Yesterday, anno Domini 2011, the earth shook in Charlottesville. This was about 1:51 p.m. Encyclopedia Virginia time, and according to one national news outlet, the capitalists on Wall Street were the real heroes:
Shortly after the quake struck, traders in the New York Stock Exchange also felt the quake and shouted to each other, “Keep trading!” CNN’s business correspondent Alison Kosik reported from the floor at 2:20 p.m. E.T.
Same here at EV. As reverent photos of Thomas Jefferson tumbled and fell from the walls, our managing editor, Matthew Gibson, was heard to cry, “Keep editing encyclopedia entries! Nothing can come between us and Virginia history, not even the hand of God!”
That is how we shake, rattle, and roll.
The hand of God, of course, was very much a part of how we all reacted to the so-called Virginia Quake, because while there was no significant damage on the ground (even the earth itself declined to rupture), our psyches are already plenty damaged. The Associated Press, for instance, was quick to reference 9/11:
The earthquake came less than three weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and in both Washington and New York it immediately triggered fears of something more sinister than a natural disaster.
Online commenters, meanwhile, made other connections. For example, on that same AP story, there was this, from “Dave”:
Polititions, do I have your attention……..GOD
On another story, “Brian” echoed that sentiment:
God is sending a message to the US: He is angry and ready to destroy.
This is precisely how the earliest Virginians responded to the climatological oddities of their day. The drought that was devastating North America at the time John White‘s colony landed at Roanoke in 1587 was the driest three-year period in 800 years; when the Jamestown settlers arrived, it was the driest seven-year period in 770 years. Don’t think folks didn’t put two and two together. The Indians worried their “Gods were angrie,” while the English, witnessing great sea storms and comets and butt-numbingly cold winters looked to the Psalms for comfort and explanation.
True fact: There was a tsunami in England in 1607; people died sleeping in their beds. I mean, these were crazy times.
They still are, and four hundred years later, we continue to struggle for the vocabulary to explain it all. If the Washington Post is to be believed, then yesterday the devil visited central Virginia. On September 27, 1973, the Post ran a story worrying about the location of the North Anna nuclear reactor, lying as it does on a fault running through Louisa County. The story had various geologists swearing to God that they told the nuclear-reactor-building people that the fault existed, while the nuclear-reactor people swear they didn’t.
The “devil,” meanwhile, is what Fred Houser, a scientist working for the National Geological Survey, called the fault.
“How long ago did this devil die—or is he dead?” Houser wondered.
Yesterday, when they shut down North Anna just as a precaution, we finally got our answer. The devil danced in central Virginia.
PS: Yesterday’s quake, a magnitude 5.9, tied for biggest in recorded Virginia history. The other was in 1897. Worst Punning Headline Award that year went to the Los Angeles Times with “Virginia Reels.” Also, if you don’t know Big Joe Turner, do yourself a favor.
UPDATE: From Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, appearing in Florida after Hurricane Irene: “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”
IMAGE: Crooked Thomas Jefferson at the EV World Headquarters in Charlottesville (Peter Hedlund)