My mother and her “Den 9” Cub Scouts were in the cupola of the State’s Capitol building in Olympia when the 1949 earthquake struck. Keystones were falling all around them; my mom hung on to the brass doorknob and told the kids to hang on to her. If the quake had lasted a few seconds longer (she was told later), the entire top of the Capitol would have collapsed, with the Cubs going along for the ride. I had been up on an earlier tour, and I had to convince a State Patrolman that there were people up there, on top of the building. Another group of Cubs was stuck in the elevator and had to be let down with the power off.
After the quake, my mother led the Cubs down a darkened, circular iron stairway inside the Capitol dome with cracked plaster falling around them. They arrived at a landing where they could see people far below. The huge chandelier (designed by Tiffany) was also swinging slowly below them. It swung back and forth, slowly, for many days afterwards.
My Mom’s story has been related for years by the Capitol tour guides. It was quite a day for a young Cub Scout. Our “Den” was hosting a large group of Cubs from Auburn. My mother worked for the Secretary of State’s office then and so she was the key person for making the event take place.
After the quake, there were large sandstone “key stones” scattered like Greek temple ruins in the grass courtyard between the legislative building and the building for the State Supreme Court. I walked downtown and ended up selling “Extra” editions of the Seattle P-I on the corner of 4th Avenue and Capitol Way. I was trying to imitate some news kid I had heard crying: “Extra, Extra, read all about it!” in some movie about New York. I sold out in no time at all.
My father worked for a weekly newspaper, the “Olympia News” located on Legion. It was across the street from the Old Capitol building. He told me about some people who had just walked out the door of that building for coffee, when the quake hit and the facade of sandstone crashed to the sidewalk behind them.
By Jim Flynn