Earthquakes can be frightening. Having lived in Southern California, I have experienced a few myself. Some are quick, loud, and jerky. Others are long, quiet, and swayish. In every case, they invoked fear and panic inside me–fear of the unknown.
The recent earthquakes in Alaska reminded me of a relative who lived in Alaska in 1958 during a record breaking earthquake that is still talked about today. I was reminded of the relative because, after the recent earthquakes, the news was reporting the possibility of ground shifting, like quicksand. Something similar happened in the 1958 earthquake when the side of a mountain fell into the bay and disappeared.
Robert W. Tibbles was born March 3, 1913 in Montana. He is the son of Esther Rote and Walter Stillman Tibbles. Esther’s mother is Margie Parmer, who is the daughter of Samuel M. and Hettie Ann Eckman Parmer. Robert moved to Alaska between 1934 and 1939. Eventually he got a job working as a mechanical engineer for the Civil Aeronautics Authority, where he worked for 11 years.
July 9, 1958 must have started off as a fine day. Roberts wife, Eveline, went berry picking on Khantaak Island with a friend, Jeanice Welsh Walton, who was the respected owner of a salmon cannery during a male-dominated industry. I enjoy berry picking and the anticipation of enjoying the berries, as does my family. Perhaps Robert was looking forward to enjoying some berries in the late afternoon when he took a boat out to the island to pick up Eveline and Jeanice.
The 8.3 earthquake, centered 45 miles from Lituya Bay, struck at 10:16pm, a time of day that was still light outside. It caused the hillside at Khantaak Island to melt and plunge into the bay. In Lituya Bay, 100 miles south of Khantaak Island, falling rocks created the largest wave–a mega-tsunami–ever recorded on earth–1720 feet high.
Robert, Eveline, and Jeanice were on Khantaak Island’s shore that rose and then plunged into the bay. They perished and were never found. Here is a summary of the incident as found on the Presumptive Death Certificate for Robert:
And here is photo and some information about the incident found on Bob’s Blog.
When an earthquake hits, I think the biggest fear is of the unknown. Is it going to be the big one? Or is it just a short period of jerking? You don’t know until it’s over.
An article about Jeanice Welsh Walton can be found at the Alaska Historical Society website. You can read more about the big wave at the University of Alaska Fairbanks website. Another post about Robert Tibbles will be coming soon.
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