HistoryBuff.com February 2010 Newsletter
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The Worst Natural Disaster in Modern History

Haiti, of course, is very much in the news today due to its recent devastating earthquake. Many news accounts claim that this is the worst earthquake in modern history. Well, they are wrong. News reports claim it was a 7.0 earthquake on Richter scale. Other earthquakes higher on the Richter scale are as follows: China, 1920, 8.6, China, 1927 8.3, Japan, 1923 8.0. In terms of deaths, these same earthquakes, death tolls reached 200,000 for each in China, and 143,000 for the one in Japan. Death tolls for the earthquake in Haiti are not final yet but estimated between 100,000 and 200,000. While these earthquakes were quite devastating, there is another natural disaster in modern history that ranks much higher. It “only” had a death toll of 36,000 people, so how can it be the worst natural disaster in modern history?

In 1883 a volcano on the small, 23 square mile, uninhabited island of Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted. The first eruption spewed volcanic ash 22 miles high and resulted in tsunamis. The next day, at 5:30 AM, the first of four eruptions produced even higher tsunamis, Within the next four hours, there were three additional eruptions. Three-fourths of the island collapsed into the sea and dropped 250 miles down in the ocean. The fourth eruption was the largest. The ground shook in the wake of the blast which was heard and felt over 3,000 miles away and was estimated to be equal to the detonation of over 21,000 atomic bombs. Tsunamis reached a height of 25 miles with speeds over 60 miles-per-hour, and washed away several more small islands. Ships at sea were also blown-away. Due to the lava flow, temperatures of the ocean reached as high as 700 degrees Celsius and could be felt over one-thousand miles away. Who knows how much ocean life, fish, plants, etc. were destroyed.

In the weeks following the eruption, fine fragments of volcanic ash and dust that were propelled miles into the stratosphere began to make a ring around the equator. They remained suspended there for years causing remarkable solar effects and atmospheric hazing as they bent the incoming light. Also, the enormous volumes of sulfur dioxide gas molecules that were ejected into the atmosphere combined with water to make sulfuric acid. These acidic aerosols sufficiently blocked enough sunlight to drop the Earth's temperature by several degrees for several years. Their presence in the atmosphere also created spectacular effects over 70% of the Earth's surface. Effects such as halos around the sun and moon, and amazing sunsets and sunrises were seen. For years these particles would remain suspended in the atmosphere being the final reminder of the massive and fatal blast that occurred in Sundra Straits of Indonesia.

The eruption of Krakatoa can arguably be the worst natural disaster in modern history. While the death toll of 36,000 was very low compared to other natural disasters, the number of square miles that were affected totaled about one-fifth of the earth’s surface and remained for years. In addition, millions of people felt the quake and were affected by the weather for years to come.

Tales of an Old Geezer

Please give an old geezer a break and indulge me with telling you a few incidents from my past. Thank you.

How to Lose a Boyfriend Fast

When I was 19 I worked the afternoon shift at a hospital. There was a girl about my age that was a cashier in the cafeteria that I saw almost every day at work. We had exchanged small talk but nothing serious. One night, while waiting at the time clock to punch put, she was also waiting. To start a conversation, I asked her if she wanted to go play pinball with me. (This was the early 1970s; No cable TV; All TV stations went off the air at Midnight or so; The only places open after Midnight were bars, Denny’s and a pinball arcade.)

Arriving at the pinball arcade, we played some games together and others by ourselves. When the arcade closed at 2 AM, we left. I took her back to the hospital and we parted our ways. The next day she invited to me have dinner at her home on Sunday. I agreed. When I arrived, both her parents as well as her adult brothers and sisters joined in the meal. Throughout the meal, they kept staring at me and smiling. After dessert, her father asked me if I had any announcements. I told him not really. That’s when the cashier piped up and announced that we were going to get married! In a panic, I jumped up from the table and ran out of the house. It was months before she would even say anything to me. That was fine with me!

Ladies Man

Many male teenagers think of themselves as ladies-men. I was no exception. Another time while waiting at the time clock, some housekeeping maids were also there. I approached one of them, bowed, took her hand and kissed it. She brought her hand near her face and smiled. I thought she was going to say something like she would never wash that hand again. To my surprise, she responded “I wonder how many toilets I cleaned with this hand today!” This cured me of being so bold in my interaction with females!

The Time I Nearly Killed Someone

Again, while working at the hospital, one day I was walking down the hall in the basement. As I walked by the morgue, I noticed that the door was open and a housekeeping maid was washing a counter with her back to me. I couldn’t resist. I slowly made my way up behind her and jabbed her in the ribs. She let out a blood-curdling scream, raised her arms and took off on the run. I chased after her shouting “Maria, its only me.” She kept on running and screaming. I followed her to the housekeeping office where she had plopped herself in a chair and was panting hard. I asked her why she reacted to harshly. It took her time, but she slowly got it out. Seems that while she was in the morgue, there was a corpse on one of the tables. A few times she heard a noise and quickly turned around. The corpse was still laying there. When I entered and jabbed her in the ribs, she thought it was the corpse that was after her! By the time she finished telling me, she was laughing hard about it. I was relieved!


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January Contest

CONTEST ONE QUESTION: One United States president was a King before becoming president. Who was he?

ANSWER: Gerald Ford was born Leslie King. When he was adopted his name was changed.

CONTEST TWO QUESTION: One state in the United States was a kingdom with a monarchy before statehood. Which state is it?

ANSWER: Hawaii.

Eighty-two people entered. Thwenty-three people had errors in their entry. Most of the errors had either the incorrect subject heading or failure to pick a prize if they won. A few answered question one, but selected a prize from the contes two prize list, or the other way around. All prizes were awarded.

The February Contest Winners Were:
  • Carolyn Gutierrez - Oklahoma
  • Anne New - Pennsylvania
  • Don Galamaga - Rhode Island
  • Bob Barton - Utah
  • Rob Means - West Virginia
  • William Lange - Pennsylvania

This Issue's Questions:

To enter Contest One, answer the question: In the long-running western TV series Gunsmoke, there is a character by the name of Doc Adams. What is this character's first name?

To enter Contest Two, answer the question: Someone offers to sell you an ancient Roman coin bearing the date 54 BC. You decline because you know it is a fake. How did you know it was fake? (You need not be a coin collector to know the correct answer to this question. No other information about the coin is required to determine authenticity.)

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Thursday, February 18, 2010. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 48 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • To enter Contest One or Contest Two, email your answer to curator at historybuff.com

  • To enter Contest One, use "Contest One Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest One question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • To enter Contest Two, use "Contest Two Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest Two question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but only win one prize.

  • If entering both contests, entries must be sent in separate emails.

  • Each entry MUST select ONE prize from the appropriate prize list.

  • If answering the Contest Two question, select your prize from the Contest Two prize list.

  • From subscribers entering the contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE contest prize they want to win, NINE will be selected to win ONE of the contest prizes below.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
February Contest One Prize

Trivia Party Movies Game

Similar to the "Scene It" DVD game

February Contest Two Prize Selection
(Only one of each offered)

DVD Movie

James Dean
Movie biography of James Dean


The Lone Ranger
Classic Episodes of the 1960s TV Series

Original Historic Newspapers

Original Daily National Intelligencer historic newspaper from 1838

Manchester American & Messenger (New Hampshire) historic newspaper from 1853

Original Coldwater Republican historic newspaper from 1876
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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