For the 50th anniversary of the 1949 earthquake, Florangela Davila of the Seattle Times talked with a man named Harvey Rosen and wrote an article, “When The Big Quake Struck Here 50 Years Ago,” about one tragedy in the quake:
It was 11:55 a.m. Harvey Rosen, a second-grader at Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma, was headed to play soccer with his friends. Other children were returning to play with their friends after lunch at home, and it was up to Marvin Klegman, a sixth-grader, to escort them safely across the street.
Harvey and Marvin walked out of the four-story brick school at the same time. “I turned left and he went right,” Rosen recalled recently. Then the quake struck – and Marvin was buried underneath brick.
Harvey didn’t immediately understand the magnitude of the event. “How I realized it was an earthquake I’ll never know. How observant are you when you are 8 years old?”
What remains vivid in his mind, he said, is the vision of people pulling the brick and a piece of gutter off his dead schoolmate.
Fifty years later, in the aftermath of the Nisqually quake, Kelcy Robert Allen came forward and talked to the Tacoma News Tribune about Klegman saving his life in this quake. The Tribune reported:
He was at home in Kirkland, a mile from the brick school his 7-year-old daughter attends. His first thought was of his child. His second thought was of the child he says died saving him in the earthquake of April 13, 1949 , when part of Lowell Elementary School collapsed.
“It really came back,” he said. “All my life I’ve lived with this.” . . .
Shortly before noon on that Friday the 13th, honor student Marvin Klegman had buckled on the white over-the-shoulder belt and picked up the stop sign he used as a junior school patrolman, Dugovich wrote.
Marvin’s friend Harvey Rosen remembers walking out the school’s side door and waving goodbye as he turned one way and Marvin turned another. Allen was the last boy out the door, Dugovich wrote.
Allen remembers being inside the school when the young patrolman spotted him. Almost immediately, the shaking started.
“The boy told me, ‘We have to get out.’ He took my hand. As we were walking out of the school, things started falling,” he said.
They looked up, he said, and saw the cornice tumbling toward them.
That, he said, is when the bigger boy stretched his arms, as if he were heading into a dive, and bent over him.
Allen remembers waking up in an ambulance.
“I thought that when they took you away in an ambulance, they took you away to die,” he said. “I screamed and screamed.”
“All my life, I’ve seen myself as a 6-year-old, with this crossing guard,” Allen said. “I began to realize that somebody in this life actually died for me, and it was a child.”
He said he’s made changes he hopes will make him worthy of such a gift. But he was dismayed to find that final act of heroism did not make the newspaper.
“It tells you that this little crossing guard walked out of the school into the sunlight and died along with the school,” Allen said. “It doesn’t tell you that he saved anyone’s life.”
Harlan H. Edwards, who chaired the earthquake committee of the Seattle section of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1949, related his own story about that April’s earthquake in the February 1951 issue of Western Construction. He was in a construction shack in Chehalis:
Suddenly I sensed a vibration and heard a dull rumble that was foreign to the hustling and hammering of the job. It was more like a heavy truck approaching rapidly over a rough road. “Something’s not right,” I thought. . . . The thought had barely flashed through my mind when the old frame shack weaved and shook, creaking in its every joint to the accompaniment of the unearthly rumble and muffled roar of an earthquake. My curiosity getting the better of my training to “stay put” during an earthquake, I dashed out of the door, saw the poles in the alley weave crazily and the taut wires swing in jerky circles like the jump rope of a pair of kids. I heard the rattle and dull roar of the brick walls of the garage across the street falling outward upon the cars parked closely in the lot adjacent. I saw the cloud of dust arise, then settle slowly upon the wreckage of cars that a moment before were the pride and joy of many families. I heard the shouts of excited people, then all was still like the lull after a storm.
In 2007, the Centralia Chronicle found a story from an unidentified source on April 16, 1949 that said: “Wednesday’s earthquake won’t soon be forgotten by 20 Bucoda grade school students and Principal John Kure, who were – of all places – 1,000 feet down in the Tono coal mine when the earth began to shake.
“The students, seventh and eighth grade children on a field trip studying community resources, were at a point where mining was under way. A large amount of coal fell from the roof of the bore, but it struck no one.
“We went down in the mine at 11:30 a.m.,” Kure said, “and had just arrived at the working level when it started. There was a noise like a freight train passing, the ground swelled and swayed and timber cracked all around us. There was no hysteria. We were probably too scared.”
Finally, back in 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote a story about the 1949 Puget Sound earthquake, 50 years later. Here are two stories reporter Mike Barber got from people looking back at how they made it through the quake:
In Seattle, Dorothy E. Rogers, now 77 and of Lake Forest Park, was home in bed nursing a cold at the Roy Apartments on Queen Anne. She remembers she was leafing through a magazine when the shock waves hit.
“The pictures on the wall began banging back and forth,” she recalled. “I got up to go to the window, but I could hardly stand up. I was sliding back and forth on a throw rug, and I had to hang onto the windowsill.
“I looked into the alley and saw movement all around. I looked up and saw the third-floor above us — you could actually see it bulge and sway out over the first floor.” . . .
“I was only 6 years old, and I remember that moment,” Linnea Lund Benthien [who was at Howell Street and Denny Way] recalled. “I remember looking at my brother and our friend and seeing the questions on their faces. My brother was holding a cap gun, and I remember seeing it swaying in his hand.”