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1882 One Hundred Years Ago

May 2024
1min read


C LEVELAND : Day breaks clear and calm over Lake Erie on the morning of June 23; a gentle breeze, barely enough to ruffle the water, breathes across the lake from the south. At a quarter past six a few early risers on the beach hear a low rumbling noise. Seconds later they gape in disbelief, then scramble inland.

Under a cloudless sky, a fifteen-foot-high wall of water is rushing toward the beach. The tall, green wave hits with the force of a locomotive. It lifts the steamer Northwest and, to the astonishment of her captain, snaps the eight-inch hawser that holds her to her dock “like a fiddle string.” Other vessels are plucked from their moorings, and the lake spur of the Lake Shore Railroad is washed away, while twenty tons of steel rails are lifted and pitched ten feet. A log seventy-five feet long and eight and one-half in diameter tumbles two hundred feet inland.

Then, leaving a drowned fisherman and thirty thousand dollars of damage in its wake, the freak wave recedes. Within minutes the day is calm as before.

“A great many theories have been advanced to account for so remarkable an incident,” says a contemporary account. “There is no question but that it is unparalleled in the history of the coast, for the oldest lake navigators cannot remember a similar occurrence.”

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