroyed with ten thousand people. Nine hundred people perished at
Waronge. Three hundred corpses were dug from the ruins of Talatoa. The
river Jacatana was blocked with lava and ashes, and leaving its bed
poured through Batavia.

The island of Merak, a fortified place three miles from Krakatoa, was a
valuable Government stone quarry, six or seven years in use. Thousands
of native workmen were assembled there, with engineers and overseers.
Their huts were on hills one hundred and fifty feet above the sea. The
end of the season was at hand. The 1st of September would see them
returning to their Java homes. The island trembled, paused--sank
slowly--the sea plunged over it. Two natives and an European bookkeeper

A steamer put out from the port of Telok Betong. Two inches of lava lay
upon her deck. Pumice stone lay ten feet deep on the sea around her.
When but a short distance out “we saw a gigantic wave of prodigious
height suddenly advancing upon us at great speed from the


direction of the open sea. Immediately the captain brought his vessel
round so as to meet the wave stern foremost. After a moment of most
piquant anxiety, we found ourselves lifted up with terrific speed; our
vessel bounded upward, and then we felt ourselves plunged into the
abyss. But the wave had passed us and we were out of all danger. Like a
high mountain the gigantic wave sped furiously towards the shore, while
immediately after three other great waves followed it. The waters rushed
in and destroyed the town, sweeping away first the light house, which
fell in like a pack of cards, then all the buildings beyond. In a few
moments all was over, and where once Telok Betong stood there was
nothing but water.”

Livid with terror, the captain steamed rapidly to warn the town of
Anjer. There was no longer an Anjer, a Dutch fort, a garrison. A single
sailor, who had caught a floating tree, stalked about among the corpses.

Krakatoa, which had opened this fearful carnival of death, sank slowly
into the sea. Of the island, twenty-five miles long and seventeen wide,
a small portion of the terribly shattered cone remained in sight. New
islets were made; vast shoals created. Sailors discovered new islands
and landed, only to find themselves on vast floating pumice rafts, miles
from land. New charts had to be made. For a time the seas were hardly

Such is the story. The damage to property was millions of dollars. The
loss of life will never be definitely known. First estimates placed it
at 80,000. Conservative judges pronounced it in all probability between
50,000 and 60,000.

The explosions were heard as far away southward as Australia; to the
westward as far as Southern India; to the eastward, they are said to
have been heard in the Caribbean Sea. Even if we reject the latter, we
may take the others, and obtain some idea by imagining volcanoes at St.
Louis to be heard at New York and San Francisco, at Mexico and in
Hudson’s Bay.

The great sea wave rushed from Krakatoa to the Mauritius in eight hours.
It rolled around the coasts of the Australian continent, dashing into
the southern harbors, sweeping through the narrow Bass Straits. It rose
and fell upon Hawaiian coasts in a perplexing manner. It surged against
South America; against East Africa; it rounded Cape Horn and made itself
known on the coasts of France, upon our Atlantic shore. It encircled the
world--the greatest sea wave ever known.

The volcanic, microscopic dust remained long in the air, and occasioned
the singular redness of the sky at morn and eve that prevailed
throughout the world for the next two years. Apart from this suspended
dust, the volcano threw out as much matter as the Mississippi bears to
the gulf in two hundred and fifty years.

The atmospheric wave of low barometer was even more marked than the
oceanic wave. On the day when Krakatoa sank into the sea, the barometric
oscillation was noticed all over the world. From the time at which it
reached Berlin, it is found to have travelled eight hundred and
seventy-five miles an hour. Thirty-six hours later the barometric
oscillations were repeated, but less pronounced. Thirty-seven hours
afterward there came a third, and still fainter series. It appears,
then, that the atmospheric wave, set in motion by this stupendous
outbreak, was powerful enough to thrice encircle the world.

It has been but a short time since geologists believed the magnitude of
the subterranean forces to be greatly decreased; but in view of a
century of great eruptions closed by such an appalling convulsion, it
must be said that the fiery forces are at least as active and powerful
as ever.



    “Diseased Nature oftentimes breaks forth
     In strange eruptions: and the teeming earth
     Is with a kind of colic pinched and vexed
     By the imprisoning of unruly wind
     Within her womb; which for enlargement striving,
     Shakes the old beldam earth, and topples down
     Steeples and moss-grown towers.”

Such is the theory of earthquakes as laid down by “Wild Will
Shakespeare.” Whether it be an expression of the popular belief of the
day, or a personal opinion, is not easy to determine. If the latter, he
had, as we shall see by and by, many predecessors in the same belief.
His metaphor, though more elegantly expressed, cannot compare with the
Indian’s for terseness and force: “Ground heap sick--heap belly ache--no

We have already seen that the forces producing earthquakes and volcanic
action are conceded to be practically identical. The latter seldom
occurs without the former; but the former are frequent in districts far
removed from any known vent of subterranean heat. So the expression of
Shakespeare is not so far wrong as might be, so far as our present
knowledge goes.

In the Hindoo cosmogony successive ages of the world are separated by
periods of chaos; and no wilder image of unreined destruction has fancy
ever dreamed. The earth is to be eternal. There is one eternal,
invisible spirit, Brahm, from whom springs Brahma, who creates a race of
gods. These frame the earth into orderly condition, and rule it for four
hundred thousand years. At the end of that time, the land and sea and
sky meet in gigantic ruin; the gods are no more, save only Vishnu, the
preserver. The sea covers all things and eternal night is accompanied by
eternal tempest.

Eternal is not strictly correct, however. This reign of destruction
lasts four hundred thousand years, during which time Vishnu sleeps on
the coils of the great seven-headed serpent of eternity, which floats
upon the gloomy sea. The long night over, Vishnu wakes and remodels the
earth, and peace and light resume their sway. Seven such cycles pass;
all things are annihilated, and Brahm sets about a new creation which
goes the same round.

The eastern wise men, fond of allegory and parable, doubtless intended
by this to express the persistence and order in the universe, even in
periods of the most inexplicable disaster; and to picture for the
ignorant the absolute eternity of God.

The thing was too good to let drop; and others added to it by asserting
the earth was upborne by an elephant who stood on the back of a
tortoise. The tortoise rested on a fish; the fish on water; the water on
air; the air on light; the light on darkness; the darkness on the Lord
only knows what. When these animals were somewhat wearied, they changed
their position, and the earth trembled.

Greece had a somewhat better myth of the giant Atlas, who bore the world
on his shoulders; but the old fellow’s gait was not of the steadiest.
Rome, not much given to manufacturing her myths _de novo_, imported the
Grecian fable. We have to-day appropriated the old fellow’s title for a
geography supposed to contain the whole earth. The figure is lost on

But the alleged drunkenness of Atlas did not consort precisely with the
popular ideas of the proper conduct of a steady old porter in a
responsible position; and the mythmakers dragged in a new scapegoat in
the person of the Titan Typhon, or Enceladus, supposed to be entombed in
Mt. Ætna, as we have elsewhere noticed.

Inhabitants of parts of Farther India and of some Malayan islands
believe that far down in the bowels of the earth an immense tiger, Pelu,
lies asleep. The sole object of his existence is to destroy the earth;
but he may not do this till the human race is extinct. Then he will rise
to his feet, the earth will burst into fragments and fly into the
distant realms of space. It must of necessity follow that our feline
friend’s existence is a somewhat monotonous one, and to avoid ennui in
his cramped quarters, he passes much time in sleep. Waking occasionally,
and wishing like the German Barbarossa, to know if his time is come, he
cautiously raises a few hairs on his back. The earth trembles, and the
natives, rushing from their tottering houses throw themselves upon the
ground, shouting loudly “Pelu! Pelu!” to assure his tigership that they
are certainly alive. Satisfied on this point, the worshipful beast
composes himself for another nap.

Thor, the war god of the Norsemen, wielded a mighty hammer, Miolnir. In
the “Saga of King Olaf” we find Thor shouting:

    “The blows of my hammer,
     Ring in the earthquake.”

Another myth attributes the earthquake to the restlessness of the
serpent Midgard, who encircles the universe, his tail in his mouth.
Also, the wolf Fenrir, who is to take part in the final contest that
produces Ragnarok, is supposed to have occasional differences of opinion
before the time with certain of the fire giants. The earth is then
liable to be shaken.

Natives of the Tonga group, in the South Pacific, believed that their
hero-god, Maui, upheld the world on his breast. When he became restless
and shook the earth, they would rush out and beat the ground with sticks
to make him lie still.


From traditions concerning Mohammed we learn that the circular earth
lies in the midst of a vast sea, and is encircled by an immense whale,
upon whose back 700,000 gigantic bulls walk up and down. Said whale
swims about the earth very cautiously, but occasionally jostles it
slightly. On the night when Mohammed was born this noble animal was so
agitated with joy, that had not the Lord restrained him, he would
assuredly have overturned the earth.

The Sandwich Islanders believed that the goddess Pele, who dwelt in the
great volcano of Kilauea, was displeased with the conduct of man; she
proceeded to admonish him of her power, by shaking him out of bed in the
night, or tumbling his house about his ears. If especially angry, she
set her volcanic home to fuming and firing.

So-called scientific theories on various topics have in time past been
little more respectable, and need not be given any detailed attention.
The pious gentry who deemed Roger Bacon a wizard and Columbus and
Galileo heretics, would have listened with horror to any effort to
explain the phenomena of earthquakes as anything else than a direct
manifestation of the wrath of God. Researches in any branch of natural
science met with decided discouragement in Christendom during the dark
and middle ages; and the goddess of wisdom found a decidedly more
congenial atmosphere at Moorish and Saracen courts.

Hence the modern science of seismology, as the investigations of
earthquakes are called, is comparatively in its infancy. Yet the subject
of seismic phenomena has been of interest to the thoughtful from a very
early period, earthquakes being of far greater frequency than most
persons suppose. Some of the earliest philosophers ventured opinions on
the topic; for the records of earthquakes, more distinctly than those of
volcanoes, go back to the earliest times.

We find Aristotle, in his treatise on natural events, rejecting the
explanations of three other philosophers as untenable, and propounding a
theory of his own. Anaximenes, of Miletus, suggested the drying and
moistening of the earth occasioned irregular contraction and expansion,
and from the cracking and readjusting shocks resulted. Democritus, of
Abdera, shook his earth by means of vast subterranean bodies of water
which some force compelled to move from one cavity to another. Doubtless
the peculiar wave-like motion of the earth in many earthquakes suggested
his theory. Anaxagoras, of Clazomenae, believed that ether--by which the
old Greeks seem to mean air--was confined in underground cavities, and
in its efforts to escape upward produced the vibration of the earth.
Aristotle substitutes for the disturbing agent wind, which has flowed
into fissures and caverns and is endeavoring to flow out again. Virgil
and Pliny stand by the old Greek; and it is quite probable that
Shakespeare acquired his idea from one of the three. And these, with
Anaxagoras, are but little out of the way; for as seen in the discussion
of volcanic action, the explosive or disturbing agent is generally
steam, though other gases are present in large quantities.

We have already noticed that earthquakes and volcanoes are produced by
the same causes; but as the myths of many nations do not connect the
two, it is evident that such people did not recognize their essential

But after knowing they are but variations in results, we cannot so
readily explain the reason of the variations. Certain facts are well
established; and from these common premises widely different conclusions
have been deduced.

We know to-day that in active volcanic regions, an earthquake almost
invariably precedes an eruption; and a violent one has never, within the
historic period, followed an eruption. So the most reasonable inference
is, that the earthquake merely betokens the presence of a vast quantity
of imprisoned vapor which has not found an outlet; and that so soon as a
volcanic vent is found, the pressure is relieved, and the earthquake

But this leaves us just where the theorists of volcanic agency have
stopped. The question of the sudden formation of volumes of gases in
sufficient quantities to produce such terrible effects is to be solved.

Mr. Mallet, who is one of the best authorities on the subject, considers
that submarine eruptions must account for them. A volcanic upheaval of
the sea bottom would produce crevices, by which the sea is brought
directly in contact with subterranean fires. An explosion is the result,
like those that have occasionally occurred at foundries from dumping
masses of fiery slag into a snowbank. So what began with a gradual
upheaval ends with a sudden concussion, the vibration of which passes
along the sea bottom to the mainland. Every one who has lived in the
city is familiar with the fact that the vibration produced by a carriage
may be felt at the top of a very tall building.

But the idea that the explosion always occurs at the sea bottom leaves
no way to account for the fact that a volcanic eruption acts as a
safety-valve. Mr. Mallet’s conclusions are largely based on personal
observations of earthquakes in England, where no active volcano exists.

That earthquakes are more violent and volcanoes more numerous on islands
or near the sea coast is well-known. It is also well established that
shocks frequently occur at sea, which are not perceptible on the land.
The shock is similar to that produced by striking on a reef. Often have
sailors been mystified, on receiving such shocks and hastily heaving the
lead, to find the ocean unfathomable. Again, shocks which are most
violent on land are not perceptible at sea, unless a great sea wave be
produced; but such a wave in the open sea, as often experienced,
produces no shock but passes under a vessel like a heavy swell. And a
shock at sea is sometimes severe enough to snap a spar, or wrench loose
bolts like the blow of a reef, yet no trace is perceptible on shore.
Lastly, earthquakes often happen in inland regions, and affect but a
small area. Clearly it will not do to attribute effects so different to
explosions at the sea-bottom.

Those who attribute all earthquakes to subterranean heat and gases,
whether local or general, find it easy to account for the occurrence of
violent earthquakes in regions remote from active volcanoes. In case of
the gradual decline of volcanic action, such as we know from the great
numbers of extinct volcanoes, old trap-dykes, and ancient lava beds, to
be continually taking place in one region or another, the old vents or
safety-valves would cool and close. The pent up power would in
consequence gradually accumulate, till finding no outlet, it would burst
the crust over a wide area, and so relieve the pressure.

This finds further confirmation in the fact that the noted non-volcanic
regions which are seriously shaken are all coincident with or adjacent
to regions of extinct fires; while in such regions as are very seldom
shaken, such as Germany, portions of North America, Brazil, the eastern
slope of the Andes, the traces of such agency are less common, or of
older date. Noted regions of volcanic action of comparatively recent
extinction are Asia Minor, Turkey, Spain, Southern France and Greece.
These, belted together by the active regions of Western Asia, the
peninsula of Arabia, the Mediterranean, and Azores and Canaries, form a
region which has suffered from earthquakes as much as, if not more than,
any other tract upon the globe.

Those who have been puzzled by the appearance of earthquakes some
distance from any actively volcanic region, have endeavored to divide
earthquakes into two classes, which they have called volcanic and
plutonic. This second class they have considered as originating, like
the other, in the depths of the earth; but have endeavored to account
for them by supposing them to be occasioned by the falling in of great
caverns at a considerable depth. This theory has found a fair objection
in the fact that in such cases an earthquake should always be a sinking
of the ground: while the wrecking power and peculiarities of some
earthquakes indicate a decided upward concussion as the first of shocks;
and at the seashore, where any change in level is at once detected,
upheaval is quite as common as subsidence.

Much speculation has been spent upon the fact of an earthquake being
very severe in two or three different localities, but being
imperceptible or very mild in intervening places. In South America it
has become so common a peculiarity that the natives speak of such
localities as “bridging” the earthquakes. Not improbably the reason is
the same that produces calm when two waves interfere, crest to trough;
the motions destroy each other. It may be also that the character of the
underlying rocks has much to do with such cases. Experiments with
explosions in mines show that vibrations of the soil travel over three
hundred yards per second through sand beds, or about as rapidly as in
the air; over five hundred yards in granite; while through iron they
travel over three thousand eight hundred and fifty yards per second. So
a vibration extremely destructive to a region underlaid by massive rocks
might be comparatively harmless to a town on a sand-bed or mud-bank.
Observations on earthquakes themselves have shown great variation in the
rate of speed. The earthquake of Germany of 1846 moved four hundred and
ninety-two yards per second; while the earthquake of Viege in 1855
traveled nine hundred and sixty yards a second toward Strasburg, but
only half that speed towards Turin. So, also, the Lisbon earthquake
traveled three times as rapidly around the coast as down the Rhine
valley. So it must be that certain regions owe their comparative
immunity from earthquakes to the nature of the ground beneath.

One or two ingenious savants have suggested that the earth is a vast
thermo-electric pile, and that disturbances in the electrical
equilibrium of the earth are the cause of earthquakes and volcanic
eruptions. But as already seen, the electrical phenomena of volcanic
eruptions are fairly considered an effect, and not a cause, of the
eruptions, as the hydro-electric machine illustrates. In the theory of
these men, the molten veins of the interior represent conductors which
are too small or imperfect to allow the electricity to pass freely, and
are fused in consequence. One of these men, Steffens, alleges that such
phenomena can only occur where large veins of coal exist, because large
masses of carbon would be necessary to keep up a strong electric tension
in the interior. Herr Steffens must account for the fact that the great
coal regions of the world have been peculiarly favored in their
comparative immunity from shocks.

Still others have advocated the idea that atmospheric whirlwinds and
cyclones produce earthquakes. While not a few shocks have been
accompanied by violent storms, the exception seems to be the rule. And
in the case of storms, we have seen that the outpour of heat and vapor
in a volcanic eruption would necessarily produce one. As concerns the
winds that have accompanied earthquakes, they have as often come after
the shock as before.

But these bring up certain phenomena that must be noticed. It is not
easy to say how great is the connection between electrical and
atmospheric disturbances, and the shiverings of the earth; but that
there is some peculiar bond between them has been thought indisputable.
It is only in the present century that scientists have carefully conned
this matter, and generally rejected the belief. But the opinion is very
ancient, and has a strong hold upon the people. It is generally adhered
to by South Americans, Italians, West Indians, Japanese, and the
inhabitants of Central Asia. Kamtschatkans, Kurile Islanders and
Japanese, assert shocks are most frequent at the equinoxes. In
equatorial America, the natives say an earthquake is preceded by
drought, and is the precursor of rain. In the Dauphiny Alps, the people
regard earthquakes as the result of avalanches; and the latter are
readily started by the slightest atmospheric disturbances. In Central
America the equinoctial idea prevails.

These things set the wise men to investigating. Much to their surprise,
they began to discover that the idea of connection between the seasons
and shocks seemed well-grounded. In 1834 Professor Merian announced that
of one hundred and eighteen earthquakes at Basle, the majority had
occurred in the winter. Volger made a list of twelve hundred and thirty
shocks in the Alps; seven hundred and seventy-four occurred in autumn
and winter. December showed one hundred and sixty-eight; July forty. Of
ninety-eight quite severe shocks, but one had occurred in the summer. Of
five hundred and thirty-nine earthquakes in the Rhine basin, one hundred
and three occurred in the spring, one hundred and one in the summer, one
hundred and sixty-five in the autumn, one hundred and seventy in winter.
Observations in the Antilles show a slight predominance of autumn and

Another peculiar fact is that most shocks seem to occur at night. Out of
four hundred and seventy-two earthquakes in 1855-56, whose time was
exactly noted, but one hundred and seventy-two happened in the day. Of
those at night, three-fifths were during the latter half, forty-four
being between one and two o’clock. Squier has told us that during
several years residence in Central America, nearly all shocks occurred
at night; also, that he experienced none save at the change of seasons.
Hence, one is almost compelled to conclude that, while the primal cause
of earthquakes must exist in the depths of the earth, yet external and
climatic influences are strong modifiers.

Some other peculiarities are adduced to show the connection between
atmospheric disturbances and earthquakes. In Central and Tropical
America the temperature is said to fall after any shock. After the
earthquake at Lechsand, Sweden, in 1856, the temperature fell eighty-six
degrees. The same shock was violent as far as Smyrna in Asia Minor,
where the thermometer fell at once twenty-nine degrees, the night being
the coldest of the winter. Many similar cases are mentioned. But in view
of the fact that one hundred times as many sudden and marked changes of
temperature occur every year in various localities without the
intervention of an earthquake, it seems difficult to regard the above
instances as more than mere coincidences. The greatest fall in
temperature the writer ever experienced occurred within three hours of a
transit of Venus; but one swallow--nor a flock of them--cannot make a

Barometric observations have been dragged into the combat. The great
Lisbon earthquake, and the convulsion in Calabria, were preceded by low
barometer. Similar observations have been made in this century. The
constantly recurring shocks of 1855-56 were in each case preceded by
fall of barometers. But Humboldt, in South America, and Ehrmann, in
Central America, were unable to find such order; though the shocks were
so invariably followed by such changes that unusual earthquakes were
believed by the natives (as is also believed in India) to advance the
rainy season. The resultant electric phenomena might produce this

But in this field all at present is mere guess work. The exceptions to
any association of earthquake and storm are so far the rule; except in
case of a volcanic eruption also occurring. In the latter case a storm
invariably follows, so far as present observations go; but then the
storm is not co-extensive with the earthquake, but is usually confined
to the neighborhood of the volcano.

It should be noticed that certain scientists have endeavored to prove
these convulsions are due to planetary influence. It does not appear
that they have been able to find the least trace of any connection
between the earth’s convulsions and the planets; but some affirm the
existence of an earthquake cycle coincident with the Saros of the moon.
Effort is also made to connect earthquakes and volcanoes with the
gigantic convulsions of the sun, known as “sun spots.” It is argued by
certain advocates of the molten interior that the attraction of the sun
and moon produces an interior tidal wave, like that of the sea; and any
irregularities in this produce the phenomena of earthquakes and volcanic
eruptions. Objections to the molten interior have been already noted;
and in regard to the other suggestions, so long as the great convulsions
are peculiarly prevalent in certain regions, so long it will be
necessary to seek their chief cause or most powerful modifiers in
entirely local influences.

In conclusion, it does not yet seem clear that we can rely absolutely
upon a single cause as productive of all the convulsions of the earth’s
crust. Internal local heat, pent up gases, suffice for volcanic
phenomena; but earthquakes present so many peculiar variations that it
seems almost imperative to many men to admit, at least, the modifying
influence of other agencies. But so long as these agencies appear to be
quite as frequently the modified as the modifier, no laws concerning
them can be announced. Hence, internal conditions are the only clearly
identified factors so far.

There is quite as much difference of opinion as to how far beneath the
surface the shocks originate. Robert Mallet’s investigations have led
him to believe the depth cannot be over thirty miles, and that seven or
eight miles is the limit for most, and his views are those of most
scientists. But a few others conclude that we cannot find molten matter
and gases to produce the concussion at a less depth than seventy-eight
miles. But, as their conclusions are based largely upon the idea that
the melting point of minerals is raised uniformly with increasing
pressure, their conclusions must be rejected as unreliable.

The character of the motion is well known. Each point of the surface
begins to move with the vibration first upwards, then away from the
center of shock, then downward and backwards. Thus, each point describes
a small ellipse, which is repeated with each wave of vibration. If the
longer axis of the ellipse be vertical, the main force of the concussion
is directed upwards; if the shorter one be upright, the shock is an
undulatory one. An alternation of the two forms the most destructive
combination. The difference is readily perceived in the effects
produced. A sudden upward shock may wreck the roofs or floors of
buildings, while an undulatory one brings down the walls.

Houses erected on sand, immediately overlaying compact rock, usually
suffer most during earthquakes. The effect is that of the vibration of a
sheet of glass covered with sand. But, if a second sheet of glass be
placed on that, the vibration is hardly communicated to it at all. So,
while sand is a bad foundation, a sand-bed beneath the surface seems to
deaden the shock.

It is not difficult to understand that lofty buildings, and those of
stone or brick, must be vastly more dangerous than those of wood, and
low and broad. Throughout many portions of Central and South America,
the people endeavor to compromise, by building houses of stone, but low
and massive, with very light roofs. These are far less safe than light
structures of wood; also, it is clear that cupolas and towers must be
peculiarly liable to injury. For this reason, churches have often
suffered more from shocks than other buildings, and the throngs of
penitents who flock to them in the hope of propitiating an offended
providence are often the first victims of an earthquake.

“It is to earthquakes, rather than to barbarians, from the fifth to the
ninth century, that Rome owed the loss of so many superb palaces and
temples. One might imagine that in these great disasters, the architect
is the ally of the subterranean scourge. The Indian’s hut and the Arab’s
tent, may be overturned without any great loss or injury to their
owners; but the marble of the patrician crushes him as it falls, and the
inhabitants of a great city meet their death under the ruins of their
sumptuous buildings. The Peruvians of old were not far wrong in making
merry at the folly of their Spanish conquerors, who, in erecting great
buildings upon a soil so constantly agitated, were preparing, at great
expense, their own tombs.”

It will be shown, by and by, how the motions of earthquakes are becoming
so carefully noted that their path can be pointed out beforehand. Ere
many years are past, the prediction of earthquakes may become as
important a feature of the Signal Service Department, as the foretelling
of storms.



    “The thunder roared his signal to the sea,
     While shook the frightened earth through all her coasts,
     And mountains bowed their trembling heads in awe,
     And yawning gulfs leaped up amid the plains.
     The fountains of the mighty deep were rent,
     The waves, long prisoned in their rocky bounds,
     Roared, in a strange new freedom rushing forth,
     And sprang on forest, plain, and mount, and hill, and vale,
     Exulting in destruction; while the frightened hordes
     Of men, with birds and beasts of every sort,
     Fought each with each for refuge from the flood,
             Yet none escaped.”

Records and myths of great earthquakes go back almost to prehistoric
times. The Greeks tell of an immense flood--perhaps a sea wave--which
overwhelmed Attica immediately after an earthquake in the nineteenth
century before Christ. It is known as the deluge of Ogyges, from the
name of the reigning king. Some three centuries later is the story of a
great earthquake and flood in Thessaly, from which Deucalion and Pyrrha
escaped. There is a still vaguer legend of an immense earthquake about
2400 B. C., that shook all Southern Europe, and Asia Minor, opening an
outlet for the Black Sea, which had before been entirely inland. In the
convulsion of the seas, we are told almost all the people of Greece and
Asia Minor perished. Chinese traditions and monuments tell of an immense
earthquake at the same period, which suddenly raised the bottom of the
great Northern Sea, pouring its waters out upon all North China and
drowning the people. Where the great sea once was is now the great
Mongolian Desert.

[Illustration: THE DELUGE.]

Likewise the Egyptian priests told Plato of a great island, Atlantis,
lying off the coast of North Africa, stretching an unknown distance to
the west; the home of a mighty nation that ruled all the western world,
to the shores of the Mediterranean, and threatened the liberty of the
European world. It is said that they made war on the combined forces of
Greece and Egypt; and in the crisis of the struggle a fearful earthquake
swallowed up the Grecian soldiery in a single night, and sunk Atlantis
in the ocean since called from its name, Atlantic.

Doubtless all these traditions relate to the same terrible catastrophe
described in Genesis. The Chinese even tell us in what way the
“fountains of the great deep were broken up.” It would seem that a great
sea once extended northeastward from the present basin of the Caspian
over the deserts of Central Asia; and that an awful upheaval of this
basin was the chief factor in the flood. Isthmuses were torn asunder:
vast oceans hurled their gigantic waves over the continents, and over
islands engulfed forever. The extraordinary evaporation from the unusual
expanse of water, the sudden chilling of the atmosphere, produced
torrents of rain. “The same day were all the fountains of the great deep
broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.” Whatever be the truth
of the traditions, it is certain they preserve the memory of a
catastrophe unparalleled in recent days.

Of a later date, there is the story that the Ciminian and Alban lakes
near Rome were created by a terrible earthquake; but the date of this
event is not very definite. The Japanese tell us that the great volcano,
Fujiyama, was thrown up in a single night, and at the same time the lake
in Oomi was created, near by, on the site of a number of flourishing

Occasionally an earthquake has brought about a historic crisis. In the
year 464 B. C., “in the fourth year of the reign of Archidamus, there
happened the most dreadful earthquake in Sparta that had ever been
known. In several places the country was entirely swallowed up: Täygetus
and other mountains were shaken to their foundations; many of their
summits, being torn away, came tumbling down; and the whole city was
laid in ruins, five houses only excepted. To heighten the calamity, the
Helots, who were slaves to the Lacedemonians, looking upon this as a
favorable opportunity to recover their liberty, pervaded every part of
the city, to murder such as had escaped the earthquake; but finding them
under arms, and drawn up in order of battle, by the prudent foresight of
Archidamus, who had assembled them around him, they retired into the
neighboring cities, and commenced that day open war, having entered into
an alliance with several of the neighboring nations, and being
strengthened by the Messenians, who at that time were engaged in war
with the Spartans.” But for the timely aid of others, Sparta might have
been overthrown. The most striking feature is the astonishing coolness
and presence of mind of the Spartans in the face of such a dire

This is, perhaps, the earliest earthquake of which careful historic
mention is made. But from that time, the record thickens rapidly. In the
year 373 B. C., a great shock did fearful damage throughout all Greece,
destroying thousands of lives and damaging millions of dollars worth of
property in a single night. The inhabitants of the Peloponnesus, roused
by the convulsion, waited in fear for the morning. Dawn showed that the
two beautiful cities of Bura and Helice were no more. The sea rolled
above. Long after, on calm, clear days, Helice, once an inland town,
could be seen at the bottom of the Corinthian Gulf; silent and beautiful
in its ruin, marble temples and shattered homes presenting a literal
“city of the dead.”


The year B. C. 217 found Rome and Carthage locked in deadly combat.
While Hannibal and Flaminius fought by Thrasymene, earth felt the throes
of war, and shook Italian cities down, while lakes and streams were
tumbled from their beds. North Africa suffered, perhaps, the greatest
shaking recorded in her history; one hundred towns were lost, and tens
of thousands of people perished.

In A. D. 17 thirteen cities of Asia Minor were thrown to the ground. The
Emperor Tiberius rebuilt them at his own expense. The grateful people
presented him with a magnificent pedestal, which he had placed in the
forum at Pozzuoli.

A. D. 27 Egypt was shaken, and the great statue of Memnon overthrown. In
A. D. 63 came a great earthquake in Central Italy.

The earthquake in A. D. 33, at the time of the crucifixion, was felt
throughout Asia Minor, Greece, Sicily and Southern Italy. In the Syria
corpses were tumbled from their rock-hewn tombs. The town of Nicaea, in
Bithynia, was totally destroyed. How many perished in this widespread
shock is not known. Tradition has it that a fissure in a great rock,
which overhangs the shore at Gaeta, was made by this earthquake. Till
quite recently passing vessels were wont to salute the rock in
commemoration of the great event.

No city has suffered from these terrible throes of Mother Earth as much
as Antioch. In the year 115, the Emperor Trajan, extending his
territories to the wilder regions of the Caucasus, was in the city with
his army. There came heavy thunders, great winds, fearful subterranean
rumblings; the earth shook; down tottered temples, towns, palaces,
colonnades, statues, homes and huts, in irretrievable ruin. The Emperor
sprang from a window and ran for his life, like a peasant, through the
streets resounding with the groans and cries of the unfortunates buried
in the ruins. Mountains were rent asunder, rivers turned from their
courses, new streams were created, old valleys disappeared. Eighty
thousand people are believed to have perished at Antioch alone.

[Illustration: ANTIOCH.]

In A. D. 365 a fearful earthquake was felt throughout the entire
Mediterranean region. The sea rolled back, leaving fishes and vessels
high and dry; then, suddenly returning, it carried large boats two miles
inland. Fifty thousand people were lost at Alexandria. Shortly before, a
number of towns in Palestine had been destroyed. This second great
disaster shook all Asia Minor. In every town men began to talk, with
bated breath, of the fearful wrath the Lord manifested because of those
who had lent a willing ear to heretical doctrines. “This was why only
the priests and holy men of the church could appease the Divine wrath;
and if the town of Epidaurus had escaped the ruin which befell all the
other towns along the coast, it was because the inhabitants had taken
the statue of St. Hilary to the sea-shore. The Saint made the sign of
the cross, and the mountain of water, bending low before him, forthwith
receded.” Whence, it seems the Lord was supposed to have greater regard
for crooked saintly fingers than for heretical doctrines. Numerous were
the direful prodigies said to have accompanied this fearful shock.

The next century brought calamities once more upon Asia Minor. A series
of tremendous shocks were felt in 458, wrecking many of the finest
cities. The renowned Antioch, rebuilt in its pristine splendor, was once
more humbled in the dust. Eighty thousand people perished within its
walls; many thousands more in the adjacent regions. Probably one hundred
and twenty-five thousand in all were slain in this earthquake.

Years passed by, bringing, from time to time, minor shocks which
destroyed hundreds in different locations, but which passed with but
little notice amid so many greater disasters, and wars and rumors of
wars. Antioch had been gradually rebuilt, and was more splendid than
ever before. The first quarter of the sixth century was past. The time
of the great festival of the Ascension was at hand, A. D. 526. From all
the country round came people flocking to the celebration, to witness
the pageantry and procession. Without a moment’s warning, a great
earthquake came, as fearful as the shock four hundred and eleven years
before. The destruction was vastly greater. The tottering walls crushed
thousands in the crowded streets. Every avenue and alley became a
death-trap. There is not, in all the pages of history, record of an
earthquake of greater destructiveness. Gibbon estimates the number of
victims at two hundred and fifty thousand.


Nor was Antioch the only sufferer. The number of victims at other points
in Asia Minor might be fifty thousand more. The whole sixth century is
noted for the unusual number of appalling disasters of this sort which
occurred at different places in the then known world. Probably a million
people perished during this period in earthquakes alone. Such unwonted
havoc may well cause us to wonder what manner of convulsions were
occurring in the great volcanic regions of the Pacific and the then
unknown western world. If the same general rule prevailed then that has
been noticeable in more recent periods; if great convulsions were then,
as now, comparatively synchronous, it would be difficult to form any
adequate idea of the magnitude of the disturbances.

In 742 there was a tremendous earthquake in Egypt and Arabia, which
overturned scores of cities and villages, rent mountains asunder, buried
people in the wrecks of their dwellings, tossed the sea to and fro,
swallowed up towns, wiped out thriving seaports, and numbered its dead
by many tens of thousands. Four years later Jerusalem and all Syria
experienced a dreadful shock, which made terrible havoc. In 823, Central
Europe was shaken and Aix-la-chapelle nearly destroyed. In 860 Persia
and Syria were again shaken; and in 867, Antioch, after its three
centuries of comparative rest, was again ravaged by the destroyer. This
shock extended to Mecca, which was fearfully rent. Part of a mountain in
Syria was hurled into the sea. The century closed with a fearful
convulsion in far distant India, wherein no less than one hundred and
eighty thousand people were killed. Western Syria suffered again in 1169
and 1202. All the cities of the Mediterranean coast were shaken to
pieces, with the usual terrible loss of life. The valleys of the Lebanon
district were upheaved and altered throughout their whole extent.

[Illustration: RUINS NEAR CAIRO.]

Shock after shock came in the succeeding decades. One of these destroyed
forty thousand persons at Bagdad alone. In 1759, the long list of
catastrophes in Asia Minor was increased by one of the most terrible on
record. At the first shock the proud Antioch was once more totally
destroyed. Within the next forty-five days Baalbec, Sidon, Acre, Foussa,
Nazareth, Safit, Tripoli, and scores of lesser towns and villages were
almost blotted out. The horrors of that period are too awful for
description. Even more fearful, if possible, was the earthquake of 1822,
which once more made Antioch a shapeless mass of ruins. Aleppo, Djollib,
Riha, Gisser, Chugra, Dieskrich, and Armenas shared a like fate. In the
whole pashalic of Aleppo not a house or hut was left standing. Several
severe earthquakes have followed during the century. In one, we are told
the force of the shocks was so peculiar and powerful that in some places
stone walls were converted to heaps of dust or lime.

[Illustration: RUINS NEAR NINEVEH.]

This record, which is but a partial one, is enough to explain the
utterly ruined condition of Baalbec, Palmyra, and many other relics of
ancient grandeur. They have contended with a force more terrible than
ever was shot or shell of the cannonier. Thousands are familiar with the
views of such massive columns and walls of the Temple of Jupiter as are
still standing, eighty-four feet high from base to capital. The marvel
is, that after such a succession of fearful quakings there is the
slightest semblance of their former condition remaining.

Terrible as these calamities are, not a great deal beyond the bare fact
is known of many of them. To learn more exactly the dreadful
capabilities of this stupendous agent, it is necessary to examine
European and South American earthquakes that have come directly under
the observation of scientific men. From these we may learn more
particularly of the details of various fearful shocks.

In all Italy, so famed for its warmth and beauty, there is not a more
lovely district than Calabria, which lies in the Southern portion of the
peninsula. Yet no part of Italy has suffered such great calamities. An
earthquake in 1693 shook the whole of Calabria and Sicily, totally
destroying sixty towns and villages, and not fewer than one hundred
thousand people. Eighteen thousand perished at Catania alone.
Forty-eight years later a violent earthquake shattered one hundred and
ninety towns in Calabria and completely swallowed up Eufemia, leaving
only a stinking lake. But these were before the day of minute scientific

In 1783, a series of shocks, unequalled in recent years in violence,
began in Calabria and continued through four years. The scene was
visited and carefully examined by several able men, and from their
accounts a fine conception of the whole may be obtained.

The subterranean concussions were felt beyond the confines of Sicily;
but if the city of Oppido, in Calabria, be taken as the center, a circle
around it, whose radius is twenty-two miles, would include the space
which suffered the greatest calamities. Within this circle all the towns
and villages were almost entirely destroyed. A radius of seventy-two
miles would include the whole region affected.

It was a calm, hazy day in February, 1783. At a


quarter to one o’clock was felt the first shock, which “threw down, in
the space of two minutes, a greater part of the houses within the whole
space above described. The convulsive motion of the earth is said to
have resembled the rolling of the sea, and that in many instances it
produced swimming of the head, like sea-sickness. This rolling of the
surface, like the billows of the sea, was like that which would have
been produced by the agitation of a vast mass of liquid matter under the

In some walls which were shattered, the separate stones were parted from
the mortar, so as to leave an exact mold where they had rested, as
though the stone had been carefully raised from its bed in a
perpendicular direction; but in other instances the mortar was ground to
powder between the stones, as though they had been made to revolve on
each other.

It was found that the swelling, or wave-like motions, and those which
were called _vorticose_, or whirling, often produced the most singular
and unaccountable effects. Thus, in some streets in the town of
Monteleone, every house was thrown down, except one, and in some other
streets all but two or three;” and these were left uninjured, though
differing in no respect from others. In some houses which were wrecked,
deep foundations were thrown clear out of the ground, as though upheaved
by a direct lifting. Sometimes very massive buildings escaped; sometimes
they suffered most. Obelisks and pillars made in sections showed the
effects of the vorticose motion. The separate portions were partly
turned upon each other, without being thrown down.

The number and size of the fissures in the soil is astonishing. “In many
instances, these fissures were so wide, as in an instant to swallow up
men, trees, and even houses; and when the earth sunk down again, it
closed upon them so entirely, as not to leave the least vestige of what
had happened, nor were any signs of them ever discovered afterwards. In
the vicinity of Oppido, the center of these convulsions, many houses
were precipitated into the same great fissure, which immediately closed
over them; and,


in the same neighborhood, four farm-houses, several oilstores and
dwelling-houses were so entirely ingulfed that not a vestige of them was
seen afterwards.

In some instances these chasms did not close. In one district a ravine,
formed in this manner, a mile long, one hundred feet broad and thirty
feet deep, remained open; and in another a similar one remained,
three-quarters of a mile long, one hundred and fifty feet wide, and one
hundred feet deep; in another instance there remained such a chasm,
thirty feet wide and two hundred and twenty-five feet deep.” In another
place a gulf three hundred feet square was left open; again, we are told
of one seven hundred and fifty feet square. A calcareous mountain,
Zefirio, was rent in twain for half a mile. Similar effects were
observed in Sicily, where Messina was almost totally destroyed, and the
ruins devoured by the flames. “In various places the ground sunk down,
and lakes were formed, which, being fed by springs, have remained ever
since. The convulsions also removed immense masses of earth from the
sides of steep hills into the valleys below; so that, in many instances,
oaks, olive-orchards, vineyards and cultivated fields, were seen growing
at the bottoms of deep hollows, having been removed from the side hills
of the vicinity. In one instance, a mass of earth two hundred feet thick
and four hundred feet in diameter, being set in motion by one of the
first shocks, traveled four miles into the valley below.

The violence of the upward motion of the ground was singularly
illustrated by the inversion of heavy bodies lying on the surface, and
which can hardly be accounted for, except on the supposition that they
were actually thrown to a considerable distance into the air. Thus, in
some towns, a considerable portion of the flat pavingstones were found
with their lower sides uppermost. Mr.


Lyell accounts for this effect by supposing that the stones were
propelled upwards by the momentum which they had acquired, and the
adhesion of one end of the mass being greater than the other, a rotary
motion had been communicated to them. It is difficult to conceive how a
whirling motion, so rapid as to produce such an effect, could have been
communicated to a whole town without producing some consequences still
more extraordinary.”

In many places in the plain of Rosarno, funnel-shaped pits were formed,
with crevices radiating in every direction like fractures in a pane of
glass. These were partially filled with sand and water.

Polistena was so absolutely wrecked that not the least semblance of the
plan of the town could be detected. Terranova was precipitated, with its
fourteen hundred inhabitants, three hundred and twenty-five feet into a
deep gorge, and turned upside down. Moluquello, on an opposite hill
between two streams, was rent in twain--one-half fell into the stream on
the right, the other on the left. There was left a ridge so narrow at
the top one could not keep his balance on it. Santa Cristena was hurled
from the top of a sandy hill into the valley beneath. Out of three
hundred and seventy-five towns and villages, three hundred and twenty
were destroyed. Two hundred and fifteen lakes and morasses were created
by displacements of the ground and blocking of water-courses. The
pestilence bred by these vied with the direct power of the earthquake.

Some slight disturbance was manifested on the day before the great
shock. Prince Scylla, an old man, warned his people to take to their
boats, and himself set the example. When the first shock came, many of
these people were sleeping in their boats near the shore, while the
others were on the shore at a little place elevated above


the sea. With this convulsion the earth rocked, and suddenly there was
precipitated a great mass of rock from Mount Jaci on the plain where the
people had taken refuge; and immediately after the water arose to a
great height above its ordinary level and swept away the sleeping
multitude. The wave then instantly retreated, but soon after returned
again with increased violence, bringing back many of the people and
animals which it had carried away. At the same time every boat in the
vicinity was overwhelmed, or dashed against the beach, and thus
destroyed. The Prince, who was an aged man, with thirteen hundred of his
people was swept away and perished in the sea. The total loss of life
resulting from this earthquake is estimated at eighty thousand. A shock
which came on the 4th of March was as violent as the first one. Eleven
hundred shocks were felt in two years.

Doubtless not a few of those who perished died merely from hunger or
confinement. Quite a number of those rescued after several days were

If it be true that prosperity shows men in their true colors, the
reverse is equally marked. It is hard to believe the tales of barbarous
inhumanity of the occasion. Says Dolomieu: “As egotism and the instinct
of self-preservation crushed all other feeling, no help was brought to
the unhappy victims buried beneath the ruins; yet many of them might
have been rescued. When calm was restored, the lower orders, succumbing
to the vilest passions of nature, thought of nothing but pillage.”

Like a certain class of ghouls who follow in the wake of armies to
enrich themselves by plundering the slain, “men might have been seen
scouring the fallen ruins, braving imminent danger, and treading under
foot dying persons who appealed piteously for help, in order to go and
plunder the houses of the wealthy. They robbed


the very injured, who would have paid them handsomely for rescuing them.
At Polistena a person of quality had been buried head downwards beneath
the ruins of his house, and when his servant saw what had happened he
actually stole the silver buckles off his shoes, while his legs were in
the air, and made off with them. The unfortunate gentleman managed,
however, to rescue himself from his perilous position. For several days
cries of anguish were heard coming from underground.” For days afterward
the fearful stench of putrefying corpses filled the atmosphere. Such
were the horrors of this memorable occasion. So sudden was the calamity
that many of those buried supposed only their own houses were overthrown
and wondered why their neighbors were so slow to aid them. Many suffered
greatly from thirst, and in consequence hardly felt the pinch of hunger,
though entombed several days.

One of the most notable of the earthquakes of the last century is the
one which overturned Lisbon, November 1, 1755. In extent of territory
affected, it is the greatest of any known; but because it bears the name
of the place where it was most violent, it is supposed by many to have
been confined to a single district.

The morning was magnificent. At 9:35 A.M. there was a loud underground
roar, like distant thunder, followed at once by a tremendous shock,
which overthrew churches, convents, and many others of the finest
buildings of the city. This shock lasted five seconds. There was two
minutes pause, during which thousands of shrieking people rushed about
the streets to escape the falling ruins. Then came a second shock, and
two minutes later a third. In five minutes the Portuguese capital had
become a ruin, filled with fifty thousand corpses.

The churches were filled with people, it being All Saints’ Day, and the
hour of high mass. The great cathedrals were but death-traps. All
apparatus that could be of use in the work of rescue was buried in the
wreck. The streets were crowded with sobbing multitudes, calling in vain
for friends and kin.

At the sea-shore was the magnificent quay, Cays de Prada. It was built
entirely of marble, and just finished at an immense expense; and on it,
after the first shock, a vast concourse of people had collected as a
place of safety, having left the city to escape the fall of the houses.
But it proved the most fatal spot in the vicinity; for at the next shock
the earth opened and instantly swallowed up the whole quay, with the
multitude which had there assembled; and so completely were the whole
retained by the closing of the earth, that not a single dead body ever
rose again to the surface. A great number of small boats and other
vessels near the quay, and filled with people as a place of safety, were
also precipitated into the yawning vortex; and it is stated that not a
single fragment of any of these boats was ever seen afterwards. When the
disaster was over, soundings were taken. Six hundred feet of water
rolled above the marble quay and its countless victims. St. Ubes was
swallowed up by sea-waves, while rocks fell from its promontory into the

Then the sea suddenly retired, leaving the bed of the harbor exposed. A
moment later a gigantic wave, fifty feet in height, rolled in upon the
doomed city.

Two hours later fire broke out in the wreck, and driven by a high wind,
swept the ruins, and also the houses left standing. The furious flames
raged three days, burning hundreds imprisoned in the wreck. Every
element seemed in conspiracy against the city.

In addition to threatened famine and pestilence among the survivors, the
rabble, as in Calabria, showed a disposition to indiscriminate plunder.
Upon this “the King gave orders immediately for gallows to be placed all
round the city, and after about one hundred executions, amongst which
were some English sailors, the evils stopped.” The King was very prompt
and energetic, initiating every practicable system of relief, and having
the really needy cared


for at the expense of the State. Several lighter shocks were felt in the
succeeding two months. At the end of three months the Government began
to rebuild the town. In fifteen years it was well restored, and to-day
is one of the handsomest in Europe.

The immense area over which this earthquake was felt is very remarkable;
for not only was every part of Spain and Portugal convulsed, but the
shocks were perceived, with greater or less intensity, in England,
Holland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Corsica, the West
Indies, at Morocco and Algiers in Africa, and in a part of South
America. At Algiers the shock was so violent as to throw down many
buildings; and an oasis, with all its population, not far from Morocco,
was swallowed up. Fez and Mesquinez were destroyed, with fifteen
thousand people. The town of Setubal, seventeen miles from the Tagus and
twenty-two miles southeast of Lisbon, was almost entirely swallowed up.
The shock was almost as severe at Oporto as at Lisbon. The premonitory
roar was compared to the rattling of many carriages over a rough road.
The loftiest mountains were shaken, and many cleft or shattered. Masses
of rock tumbled from the crags into the valleys. At Colares, seventeen
miles from Lisbon, flames and smoke were seen to burst from the Alviras,
and also out of the sea. These phenomena continued for some days. A
chasm fifteen miles long opened in the Pyrenees. Towns were seriously
damaged in Switzerland, France and Italy. Vesuvius, in a state of
eruption for a period, suddenly ceased. The shock was also felt by ships
far at sea, and, in several instances, the concussion was such as to
make the people suppose their vessels had struck on a rock. In one
instance, it is said that the people on board a vessel off the West
Indies were thrown up a foot and a half from the deck. This circumstance
may be


accounted for by the inelasticity of water; so that a violent and sudden
movement of the bottom of the ocean would be communicated to the surface
and to the ship, through the medium of the fluid, with nearly the same
force as though the vessel had been on the ground itself.

Quite as remarkable was the immense wave produced. At Cadiz its height
was sixty feet, and the damage in proportion. Rolling to the northward
it inflicted vast injury upon Cornwall, England. At the Canaries and
Azores the waves rose repeatedly to an immense height; and at Madeira
the injury was still greater. In less than an hour the wave had traveled
to Leyden. Norway and Sweden felt its presence, even to the recesses of
the Gulf of Finland. On the western border of the Atlantic, among the
lesser Antilles, where the tide scarcely exceeds twenty-nine inches, a
black wall of water twenty-two feet high rushed upon the coasts. The
steep and rocky islet of Stabia was dashed over by the waves. In
Martinique the water rose to the roofs of the houses, and then receded
from the shore for more than a mile. The unusual commotion stirred up
the bituminous sediment of the sea bottom, and at Barbadoes the waves
were in consequence black as ink.

There have been numerous earthquakes since in Europe which must pass
without mention. One in 1817 completely destroyed Vostitza, a town in
Greece not far from the site of ancient Helice. Another well-remembered
one in 1855 desolated the Canton of Valais in Switzerland. This country
has had numerous shocks--sixteen hundred or more, in the past few
centuries, and once or twice Basle has been almost totally destroyed.
Valais itself is a beautiful vale accessible only by a cleft in a
mountain range eighty-five hundred feet deep. Numerous small towns and
hamlets are scattered about the vale, and the precipitous slopes around
are dotted with shepherds’ and hunters’ huts.

On July 25, 1855, after an extremely hot morning, the people were
astounded by a great earthquake--an abrupt and vertical shock. Then came
wave-like motions throwing every one prostrate. Houses tumbled in all
directions. People were rolled about like logs of wood. Nearly every
village in the canton was destroyed. Great landslips and avalanches
rushed down from the hills. So tremendous was the shock that the
mountain tops could be seen to sway to and fro. Crags and blocks of ice
fell into the vales, crushing and grinding. The terrible uproar sounded
as though the whole range of the Alps was about to collapse. The
terrible shocks were felt at Lyons, at Paris, at Heidelberg, at Milan,
at Genoa. Lisbon had no severer shock. And this great convulsion, that
dandled mountains as though mere puppets, and destroyed towns and
villages by the score--killed one person. It is one of the most
remarkable occurrences in European history.

Among the more destructive recent shocks in Europe are those of 1881-84.
Chio, one of the most beautiful islands of the Grecian archipelago, and
the home of a thrifty and enterprising people, was visited by an
earthquake on April 3, 1881. The whole city, with its hospitals,
schools, libraries and works of art, was laid in ruins in a few seconds.
This convulsion forms a strange contrast to the more violent one just
described. Numerous adjacent villages were overthrown; and after the
shock was past it was found that more than five thousand persons were
killed and ten thousand others more or less injured. After making all
possible efforts at restoration, the authorities were compelled to pull
down many still tottering walls and scatter disinfectants over the wreck

[Illustration: SCENE AT CHIO.]

avoid an epidemic from the thousand corpses left beneath the ruin.

The entire adjacent coast of Asia Minor was more or less shaken, and
several scores of people were killed in some seaport towns. The shocks
continued several days, each being accompanied by a peculiar
subterranean roaring. Two years later, ere the town was fairly rebuilt,
there was another earthquake, which, however, did more damage in Asia
Minor than in Chio.

But the most striking example of great damage done by an earthquake in a
very small tract is the case of the island of Ischia. This tiny islet,
the Imarina of Horace and Virgil, was well known to the Greeks, who at
one time endeavored to establish themselves upon it, but were finally
driven away by repeated volcanic outbursts. Since the activity of
Vesuvius, Ischia has remained quiet, though a dozen extinct craters bear
witness to its former fury. Its highest point is two thousand, seven
hundred and seventy-two feet above the sea, while the entire island is
but six miles in diameter. It is evidently cast up by an ancient,
submarine volcano.

Situated a few miles from Naples, Ischia has for years been a favorite
summer resort for the Italians of the neighboring coast. A score of
little towns and villages dot its shores and hills, and the view of the
Gulf of Naples, Baiae, and adjacent islands and coasts forms one of the
most beautiful landscapes in the world.

After its abandonment by the Greek colonists the islet was quiet for
sixteen centuries. In 1302 an eruption and earthquake occasioned
considerable loss of life and property. After that, though the main
peak, Epomeo, has been occasionally muttering and fuming, no serious
disturbance occurred for nearly six centuries. The subterranean heat
occasions numerous hot springs, the water reaching a temperature of 178
degrees. These baths, and the abundance of choice fruits afforded by the
island, afford additional attractions to visitors, and the twenty-five
thousand inhabitants would seem to have an earthly paradise.

March 4, 1881, the people were suddenly roused from their slumbering
security by two sharp shocks half an hour apart, which overthrew seven
hundred houses in the little town of Casamicciola, killing one hundred
and twenty-six people and wounding one hundred and seventy-seven more.
The only premonition was that a few minutes before the hot springs
suddenly reached the boiling point.

Yet this disaster was comparatively insignificant when we consider the
one of July 28, 1883.

It was the height of the summer season. The little island was thronged
with pleasure-seeking visitors. The night was dark and cloudy; the sea
was unusually agitated. The small theatre at Casamicciola was filled
with an animated throng, who cared not for the boding storm. The play
opened with an earthquake scene. As the clock pointed to 9:32, the
_Punchinello_ rushed on the stage, shouting, “Un terremoto! un
terremoto! alla mare! alla mare!” (An earthquake! an earthquake! to the
sea! to the sea!) The audience thought it was part of the play; but ere
they could applaud the vigorous acting, the lights were out, a
thundering sound was heard, and the crashing roof was upon them. The
appalling roar was followed by profound silence, as clouds of stifling
dust were whirled up by the wind. Then in the darkness were heard the
cries of terrified people, seeking one another in the gloom, and groping
for the shore as in the days of Pompeii.

A visitor who was in the theater said, that at the first noise, which
resembled the discharge of a heavy battery of artillery, “not a cry was
uttered, though terror was depicted in every countenance; but when the
first shock was followed by several others, a shriek of despair went up
from every lip. The lights went out, pieces of timber were falling all
about us, and cries of terror were succeeded by shrieks of pain from
those who had been injured. It was a trying moment. When the shocks
ceased, I crawled, like many others, out of the ruined building in order
to reach the shore. The dust was literally blinding. Several times I
stumbled over heaps of masonry and rubbish from which heart-rendering
groans and shrieks were proceeding. Upon the shore I encountered many
others as frightened as I was, and endeavoring to escape in fear of
there being more shocks. Seeing that all remained quiet, we retraced our
steps in order to relieve the injured. But it was not until the morning,
upon the arrival of the authorities and the troops sent from Naples,
that it was possible to take any effective steps for surmounting the
difficulties by which we were surrounded. The firemen, assisted by
volunteers, then set to work energetically to clear away the rubbish,
laying the dead bodies in a row, and handing the injured over to the
doctors. It was necessary to go to work very carefully, so as not to
injure those still unhurt; and so the work continued very slowly, during
which time we felt our heart-strings torn by the piteous appeals for
relief. Some people were covered by so much debris that it took hours to
reach them, and when we did so, some of them had succumbed to their
injuries, while others had gone out of their minds. The dense clouds of
dust had choked many of those who were not killed on the spot.”

Some strange scenes occurred; and there were instances of remarkable
coolness. An Italian professor of surgery who had taken his child to the
theatre, coolly took out his watch at the first crash, and noting the
exact time, sat


perfectly still while the surging crowd endeavored to escape. There he
sat with his child till morning, when the light enabled him to find his
way out of the wreck.

The sea shore was a weird spectacle. Lighted up by a pile of blazing
drift might be seen scores of naked children, and grown persons in their
night clothes, scurrying wildly about. An eye-witness tells of many
crazy with fear and grief. All night long the wreck resounded with
groans and cries. One woman, whom he heard continually moaning, and
crying “My children! my children!” was found at daybreak on the edge of
a shattered terrace, and clad only in a chemise. Wondering what he could
say by way of consolation, he chanced to observe two little ones playing
not far away amid a tottering wreck that threatened at every moment to
crush them. They were hers.

Further down a woman’s jewelled arm and shoulder protruded from the
wreck, while her husband, buried nearly, kept crying “save her, never
mind about me.” As a helping hand was reached to her a sudden landslip
crushed out the remaining life.

A young English lady sat playing a funeral march. An Italian count
sprang up, saying, “I cannot stand such music!” Just as he cleared the
door the hotel fell in ruins behind him. The young lady was found dead
at the piano.

For days the work went on, pressed by the energy of the Italian
government. All the native police had been killed in the wreck. King
Humbert in person visited the scene and had the work pressed as rapidly
as possible.

There was no more complete wreck of any town than of Lacco Ameno. Of
fifteen hundred and ninety-three people but five escaped. At
Casamicciola but one house was left intact. Not a few houses in the
former place were swallowed up in fissures. Floria was totally
destroyed. Yet the largest town on the island, Ischia, with the adjacent
villages, was scarcely hurt; and at Naples, on the mainland, the news of
the catastrophe was a complete surprise. Yet on the half of the islet
that was most severely shaken the earthquake numbered four thousand
victims. A greater contrast to the great Valais earthquake could hardly
be imagined.

Still more recent is the catastrophe of Southern Spain, one of the
loveliest regions in the world. This district has several times been
shaken; but notably at the time of the Lisbon earthquake, when so much
damage was done by shocks and sea-waves at Cadiz; again in 1833, when in
the single province of Murcia more than four thousand houses were
destroyed, with hundreds of the inhabitants. Again the ground was in a
state of constant tremor from November, 1855, to March, 1856.

But more severe than these was the shock of 1884. About the end of
November slight vibrations were perceptible in Spain, Portugal, Italy,
and Southern France. The shocks did not manifest especial intensity at
any especial locality, and no attention was paid to them, as such
occurrences are so frequent that they cannot be regarded as indicative
of greater shocks to come. For example, there were forty-six hundred and
twenty shocks recorded in different portions of the earth during the
years 1850-57; yet none of these were followed by earthquakes of great
severity. So in the case of the November shocks of 1884, no one seemed
concerned to know where they originated, or if they boded evil.

But on Christmas day, 1884, there came, a little past nine at night, an
intense subdued roar like that of a hurricane; and at once the plateaux
of Andalusia, the mountains of Murcia, and the sunny plains of Granada,


and Cordova shook from one end to the other. At Seville the terrified
people rushed into the streets and camped there all night; but this city
did not suffer so much as in the shock of 1755. In Granada the motions
followed in rapid succession for several weeks; but though many other
buildings were overthrown, the far-famed Alhambra was not injured.
Twenty thousand people camped without the city gates.

The shocks were much severest in the mountainous districts. Villages and
hamlets in ravines and along mountain slopes were speedily destroyed.
The town of Alhama lost thirteen hundred and twenty houses at the first
shock. Five hundred and seventy-six bodies were taken out of the ruins.
Two hundred and eighty houses were overthrown by subsequent shocks.
Abumelas lost five hundred and seventeen people, and four hundred and
sixty-three houses out of four hundred and seventy-seven. More than
three thousand houses were wrecked throughout Andalusia and Granada.
Fifty-six towns and hamlets were greatly damaged, twenty of them
entirely destroyed. Parts of mountain slopes slid slowly into the
valleys. Deep crevices, like those of the Calabrian earthquakes, were
opened in some localities. One of these is two miles long and of unknown
depth. Boiling water burst from fissures in the mountains. The course of
the river Gogollas was changed. Portions of the country were upheaved;
others depressed. Shocks were felt at sea near the Azores.

Several thousands were killed and wounded, and the survivors suffered
much from cold and hunger. The young King Alfonso took active part in
the work of relief; but so numerous were the dead that many of them had
to be buried in heaps or covered with quick-lime. There was not time to
bury all properly.

Such are details of the more prominent European earthquakes. There have
been others of almost equal importance; but three years ago a severe
earthquake killed two thousand or more in the Italian Riviera; but the
cases given well illustrate the destruction wrought in Europe, and other
regions claim attention.



                      The fowls of every hue,
    “Crowding together, sailed on weary wing,
     And hovering, oft they seemed about to light,
     Then soared as if they deemed the earth unsafe.
     The cattle looked with meaning face on man,
     Dogs howled, and seemed to see more than their masters,
     And there were sights that none had seen before.
     And hollow, strange, unprecedented sounds,
     And earnest whisperings ran along the hills,
     At dead of night: and long, deep endless sighs
     Came from the dreary vale; and from the waste
     Came horrid shrieks, and fierce unearthly groans,
     The wail of evil spirits that now felt
     The hour of utter vengeance near at hand.
     The winds from every quarter blew at once,
     And shapes, strange shapes, in winding sheets were seen,
     And voices talked amid the clouds: and then
     Earth shook, and swam, and reeled, and oped her jaws,
     By earthquake tossed and tumbled to and fro.”

It is a common assertion that when persons are drowning, all the events
of past life rush suddenly before them with startling distinctness:
sometimes in amusing combinations: generally the reverse.

Something of the same effect is produced by the earthquake; but in a far
more terrifying way. Each one is witness to the panic of his neighbor;
and no fright is so terrible as that which is infectious. In moments of
great peril a single calm master-spirit may quiet a mob. But when the
eternal hills are shaken, when the groaning earth reels beneath the
feet, and the mountains are removed and cast into the midst of the sea,
who is there that retains his presence of mind? Man’s social
arrangements are calculated upon a supposition of the earth’s
stability: and when he finds himself the victim of misplaced confidence,
there is neither courage nor spirit nor reason left in him. Numerous are
the cases where men have been rendered insane by such convulsions.

To the ravage of the hurricane, the roar of the storm, the surge of the
sea, the rush of the flood, one becomes in a measure accustomed, and in
the moment of danger may take precautions for personal safety. But in
the case of earthquakes the reverse is the rule; none dread them more
than those who know them best. The stranger in tropical America may sit
at his ease on a summer evening, enjoying the beauties of the landscape;
or he may stand in a crowded hall, amongst a galaxy of wits and
beauties, observing the kaleidoscopic movements of the gorgeous costumes
before him. There comes a faint peculiar quiver of the earth, so
insignificant that the uninitiated foreigner may hardly observe it: but
there goes up a wild shout of “Tembla! Tembla!” and in an instant a
terror-stricken, breathless throng surges wildly into the streets, the
fields, the parks--anywhere: anywhere away from the heavy roofs and
massive walls that would defy a hurricane; all blindly seeking to be
under the open sky, only too often to be engulfed in gaping crevices.

It is preternaturally terrible; this emblem of solidity quivering
beneath our feet, reminding us that the days of unbridled chaos, the
wild war of all the elements, the tremendous geological convulsions that
have exterminated so many races of animals in the days of the past, may
be as ready and powerful for destruction in the present! The sensation
of utter powerlessness is so overwhelming, that amid the crash of
falling houses, the cries of entombed victims, the shrieks of flying
multitudes, the rumblings in the earth beneath, and the trembling of the
soil like that of a steed in the presence of a lion, the boldest and
bravest can but sit with bowed head, in silent, motionless despair,
awaiting whatever fate a grim capricious chance may determine. In the
strange mysterious phenomena, which strike and do their work in a few
seconds, one is disposed to see the disturbing dreams of fever, or the
touch of a horrible nightmare, rather than any possible reality.

It is no wonder that insanity, hallucinations, or graver nervous
disorders, in such moments fasten themselves on people for life. When a
power, which despite its constant recurrence, remains almost unknown,
holds the lives of untold thousands in its grasp, the mind is affected
beyond the power of pen to describe. Long stress of poignant grief finds
its effects equalled in a few seconds. People dash convulsively on the
ground, as though seized with epilepsy. Some may become paralyzed:
paralytics may recover the use of their limbs: others lose the power of
speech: yet others are hopelessly idiotic. Not less marked are the
effects on the brute creation. The owl, with nervous twitching head, and
feathers all awry, flits to the trees near the house, as though
imploring the protection of man. The panther forgets his ancient enmity,
and creeps within the city gate. The screaming swallow leaves the eaves,
and wings her way to other lands. The long-silent crocodile scrambles
from his native lair and rushes moaning about the sand. The frightened
nightingale forgets her song. The doleful dog howls loudly in the
street. The trembling ox and horse together huddle, and groan as they
tremble. The air itself is chill, as though it were turned cold at the
manifestation of some awful being. All things are awed by the terrible
“Wrath of God.”

The “Wrath of God!” Yes, such is the actual name of the earthquake among
the modern Greeks--Theomenia. No other title will they give it. They
have braved the


storm and the flood, the famine and the pestilence for three thousand
years, and recognize in each the operation of law, and against each may
take precautions; but the earthquake, absolutely beyond control, is to
them inexplicable by natural causes, and any attempt to explain it is
resented. They know the quicksand in which the victim, erect, vigorous,
in full possession of his faculties, stares his fate in the face; stands
for hours with death grinning from the sand at his feet, as it slowly
drags him down; but this fearful opening of the soil, that in an instant
swallows young and old, rich and poor, the loved and hated, the city and
the castle--it can only be the “wrath of God!” So to the Jew was the
fall of Sodom.

Not a single agent of nature can equal it in sudden destruction. It
comes and it goes in a few seconds; almost ere you are aware of its
presence it has claimed its thousands. There is no escape; no ruin so
absolute; no desolation so pitiful; no death so remorseless. You stand
chatting with a friend, the earth shakes, gapes, and the friend at your
side finds a grave in the foundations of the earth. “Two women shall be
grinding at the mill, the one shall be taken and the other left.”

“Think ye that those twelve on whom the tower of Siloam fell were
sinners above all that are in Jerusalem? I tell you nay.”

So, as we have already seen, the phenomena of earthquakes are as clearly
under the domination of law as any other forces of nature. We know the
forces that produce them, and though we can not tell with certainty what
combination of them existed at the location of any particular shock. We
can not hope to control the causes, but we can to a large extent avert
the seriousness of the results. With this in view, we can consider
seriously the extent of the ravages of this strange destroyer, without
considering them as direct visitations upon the sins of a people.

Such views as those of the Greeks, however, have been common among all
Christian nations of non-Saxon origin, and still prevail to no small
extent. But the peculiar sense of personal responsibility and power that
belongs to the Teuton, Scandinavian and Saxon stock has given a
different impress to British and American ideas. Perhaps, too, the fact
that Britons and Americans have suffered less from earthquakes than many
others, has gone far to modify the trend of their thought. Be that as it
may, the dominant element of the race--reverence, awe, and with common
sense and a dash of contempt for those of more superstitious
disposition, may be found in the old hunter’s comment on the outburst of
Cosequina: “What was the meaning of those shakes in New Granada a month
agone? Natur’ don’t mostly toss about this big earth just for sport and
idleness; there’s a meaning and a reason and a secret in every movement
she makes. But eighty earthquakes in twenty-four hours aren’t sent just
to scare a pile of Nicaraguan Greasers. Guess earthquakes don’t take no
more regard of Greasers than of other big folks!”

So long as superstitious ideas prevail among a multitude of people, it
is not surprising that they find portentous signs in earth and sky
betokening the near approach of the dread visitation. This is naturally
increased by the desire to have due warning. The ancient Greeks were
especially anxious in this regard. So we find one of their grave
geographers, Pausanias, declaring that earthquakes are preceded by
unusual rain or drought, eclipses, sudden disappearing of springs, great
hurricanes, fiery apparitions in the sky with long trains of light, and
the appearance of new stars in the sky. The people of Mendoza, South
America, when overtaken by a great earthquake, suddenly remembered that
but a short time before, a flaming meteor of a brilliant blue color and
awful appearance had hissed past their town. So before the Riobamba
earthquake, a brilliant shower of meteors took place; so, also, at the
Cumana earthquake. At other times the weather has been unusually rainy;
again, long drought has prevailed. Sometimes springs have become
suddenly muddy, and cleared as suddenly after the shock. Again, muddy
streams have become clear till the shock passed. Again, we are told that
all animals manifest great fear before the earthquake comes; that
lizards, snakes, mice and rats rush from their holes in terror.
Doubtless many smaller animals perceive tremors of the earth that pass
unnoticed by men; but as to the efficacy of such signs in general, it is
suggestive of Hotspur’s reply to Glendower. The fiery Welshman,
endeavoring to prove that he, too, is some great one, asserts that at
his nativity

    “The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
     Of burning cressets: and at my birth,
     The frame and huge foundations of the earth
     Shaked like a coward.”

To which Hotspur answers:

    “Why, so it would have done,
     At the same season if your mother’s cat
     Had kittened, and yourself had ne’er been born!”

So much for popular beliefs. Quite generally there are subterranean
rumblings, or slight tremors preceding the more violent shock; but even
these are not sure signs, as they may occur alone, or the earthquake may
come unannounced. A notable case of the former sort is the remarkable
subterranean roaring heard at Guanaxuato, in Mexico, in 1784. It lies in
a rich mining district, with no volcano in the vicinity. On January 9
there broke out, after some preliminary muttering, a great uproar which
seemed as if a thunder storm were going on beneath the surface of the
earth. A short distance from the town it could not be heard; and not the
slightest tremor of the soil was perceptible, even in mines sixteen
hundred feet deep. But so great was the panic it created, that thousands
fled from the town, leaving it entirely to the mercy of thieves and
bandits. The alcaldes, with true Spanish grandiloquence, asserted that
the government would “be able in its wisdom to say when danger is
imminent, and to take measures for enabling the people to fly for
refuge;” and it determined to impose a penalty of one thousand piasters
on the rich, or of two months imprisonment on the poor who fled ere the
word was given. But though it was easy to make laws, it was not so easy
to feed the people; for the affrighted peasantry would not set foot in
the city; so the month of uproar became one of famine as well.


A similar rumbling occurred in Melada, an island off the coast of
Dalmatia, in 1822, and the frightened inhabitants besought the Austrian
government to transport them to a place of safety; but though the
explosions continued during two years, sometimes more than one hundred
in a single night, nothing ever resulted therefrom.

So with regard to all popular beliefs on this topic--no dependence can
be placed on any of them. There is nothing to warn us of the approach of
the earthquakes, neither in the heavens above, nor the earth beneath,
nor the waters under the earth.

Has the reader ever experienced one of these strange earthstorms?
Perhaps not. Is it believed they are rare? They are as common as storms
in the atmosphere. Within a period of seven years, four thousand six
hundred and twenty have been recorded. Many more, doubtless, occurred
completely beyond the pale of civilization. Hundreds have passed
unnoticed save by delicate instruments. Not a day passes without several
being recorded. They are as widely various in power as the storm and the
breeze. Not a region on earth is unvisited by them.

Yet the reader will be disposed to think that the United States is
almost free from these visitants. To a certain extent it is; we have not
in all our history, had a shock of extreme violence, or one that can
compare in destructiveness with the strange convulsions of tropical
regions: but in the rarity of shocks we are not so favored as might be
supposed. A few moments consideration of the records will be
sufficiently convincing.

In the memoirs of the “Academy of the Arts and Sciences” in Boston, is a
paper read in 1783 by Prof. Williams, recounting the story of some of
the earlier earthquakes in our history.

The first one noticed after the landing of the Pilgrims occurred June 1,
1638. We are told it was preceded by a rumbling noise like remote
thunder, which gradually grew louder and nearer. Then the earth began to
quake till pewter and crockery tumbled from the shelves, stone walls


toppled over, and chimneys crumbled and fell. The shock passed from
northwest to southeast, and was followed by a second in half an hour.
People found it difficult to keep their feet. It occurred in the
afternoon but there is no means of knowing what area was affected. As
the country was then unsettled, the damage done was of course _nil_.
Nearly four years later occurred a light shock, barely noticeable, in
the same region. In 1653 an earthquake on the 29th of October stirred up
the Puritan divines to admonish their flocks of the wrath of God. Still
another occasion of the same sort was given in 1658. But of this latter,
though we are told it was a very great earthquake, we have neither day
nor month, nor any record of its violence, extent or duration.

The first convulsion of which there is any detailed account, occurred in
1663, January 26-28, Old Style. An old narrative thus records it:

“About half an hour after five in the evening a most terrible earthquake
began. The heavens being serene, there was suddenly heard a roar like
the noise of a great fire. Immediately the buildings were shaken with
amazing violence. Doors opened and shut of themselves with a fearful
clattering. The bells rang without their ropes being touched. Cracks
appeared in the walls of buildings, and floors separated and in some
cases fell down. Chasms appeared in the fields, and the hills seemed to
be in motion. The fright of the inhabitants was shared by the beasts and
birds, who sent forth fearful cries, howlings and bellowings. The
duration of this earthquake was very uncommon. The first shock continued
half an hour before it was over, but it began to abate about a quarter
of an hour after it began.” (Probably there were a considerable number
of shocks, gradually lessening in violence.)

“The same day about eight o’clock in the evening, there came a second
shock, equally violent as the first, and within the space of half an
hour, there were two others. The next day about three hours from the
morning, there was a violent shock, which lasted a long time, and the
next night counted some thirty-two shocks, of which many were violent.
Nor did the trembling of the earth cease until the July following. Many
trees were torn up, and the outlines of the mountains appeared to be
much changed. Many springs and small streams were dried up; in others
the waters became sulphurous, and the channels in which some had run
were so altered as to be unrecognizable. Half way between Tadousac and
Quebec two hills were thrown down and formed a point of land which
extended half a quarter of a league into the St. Lawrence River. The
island Aux Coudres became larger than it was before, and the channel of
the St. Lawrence was greatly changed.”

This is, perhaps, as severe a shock as has been felt in this country;
but though the shock extended southward to Pennsylvania, its chief
energy was centered in a narrow strip on the St. Lawrence, giving our
Canadian neighbors the lion’s share of the fright. Other light shocks
were noticed in New England in 1665, 1668, 1669, 1670, 1705, and 1720.

October 29, 1727, another severe earthquake was experienced about 10:40
P.M. It seems to have had Southern New Hampshire as its focus, extending
thence to the Delaware and Kennebec rivers. Its approach was heralded by
a subdued roar from the northwest, which, as it drew nearer, “was
thought to be the roar of a blazing chimney near at hand, and at last
was likened to the rattling of carriages driven fiercely over pavements.
In about half a minute from the time the noise was first heard, the
earthquake was felt. It was observed by those who were abroad that, as
the shake passed under them, the surface of the earth rose and sank.”
Houses trembled and rocked, as though about to fall to pieces. Movables
were dashed about with a fearful clatter. Crockery was smashed; stone
walls and chimneys thrown down.

At Newbury, ashes and sulphur were cast forth from the earth, and also
volumes of sand. Sulphuretted hydrogen seems to have been present in
large quantities: also chemicals readily decomposed by warmth and

A correspondent of the Royal Society wrote that a clergyman near Boston
assured him “that immediately after the earthquake there was such a
stink that the family could scarce bear to be in the house for a
considerable time that night.” Another clergyman writes that in the
following April the fine sand thrown up by the earthquake “had a very
offensive stench--nay, it was more nauseous than a putrefying corpse:
yet, in a very little while after, it had no smell at all. How long it
was before it began to have this stench, I am not certain; but I believe
it was covered with snow until a little while before.” Another minister
records that “about three days before the earthquake there was perceived
an ill-stinking smell, in the water of several wells. Some searched
their wells, but found nothing that might thus affect them. The scent
was so strong and offensive that for eight or ten days they entirely
omitted using it. In the deepest of these wells, which was about
thirty-six feet, the water was turned to a brimstone color, but had
nothing of the smell, and was thick like puddle water.” Some wells, dry
just before the shock, immediately filled up. Occasional shocks were
felt for some months after.

From the phenomena present here, and in many similar cases, it will
appear that large volumes of pent-up

[Illustration: SCENE AT CHARLESTON.]

gases may be discharged in districts remote from any volcanic region. In
some instances, we are informed that immediately after severe shocks,
the streams and vegetation have proved poisonous to cattle. There were
light shocks felt in 1732, 1737 and 1744; but none of these are said to
have done any damage beyond throwing down a few stone walls. Thus we
find within a century fourteen earthquake periods in New England alone;
and in several cases the shocks were numerous, extending over a period
of several months. Comparing the small area with the whole region, and
remembering that shocks are more frequent in the central, southern and
western portions of the country, it is fair to conclude that the merest
tithe of those actually occurring could have come under the notice of
our ancestors.

The most violent shock ever known in New England came eighteen days
after the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, preceded by a peculiar,
rumbling roar. Then came a “rapid, jarring, vibrating motion,” with an
upward shock: then a “violent, prodigious shock, as suddenly, to all
appearances as a thunderclap breaking upon a house and attended by a
great noise.” Then followed a series of “quick and violent concussions,
jerks and wrenches, attended by an undulating, waving motion of the
whole surface of the ground, not unlike the shaking and quaking of a
large bog.”

Several writers give a graphic account of the behavior of the good
people of Boston at this juncture. The shock came at a little past four
in the morning. Some sprang from their beds and ran into the street;
some lay shivering with fear, not daring to rise; others rushed to the
windows, and, seeing in the gloom their unclad neighbors rushing about
the streets, shrieked aloud that the judgment day was at hand. Others
thought that they heard Gabriel’s horn, and fell on their knees, crying
for mercy, or fainted away. The boldest feared the crash of tottering
houses; children ran about crying for their parents; dogs howled
dismally; birds flew aloft with frightened cries; cattle bellowed with
fear as they dashed about their pens. Screaming horses struggled in
their stalls. Numbers of fish were killed by the shock. Changes were
wrought in springs and streams, after the manner of 1727.

The damage done was not so great as might have been expected from the
unusual alarm shown. A large number of chimneys in Boston were thrown
down; clocks were stopped; a new vane was broken from the market house,
the spindle being snapped at a place where it was five inches thick; but
we are not told of any serious loss of life or property. The shock
extended southward, and was plainly felt along the east side of the
Chesapeake, but not on the western shore. The sea wave set in motion
travelled southward, and it is supposed to have occasioned the unusual
commotion of the water in the West Indies. At St. Martin’s the sea
suddenly fell five feet below its level, and then rose six above.

The time of the shock was determined exactly by an accident. Prof.
Winthrop, of Cambridge, had placed a long glass tube in his tall clock,
as a safe place. This tube, thrown against the pendulum, stopped the
clock, which the day before had been adjusted to meridianal noon; and as
Prof. Winthrop had compared his watch and clock the night before, he was
able to show that the shocks began at eleven minutes and thirty-five
seconds after four A.M., November 18, and continued about four and a
half minutes.

Eighteen periods of earthquakes are noted in the next fifty-five years;
and at one of these, in 1791, nearly one hundred and fifty shocks were


In 1810-11-12, a series of remarkable shocks were felt throughout a
large portion of the United States, but with especial force in the
central Mississippi valley. The first were noticed near St. Genevieve,
but the center of violence seemed to lie around New Madrid, Mo. The
shocks became so sharp and frequent that Dr. Robertson was sent out to
observe and record them carefully. He kept count up to five hundred, and
then abandoned that portion of the work.

The phenomena were much like those of the milder type of earthquakes
everywhere. Around New Madrid huge fissures opening in the earth emitted
volumes of sand and gas, occasionally spouting water, or sending out
bursts of flame. Some of the fissures were six hundred feet long and
twenty feet wide. The sand and water was sometimes thrown as high as
forty or fifty feet. During the whole period there were unusual
disturbances in other regions. On the night of the most violent shocks
occurred the great earthquake at Caracas, Venezuela, which destroyed so
many thousands. Had the Mississippi region been a very thickly settled
one, the loss of life would have been fearful. Upon the upheaval of a
new island, Sabrina, in the Azores, to a height of three hundred and
twenty feet, and an eruption of the St. Vincent volcano, in the
Antilles, the disturbance ceased. It is not safe to assert positively
that there was no connection between these phenomena; but there is
little probability that there was. They serve rather to show how
universal are the subterranean forces with which man must deal. The year
1811 was also marked by a storm of unusual violence, and by the
appearance of a brilliant comet. But, as noticed before, efforts to
establish any especial connection between such phenomena have not met
with any marked success.

These earthquakes were so violent in the river itself as to almost
shatter boats in mid-stream. Trees at some distance from the bank were
hurled into the water with tremendous force. Flashes of fire and molten
matter were thrown to great heights. The explosions seemed like a
battery of artillery. Sunken logs and snags were thrown from the deep
bottom of the river to a height of thirty feet above the surface.
Sulphurous streams dashed from a thousand rents, leaving unfathomable
fissures. Great forest trees lashed their heads together, or were
snapped off by the shocks. Small islands sank to the bottom of the
river. Quantities of coal and charred wood were thrown up; some lying a
considerable distance from the fissures that discharged them. Many boats
were lost; quite a number of people were buried under falling banks. It
was undoubtedly the most violent convulsion in the history of our
country. Reelfoot lake, now a noted fishing resort, we are told was
formed by this earthquake.

Time would fail us to give an especial notice of the many shocks
received since the country has been more widely settled. With a notice
of the recent Charleston earthquake this list must be closed.

This convulsion owes its importance rather to its location than to its
violence. It was felt over about one-fourth of the entire country, its
greatest force being felt along the Atlantic coast from New Haven to
Savannah. The area affected was elliptical, and the shock was but little
less severe at Atlanta, Georgia, in East Tennessee, and many North and
South Carolina regions, than in Charleston itself. It was felt at
Charleston at 9:51, August 31, 1886, and reached Toronto, Canada, in
four minutes. It did not travel so readily westward as northward.

It is of course impossible to estimate exactly the damage done. A
considerable number of important cities

[Illustration: CHARLESTON, S. C.]

suffered more or less; but the majority were forgotten in the unusual
severity at Charleston. The city appeared as though it had been through
a siege, or as if a gigantic charge of dynamite had been exploded
beneath it. In all directions might be seen heaps of ruins, houses
tottering, cracked, twisted--in all stages of destruction. Ever and anon
a fresh shock brought down some crumbling edifice with a sullen roar,
and a cloud of stifling dust veiled it from view. The night resounded
with the screams of terrified fugitives, the tread of hurrying feet, and
the groans and cries of the wounded. The parks swarmed with those in
search of a place of safety. Hundreds were bruised or maimed by falling
stones and timbers; not a few were killed outright; others, crushed in
the wrecks, died a lingering death.

Appeals for aid were promptly responded to by all portions of the
country. Even those localities which had themselves suffered severely,
came to the aid of the city that had been more sorely stricken.

The greatest injury to life was indirect. Only forty-seven people, it is
said, were killed outright. But few houses were left safe; and for a
considerable time young and old, rich and poor, the feeble and the
strong, were out of doors in tents, booths, or such rude shelters as
they could hastily erect. The alarm was perpetuated by occasional
recurrence of the shocks during several days. The continued exposure and
lack of necessaries created a vast deal of sickness; and the deaths thus
indirectly occasioned far exceeded those killed outright.

The damage to buildings in Charleston is estimated at $5,000,000. But in
comparison with the whole number injured, comparatively few of the
houses were shaken completely down. Hundreds were shaken and shattered
to the point of falling, and had to be pulled down as unsafe. The shock
was just short of a point where it would have made terrible havoc. If
violent enough to overthrow the many houses it merely shattered, its
victims would have been numbered by thousands, instead of tens. We may
be thankful, with Lord North, that things were no worse.

The nature of the shocks varied. In some parts of South Carolina
chimneys and brick walls remained upright, but crushed to atoms at the
base, as if shattered by a powerful upward concussion; in other
locations, evidences of a twisting motion were present; houses were
turned partially around, and left almost unharmed. Again, as in most
cases in Charleston, the chief movement appeared to be a horizontal
one--the upper portions of walls and buildings being thrown down, while
the lower suffered little harm. More of these singular effects will be
noticed in connection with other shocks. Crevices and fissures were
opened; railroad rails bent in a snake-like form; mud, sand, and small
stones were thrown out. There was no tidal wave, and artesian wells four
hundred feet deep were not disturbed. There was no barometric variation,
though the air is said to have suddenly become oppressively hot at the
moment of the shock. Some Pennsylvania gas wells diminished, and a
geyser in the Yellowstone Park, four years quiet, burst suddenly into
action. These we must deem mere coincidences.

As a whole, this has been the most destructive single earthquake in our
history, while far inferior in real violence to the convulsions last
noticed. For frequency of shocks, and total damage in consequence, the
Pacific States far exceed all the rest of the country. Their position
with active volcanic regions in Oregon and Washington and Lower
California, renders them peculiarly liable to such disturbances. Within
the years 1872-1885, inclusive, there were registered seventy-five
earthquakes in New England, sixty-six in the Atlantic States,
seventy-five in the Mississippi Valley, and two hundred and thirty-seven
in the Pacific States.

These facts ought to be conclusive evidence against the belief that,
because storms and earthquakes are sometimes simultaneous, the one is in
any way responsible for the other. These figures show the fewest shocks
in the region


most frequented by tornadoes; while the section never visited by the
latter shows more shocks than all the rest combined. Add to these the
previous shocks recorded in our history--231--and it is evident that we
have our full share of such convulsions.

In respect to earthquakes, our British cousins have been even more
fortunate than ourselves. A cursory glance at British geology shows that
at a remote age in the past, volcanic action was frequent and violent;
but the whole region has long buried or healed the wounds inflicted upon
the face of nature by the petulant giants of fire. Now and then there is
a premonitory tremor; but the warning seems not to be for the
grandchildren of the Druids; and the latter have been lulled to a sense
of almost absolute security.

Yet at some periods of the past they have been seriously disturbed, if
we may credit the old chroniclers; but their records are so brief, and
at times so conflicting, that it is not always easy to determine the
extent of the disaster. And it must be remembered that in the dark and
middle ages the mass of the people knew absolutely nothing of affairs
not in their own immediate neighborhood.

Perhaps the most striking feature of British earthquakes is the fact
that, like the shocks in the Vesuvian neighborhood, the area they
disturb is very small; it may be, however, that incompleteness of
reports is responsible for this apparent peculiarity. Up to the last
century but one general shock is recorded; this being the first of which
there is definite mention, occurring in 974 A. D. Five others are
recorded in the next century, all local.

Perhaps the most violent of the earlier earthquakes was the one which in
1110 shook the region between Shrewsbury and Nottingham, tumbling down
many houses and injuring many people. At Nottingham the bed of the
river Trent was laid dry and remained so some hours. Probably a large
fissure opened temporarily in the channel, allowing the water to escape
into subterranean cavities. Three other earthquakes occurred in the
Lincolnshire fens in the next thirty-two years, doing considerable

In 1158 mention is made of a most extraordinary earthquake which shook
London and vicinity, destroying much property, injuring several people,
and causing the Thames to become so low as to be passed on foot. Seven
years later there was a general tremor observed throughout all England.

John of Brompton relates a remarkable circumstance in connection with an
earthquake in 1179. The ground belonging to the bishop of Durham, at
Oxenhall near Darlington, was raised suddenly to a level with the
adjacent hills, remaining so from 9 A.M. till sunset, when it fell
again, leaving a deep cavity in place of a hill. Three other earthquakes
occurred ere the close of the century; the last one, in Somersetshire in
1199, being violent enough to throw men off their feet.

Forty-seven years passed without any further experience of the sort,
when a series of severe shocks, especially violent in Kent, overthrew a
number of churches and other buildings of the more pretentious sort; and
the same thing happened next year, affecting especially London and the
Thames Valley. Again, in the year after, Bath and Wells suffered
considerably; and two years later St. Albans was shaken.

Of other earthquakes in the next century no especial mention need be
made, save of one of unusual violence in 1385. A revolution in Scotland
followed, and the superstitious populace, looking backward, concluded
that the earthquake had been meant as a warning which they had not been
able to interpret. A second shock which


followed the revolution was supposed to express the Divine displeasure
at their short-sightedness.

But one shock, though a very general one, is recorded during the next
one hundred and sixty-six years. Then in 1551 a slight tremor upset the
people’s furniture and dinner pots in a portion of Surrey. Twenty years
afterward a severe shock in Herefordshire was accompanied by a
landslide. A large portion of a hill slowly descended during two days,
turning a half circle as it came, as though on a pivot.

In 1574 a sharp vibration shook northern and western England at the hour
for vespers. Suppliants in Norton Chapel were thrown prostrate and fled
in terror, believing the dead were rising through the floor. Part of
Ruthin Castle was thrown down.

In 1580, April 6, nearly all England was alarmed by a violent shock. The
great bell at Westminster rang the alarm; others joined in. Students of
the Temple rushed into the streets; stones fell from St. Paul’s; showers
of chimneys in the streets maimed several persons; a panic ensued at
Christ Church, where two people were killed by falling stones, and
several were maimed in the wild rush to escape from the building. Parts
of the fortifications at Dover were overthrown; also several churches
and castles were damaged. May 1 of the same year the shocks were again
felt in Kent, during the night. This is one of the most notable of
British earthquakes; it passed eastward through Belgium to Cologne.

But it is needless to pursue the record further. Only two unusual
features are presented among the many earthquakes following: one in 1731
was confined to an area six miles by five; and one in 1734 exhibited a
peculiar rotary motion, shaking persons in bed around at right angles to
their former positions.

Summing up the record, we find that in the 10th century one earthquake
is recorded in England; during the 11th, ten; during the 12th, twelve;
during the 13th, thirteen; during the 14th, four; during the 15th, one;
six in the 16th; twenty in the 17th, and eighty-four in the eighteenth.
The present has also had a fair quota. But if we consider the damage to
property, or the fatality, we must conclude that no country in the world
is so favored in this matter of earthquakes as Great Britain, unless it
may be Germany.

Finally, all the disasters of this sort, in both England and the United
States, so far as all historic records go, do not equal a single one of
the many terrible convulsions recorded in the history of other nations.
From the earliest times to the present, we find a constant succession of
appalling disasters, many of which are almost beyond the power of
comprehension. The most cursory glance at these horrors of the past
should render every Anglo-Saxon peculiarly grateful that his lot is not
cast in a land so cursed with terrors, and more ready to sympathize with
the stranger in his woe.



    “Hark! louder on the blast come hollow shrieks
     Of dissolution; in the fitful scowl
     Of night, near and more near, angels of death
     Incessant flap their deadly wings, and roar
     Through all the fevered air: the mountains rock
     And thousand meteors flame about their heads;
     The thunder long and loud gives out his voice,
     Responsive to the ocean’s troubled growl,
     While bellowing chasms rend th’ eternal hills.
     Earth trembles at the mighty march of death.”

The reader will be assured, from the facts given concerning volcanic
eruptions, and the earthquakes of Asia Minor mentioned in the former
chapter, that great earthquakes are as numerous in Asiatic districts as
elsewhere; but beyond the bare fact, little is known of most of these.
India has preserved no written history: and China and Japan have been
till recently almost inaccessible to Europeans. So while the
disturbances there are equal in importance to those of other lands, it
is but lately that any definite information has been accessible; and our
chief knowledge has come from personal narratives of white settlers and
visitors to the islands of the western Pacific. In Japan, there is, to
say nothing of numerous volcanoes, strong circumstantial evidence of the
frequency of earthquakes in days past. Almost all dwellings are
constructed of bamboo and lightest woods, one story high, with screens
of paper as partitions: houses of stone are feared, the people
preferring to take their chances on a great fire than on an earthquake.
The same fact is noticeable

[Illustration: EARTHQUAKE IN CHINA.]

in the Philippines, Moluccas, and adjacent groups. Almost the only stone
buildings are those of Spanish and Dutch settlers. China has apparently
suffered less; but we learn that in 1556 two entire provinces were laid
waste. The extent of the loss of life can not be estimated. The earth
vomited ashes and flames, and ten great sea waves occurred in
twenty-four hours.

Since European occupation of the East Indies, the convulsions have been
frequent and alarming. The city of Manila was completely destroyed, with
thousands of people, in 1645. Not one stone remained on another. Severe
shocks occurred there again in 1699, 1796, 1825, 1852, and 1863. The
last named wrecked the cathedral while filled with worshipers. The loss
of property was from $8,000,000 to $10,000,000, or twice that of our
Charleston earthquake. Four hundred people were killed. The shock lasted
about half a minute, but opened many fissures, emitted volumes of gas
and spoilt the river water. Again, in 1880, after some vague or
irregular tremblings, there were several violent shocks. There was first
experienced a peculiar sense of nausea and faintness, with a feeling of
powerlessness or inability to flee. Horses stopped trembling in the
streets, “standing with ears erect, with staring eyes, and stiffly
extended legs, as though conscious of extraordinary peril.” The natives,
heedless of appeals for help, wildly sought their own safety, or knelt
devoutly invoking the saints. Clouds of dust filled the air, and heaps
of ruin blocked the streets. The terrible hush that prevailed was broken
only by an occasional cry for aid, or the crash of a ruined home.
Portions of ground between great crevices were raised five or six feet;
other parts fell as much. But the confusion rapidly subsided, and
occupations of all sorts were resumed. One newspaper, true to the
traditional enterprise of the fraternity, dragged its paraphernalia
from its ruined building, and went to work in the middle of the street.
An American publisher could hardly beat that.

But a region whose earthquakes have attracted greater attention, and
have been more carefully noticed by scientific men than those of the
eastern archipelago, is to be found along the western slope of the
Andes, extending thence into Central America and Northern Venezuela and
the West Indies.

Ever since the Spanish conquest, earthquakes have been numerous and
violent in this whole region; and judging from the character of the
native dwellings, the aborigines were for centuries accustomed to such
movements. But it remained for Humboldt, in the last century, to give us
a more careful description of some of the greater of these disasters.

Of the preceding disturbances, one of the most notable occurred in 1698,
when the crater of the volcano Carguirazo fell in with a great crash
during a shock of earthquake, and an area of twenty square miles was
covered with mud containing numerous dead fish. A few years later, a
similar occurrence north of Quito produced an epidemic of pernicious

But of the many great convulsions, that of Riobamba, in 1794, must rank
as exceeding all within the range of authentic history, unless we except
the one which destroyed Antioch in the year 526. The area disturbed was
the great volcanic plain on which Quito stands.

No subterranean noise announced or accompanied the shock. Adjacent
volcanoes were quiet; but the volcano of Pasto, sixty miles to the
northward, had for three months been violently smoking; and at the
moment the shock sixty miles away began, it suddenly stopped, nor did it
again begin. The volcano of Cayambe, near Quito, seemed surrounded by
meteorites. The pious people, alarmed at this manifestation of the
divine wrath, formed a religious procession which walked through the
principal streets. The result justified their belief in the potency of
their prayers; for Quito remained unharmed. A great roar, since known as
_el gran ruido_, was heard under the town some twenty minutes after the
disaster; but at the scene of the latter it was not heard at all.

In the immediate vicinity of Riobamba, the destruction was fearful. The
entire plain seemed rent into small independent fragments, which rose or
sank at will. Humboldt tells that an eye-witness might have seen
“fissures which alternately opened and closed, so that persons partially
engulfed were saved by extending their arms, that they might not be
swallowed up; portions of long trains of muleteers and laden mules
disappearing in suddenly opening cross fissures, whilst other portions,
by a hasty retreat, escaped the danger; vertical oscillations, by the
non-simultaneous rising and sinking of adjoining portions of ground, so
that persons standing in the choir of a church, sixteen feet above the
pavement of the street, found themselves lowered to the level of the
pavement without being thrown down; the sinking down of massive houses,
with such an absence of disruption or dislocation that the inhabitants
could open the doors of the interior, pass uninjured from room to room,
light candles and debate with each other their chance of escape, during
two days which elapsed before they were dug out; lastly, the entire
disappearance of great masses of stones and building materials. The old
town had possessed churches, convents, and houses of several stories;
but in the places where they stood, we found, on tracing out among the
ruins the former plan of the city, only stone heaps of from eight to
twelve feet in height.”

Of some of the villages in the adjacent plain not a trace was left. They
sunk bodily, and the earth closed over them. Of the others, only heaps
of ruins were left.

[Illustration: AFTER THE SHOCK.]

Nor was this all. The great volcano of Tunguragua, at the southern
extremity of the plateau, was rent asunder by the shock, or, according
to others, had an eruption from the side. Immense torrents of thick,
dark, sandy mud, mingled with pebbles, poured out and flooded adjacent
portions of the plain, smothered scores still entangled in the ruins of
their dwellings, filling numerous ravines and valleys, one of which was
one thousand feet wide and seven hundred feet deep.

The total loss of life was terrible. One authority places the
destruction at two hundred thousand. Forty thousand Indians were
suffocated by the torrent of mud alone. It is the most destructive
earthquake in modern history.

The town of Cumana has been visited almost as frequently as the
far-famed Antioch. In 1530, we are told, the sea rose four fathoms, the
earth was rent, a fort laid in ruins, the town wrecked, and dark,
noisome liquids ejected from fissures. In 1766, a long drought, fifteen
months in duration, had turned the thoughts of the people once more upon
their manifold transgressions, and they were prepared for further
chastisement. This came upon them. October 21 an earthquake blotted the
town out of existence in less than a minute. The earth vomited
sulphurous waters. The shocks were continued during fourteen months. The
good people instituted an annual fast and procession in commemoration of
the event.

Again, in 1794, Cumana was nearly prostrated. December 14, 1797, there
was a tremendous, upward shock, with a noise like a mine explosion.
Four-fifths of the town was laid in ruins. The atmosphere seemed
converted to water, so great were the torrents of rain. The Indians held
a religious festival and dance, believing the destruction and
regeneration of the world was at hand.

The first days of November, 1799, were noted for the peculiar redness of
the sky and the oppressiveness of the atmosphere, though the weather was
not especially warm. At nightfall the sea breeze failed to begin, and
the dusty earth began to crack in all directions. The people were sure
some evil boded. November 4, as a heavy storm came up, there was a sharp
gust of wind, which the natives say always precedes an earthquake; and a
few minutes later came the shock; two others followed during the
evening; but though all the tokens of a great shock, according to native
ideas, were present in such force that the people abandoned their homes
and slept in the parks and fields, the great quake never came. The
redness of the sky continued, and a few nights later occurred a
brilliant shower of meteors. Despite these signs and wonders, Mother
Earth refused to tremble. Humboldt concluded native prognostications
were unreliable.

During the past eighty years destructive earthquakes have been more
frequent in South America than in any other region of the earth. First
on the list is the great disaster at Caracas.

This town lies six miles from the seaport of La Guayra, in a valley
“where reigns eternal spring.” Shut in by lofty mountains, its aspect is
somewhat gloomy. The cold mountain air keeps the evening veiled with
clouds. But as a whole, the situation is so fine that the people would
hardly exchange it for a site less liable to earthquakes.

In December, 1811, when the disturbances were so great in the valleys of
the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas, there was a sharp shock, which did
no especial damage. At this time there was a severe drought, which
continued during the succeeding months; but no word of the disturbances
to the North, or in St. Vincent, reaching the people, they were not
especially alarmed. So the days passed till Holy Week came, and hundreds
were in the great churches.

At a few minutes past four there was a sudden shock which set
church-bells to ringing. Then came a second, which made the ground seem
as though it were boiling. This ceased, and the people supposed the
danger was past, when there came the fearful subterranean roar but too
well known in tropical countries, followed by series of alternating
shocks at right angles to each other, and at once the beautiful city,
with its palaces and homes and works of art was a shapeless ruin, with
twelve thousand corpses lying amid the wreck. Four thousand people were
slain in the churches alone. The great church of Alta Gracia, one
hundred and fifty feet in height, whose nave was supported by pillars
fifteen feet in diameter, was turned into a heap of rubbish but five or
six feet high. Nearly all had sunk in the earth. Scarce a vestige of
pillar or column could be found. A regiment of infantry, mustered in San
Carlos barracks, was engulfed, but few escaping. Nine-tenths of the town
was annihilated.

[Illustration: SCENE AT CARACAS.]

Night came. The cloud of dust, that like a mist had risen from the
wreck, had settled to the ground. The full moon shone as calmly on the
scene as in the past; and by the spectral light were seen strange
figures hurrying to and fro. Here passed a mother with an infant’s
corpse; while there a father groped amid the wreck, and called by turns
the names of wife and child. No tools were left in reach in all the
town; bare-handed creatures grappled with the stony heaps, and groaned
in answer to the moans beneath. The aqueducts were shattered and the
springs were stopped; the Guayra River was the sole supply. Scarce
vessels could be found to fetch it in. Here hurrying feet bore wounded
creatures to the stream; but lint and bandages were all beneath the
wreck. Two thousand injured people lay upon the turf, with little of
the needed help; but all their friends could do was done. Not even food
enough could be procured at first.

Then anguish-stricken souls repented of their sins, and marched in
procession that the wrath of God might be changed to mercy. Some driven
to the verge of madness loudly confessed their sins in the open streets.
Some promised to restore ill-gotten gains; often the peculation was
known only to themselves. Marriages were solemnized between many who had
hitherto not considered a ceremony necessary. Children were formally
recognized by parents who had before repudiated them; long standing
feuds and enmities were dropped.

Caracas was not the only place injured. La Guayra, Mayquetia, Antimano,
Baruta, La Vega, San Felipe, and Merida were totally destroyed. Five
thousand deaths occurred at San Felipe and La Guayra alone. It was
impossible to give burial. Vast funeral pyres were made and corpse after
corpse consigned to the flames. The total number of deaths from the
earthquake, including those who perished from want and sickness induced
by the exposure, was probably forty thousand; some have estimated fifty
thousand. The shocks were felt as far westward as Bogota.

It does not appear that any especial commotion was felt in Central
America, though shocks in the latter regions are nearly always felt in
Venezuela or Columbia. Every portion of Central America has been
repeatedly shaken. The town of Guatemala has been four times destroyed,
the people each time selecting a new site and adhering to the old name.
The people of San Salvador, on the other hand, have obstinately clung to
their site, though visited by violent earthquakes in 1575, 1593, 1625,
1656, 1798, and 1839; and minor shocks are of such constant

[Illustration: RUINS OF SAN SALVADOR.]

recurrence that the locality is nicknamed “the hammock.” But the shock
of 1889 was so severe that they seriously meditated leaving; but they
finally settled in the old place, when four-fifths of their town had
just been destroyed.

But in Holy Week, in 1854, as Mr. Squier tells us, unusual rumblings
were heard on the morning of Holy Thursday. The inhabitants, somewhat
alarmed, still went about their customary avocations. The remainder of
the week passed without further cause for fear. At half past nine
o’clock on Sunday night a severe shock so alarmed many people that they
prepared to camp out for the night. At ten minutes to eleven there came
without any warning a fearful quaking, which levelled the city to the
earth in ten seconds; clouds of dust filled the streets; wells and
fountains were choked; not a drop of water could be obtained. Not a
house was left inhabitable; scarce one preserved the semblance of being
erect; yet the town was composed chiefly of low, one-story structures.
The air was filled with fumes of sulphur; the neighboring volcano
threatened an eruption; and in addition to the usual horrors of an
earthquake, other features were added.

The ex-president of the republic was so badly hurt as to be almost
incapacitated for duty. Indians roamed pillaging the wreck, dropping on
their knees and praying as fresh shocks terrified them; then returning
to the plunder; for they were good Christians. Justice, police,
clergy--all were gone. The venerable bishop, Soldana, when dragged from
the ruin, bade the people flee in all haste, for “God had given the city
over to the Evil One as a punishment for its sins; and in spite of the
name it bore ‘(Holy Savior)’ it would be cast into the bottomless pit.”
The good bishop promptly headed the retreat of the clergy from the
forces of Satan, evidently under the impression that if the people
could only leave the accursed locality, the devil would not be so
scrupulously exact in tormenting them before the time. The people
flocked after the clergy in large numbers, believing they would be
safest in the neighborhood of the holy men. It is well known that even
the devil respects the cloth.


The republic had been rent by civil war for years; and in this critical
juncture, it seemed that it was about to be renewed. But a man of strong
will and energy and coolness stepped forward--Duenas, ex-monk, lawyer,
deputy, and president--from his farm, like Cincinnatus. Collecting a few
friends and digging some arms from the wreck of the barracks, he
inspirited the new president, and martial law was proclaimed. The
shooting of a few Indian robbers imparted to the remainder a respect for
law equalled only by their practical Christianity, and the work of
rescue began. Large numbers of the populace permanently forsook the

Two years later there was a great earthquake in Honduras; but the area
of disturbance was not so densely peopled, and the damage done was
proportionately less. Disasters of this sort cause most Central
Americans to emigrate. “Then women and children form themselves into
groups and travel through the country. They set the drama in which they
have taken part to music, and they go through the country singing the
rude verses which they have run together in the different villages, and
then send the hat around. After they have visited the whole of their own
country, they cross the frontier into the neighboring State, where they
are also assured of doing pretty well.”

During three centuries of Spanish occupation of South America, while
scores of convulsions had visited the Pacific seaboard, none had shaken
the eastern slope of the Cordilleras, or the great plains beyond; and
there had resulted a settled belief that the entire region was, so to
speak, earthquake-proof. But the illusion was rudely dispelled.

In the extreme west of the Argentine Republic, on the high road from
Valparaiso to Buenos Ayres, lies the town of Mendoza, in full view of
Tupungato and the mighty Aconcagua. Never having, in all their history,
experienced any harm from these mountains, the people anticipated none.

“Mendoza had about 20,000 inhabitants and five hundred houses, nearly
all of them very handsome. It also contained two very large hospitals,
several schools, a splendid cathedral, and several churches. Its trade
was prosperous, and more than a hundred large shops testified to the
extent of its commerce. There was no such library in the whole of the
Argentine Republic. Its theatre was most sumptuous, and the Alameda, its
public promenade was regarded as the finest in South America.


“One evening, an immense red and blue meteor slowly traversed the sky
from East to West, and the volcano of Aconcagua broke into an eruption
upon the night following--20th March, 1861--without any premonitory
sound or sign: the earth quaked violently, and in less than a minute the
town of Mendoza had disappeared. It was transformed into a vast field of
ruins, the highest of which were not more than three feet from the
ground. Never within the memory of man has a town been so taken by
surprise; for in this case the earthquake was not preceded by the
underground mutterings which, even if only a few seconds in advance of
the shock, give some sort of warning. Upon that night, and in less than
four seconds, fifteen thousand people were buried in the ruins. Horrible
noises, cries of terror, the heartrending howls of men and animals
filled the air, and a thick cloud of dust darkened the sky.”

Mendoza was not the only place injured. At San Juan, one hundred miles
northward, three thousand people were killed. Three hundred and fifty
miles further away, Cordova lost a number of houses, and a slight shock
was felt at Buenos Ayres. The wreck presented the scenes common in such
cases; and, as in several similar disasters, bands of brigands pounced
upon the town to pillage the ruins.

Of the many touching incidents, we must give place to two:

That the town was absolutely unwarned is hardly correct. A French
geologist, M. Bravard, sent on a scientific mission by the Russian
government, had found the volcanoes near by violently roaring, yet
emitting no smoke or fire; and, nearing the valley of Mendoza, he found
the soil in a constant tremor. Alarmed at these manifestations, he
expressed his belief that if the pressure were not speedily relieved by
eruption, a severe earthquake might follow. His assertion caused serious
apprehension, for his high attainments gave his opinions great weight
with the people. For nearly a week the possibility of a catastrophe was
seriously discussed. One evening he stood at the door of M. Matussiere,
wishing his friends good-night. Again he alluded to the earthquake--the
shock came, and he was caught by the fall of the house.

Matussiere himself was on his way home from Valparaiso. When fifteen
miles from Mendoza, in the mountains, a tremendous roaring was heard,
but he felt no shock. The moon shone as calmly and clearly as ever, and
no disturbance followed. Oppressed, however, by terrible fear, he
hastened to Mendoza. He could not even guess where was the wreck of his
own home. After a

[Illustration: WRECK AT MENDOZA.]

long, despairing search, he saw his great house dog come bounding toward
him. The dog led him to the wreck; and, after wearisome toil, the
merchant found his wife and one child alive. The rest of the family, and
the French geologist, were dead.

Another episode is related by M. Charton: There was at Mendoza a rich,
French hotel keeper, M. Tesser. After the shock, “one of his intimate
friends wandered among the ruins. His eyes were dry: he could shed tears
no longer. He stopped on the site of the hotel, trying in vain to recall
the old arrangements. He was retiring--his heart filled with sighs,
thinking of the honest man and the family he had loved so well--when he
perceived, through the shapeless mass of girders and calcined stones, M.
Tesser’s dog, which moaned; he approached it. The poor animal, the two
hind legs and part of the body of which were crushed, forced itself, in
spite of his sufferings and weakness, to scratch with his front paws,
and uttered, from time to time, a plaintive howl. As it saw its master’s
friend come near, it exerted itself and howled louder. The friend
understood that Tesser must be beneath this rubbish, and hoped he was
not dead. He ran to fetch some persons, and, with their help, after much
labor, he indeed discovered the body of poor Tesser; his left arm and
leg, lying under the beams, were broken, his mouth and eyes full of
earth, but he still breathed. Before trying to disengage his limbs, they
washed his face, which seemed to relieve him; without saying a word, he
instinctively stretched his right arm toward his dog, who drew himself
to him, and died a few moments afterwards.

“Tesser scarcely was in a state to pronounce any words, before he asked
where his family was. All had perished in the great disaster. Hearing
this answer, he closed his eyes with despair; then, making a fresh
effort, he pronounced the name of his little girl, and showed with his
finger a separate place where he had put her to bed. Some of the people,
in compassion for his grief, although without hope, made further search;
others occupied themselves in dressing his broken limbs. A few minutes
later, those rendering him this service saw him suddenly raise himself
up--he gave a cry--they brought him his daughter, still living. A beam
had fallen across the bed of the child and had protected it; but she was
seriously wounded in the head; she had also her mouth and eyes filled
with dirt, and was exhausted with hunger.” For two months the pair lay
under a tent against a tree, more dead than alive. They only remained to
each other of the once rich and happy family. But in this respect, they
were no worse off than hundreds of others.

The people abandoned the site, unable to remain in view of so many
monuments of former happiness. Strangers came in and a new Mendoza rose,
but not so lovely as the former one. This town was also severely shaken
in 1885.

With a notice of one other earthquake, which demands attention because
of unusual results, this chapter must close.

This shock occurred August 13, 1868, in Peru. The center of the
convulsion was at Arequipa, at the foot of the lofty volcanic mountain
of Misti, which has not shown signs of activity since the great outburst
of 1542. So far as their volcanic neighbor was concerned, the forty-four
thousand people of Arequipa had apparently no reason for apprehension.

At five minutes past five, there came a light shock like the jar of a
distant explosion. Half a minute later began the subterranean rumbling,
with a rapidly increasing vibration, which made the people run for their
lives into the streets. Then “the swaying motion changed into fierce,
vertical upheaval. The subterranean roaring increased in a terrifying
manner; then were heard the heart-piercing shrieks of the wretched
people, the bursting of walls, the crashing fall of houses and churches,
while over all rolled thick clouds of a yellowish-black dust, which, had
they been poured forth many minutes longer, would have suffocated

Tacna and Arica suffered little less. But the greatest damage in the
coast region was from the sea wave. A few minutes after the shock, the
sea rolled back, falling twenty-five feet; then a huge, black wall of
water leaped up, fifty feet in height, and rushed for the shore. The
American vice-consul at Arica, well versed in the phenomena of
earthquakes, left his house at the first shock, and ran with his family
to the hills to avoid any probable sea wave. The monster billow struck
the mole to pieces, and swept clean the lower part of the town. Six
vessels were lost in the bay, or tossed over rocks and houses; two, a
Peruvian corvette and a United States war-ship, were carried inland and
left high and dry, half a mile north of Arica, without a broken spar or
tarnished flag. Similar feats were recorded at Iquique. Twelve hundred
miles of sea-coast were more or less affected. Sixty million dollars
worth of property were destroyed, and twenty thousand people killed.

The great sea wave was especially remarkable. Recoiling from the
Peruvian coast, in three hours its southern expansion was observed at
Coquimbo, eight hundred miles south. An hour later it was at
Constitucion, four hundred and fifty miles further. Northward, the wave
rushed, sixty feet high, into the harbor of San Pedro, California, five
thousand miles from the shock.

To the westward, the Sandwich Islands were reached that night, and
irregular waves broke upon the coast for three days. Before midnight it
broke upon the Marquesas and the Paumotu archipelago. At half-past three
in the morning it was at New Zealand. By daylight it was surging along
the coasts of Australia, and by mid-day it was tossing even on the
southwest coast of Australia. The same day, it was heaving on the shores
of Japan.


This wave is doubtless surpassed only by the great wave set in motion
by the convulsion of Krakatoa, mentioned in the chapter on volcanoes. It
travelled to a distance of 10,500 miles from its starting point, at a
speed of from 400 to 500 miles an hour, according to the direction. Yet
it has had several strong rivals. Had the great wave of 1867, at the
time of the earthquake at St. Thomas, been raised in the open sea,
instead of in the comparatively shut in Caribbean, it might have
travelled to an equal distance. The sea wave which followed the
earthquake at Simoda, Japan, in 1854, completely wiped out that town,
leaving only fragments of a temple-wall, and some wrecked vessels, two
miles inland. Most of the people perished. Recoiling from the coast, the
wave rolled in upon the shores of California, travelling 5,000 miles in
twelve hours.

The terrible earthquake that ravaged Jamaica in 1692, produced a wave
that swept thirty-three feet of water over the highest house in Port
Royal, destroying 3,000 persons. An English frigate, the _Swan_, was
deposited on the top of a large building, breaking in the roof. The
waves of the Lisbon and Calabrian earthquakes have been noticed

This same district in Peru has suffered similarly several times. Callao,
with the ground on which it was built, was swept away in 1746. Only
fifteen of its people ever reached Lima, six miles inland. When the town
was rebuilt, a second disaster of this sort nearly destroyed it. Iquique
and Arequipa, in Peru, were again destroyed May 9, 1877; and a wave
seventy feet high swept the coast, and recoiling reached Japan next day,
travelling two hundred and eighteen yards per second.

The cases given illustrate well the stupendous power and destructiveness
of vibrations in the earth’s surface. But few have been given, nor have
all the greatest been detailed. Mention only must suffice for the one
which shook Naples and vicinity, December 5, 1456, destroying forty
thousand people. Another in Persia, June 7, 1755, destroyed Kaschan,
with forty thousand people; one at Cairo, Egypt, the preceding year,
killed twenty thousand. Another in the Abruzzi, Italy, November 3, 1706,
killed fifteen thousand persons; one at Palermo; Sicily, September 13,
1726, killed six thousand; one hundred thousand perished in the Pekin
earthquake of November 30, 1731; two thousand were destroyed by an
earthquake in the Kutch district, India, in 1819. Constantinople was
overturned in the year 1800; six thousand people perished in an
earthquake in Murcia, Spain, in 1829; fifteen hundred were killed by
Italian earthquakes in 1835-36; Southern Syria suffered greatly in 1836;
Hayti was shaken, and four thousand people perished, in 1842; one
hundred thousand houses and thirty thousand people destroyed by an
earthquake in Japan, 1854; Montenerro, Calabria, and ten thousand people
in 1857; five thousand people in Ecuador, 1859; Northwestern Khorassan,
Persia, with thirty thousand people, in 1871; Antioch again nearly
destroyed in 1872; three thousand people killed in Cashmere, 1885.

Terrible as this list seems, the total but little exceeds the havoc
wrought by the single Bengal famine of 1866. There would be little
difficulty in proving that drought, with the consequent famine, has
proved the most terrible agent of destruction known to man; and yet it
is one that facilities for rapid transit should render least

Scientific men have within forty years made efforts to keep a sort of
catalogue of shocks; but the frequency of earthquakes has rendered this
a profitless task. Great ones are long remembered; but as for numbering
the minor shocks, one might as well count rainfalls; several

[Illustration: EARTHQUAKE IN SPAIN.]

occur every day; and it is only when unusually destructive, like
extraordinary tempests, that they attract any attention; so that their
being recorded depends even more upon location than upon actual force.

All the phenomena of volcanoes and earthquakes point us to one
conclusion: that the earth may in time become as dead and deserted as
the moon. The telescope shows the latter to be thickly dotted with
volcanic craters, whose immensity, in comparison with those of our own
globe, is astounding; yet all are extinct. It is not probable that the
interior of our earth is molten; and we have seen that fractures and
subsidence, caused by gradual cooling, seem to be the main cause of the
local phenomena of volcanoes and earthquakes. As the ages roll on, these
weak places may become still higher; and the belt of warm climate will
grow narrower and narrower. Cooling at the present rate, 2,500,000,000
years will be necessary to render it as lifeless as the moon.

“As the cooling progresses, a sheet of snow and ice, from north and
south, will descend from the mountains upon the table-lands and valleys,
driving before it life and civilization, and covering forever the cities
and nations that it meets on its passage. All life and human activity
will press insensibly toward the inter-tropical zone. The great cities
of the world will fall asleep in succession under their eternal shroud.
During very many ages, equatorial humanity will undertake arctic
expeditions to find again under the ice the place of Paris, Lyons,
Bordeaux, and Marseilles. The sea-coasts will have changed, and the
geographical map of the earth will have been transformed. No one will
live and breathe, except in the equatorial zone, up to the day when the
last family, nearly dead with cold and hunger, will sit on the shore of
the last sea, in the rays of the sun, which will thereafter shine here
on a dead, cold earth, revolving, like a satellite moon, about a sun
unseen by mortal eyes, and distributing to an extinguished planet a
useless heat.” So will end the history of our planet and its great

    “All worldly shapes shall melt in gloom,
     The sun himself must die,
     Before this mortal shall assume
     Its immortality!
     I saw a vision in my sleep,
     That gave my spirit strength to sweep
     Adown the gulf of time!
     I saw the last of human mold
     That shall creation’s death behold,
     As Adam saw her prime!

     The sun’s eye had a sickly glare,
     The earth with age was wan;
     The skeletons of nations were
     Around that lonely man!
     Some had expired in fight--the brands
     Still rusted in their bony hands.
     In plague and famine some!
     Earth’s cities had no sound or tread,
     And ships were drifting with the dead,
     To shores where all was dumb!

     Yet prophet-like that lone one stood
     With dauntless words and high,
     That shook the sere leaves from the wood
     As if a storm passed by!
     Saying, We are twins in death, proud Sun,
     Thy face is cold, thy race is run,
     ’Tis Mercy bids thee go:
     For thou ten thousand years
     Hast seen the tide of human tears
     That shall no longer flow.”



    “Fain would th’ ephemeral pigmies then aspire
     To drive, like Phäethon, the sun’s coach of fire,
     To grapple with the lightning in the sky,
     Or with the restless winds abroad to fly.
     Not all the bolts of Jove, nor Phœbus’ wrath,
     May fright them from their wild, self-chosen path.
     Though poplars wave above ten thousand graves,
     And myriad Icari lie beneath the waves,
     The rest, as once the Titans, still press on,
     And strive to thrust the great gods from their throne.”

Ever since man has dwelt upon the earth, there has been a constant
effort, not merely to foretell the future, but to control it. So strong
is man’s faith in his own capacity, that wizards, jugglers, fakirs and
tricksters, and necromancers have always found their vocation a
lucrative one. It is easy to make one’s living by imposing upon the
credulity of the public. Not merely the American people, but every other
people, like to be humbugged. So strong is the tendency to gullibility,
that the most extraordinary pretensions are the most readily credited.
The capability of the public to judge in such cases is well illustrated
by the Grecian story of the famous mimic, whose imitation of the grunt
of a pig was so perfect, that thousands came to witness his performance.
A countryman remarked that he could do still better, and, concealing a
pig under his coat, he stole upon the stage. Pinching the animal’s ear,
the pig squealed violently, but the audience hissed the squeak as a
miserable fiasco. Whereat the countryman produced the pig, and left the
audience pondering the situation.

The same tendency causes men to desire to attribute unusual appearances
to causes beyond the domain of natural law. The savage finds thunder and
lightning in the discharge of a gun; mysterious magic in a telescope;
downright sorcery in quinine; witchcraft and incantation in a written
prescription. If one, a little shrewder than his fellows, after long
study of an ant’s nest, conceive the idea that they have a regularly
constituted community, with a queen at the head, he needs only to
suggest such a thing to his neighbors, to be set down as having
communications with the Ant Queen; and he may readily aspire to the
chieftainship, thence to be known as the Ant Chief. Imagination is so
much easier than observation. Doubtless old Numa’s thoughtful air in his
daily retreat, gave rise to the tale that he was in consultation with
the nymph of a fountain. Any one who had devoted an hour each day to
gazing pensively into a stream, might have achieved a like reputation,
as the Hindoo fakir is held in high repute for sanctity, because he
preserves strict silence and gazes for years at the end of his nose.

So when men achieve new results by natural means, it is preferred to
assume otherwise. Good Roger Bacon invented gunpowder by witchcraft. The
early chemists were in league with the Evil One. Faust and Gutenberg
sold their souls to the devil, in order to get Bibles printed. The
Magdeburg physicist, who made a water barometer in which a wooden figure
rose or fell as the atmosphere varied, was the devil’s own child. Cows
sickened and died at the will of shrivelled dames who rode through the
air on broomsticks.

Foreknowledge is always confounded with foreordination. The weather
prophet is transformed into a weathermaker. The myth of Aeolus is thus
explained. Once a king of the Lipari Isles, by careful observation of
the vapor cloud over Stromboli he was enabled to announce changes of
weather a day or two in advance, as every observant man in that region
can do to-day. The simple subjects attributed his knowledge to
supernatural powers, and after his death perpetuated the story of
Aeolus, the king of the winds, who dwelt in a cave in one of the

In the time of Elijah, the prophets of Baal were confident of procuring
rain by howling, cutting and slashing; while Ahab believed Elijah was
responsible for the drought. The negro and the red man to-day show the
same characteristics in this respect. The negro rain-maker makes fetich;
the red chief, “big medicine,” to bring rains. The reputed success of
each is proportioned to his shrewdness in recognizing tokens of change
in the weather.

The great white man is often little better. While no longer trusting in
the power of any one to control the weather, he has set up a god of
false science, whom all must bow down to and worship. True knowledge is
often flouted and scouted; but every one who would attract attention
must assume at least the appearance of learning. College degrees are
bought and sold at reasonable prices. No questions asked. The
dancing-master is professor. The pugilist has become professor. The man
who fiddles for beer in the corner saloon is professor. Weep, O Minerva!

So any one who wishes especial importance to be attached to his
utterances, needs but assume a title, or a few mystic letters. Every
great catastrophe produces a plentiful brood of them. As soon as the
Charleston earthquake alarmed the country, it was announced that a grave
“Prof.” had predicted it. He was the hero of the hour. Interviewers
flocked from many quarters. For weeks the words of “Prof.” ----, were as
ointment poured out. The papers gave him great space--published sketches
of his career. So much adulation was too much for human nature; besides,
he owed a duty to the public. A man so gifted should continue to give
warning of impending dangers. He did so. They didn’t materialize. The
“Prof.” has had little attention for three years.

The Louisville tornado afforded other cases. A woman in the west
predicted a combined deluge and earthquake, with other minor horrors on
the side, as prepared for the Pacific coast. Some of the gullible people
sold out at great sacrifice, that they might lose as little as possible
by the greatest cyclone and earthquake of the century. Others drew up a
formal petition to the Governor, calling upon him to proclaim a day of
supplication and fasting for the doomed cities of Oakland, San Francisco
and Alameda. The end of the world drew nigh, and these three cities, as
eminently wicked, would be first punished; after which Chicago and
Milwaukee would suffer.

Bands of believers met and wrestled mightily in prayer that the
unparalleled horrors might be averted. They were eminently successful.

Another came forward and announced that the entire Mississippi valley
was to be visited with a cataclysm, such as no man had ever conceived.
The floods were to break all the levees, wash away everything that was
within a hundred miles of the stream, tear up the delta built by the
deposits of ages, and leave the site of New Orleans at the bottom of the
sea. At this writing the Crescent City is in hourly expectation of its

Yet another seer, warned of the Lord in a vision, perhaps, has just
declared the fate of the Atlantic coast. Before the end of the century
there will be an earthquake such as no man ever before has known. The
fountains of the great deep are to be broken up. All the cities of the
New England coast will be desolated by immense sea waves. Manhattan
Island, with the city of New York, and Long Island, are to be sunk to
the bottom of the sea. Our hearts fail us for fear for the things that
are coming upon the earth. Let us hope that peradventure there be yet
five righteous men in Sodom.

Some years ago great sensation was occasioned by the discovery of Mother
Shipton’s prophecy among some old English manuscripts. It began:

    “Carriages shall without horses go,
     And accidents fill the world with woe;
     Around the world men’s thoughts shall fly,
     In the twinkling of an eye.”

After a few statements of this sort, it closed by saying:

    “The world to an end shall come
     In eighteen hundred and eighty-one.”

Great was the fright of not a few timid believers. Many arranged their
affairs for the end of the world. Some, as the Millerites have several
times done, prepared their ascension robes. Finally, the whole thing
proved to be a hoax. A wag had endeavored to amuse himself at the
expense of the public.

Such are fair specimens of predictions that continually appear in the
newspapers. Certain men will always endeavor to astonish the ignorant by
their words and works. Seldom do sober-minded people pay the least
attention to them. As for minor changes in weather, they are so
constant, and so limited in area, that, as stated elsewhere, any one is
safe for announcing the character of the weather for any day in the
year. From a score of places, he could obtain testimonials of the
correctness of his prognostications; while nine score more, if they
spoke, might declare him altogether mistaken.

But many will ask in all seriousness, if there is no means of
prediction upon which all may depend. Is any more reliance to be placed
upon the prognostications of the Signal Service than upon those of the
self-constituted prophets?

A brief statement of the principles relied upon will be satisfactory on
this point.

Our weather bureau was established in 1870. Such organizations are
maintained, at the public expense, in Great Britain, France, Germany,
Italy, Australia, Russia, India, Algeria, and Japan. Several smaller
countries share in the expense and benefits. Men long trained in the
work grow more reliable. Each must first master the topography and the
prevailing movements of the atmosphere of any region, ere he can presume
to know anything of the probable changes.

How extremely important a knowledge of the country is, will be
understood when it is remembered that mountain ranges may turn aside
great storms, and hills of any considerable size may modify small ones.
And in general, storm paths are so narrow, in comparison with the whole
country, that the slightest variation at the start may be very important
at the end of six hundred or seven hundred miles--or a day’s travel. So,
announcing twenty-four hours beforehand the exact locality a storm may
reach is really a very delicate piece of work. If a tyro should announce
rain for North Georgia, he might be astonished to find a difference of
twenty-one per cent. between Atlanta and Augusta. He would find in
Tennessee sixteen per cent. difference between Knoxville and Nashville;
or twelve and a half per cent. in Iowa between Dubuque and Davenport.

The Signal Service does not endeavor to forecast entirely new conditions
so much as to give warning of storms already on the way. It can not
safely say where a storm will arise; but it can declare with tolerable
certainty the path a storm will pursue after having once started.

Yet, there are certain signs of rain that can be of use to the public.
Americans, as a rule, pay less attention to the actions of the animal
kingdom at change of weather than other nations; and the lower animals
detect changes of weather more quickly than man. Slugs and snails often
leave their crannies, and endeavor to find some drier retreat at the
approach of rain. Swallows fly lower; chiefly because the insects they
pursue abandon the upper air. Crickets and grasshoppers become less
noisy, and seek snug retreats. Fish leap more frequently from the water.
The oft-praised tree-frog seems not to have deserved the confidence
placed in him as a barometer.

Quatremere Disjonval, when made a prisoner of war by the Dutch, made a
careful study of the habits of the house spider, while in confinement.
His observations played an important part in the war. “General Pichegru,
being prevented by the mild weather from carrying out his intention of
invading that country, was about to retire with his army from the Dutch
frontier, when Disjonval found means to inform him that, from the signs
he had observed in his spiders, a severe frost was sure to take place in
the next ten days. Pichegru trusted to the prognostic: the frost came in
time. Holland was conquered, and Disjonval released from his prison.”

Voigt asserts that the spider is so reliable a barometer because of its
anatomy: the long, slender, unmailed legs being peculiarly sensitive to
atmospheric changes. That is, when Madam Spider finds herself with a
touch of rheumatism, she wraps herself in a thicker blanket and takes to
her den. In fine weather the garden spiders are much more plentiful; and
the tiny gossamer spiders also are numerous, and fly at greater

These serve to illustrate the class of phenomena most relied upon by
those in every land who must spend much time in the open air. The
scientist may understand the laws of winds and rains: but the farmer,
the shepherd, the fisherman, and sailor, to whom every phase of weather
means much, can, relying upon the actions of the lower animals, detect
approaching changes as readily, in many cases, as the Signal Service;
and far more readily or correctly than the quasi learned theorist whose
stock in trade is a hobby and an unlimited quantity of assumption.

It is one thing to understand law; it is quite another to be able to
make practical application of it. Franklin identified lightning with
electricity; a century passed before practical use of the electric light
resulted. We know now the general laws of air currents, but little
application of them has been made.

As to the possibility of controlling the winds, no one has thus far had
the temerity to propose it. But that rainfall can be partially
controlled is well known. The heaviest rains occur in forest areas; and
in turn, the matted roots of the forest and jungle retard the descent of
the rain into the water courses, and hinder the washing away of the
soil. Floods have become more sudden and destructive in the lumber
regions since the timber has been cut away, while the actual rainfall is
not so great. So a number of our Western States require a “homesteader”
to plant a tree claim.

A bold genius has recently asserted that we may produce rain at will, by
sending up balloons loaded with dynamite or other powerful explosives,
and then firing them. It has been observed that almost every great
modern battle has been followed by a heavy rainfall; and the idea is,
that the continued explosions have had much to do with them.
Frequenters of Fourth of July picnics will readily vouch for the
correctness of the theory.

Doubtless a more effective plan would be simply to apply the well known
first principle of air-currents and storms--heated air; but this would
be immensely expensive. Every year sees exemplifications of it, however,
in the heavy rains that follow the great forest fires or prairie fires
of our own land. Natives of tropical regions frequently burn the jungle
at the close of the dry season; and the unusual heating of large areas
in this way doubtless has much to do with hastening the advent of rain.

The expedient of firing the sawgrass ponds is frequently resorted to in
Florida, and has been brought to the notice of the public in official
meteorological reports. It is directly in accordance with the principle
of restoration of the balance of forces, whereby a long heated term is
followed by unusually heavy rains.

But, in contending with subterranean forces, man is hitherto balked.
Numbers of instruments exist for measuring the force and direction of
earthquake shocks, but these can be made of little practical use; for we
have seen that the vibrations travel from forty to one hundred and fifty
miles a minute, according to the nature of the soil. Hence, could we
know a certain shock would travel around the world, it would not be
possible, after it was first felt, to send warning ahead in time to be
of any especial value. But we have seen that unusual disturbances of
this sort are confined to certain regions, and are of constant
recurrence; while in other lands, they are almost unknown. So any one
understands pretty well what risks he runs in any particular district.

The Chinese were the first to invent a seismometer, or instrument for
ascertaining the force and direction of any shock. Their apparatus
consists of an upright pillar bearing a number of dragons’ heads--each
one holding a ball in its mouth. So any slight tilting or vibration of
the pillar would cause a ball to drop on the side toward which the shock
travelled. The distance to which the ball was thrown served as a rude
measure of the force.

Equally simple is Mallet’s contrivance--a number of cylinders of equal
heights and different bases, placed upon a sanded surface. The more
violent the shock, the larger the cylinder thrown down.

But observations of these vibrations, to be of use, must take note of
the myriad tremors that will escape ordinary perceptions, or the powers
of such rude instruments as the above. There are several sorts now used.
Prof. Palmieri, of the Vesuvius Observatory, uses a delicate instrument,
which records the slightest tremor on a dial-plate. The Italians have
also applied the microphone to this work. The delicacy of this
instrument may be imagined, when it is known that by its means a fly can
be heard walking on the floor. So the slightest subterranean noise may
be heard.

These instruments have taught us that the minor tremors increase in
number and intensity as any unusual disturbance of Vesuvius approaches;
just as the Signal Service can detect the gathering of a storm ere it
actually bursts. Remembering also Bravard’s warning of Mendoza, in the
last chapter, it is clear that in certain regions such observations can
be made of practical value to the people at large.

One of the most ingenious apparatus for observing the vibrations of the
soil is that constructed by M. d’Abbadie, at his observatory near the
Pyrenees. A conical cavity forty-six feet deep is excavated in the solid
rock. At the bottom is a basin of mercury. A long-focus lens over this
reflects upon the surface of the ground the image of the metal below.
The slightest tremor is carefully examined by a microscope. In short,
this ingenious Frenchman has applied the reflecting telescope to the
observation of the interior of the earth.

After all, the chief precautions must be of a different type. As already
noticed, long observation has taught the Japanese and others that their
safety depends mainly upon the construction of houses of the lightest
type; when the sea wave is more to be dreaded than the shock. This is
the general principle of building now adopted in countries where
earthquakes are frequent; and doubtless the earthquake is partially
responsible for the fact that many intelligent savage races have made no
progress in architecture.

It should be noted, however, that the ancients believed that deep wells
were a safeguard against earthquakes; such is the expression of several
ancient writers. And in this connection we may mention the remarkable
case of Quito, in Ecuador. Here we have a city of magnificent
cathedrals, public edifices, and other lofty buildings, which have not
in three centuries been overthrown by an earthquake. Yet it lies on the
plateau on which stood Riobamba, where such terrible destruction was
wrought in 1794, and at the base of the great volcano of Pichincha. It
has been shaken time and again more severely than towns in the vicinity
that have been totally destroyed. Yet it remains intact, and the people
have an indifference to earthquakes that is astonishing. They attribute
their safety to the fact of having deep cellars under every house. When
we remember that tropical races are not, as a rule, a cellar building
people, it may be that the idea is worthy of serious consideration. But
many idle races of the tropics might, in lower grounds, merely exchange
the results of an occasional earthquake for malaria-breeding pools.



    “Man is born on a battle-field. Round him to rend
     Or resist, the dread Powers he displaces, attend
     By the cradle which Nature, amid the stern shocks
     That have shattered creation, and shapened it, rocks.
     He leaps with a wail into being; and lo!
     His own mother, fierce Nature herself, is his foe;
     Her whirlwinds are roused into wrath o’er his head;
     ’Neath his feet roll her earthquakes; her solitudes spread
     To daunt him; her forces dispute his command;
     Her snows fall to freeze him; her suns burn to brand;
     Her seas yawn to engulf him; her rocks rise to crush;
     And the lion and leopard, allied, lurk to rush
       On their startled invader. * * * * * * * *
     Not a truth has to art or to science been given,
     But brows have ached for it, and souls toiled and striven;
     And many have striven, and many have failed,
     And many died, slain by the truth they assailed.”

The original condition of the human race was not one of knowledge. When
the first man and the first monkey were created and finished, the monkey
knew as much as the man. Both found themselves in a world of forces, of
the nature of which, beyond what was revealed to their native instincts,
they knew nothing at all. The man’s superiority lay not in knowledge,
but in capacity to know.

Man learned the forces and facts of Nature by experience. He learned
them at the cost to himself of fear and pain and toil and death. He
plucked one fruit and found it wholesome; another, and found it bitter;
another, and found it deadly. The surviving son learned to avoid the
mistakes of his father.

Man was not long in gaining a knowledge of his environment, enough at
least, if he would not be too venturesome, to conserve in some degree
his happiness and life. He learned that fire will burn, that water will
drown, that storms will blow, that floods will overwhelm, that winter
will come, and that his life is dependent on continual quest and
avoidance. But Nature held innumerable secrets which he did not know;
many, which, even to-day, he has not learned. In proportion as he should
become acquainted with these, he would be master of a situation, which,
at the first, so nearly mastered him. He might acquire a magnificent
fortune, if he would only work for it; accordingly, we are told that his
Maker admonished him to “subdue and have dominion.”

Whether man has been six thousand years, or sixty thousand, in learning
the little that he now knows, no one can tell; but during these years of
his primary tuition he could not through knowledge have the mastery of
Nature, for knowledge was too meager. It was well, therefore, that he
should, in the meanwhile, have a partial mastery through faith. Ignorant
of natural forces, or without means of avoidance, is it any wonder that
he should fly for refuge to the Supernatural? Accordingly, God was his
“refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Believing himself
watched and defended by infinite power and love, he could “run through a
troop or leap over a wall;” he could fancy himself “immortal till his
work was done,” safe on the battle-field as in his chamber; he was not
afraid of the “pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor of the
destruction that wasteth at noonday;” of earthquake and storm and fire
he was not afraid, for these were the ministers of Heaven’s will--if not
to be avoided, then to be accepted with submission and trust.

Such faith in the presence and interposition of the Supernatural was
instructive to the young world, and as necessary as its mother’s milk
is to a babe. It gave comfort and repose and strength, for its subject
felt that “underneath and round about him were the everlasting arms.” It
made heroes of cowardly men on battle-fields; heroines of weak women in
humble homes. It produced the sublimest characters of history; it
vanquished death. Sustained by it, it is literally true that men
“subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions,
quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword; out of
weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the
armies of the aliens.”

The sudden loss of this faith from earth would be a calamity. It would
be as though the sun and moon had been darkened, and the stars had gone
out in the sky. Till men know more of Nature, they must continue to lean
on the Supernatural. They may never do this less than they do it now;
but they will do it more intelligently.

As the child, with growing strength, is weaned from the breast, so
increasing knowledge tends to the destruction of faith. It may be stated
as a law that, other things being equal, faith in the manifestation of
the Supernatural--in the miraculous--is most facile to him who knows the
least. Accordingly, the men of highest attainments have commonly the
least of this kind of faith. They still believe in something back of
Nature; some cause of Nature--in the Supernatural--but they expect
nothing from it outside the lines of natural law. They know nothing of
miracle or special providence. They see everywhere cause and effect; the
one not present without the other; the perpetual grinding of machinery
and the wretch mangled who is caught between the wheels; the wisest and
best of men, pillars of state or prophets of the Lord, crushed as surely
as the vilest and the meanest. All the prayers of God’s people will not
make rivers flow back to their fountains, nor turn the Sahara into a
sea; nor thaw the ice at the poles, nor relieve the famine, nor stop the
pestilence, nor level a single mole-hill, nor make one hair white or
black. The whole universe is held in the chain of cause and effect, with
link joined to link forever and ever. The Supernatural may be the
electric energy that thrills along the endless chain, but it never quits
the conductor to find out new paths. What it does to-day, it did a
thousand years ago, and will do a thousand years hence. So speaks and so
believes the student of Nature. We may be extremely reluctant to admit
his teaching, and yet the facts seem to be altogether with him. The
evidence is overwhelming that men everywhere, good and bad alike, are
dealing directly, not with the Supernatural, but, with Nature--with law;
_nothing but natural law_. If any hesitate to accept this saying, we do
not press them, for the time has not yet come when they could accept it
with safety. The babe will cling to the mother’s breast as long as he
needs it, and sometimes longer; but by and by he will abandon it of

A world of iron law is not our ideal world, though the evidence grows
that it is the real one. We like law well enough when it defends us; we
are not pleased with it when it chastises us. At such a moment we would
flee to some friendlier power. We would go to God and tell Him that
Nature is not treating us well, and that we desire His interposition. It
is because we are afraid of Nature that we take so much interest in the
Supernatural. But what reason have we to think that the Supernatural is
better than Nature?

The Supernatural has had more prophets than Nature, and will doubtless
continue to have them. Far be it from us to forbid them. Let them
prophecy in the name of the Lord. Let them “strengthen the weak hands
and confirm the feeble knees;” inspire courage in adversity, calmness
in the face of death.

But we should like to remind them that if they have done much good, they
have also done some evil.

They have greatly obstructed a lesson, the most important for men to
know; a lesson which they must learn at last, whether they like to learn
it or not; a lesson which they need to learn as soon as they can,
because certain knowledge is better to shape the life than is uncertain
faith; a lesson that will bring them face to face with the real
conditions of their present and eternal well-being,--we mean this
lesson, that _the Supernatural, the Primal Fountain of Force, goes forth
only in streams of natural law_. So far as can be shown, it manifests
itself in no other way. Contrary to this, the prophets of the
Supernatural have often encouraged man to believe that he shall not reap
as he has sown; that he may sow to the flesh, and yet reap to the
spirit; that outside and alongside the machinery of law is another and
more masterful machinery of Providence and Grace; that the latter is
ordained a sure corrective and deliverer from the evils of the former;
that so almighty is this invisible, ever-active and presiding energy,
that it can, by a momentary display, transform the most inveterate
sinner into a saint, and crown him with everlasting happiness, although,
meanwhile, it supinely leaves the innocent child the victim of Adam’s
fall, to sink into the flames of hell. Our sense of justice is shocked,
virtue is dismayed, vice is emboldened, and the so-called scheme of
grace, less pitiful and just than that of nature, is seen to differ from
it chiefly in this, that it offers greater encouragement to sin.

Nature throughout all her regions proclaims the dominion of law. She has
incessantly denounced woe to its violator. A million times has she shown
us the delinquent writhing under the scourge. Never once has the
transgressor escaped. His transgression,

    “Like a staunch murderer steady to his purpose,
     Follows him through every lane of life,
     Nor misses once the track,”

and soon or late he is overtaken. Privation or pain is the inexorable
penalty. Nature with trumpet voices shouts incessantly, “Whatsoever a
man soweth that shall he also reap.”

The dominion of law is shown in the punishment of _intentional
disobedience_--what men call _sin_. Its natural consequences are
remorse, degradation, and spiritual death. A being of loftiest make is
reduced to the likeness of a vile and venomous thing, crawling on its
belly through the dust. Higher enjoyments are exchanged for such as are
brutish and vile,--so to speak, the life of a humming-bird, flitting
through all sunny climes and scenes and feeding on nectar, is exchanged
for the life of a swine, feeding on offal, and wallowing in the mire.
And never once is a wound made by the lash of law healed without a scar;
in other words, transgression leaves its permanent impress on the soul,
and the transgressor, despite the incantations of priest or prophet,
finds himself poorer forever. He has forfeited the peace of them that do
well. He has peopled the past with bitter memories; the future with
gloomy forebodings. Reason untrammeled, loyal to the truth and pursuing
it with success, has been substituted with reason fettered with chains
of prejudice and vile affection, loving and making a lie.

Habit, with every successive stroke of action, has riveted these chains
more firmly, till the victim is fast bound hand and foot, and delivered
over to despair. The order of downward progress is, transgression,
spiritual pain, stupor, insensibility, permanent degradation, which is
spiritual death. In all this, there is no immediate or special judgment
of God; no working of the Supernatural apart from natural law. If there
were no God at all, while the constitution of man and the universe
should remain as they are, the consequences to the transgressor would,
in no wise, be altered. The sinner has nothing to fear but natural law,
and sooner or later he finds this terrible enough.

But the punishment of sin is not the most impressive proof of the
dominion of law. We feel that the willful transgressor is entitled to
the punishment of his deed; hence, even when his punishment is severest,
he fails to command our fullest sympathy. That the organization of
Nature should be such as systematically to afflict the sinner, is not
more than our sense of justice would prompt us to expect.

But the punishment of _ignorance_ offers a more impressive spectacle--a
more striking exhibition of the dominion of law. It seems that
ignorance, especially when absolutely unavoidable, might be pleaded in
bar of punishment; but nature obviously does not accept the plea. Nor
does it avail us in this emergency to appeal from Nature to the
Supernatural. The Supernatural refuses to entertain the
appeal--positively declines to interfere--and natural law is left to
take its course. The ignorant must suffer as surely as the guilty, and
often his suffering is not less severe. For the slightest mistakes men
forfeit happiness or life,--mistakes not of themselves alone, but
mistakes of others. The sin or the error belongs to one man; the weight
of the suffering often falls to another. Even our benevolence seems to
be punished; for quite frequently the effort to help others brings
disaster to ourselves--to our fortunes, to our families, our lives.
Seeking to rescue another from fire or water, from the assassin or the
robber; from the domestic tyrant or the foreign invader, we lose life,
and, for lack of our help, our children are uneducated, exposed to moral
evil, neglected, turned out of doors. The very tramp whom, for pity, we
took in from the street, robs us, or murders us. Meanwhile the
Supernatural beholds and makes no sign--gives no indication that it is
at all concerned.

The suffering which comes through unavoidable ignorance, or which is
visited upon the innocent through the deeds of the guilty, is, in its
sum total, appalling and unspeakable. It is a dark and fathomless ocean,
whose waves have been incessantly beating on the shores of this dreary
world since time began. Every drop of this mighty ocean has been wrung
out through the operation of natural law. An omniscient eye, every hour
of the day and night, through countless ages, has gazed into these
waters of anguish, and has declined to lessen their quantity by a single
atom. No order from the Supernatural has gone forth to countermand any
decree of Nature. Man has stood alone, grappling with his antagonist;
and though he has cried incessantly, heaven has left him to his fate.
Could there be a more awful demonstration of the supremacy of natural

Nature slays in babyhood one-third of all the children that are born
into the world, just because they have not strength to resist her;
meanwhile she carefully preserves such tyrants as Tiberius to finish
their three score years and ten, though every added year means the
murder of a thousand of the best men and women to be found in a wide
empire. Why does not the Supernatural rise up from his place and smite
the tyrant to the earth? Is it not plain that we are dealing with
natural forces alone?

For six thousand years--God knows how long--Africa has been a hell, than
which perhaps no man need ever fear a worse. If the pulpit may convince
a sinner that as a result of his ways he shall be turned black, body
and soul, and sent to Africa, there perpetually to renew his life as
often as it is extinguished by the superstition and fiendishness of his
fellows, and the said sinner do not then begin to live more wisely, it
will be useless to talk to him of fire and brimstone. Upon this horrible
theater of action perhaps 600,000,000 of human beings have been
projected in every century, coming without their will to a heritage of
nakedness and superstition and barbarity absolutely prohibitive of
happiness here or hope for the hereafter; and yet there has been no
interposition of the Supernatural in their behalf. The laws of birth and
death preside, just as if there were no power above us that cares for

It is one of the ordinances of nature that life without nourishment
shall not be prolonged. There is reason to believe that God would see
the last man starved from off this planet, and the planet itself plunged
onward into the void, tenantless forever, before he would command that
stones should be made bread. Not twenty years ago, 18,000,000 in the
northern provinces of China starved to death in a single year. What
horrible anxiety of hollow-eyed mothers for gasping babes; what hideous
deaths day by day; what acres of unburied corpses; what throngs about
religious altars, wringing their hands, and screaming to the heavens,
till it would seem that the agony of their prayers would have shaken the
very stars from the sky; and yet there was none that heard, nor any that
regarded. Not a single stone was turned into bread; not a single life
was sustained without food; and if any survived, it was the heartless
brother who wrested the last morsel from his weak and dying sister. A
ghastly instance of the dominion of law, attested by 18,000,000 of dead
witnesses. Can we look upon such a scene and ever again expect a petty
interposition in behalf of an individual when it has been denied to a
nation, and when the Continent of Africa has waited for it through
countless ages?

Instances might be multiplied to infinity. Every horror recorded in this
book is a proclamation of the supremacy of law--a warning to men that if
they would shun the effect they must avoid the cause; that they must
foresee the laws and attributes of nature, and provide; or they must
perish. Strange that after ages of such awful teaching man is yet a
fool--too lazy, too stupid to open his eyes; vigorously fighting against
knowledge when every interest of his soul and body are at stake; saying
supinely, “it makes no difference whether you know much or little, or
what you believe, provided only you are sincere;” and in the same breath
dishonestly hearkening to his prejudices or his passions; becoming a
compound of ignorance, superstition and self-will, which first defies
and rouses the powers of Nature, and then flies howling to the
Supernatural for deliverance. When we think how little man has learned,
notwithstanding the severity of his schooling, we are less disposed to
accuse the harshness of Nature’s administration.

Our reflections on the course of Nature have not proved that there is no
God, but rather that there is. The order, regularity and certainty of
natural forces indicates a changeless, exhaustless fountain from whence
those forces flow. Amid the ceaseless mutations of the universe, this
primal energy seems to be the one thing in which there is “no
variableness, neither shadow of turning.” It flows on resistless along
the same channels from age to age. It overwhelms whatever lies in its
path. It would sweep away all the millions of earth like a grain of
sand. It would sweep the very stars from the sky. Nothing can arrest it;
nothing change its course. It accommodates itself to nobody; all must be
accommodated to it, or suffer disaster. It is inexorable, like “that
rock, upon which if a man fall, he shall be broken, but if it fall upon
him, it will grind him to powder.” It is not man who is running this
puny world; it is a changeless, eternal Power. No fear that any human
combinations in capitols or temples will swerve this infinite energy, or
control it in the least. That which is according to its nature it will
do, and it will do nothing else. It is absolute monarch, and woe to him
who resists its sway. We are amazed, awed and subdued in the
contemplation. We begin to feel that there is but one thing for us to
do, and that is, to learn its ways and by increasing knowledge and
obedience, as rapidly as possible to put ourselves in accord with its

Should we enter some vast factory where there are acres of floor-space,
and wheels and cogs and pulleys and hands and machines of patterns
innumerable, all propelled by a giant engine hidden away in the cellar;
should we see all this wilderness of wheels moving in concert, and every
machine turning out the work for which it was intended, we should
neither doubt the existence of the power, nor the benevolence of the
whole design: nor if presently we saw a workman, reaching after some
fancied good, drawn between wheels and mangled, or a hundred ignorant or
careless persons caught up and whirled round and round and dashed to
death; would we find any occasion to reverse our judgment--to doubt
either the existence of a controlling force, or its essential goodness?
Rather we should be impressed with its terrible supremacy, and with the
importance of seeking out the lines of its manifestation and learning to
avoid a conflict.

Law is not an entity, but only the mode of an entity; not a thing
existing, but the attribute of a thing; not in itself a power, but the
manner of the action of a power. When a power through a given cause
produces a given effect, and the same effect from the same cause, this
regularity of manifestation fulfills our idea of law.

The great original energy must act with this perfect regularity--that
is, it must govern by law, and that equally, whether this original
energy be a thing only, or a person. In either case, we must accept it
as uncreated, necessary, having a definite constitution or nature. In
this power or person, natural laws are rooted, and from it they proceed,
as rays of light from the sun. To arrest the rays, you must quench the
luminary; to arrest the current forces of nature, you must stay their
author. The goings-forth of power from this exhaustless fountain are
necessary, ceaseless, changeless, resistless. If this fountain is an
impersonal force, we can no more expect it, on any account, to relax its
energy, than we can expect the engine in the cellar to stop because some
wretch up stairs has been caught between the wheels.

If it is personal, having the attributes of wisdom and goodness--which
is the popular idea of God--still, from the very attributes with which
it is invested, we must expect it to have all the uniformity, precision,
and inexorableness of a machine. Its mode of action must be the same in
all cases that are alike, though the series be infinite, else there will
be more or less than perfect wisdom or perfect goodness in some of the
series. More would be impossible: less would impeach the power; hence,
the action must be uniform and resistless. It must show the
characteristics of law--_nothing else but law_. God can not consent to
do something that is not perfectly wise and perfectly good because He
has been importuned so to do by fools, or because a creature is going to
be crushed. Therefore, neither with Him--an infinitely wise and good
being--nor with Nature’s laws, which are but the effluence of His
nature, can there be any “variableness or shadow of turning.”

The general acceptance of this truth will mark a step forward in the
progress of humanity. Such knowledge will largely displace the faith of
the past and the present, but there will be a net gain. We have been
looking for God outside of Nature; but while some profess to have seen
him, the majority have been weak in faith, or wholly unbelieving. When
we learn to see God in nature, we shall see him every day. We shall then
truly realize that “in him we live and move and have our being.” We
shall have substituted certainty in the governing power for something
very like caprice. We shall not expect the Supernatural to forbid the
Natural, any more than we shall expect the sun to quarrel with his
beams. Knowing definitely what not to expect of God, we shall understand
precisely what to expect from ourselves. We shall comprehend more fully
the Maker’s meaning when He said, “Subdue and have dominion.”

Judaism alone, of all religions, took no cognizance of a future state.
If man thoroughly adjusted himself to this world’s laws, he needed not
fear for the hereafter. Therein is the strongest proof of its divine
origin. And along this line a thousand victories have been won--but much
yet remains. The results of human folly are lessening daily as man
progresses. The means of rational enjoyment have been already vastly
increased, and there will be further enlargement. But men, not angels,
must do the work. Moses and his people stood, the sea before, and
Pharaoh and his hosts behind them. In this extremity, he lifted his
hands and cried to heaven. The answer that came was hardly such as he
expected, but it may be very suggestive to us: “Wherefore criest thou
unto me? _Speak unto the children of Israel_, THAT THEY GO FORWARD.”

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

No so Romantic as it Looks=> Not so Romantic as it Looks {pg xiii}

harvest and and summer=> harvest and summer {pg 25}

which bring a rainy season=> which brings a rainy season {pg 34}

from 10° to to 15°=> from 10° to 15° {pg 38}

electrical discharges takes place=> electrical discharges take place {pg

bricks to to the street=> bricks to the street {pg 81}

their more oppulent neighbors=> their more opulent neighbors {pg 87}

frivolty and idleness=> frivolity and idleness {pg 88}

witnesssd the horrible cremation=> witnesssed the horrible cremation {pg

up to to the front door=> up to the front door {pg 98}

in some myterious way=> in some mysterious way {pg 109}

feared in this conntry=> feared in this country {pg 130}

population atttacted by=> population attracted by {pg 153}

basin of Hong Hong=> basin of Hong Kong {pg 157}

the shoal in in the winter=> the shoal in the winter {pg 168}

from the beyond the ship=> from beyond the ship {pg 189}

A portion of the tempest and of the!=> A portion of the tempest and of
thee! {pg 220}

tremenduous electrical displays=> tremendous electrical displays {pg

straw fused in in the same way=> straw fused in the same way {pg 224}

Quinitus Julius Eburnus became consul=> Quintus Julius Eburnus became
consul {pg 229}

of the Lyse Fjord=> of the Lyse Fiord {pg 234}

observations of late years has shown=> observations of late years have
shown {pg 254}

being the the only one=> being the only one {pg 261}

they liked the the work=> they liked the work {pg 299}

These uprotected tracts=> These unprotected tracts {pg 268}

where help not easily obtained=> where help is not easily obtained {pg

the immediate vicinty of=> the immediate vicinity of {pg 294}

at a large scale-map=> at a large-scale map {pg 310}

the governmental committes=> the governmental committees {pg 315}

had even remotely conconceived=> had even remotely conceived {pg 332}

ten feet behing them=> ten feet behind them {pg 338}

succeeeed in escaping=> succeeded in escaping {pg 341}

magnificiently solid structure=> magnificently solid structure {pg 346}

droping shattered houses=> dropping shattered houses {pg 347}

of overwhelmning sorrow=> of overwhelming sorrow {pg 374}

Monday, the 3d, liberal contritions=> Monday, the 3d, liberal
contributions {pg 382}

vast quanties of gas=> vast quantities of gas {pg 404}

character of the cave=> character of the the cave {pg 408}

twenty-four active volcanes=> twenty-four active volcanoes {pg 416}

The next unusal activity=> The next unusual activity {pg 434}

the material threwn out may reach=> the material thrown out may reach
{pg 438}

the Vatna distriet in 1875=> the Vatna district in 1875 {pg 449}

the barometic oscillations=> the barometric oscillations {pg 480}

one hundrd and sixty-five=> one hundred and sixty-five {pg 491}

Portions of the country was upheaved=> Portions of the country were
upheaved {pg 533}

the unitiated foreigner=> the uninitiated foreigner {pg 536}

At was felt at Charleston=> It was felt at Charleston {pg 553}

long standing fueds=> long standing feuds {pg 572}

killed killed fifteen thousand persons=> killed fifteen thousand persons
{pg 585}

the unparalled horrors=> the unparalleled horrors {pg 592}

weaned from the the breast=> weaned from the breast {pg 602}

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