The weather in central Ohio is a mixed bag, to say the least.
We get extreme heat, bone-chilling cold, droughts, floods and everything in between. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.”
From time to time, a visiting traveler might ask, “How can you live in ‘tornado alley,’ where tornadoes can devastate whole towns?” A good response might be, “The same way Floridians survive hurricanes and the way people in the Pacific Northwest reside near active volcanoes: We learn to live with these things.”
That said, people in central Ohio can count themselves fortunate they do not have to live with the fear of earthquakes as those in California do. But for every rule of thumb, there always is an exception.
Ours came in 1811 when Columbus had not yet been founded and frontier Franklinton on the west bank of the Scioto River was a village of a few hundred people.
A later account reported that “in 1811, a notable earthquake took place, the oscillatory center of which was about thirty miles south of New Madrid (Missouri). The first shock took place during the night of December 16. ... Some of the tremors were felt as far east as Pittsburgh, and even along the shores of the Atlantic.”
Central Ohio resident Christian Heyl remembered the quake’s intensity: “The first shock was in the night season. It shook my bed so that I thought that some person was shaking it. The dogs and fowls made a dreadful noise about it. I got up and looked out the window, but could see nothing wrong. The rest of my family slept below in the cabin, and felt nothing of it.
“On the next day, however, about ten or eleven o’clock, we had another shock. There was no wind, yet we could see the treetops swaying and articles hanging up in the house were swinging back and forth.”
In the course of the past two centuries, central Ohio has seen massive flooding of its rivers more than 10 times and an occasional mild tremor or two, but nothing like the great earthquake of 1811.
On a happier note, a few events across the night sky in central Ohio have been equally memorable and considerably less threatening – at least to most people. One of the most impressive came in 1833.
Columbus was founded in 1812 to be the new capital city of Ohio, and by 1833 it was a bustling village of about 3,000 people.
The town was growing rapidly with the recent arrival of the National Road and the Ohio and Erie Canal. But on the morning of Nov. 13, 1833, most of the town was awake well before dawn, watching what one account called a grand display of “celestial pyrotechnics.”
A Worthington resident described what he saw that day: “This morning, an hour before dawn, our sky presented a most singular display of luminous meteors. The appearance, I am informed, commenced at least as early as half past three o’clock, though it was an hour later when I first saw it.
“A numberless multitude of shooting stars were constantly marking the cloudless sky with long trails of light. ... Each meteor in its course left a pale, phosphorescent trail of light, which usually remained visible for some minutes. Occasionally one would seem to burst into flames, and burn with increased energy, illuminating the face of terrestrial nature with a degree of brightness and splendor inferior only to sunshine.”
A Columbus observer also was impressed: “The weather was calm and mild; numberless stars twinkled in the heavens; while the middle region of the air was irradiated by myriads of those diminutive meteors usually denominated falling or shooting stars. These were of various sizes, some emitting little more light than the ordinary firefly, while others equaled the rocket in brilliancy, and presented an appearance nearly similar. ... (The meteors) must have fallen at the rate of at least ten thousand per hour presenting an appearance of a shower of fire extinguished in midair. They were seen in all quarters of the heavens at once, but seemed to be most numerous a few degrees south of east from the zenith.”
But some viewed the display with more alarm than wonder.
A later history reported that “in many districts, nearly the entire population was panic stricken and profoundly believed that the end of the world had come. Impromptu prayer meetings were held, and solemn preparations for instant departure from mundane scenes were circumstantially made.”
Suffice it to say, the light show left vivid memories in the minds of central Ohioans.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.