On November 9, 1968, 54 years ago, a strong earthquake that shook a large area of the Midwest was centered in southern Illinois near the Indiana state line, as reported reported the National Earthquake Information Center.
The epicenter, or point on the surface directly above the shock, was located 120 miles east of St Louis in Albion, Illinois, about 28 miles southwest of Vincennes, Indiana.
The epicenter was first thought to be in New Madrid, Missouri, about 50 miles southwest of the southern tip of Illinois. A fault zone in the earth stretches from New Madrid to southernmost Illinois, said JC Osterberg, a Northwestern University engineer who has studied the subject.
Carl Von Hake, acting head of the information center, said the quake had a magnitude of 5.5 on the Richter scale. He called it a strong tremor because it affected a populated area. The damage point is considered to be six, he said, although it may be lower in a populated and built-up area. The 1811 earthquake was estimated at eight, although there are no definite reports that far.
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One serious injury was reported. An 11-year-old boy in St. Louis suffered a concussion when a brick fell from a fireplace in his home and hit him in the head.
The shock was felt by millions and shook many buildings as it crossed at least 19 states.
The quake extended from Illinois to Kansas and Oklahoma in the west, West Virginia and the Carolinas in the east, south to Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, and north to Wisconsin and Michigan.
The earthquake was reported in Minnesota, Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Carolina South, Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Michigan.
A deputy sheriff was standing outside the Hamilton County Courthouse in McLeansboro Square when the earthquake rocked. “It was really difficult, the ground was shaking and I thought it was an explosion,” he said.
Shops in the town of 3,000 people were packed with weekend shoppers. When things started falling off the shelves, everyone started running out.
An Effingham man was coating his house when his wife shouted, don’t knock so hard, you’ve shaken the whole house. “I can’t even hit the house,” he shouted as the earthquake rocked southern Illinois.
The 630-foot St. Louis Walkway arch bounced up and down, with the shock, according to a park guide. A spokesperson said the Ark’s two elevator trains were briefly stopped for a check, but nothing was found.
The shock set off Christmas musical toys on the shelves of a department store in Sikeston, southeast Missouri. The Chicago and North Western Railroad closed its drawbridge over the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa, and said it would not allow any trains to use the span until it was checked for possible damage structural.
Although strongly felt, no serious damage occurred in southern Illinois.
This information was taken from historic newspaper clippings recorded over the years by Charles Burdick and the Burdick family.
Charles F. Burdick is a permanent resident of Grand Tower. After graduating from high school, he joined the US Navy and then pursued a 42-year maritime career including 35 years as a Master Pilot. He has been retired for 28 years and enjoys local history and writing poetry.