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April 23, 2015 – April 29, 2015

Unstable Ground

Fifty years ago this week, on April 29, 1965, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck Western Washington, causing seven deaths -- three from falling debris, and four from heart failure. Many buildings were damaged throughout the region, including the State Capitol Building, the Fisher Flouring Mills, and UW's Meany Hall -- built as an auditorium for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition -- which had to be demolished. Other consequences were minor, such as a strange incident in Kirkland.

The quake was one of the largest to hit the region since 1700, when a massive temblor created a tsunami that traveled to Japan. An earthquake in 1872 was later estimated to be 7.3 or 7.4 magnitude, and a magnitude 7.1 shaker struck in 1949, but lesser quakes have also rattled the state. A magnitude 5.5 quake on April 29, 1945, knocked chunks off of Mount Si near North Bend, and a magnitude 6.3 quake damaged buildings in Seattle's industrial area less than a year later.

During the half century since the 1965 quake, only one Pacific Northwest temblor was larger -- the Nisqually quake of 2001, which registered at 6.8 on the Richter Scale. Fortunately this quake was deeper than the 1965 quake and it caused fewer deaths and less damage, although the repair bills still surpassed $1 billion. And given what we know about fault zones in the region, it's only a matter of time until the next big one strikes.

Sailing Around

During the last week of April 1792, British explorer Captain George Vancouver and American fur trader Captain Robert Gray met on the high seas near Cape Flattery before continuing on with their separate explorations. Vancouver sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and a few days later named Port Townsend in honor of the Marquis of Townshend, an English general.

Gray continued down the coast and happened upon a large harbor, which his crew, and then later explorers, named for the captain. Farther south, Gray entered the mouth of a huge river, which he named for his ship. While there he explored a bay and a river flowing into it, which both later also received his moniker.

News Then, History Now

Walla Walla: Walla Walla County got its start on April 25, 1854, when it was carved out of Skamania County. Indians and settlers had conflicts and confrontations, but within a few years local citizens had a major thoroughfare, a school, a newspaper, a bank, and a railroad. The first Washington Constitutional Convention convened there in 1878.

Meeting Smohalla: On April 24, 1877, General Oliver O. Howard met in a day-long council with Smohalla, an influential Wanapum spiritual leader. Howard told Smohalla that he and his followers must move onto the Yakama reservation. However, distracted by the Nez Perce War, which broke out a few weeks later, Howard took no steps to enforce the order and Smohalla ignored it.

Wayward Boat: On April 25, 1912, the steamship Alameda inadvertently rammed Seattle's Colman Dock and toppled its clock tower into Elliott Bay. The accident led to a much greater tragedy three weeks later, when a gangplank failed during the dock's reconstruction, injuring 58 and drowning two.

News of Note: On April 24, 1921, conductor Mary Davenport-Engberg revived the Seattle Symphony after the orchestra had fallen upon hard times. History repeated itself 42 years later, when PONCHO held its inaugural fundraiser on April 27, 1963, after the symphony nearly went bankrupt following a lavish production of the opera Aida.

Fliers Downed: On April 24, 1927, two women died in an airplane crash at Pearson Field in Vancouver. A year later, on April 29, 1928, Spokane pioneer aviator Major John T. Fancher was fatally injured when an aerial bomb used in a demonstration exploded in his hand. Fancher had been instrumental in bringing the 1927 National Air Derby and Air Races to Felts Field.

What's That Sound? On April 28, 1940, experimental music pioneer John Cage debuted his "prepared piano" at a Seattle recital by Cornish School dancer Syvilla Fort. The instrument was prepared with screws, bolts, nuts, and leather strips that dampened the strings and augmented the usual piano tones with a unique array of percussive sounds. Exactly 28 years later, thousands gathered in Duvall to witness an even stranger musical performance: to hear what a piano sounded like when dropped from a helicopter.

Quote of the Week

I was awakened by a tremendous earthquake, and though I hadn't ever before enjoyed a storm of this sort, the strange thrilling motion could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, both glad and frightened, shouting, "A noble earthquake! A noble earthquake" feeling sure I was going to learn something.

                                          --John Muir

Image of the Week

On April 23, 1936, the last concrete slab of Seattle's Alaskan Way seawall was put in place.

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

Maggs water system in Seattle is granted rights on April 26, 1899.

Methane gas explosion kills seven coal miners at Black Diamond on April 26, 1907.

Washington receives its first federal highway grant, to pave a portion of Pacific Highway in Thurston County, on April 26, 1917.

A three-alarm fire damages Pier D on Seattle's waterfront on April 26, 1944.

Two inmates kill employee Benjamin Marshall in an attempted escape from the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe on April 26, 1951.

UW students participate in national student strike on April 26, 1968.

Citizens numbering 2,000 march in protest of Vietnam War on April 26, 1968.

Communications Department faculty open 50-year-old time capsule and find bawdy items at University of Washington in Seattle on April 26, 2007.

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt awards Staff Sergeant Jesse Drowley the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony on August 30, 1944.

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