Straight to Hell   Leave a comment

In the aftermath of the earthquake centered in Virginia this week (& felt mildly in the attic where I write), here is a passage from Thomas Bangs Thorpe regarding the New Madrid quake, 200 years ago. Thorpe was a popular writer of sketches, travel pieces, and sporting life, & the passage comes from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of December 1855. I’ll be discussing his work at the Steamboat Bicentennial Celebration in Indianapolis this coming October. In my research, I have found a provocative connection between steamboat writings & The Devil; in Thorpe’s recounting of the earthquake, the Mississippi River itself goes (briefly) to Hell:

¶ At the close of the year 1811, the Valley of the Mississippi was agitated by repeated shocks of earthquakes, which continued, with more or less violence, for nearly three months. The country seventy miles below the mouth of the Ohio River seems to have been near the centre of the convulsions, and the locality, for many miles, was seamed with wide chasms, and disfigured with immense subterranean holes, the remains of which are still pointed out. The scenes which occurred during the several days that the shocks continued, are represented as being terrible beyond description, and many weeks elapsed before nature resumed her usual quiet sway. During the commotion, sulphureted [sic] gases tainted the air, and, for more than a hundred and fifty miles, perceptibly impregnated the rolling floods. The river banks, the sandbars, and islands dissolved away, engulfing vast tracts of forest. Out of the seething waters rose huge snags and the remains of gigantic trees, which, after resting for ages in the accumulations of the bed of the river, were again born into daylight to become merciless enemies of navigation. ¶ Every shock of the earthquake was accompanied with what seemed to be the discharges of heavy artillery, while every few moments the surface of the river rose and fell many feet. ‘Finally,’ records a witness of these strange phenomena, ‘after escaping many dangers, my boat suddenly swung around in the conflicting currents, and rapidly shot up the river. Looking ahead, I beheld the mighty Mississippi cut in twain, and pouring down a vast opening into the bowels of the earth.

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Posted August 26, 2011 by the meaning of rivers in Uncategorized

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