Carolyn Steele Agosta
Not Our First Rodeo - er, Earthquake
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
The 5.1 earthquake we experienced on August 10, 2020, Big Sunday, is not the first one to hit during camp meeting, although pretty shocking to all of those who experienced it.
Back in 1886, an earthquake hit Rock Spring campground, part of the big Charleston, South Carolina. Ordinarily, camp meeting would have ended on the second Sunday in August, but one of the ministers wanted to continue since he wasn’t happy with the tepid response from the congregation. When I read about the earthquake in Terry Brotherton’s book, Rock Spring Campground, Vol. 1, I knew I wanted to include it in one of my stories.
The following is an excerpt from Lady Jane and the Mill Girl, one of the stories from my collection Two Weeks Every Summer, Stories from Camp Meeting.
The service went on and on. The ministers took turns, each one trying to work the crowd up, but sinners just didn’t respond. One of the preachers took his turn and called down the wrath of heaven. He begged the Lord to rile these folks up, to make them realize they needed to change their ways. “Shake them up, O Lord!” he called up to the rafters.
Then out of nowhere, the earth began to tremble. Old Mr. Parker, who used to live out West, shouted “Stampede!” But everybody else either screamed “Earthquake” or “O Lord, forgive me!”. The arbor shook and swayed, the whole thing kind of popped and rattled. One big tremor, then another and a few minutes later, the worst tremor of all. Everyone sort of froze in place while it went on and on. Mama clung to Papa and I clung to my little brothers.
Then the tremor stopped, and the spell was broken.
All around, everywhere, people began screaming all over the place, dropping to their knees, crawling fast as they could to get out of there. We all streamed out of the arbor, out into the open grassy area between the arbor and the tents. The tremors stopped but folks were still shouting and screaming, calling on the Lord, calling each other. The reverend climbed up on a stump and held out his hands, calling for quiet, and said, “Let us sing.” Our voices rose, quavering and breathless at first, in How Firm a Foundation, which I could never thereafter sing without remembering that moment when our foundation, my foundation, was shaken to its core.
When I wrote this story, I tried to imagine how the people would react. After the earthquake this past Sunday, I now know that their hearts would be quaking for several hours afterward.
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