WATERTOWN — Nerves frayed, questions arose, dishes rattled, some pets skedaddled and rumblin…
Editor’s Note: This account was published on the afternoon of Sept. 5, 1944, in the hours after an earthquake struck Massena at 12:42 a.m. that day. Style and punctuation used in the original account is copied as written in 1944.
Chimneys Fall, Windows Broken and Roofs of Large Buildings Loosened
RESIDENTS FRIGHTENED WHEN HOUSES SWAYED BY TREMORS
First Severe Shock Reported at 12:42 A.M. With Other Minor Ones Following — Massena Schools Delayed.
Startled northern New York residents were recovering today from the shock of this section’s worst earthquake and the disturbance, which centered in Massena and Cornwall, Ont. — across the St. Lawrence river, caused thousands of dollars in damage and at least two persons were injured, one seriously.
The most severe quake was the first which was experienced at 12:42 a.m. Slumbering residents of the north were awakened as their homes swayed, dishes rattled and windows shook in their frames.
Big Damage at Massena
Chimneys fell in Massena and Cornwall, plate glass windows dropped into the streets and roofs of some large buildings were shaken loose. In Cornwall school building roofs were partially caved in.
Throughout this city and the rest of northern New York a close inspection of buildings and their foundations was started today and Massena school officials announced that schools, scheduled to open this morning, would remain closed until complete examination of damage can be made. The Massena schools will open Wednesday unless it is found damage has been too serious.
Following the most serious earth shock at 12:42 a.m. there were numerous others lasting as late as 7 this morning in parts of northern New York and lower Canada. In Watertown the last tremor was felt at 5 a.m.
People in the affected area, aroused from their sleep by the intensity of the severe shock shortly before 1 a.m. remained awake for hours in many instances. In Massena and Cornwall, it was said, most of the residents of the village stayed up the rest of the night.
Estimates on damage in Cornwall and Massena run over $1,000,000.
Mayor Aaron Horovitz of Cornwall estimated that damage at the Canadian canal port will reach between $500,000 and $750,000. He said he plans to appeal to the Dominion government to supply brick layers to help repair homes where chimney’s toppled.
At Massena it is estimated the damage will pass the $500,000 mark with prospects of extensive reconstruction in the near future.
The Massena town hall auditorium was described as “badly damaged.” The front steps have been roped off because of the danger from falling stone as a result of the overhanging stone ledge being moved out over an inch. The interior of the building was damaged when one of its main supports was moved at its base. Plaster along the stage sidewalls was badly cracked and some of the ceiling plaster fell to the floor.
The china closet doors in the kitchen of the building were snapped open during the quake and the dishes were strewn broken all over the kitchen floor and part way into the auditorium proper.
Police headquarters were deluged with telephone calls during the early morning as panic stricken residents called to report their experiences. The telephone company exchanges, undermanned at the early morning hour, were flooded with calls which overtaxed the ability of the operators on duty. Extra operators had to be called to duty all over the north.
Excepting for Massena and Cornwall, Ont., little damage was reported in any other area. In other parts of the north a few weakened chimneys toppled but the damage was light comparatively.
Briefly the damage situation in Massena and Cornwall is:
A large majority of home and building chimneys were topped or badly cracked by the first earthquake shock.
An estimated $2,000 worth of liquor was destroyed when it fell from the shelves of a liquor store. The liquor was hurled to the floor from nine terraced shelves. The bottles on the tenth shelf remained in tact. The store is owned by Harry McManus, Potsdam.
Many homes and buildings have big cracks in them and in several instances dishes in homes were smashed when they were shaken to the floor.
It was announced today that a number of village water mains were cracked by the earthquake and that houses moved off their foundations.
A 150-pound cash register was moved about six inches from its base in one store. Plate glass windows in a number of stores fell outward to the sidewalks and shattered. Plaster was jarred and loose and fell in many residences.
Roofs are believed to have been loosened on some of the larger buildings in the village and considerable damage from breakage was reported at the laboratory of the Aluminum Company of America.
The jarring force of the disturbance broke the globes on the lights of Massena’s main street bridge.
In a few instances people reported that pipes leading from their hot water heaters were snapped off at the point where they went through downstairs flooring.
Numerous reports were made by persons who claim the force of the earthquake moved their beds across their bedrooms, making it difficult for them to get out of the rooms through the doors. One father whose son has a double-deck bunk said the bunk was moved across the floor and that the ladder to the upper bunk slid against the door, making it impossible to open a door to reach the boy for some time.
One Massena man, panicky during the earthquake, reported to police that a bomb had rolled down the street. Investigation disclosed that a can of vegetables had rolled through a broken store window about 50 feet down one of the village streets.
The Carl’s Auto Accessory store in Massena being remodeled, was a shambles this morning and most of the remodeling work will have to be done over again.
Windows in Massena schools were broken out and officials were giving the buildings and their foundations a careful examination today.
Many parts of this border Canadian village were a shambles today following the extensive damage caused by the earthquake at 12:42 a.m. and workmen were busy clearing the debris of caved in roofs, fallen chimneys and shattered window glass.
Brick and stucco homes and buildings bore visible scars of the earthquake and the roofs of school buildings were reported as caved in where they are attached to the building walls.
One man, a silk mill employee, was injured when a piece of concrete, jarred loose by the shock, struck him in the head. The fire department was called out at the height of the panic and the Canadian village when an electric motor in a meat market caught fire. It was extinguished with little other damage, however.
Cornwall stores suffered heavy stock damage as well as damage from window breakage. The damage was heavy, especially in chain stores where bottled merchandise was thrown to the floors where it was shattered.
George Wilson of Cornwall, a member of the staff at the Freeholder, village newspaper, said he was asleep when the earthquake struck.
“I felt as though I was lying in a swinging hammock,” he said.
Like the other residents of the village, Mr. Wilson had no more sleep during the night. People literally poured from their homes into the streets trying to find out what had occurred.
Awakened by the Sway of Beds
In Watertown the effects of the earthquake inspired wonderment and fear in residents who were awakened by the sway of their beds. Rattling windows and dishes were a widespread result of the 12:42 a.m. ‘quake but rocking of homes and buildings caused the greatest concern.
One local man said he awakened to hear his 9-year-old daughter screaming with fright. Believing his hot water heater had exploded, he dashed to the cellar and then out of his house when he realized it was an earthquake.
Neighbors gathered in groups, many cad in night attire, to discuss the earthquake. Radios were snapped on and a few scattered stations on that time of night made brief mention of the disturbance.
Railroads, fearing possible roadbed dislocations, will have trackage inspected from Utica north as well as railroad stations and other buildings.
“It seemed to me that a big convoy of heavy trucks was passing my house and I thought I could hear a roar as the house started shaking,” said Mayor Charles A. Winslow. “It was some little time before I realized it was an earthquake.”
It was estimated that the first quake lasted about 60 seconds and most people were awakened after 15 or 20 seconds of it in this city.
Officials in this section speculated today that damage from the earthquake was not more severe because of the character of construction in northern New York and southern Canada. Low frame houses and sturdily constructed brick and concrete public buildings and business blocks — all of which are low — likely saved the Massena area from more disastrous effects and loss of life, it was said.
Mains May Be Cracked
Various city and village officials in the north expect that as time goes on some cracked water mains may develop as well as cracks in storage reservoirs of concrete and steel construction.
There is speculation on what the disturbance might have done the contour of the bottom of the St. Lawrence river in the proposed waterpower and seaway development sector at Massena. A final complete survey of the river has already been made by the United States army engineers preparatory to launching the immense development by the United States government as a post-war project.
If the earthquake has altered the river bottom to any appreciable extent, at least a partial new survey will have to be made by the engineers to bring their statistics up to date, it is reported.
Police in this city said that several persons who called their office during or soon after the first disturbance asked if it were “one of Hitler’s new secret weapons,” or “a robot bomb landing somewhere near.”
The chimney on the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Lee H. Williams in Philadelphia was so badly shaken by the earthquake that part of it toppled from the house at 12:42 a.m.
“There was a very marked tremor felt through the hospital and some of the patients were awakened,” reported an official of the Mercy hospital.
“The earthquake woke up all the patients sand the nurses in the hospital,” reported an official of the House of the Good Samaritan. The lights in the nurses’ home all went on. It was the worst earthquake I have ever experienced.”
First Since 1940
The earthquake is the first experienced in this region since early the morning of Dec. 24, 1940. At that time dishes and window panes were rattled by the tremor which was the second one in a span of only two days. Other earth tremors have been felt in northern New York in years past, but probably the most serious, excepting today’s occurred at 9:22 in the morning of March 2, 1925. Little, if any, damage occurred during this tremor, however.
The earthquakes in this section are reputedly caused by great shifts of glacial rock underlying the area, according to a report made years ago by Sir William E. Logan, onetime director of the Canadian Geological survey.
In 1913 Sir William said:
“My predictions of the possibility of severe earthquake shocks in the St. Lawrence valley were made on several successive years to my classes in geology in the ordinary lecture work and before the present earthquake shock. (he referred to the 1913 earthquake which was a series of tremors in northern New York.)
“Any geologist would have been justified in making these assertions, so I made no pretention of being a seer. Unfortunately we can not foretell the time or the manner of the earth’s coughing spells.”
Logan’s Line, or Fault, is the name applied informally by geologists to a belt of old earthquake activity first pointed out by Sir William E. Logan. Logan traced this belt by means of great dislocations, or faults, in the rocks through the lower St. Lawrence valley, a region of several earthquake shocks as late as 1663.
Logan’s line cuts down through the St. Lawrence valley and then goes eastern New York and to the coast, moving down through the Appalachian mountains as far as Alabama.
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