new-york

Rosy Keyser

Peter Blum Gallery

Inside of a three-month span in late 1811 and early 1812, four massive earthquakes—and thousands of aftershocks—convulsed the midwestern and southern United States. Emanating from the New Madrid fault line, they were felt as far away as New York City and Boston. As in an episode from some apocalyptic tract, fissures opened, lakes were drained and re-formed, and, in what seemed the ultimate act of divine intervention, the Mississippi River changed course and appeared to flow backward. On December 15, 1811, Scottish naturalist John Bradbury was docked just upstream from the Chickasaw Bluffs (the future Memphis), asleep until startled by “a most tremendous noise.” “All nature seemed running into chaos,” he recollected, “as wild fowl fled, trees snapped and river banks tumbled into the water.” One of the disaster’s few written accounts (owing to the damage occurring in a region marked

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