AN ACCOUNT OF THE EARTHQUAKE IN CHARLESTON IN 1886


The following transcript of an account by Elia W. Hard (Mrs. Charles F. Hard) was contributed by Ken Peters. It was among the Hard family papers included in the manuscript collections of the South Carolinian Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
The 31st day of August, 1886, had been one of intense heat, so hot that the air fairly quivered with the heat. I took two baths during the day, but the water seemed to give no relief. Nell and Edith were fretful and apparently limp from the constant perspiration which poured down their little bodies. About six o'clock I bought some ice cream from a wagon for them, it melted before they could eat it. though they seemed to fairly gulp it down.
I put them to bed just at dusk thinking they might be more comfortable in their little night gowns. About this time, or a little earlier, I heard sharp reports and thought it queer anybody should be shooting birds at that time of year. The sound came from the marshes along Ashley River. Soon after this a most horrible odor came into the house, so unpleasant that, hot as it was, we closed the doors and windows. We could not imagine its source. Afterwards Alex McIver said that on the Island boat the reports had been heard and the bad smell noticed. A gentleman had remarked, "If I was in South America, I would say we were going to have a shake, it seems as if some force is disturbing the gases in the marsh."
Just as we finished tea I cleared away the table and went into my room, feeling I could not stand my clothing a minute longer. It was then a little after nine o'clock. I put the lamp on the hall table so as to get rid of that much heat, and had just loosened all of my clothing when the terrible roar came.
This was on Monday night; on the Friday morning previous as I lay awake in bed, I heard a queer rumbling noise. I listened expecting it to stop, when to my surprise it apparently struck a corner of the house and rolled over and under it. It was very singular, but instantly the thought came to me, "earthquake". I felt that in my earliest childhood I had had just such a sensation. (Some years after I discovered that there had been a slight shake in Charleston when I was between four and five years old.) 
The shock was very slight and I did not disturb Mr. Hard. When we were dressing, I told him of my experience, and to my surprise he did not laugh at me, but said several shocks had been felt in Summerville and he had purposely kept me from seeing the papers.
So when that fearful sound came, a sound like the bellowing of all wild animals, the grinding of immense rocks, and human cries of agony-I knew what it was. Buttoning my dress with one hand, I ran into the parlor, just across the hall, where Percy was sleeping on a cot for the sake of coolness, the parlor having six large windows.  He was on a visit to me and a very timid boy. I met him rushing out the door and grasped him with one arm as the great shock came. Mr. Hard was reading in the dining room but came running to me.  For several seconds the three of us reeled and were thrown against the walls. It seemed hours. There were three lamps in the hall, and all were thrown to the floor, the oil igniting and running over the floor. Without a word we each tried to put out the fire. I gathering all Mr. Hard's clothes from the closet, and he getting water from the hall spigot. The second shock came while we were so occupied and we clung to the stair banister to keep from being thrown to the floor.  Strange to say, up to this time, Nell and Edith had been asleep. Now they called, and I went to them taking them both in my arms, sitting on the side of the bed. Nell said, "Mother, I can't sleep with all that big noise, won't you sing to me?" I thought the Day of Judgment had come, but I wanted to keep fear from them, so God gave me strength, and I sang, "Hush, my dear, Lie still in slumber" to them-the hardest singing I ever did. We could hear a neighbor calling to us and asking if we were dead or alive, and Mr. Hard thought we had better go out.
It had turned very cold with the first shock and all the blankets were packed in the attic, two stories above. But Mr. Hard went for them and we all left the house. All the time 1 prayed God that He would be with us, and that we could all go together. Mr. Hard wrapped up Nell and took her and I started out with Edith, Percy running on ahead, but he was called back and carried Edith into the street. There we found most of the neighbors, and we stood together in breathless awe. The third shock then came. After this Mr. Hard went into the house and brought out a small cot and Percy's clothes, he only having on a little night shirt. We put the children on the cot and I sat down by them. The air was so filled with mortar from fallen buildings that I had constantly to keep brushing it from their faces, and the next morning the blankets were covered. At the time many persons thought this was sulphur, as it certainly smelled like it. The terrible agony of that night can never be described or forgotten, waiting momentarily for the earth to open, or a tidal wave to come. But in our group all were calm and quiet except one poor man whose nervous system seemed a perfect wreck. In some camps the people were in a pitiful state, in others there was constant card playing and drinking-men and women drinking to excess who had never done so before. But we were all thankful that among us was dear old Dr. Robertson, eighty years old, who had prayers every night and morning in which everyone joined. That was the most absolutely still night possible. All animals, birds and insects seemingly frightened into silence-not even a rooster crowed. Our three dogs crouched beside us terror stricken.
A friend was driving from the Union depot when the first shock came, his horse stopped short trembling with fear. He got out of the buggy and stroked his ear for some minutes, when the second shock came the animal dropped dead.
Source: Low Country Quake Tales by Joyce B. Bagwell

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