Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hysteria...It's Catching

I'm a few days late on this post because it's all about December 3rd. December 3rd, 1990, that is. This happened almost 20 years ago and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was attending high school in Bartlett, TN, a suburb of Memphis. Not many people realize this (in fact, I didn't know it until "the hysteria" occurred), but Memphis is right smack dab on a major fault line. Memphis is just as prime a location for a potential earthquake as San Francisco, if you can believe it. We Memphians were just living our naive earthquake-fear-free lives as normal when suddenly some seismic expert predicted an earthquake would occur along the very fault line where Memphis stood on or around Dec. 3, 1990.

I'm not sure what happened next, but before we knew it earthquake hysteria had completely taken over the city. I am not kidding. Schools began practice earthquake drills every few weeks or something ridiculous. Everyone everywhere was talking about the impending disaster. Many people made plans to leave the city around Dec. 3rd. Huge events were cancelled. The big question discussed by all was "Will you stay or will you go?" T-shirts were prolific. I remember one black shirt in particular with neon print. There were two versions of the shirt you could buy with either "Stay" or "Leave" checked on the back of the shirt to indicate your preference. I think I even bought a shirt indicating my plan to stay. It was all anyone could talk about for months.

It got to the point where, no matter how stupid one thought the prediction was, one could not help but feel a little bit nervous because so many people were convinced that we were all about to die a terrible death.

I found an interesting article about this historic Memphis moment here. I really can't communicate the level of panic that went on leading up to December 3rd. (The article does a much better job. It also explains how the media was the main problem in that they created and then fanned the flame of the hysteria.) And just so you all know how it ends: nothing happened on Dec 3rd, of course. Nothing has happened during the 20 years following it, either. Some prediction!


Rachel said...

That's crazy! I had no idea about Memphis's propensity for earthquakes OR that there was a prediction back then that stirred up so much frenzy.

Quad Squad! said...

I remeber this so well! How fun that you brought it up! What a memory! There were kids that came to school that day with canned goods in their backpacks JUST IN CASE! Or stayed home altogether! Bunch of crazies!