This post gathers up information and pictures about three pre-World War Two Northwest earthquakes that caused no fatalities and did fairly little damage. One 6.2 earthquake with an epicenter just north of Olympia happened on November 12, 1939. In Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer reported:
A couple of gangsters were blazing away at each other in the closing scenes of the feature picture at the Orpheum Theater when the temblor was felt last night. The audience’s first reaction was a mild surprise. Then somebody said in an awed tone: “Let’s get out of here.”
The rush for the doors began, wildly at first and then with mild order as more sensible theater goers, some of whom admitted afterwards they had experienced the same sensations often in California, advised the patrons to “take it easy.” . . . Don Geddes, theater manager, said there were no accidents. No damage had been done. “Too bad they missed the picture’s finish. The riot squad and the fire department arrive in the next scene and there’s really a panic.”
At the Egyptian Theater in the University District a news reel was showing heavy German artillery in action and for a few seconds many in the audience felt that an unusually realistic rumbling effect was being added for their entertainment. There was an exodus for the exits when it became apparent they were experiencing an earthquake.
Theodore E. Anderson, at 1st and Yesler, said: “I’ve heard ice cracking in Canada, and the buildings sounded just like that, only louder.”
Also, here’s the P-I’s headline for a 6.1 earthquake centered near Walla Walla on July 15, 1936. It killed no one, but did about $100,000 of damage, mostly in Milton and Freewater, Oregon, and in Walla Walla:
Finally, here’s the P-I’s headline for a quake on the afternoon of January 11, 1909 that I believe is the first in the Northwest to be widely covered by Washington newspapers. It appears to have been about a 6, centered in the San Juans, and felt pretty much throughout Puget Sound, Vancouver, and Victoria. The P-I:
To give a sense of the state of earthquake reporting at the time: the story started by saying, “For seven minutes and thirty seconds, starting at 3:50 o’clock yesterday afternoon, according to the seismographic record at the University of Washington station, Seattle felt what is probably the tail-end of an earthquake that had its center in Southeastern Alaska, or in Northern Washington and Southern British Columbia.” You can read some newspaper accounts here. One, from the Anacortes American:
J.L. Redenbaugh, manager of the local system of the Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co., has the bravest as well as the prettiest bunch of girls in his office that were ever shaken up by a terrestial wobble. The earthquake struck Anacortes with vague uncertain wiggles at exactly 14 minutes to four o’clock last Monday afternoon, January 11.
Nearly everybody rushed out to see the landscape escape, but the telephone girls stuck to their posts like true heroines and for at least half an hour after the shudder or shrug or whatever it was their dainty fingers fairly twinkled as they made connection on the switchboard for the multitude of subscribers (there are 510 in all now) who simultaneously wanted central and then some. The girls say they were really too busy to take fright and flight, and as they answered more than 1,100 calls within half an hour after the terrestial flutter maybe that explains their heroism, but anyhow they deserve gentle calls from all the subscribers for at least thirty days. . . .
It is said that Guy Baty, who has been hobbling around with a cane for many months, was completely cured by the unprecedented shuffle and left his cane to shift for itself in the deserted rooms of the Anacortes Chess & Checker club, while he and the city health officer engaged in a spirited footrace just of the fun of it.
No damage was done anywhere in this neighborhood, no plastering was knocked down, no chimneys tumbled over and no minds not previously out of plumb were unbalanced. Over in Bellingham plastering was cracked, one sober man was knocked down a flight of stairs and the ice in Lake Padden was cut in four slices like a pumpkin pie.