At New Madrid, Missouri, The Mississippi River rolls by, while across the wide meander one views Kentucky. Islands are above and below and one such island is famous in its own way. It was called Island Number Ten, during the civil war, and was the site of a Confederate Fort, but that’s not why we are here.
I taught high school and college geology, for thirty years, and whenever we get near something I taught about we always stop and visit. New Madrid is the site of one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit the United States. In 1811 a magnitude 7.5 earthquake shook the ground with such force that the ground liquefied and erupted in sand geysers.
The Mississippi river was reported to flow backwards and at least two waterfalls formed during the subsidence. Church bells were reported to have rung in Charleston, South Carolina. Luckily the area was sparsely populated and the only reported fatalities were from barges and boats on the river.
Its looks so peaceful now, the streets are bordered by flowering crab apple trees and many of the houses and stores are built of brick, (which happen to be about the worst type house to own in an active earthquake zone).
Our first stop was the New Madrid Museum, where they have displays on the Mississippian Indians, the Mound builders, with many artifacts dug from some of the nearby sites. Many skeletons were unearthed and hopefully they have been reburied and are not sitting in storage.
The next room is filled with displays about the earthquake, and you can listen to recordings made from written statements of the people that live there during the disaster. One display lets you build a structure and then dial up different magnitude earthquakes. Of course, your building is destroyed.
The next room contains artifacts dug from the battle sites and from a Union camp. One of the locals was a famous Confederate and many here joined the Confederate army. A replica of an 1841 mountain howitzer stands silently next to the filled display cases.
The second floor is filled with dresses, sewing machines, and something we have never seen before, a family’s hair wreath from 1861. The flowers are all made from actual hair of family members. That to me at least, was macabre as I prefer memories and images instead of fragments of dead people.
Now I can check another off another lesson plan from my checklist of places I have taught about. The fault zone is still very active, and another major earthquake could happen at any time. The day before a 2.5 magnitude earthquake had shook but that’s too mild for anyone to have felt it.
Our next stop is Springfield, Illinois, where we will visit family and tour the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln’s Tomb, and the Lincoln Library and House. From there we will turn west and head for Iowa making stops in Keosauqua, Waterloo, and Cresco/Decorah. Clear skies