posted on Mar, 12 2011 @ 01:31 AM
In late 1811, an Asheville resident, John Clarke Edwards, wrote a letter that was published in the Chillicothe Fredonian in 1812 describing a volcanic
eruption north of Asheville in an area called "the warm springs" - where Hot Springs, NC is now.
"For several nights previous, the Aurora Borealis brilliantly illuminated the sky with its trembling corruscations; the late appearance of
a splendid comet, and the blood-like color of the sun for several days, had alarmed a great many superstitious people.
"In the morning it was observed that a large stream of warm water (temperature Fah. 142 degrees) issued from a fissure in a rock on the side of the
mountain, which had been opened the preceding night. While they were examining it, another shock was felt which lasted two minutes. Although perfectly
calm, the tops of the trees appeared to be greatly agitated, the earth shook violently, and the water of the warm springs, at that time overflowed by
French Broad River, was thrown up several times to the height of 30 or 40 feet.
"Several masses of stone were loosed from their ancient beds and precipitated from the summits and sides of the mountains. One in particular, well
known to western travelers by the name of the Painted Rock, was torn from its base and fell across the road that leads from hence to Knoxville: it has
completely shut up the passage for wagons. A great many people who were moving westwardly, are in a pittable situation at this inclement season, being
unable to proceed until a new road is made round the rock (no easy task): in this they are cheerfully assisted by their neighbors." - J.C. Edwards.
It's an interesting tale, and one that was discounted as a work of fiction at the time. While there is no evidence of a volcanic eruption at that
time in our mountains, what Edwards said he saw can be explained by other phenomenom that was very much real.
When most folks think of earthquakes in the United States, their first thoughts are usually towards the west coast, specifically California or perhaps
Alaska, both places that have had extreme seismic events in our lifetimes that have caused great damage and vast suffering.
Most do not think of Missouri and the midwestern part of the country, but it is there that some of the nation's most extreme earthquakes took place,
roughly 200 years ago. From 1811-1812, the same time as Edwards' letter, a series of earthquakes rattled the center of our country, culminating with
the New Madrid, Missouri earthquake, a ~8 magnitude quake which remains one of the strongest recorded earthquake in our nation's history.
In this earthquake, New Madrid was destroyed. Many houses were severely damaged in St. Louis, and their chimneys were toppled. The seismic area was
characterized by general ground warping, ejections, fissuring, severe landslides, and caving of stream banks.
So what does this have to do with NC? The time of Edwards' letter and the New Madrid earthquakes is probably more than coincidental.
The area around Hot Springs is geologically active, hence the warm springs there, and the chemistry of the rocks are very interesting, with high salt
levels and other features that make it one of the more unique places in the mountains of NC.
Secondly, consider that the tremors originating in the country were felt for hundreds of miles away...as far away as the NC mountains. The ground
effects that Edwards described were no doubt real, there are other accounts of other rock falls and slides from that time in the mountains. But what
about the lights?
Contemporary geologists have studied the Edwards account, the geology of the area and some have concluded that Edwards may have seen a phenomenom
known as "Earthquake Lights."
Considered an old wive's tale until the past several years, earthquake lights happen around the time of earth tremors:
"They take various forms: globes, bands, rays, sheets, clouds. They tend to rise from the ground. They have been reported at sea. They may flicker or
They may be silent or accompanied by a crackling or bristling sound. Sometimes light boils from the ground like flames. They may be as brief as
lightning or glow for several minutes. " - Andrew Alden
Were Edwards' "volcanic eruption" included in his earthquake reported actually EQLs? That's probably the best explanation. The Hot Springs area
has the right chemistry in the rocks, and Edwards' observations were at about the right time. Knowing that and keeping in mind that his letter was
written and published around the time of the New Madrid events to the west, it's probably safe to assume that what he saw and reported wasn't a
volcanic eruption, but instead, Earthquake Lights.
What's left is one of the better but lesser told pieces of folklore in our state's rich history.