Earthquake rattles Western Washington on April 29, 1965

Earthquake rattles Western Washington on April 29, 1965. I know, because I was there.

As I remember it, there was a light frost the morning of April 29th. Spring was in the air, but unbeknownst to us, there was also a major quake about to rattle our houses, schools, and our nerves.

I was 14, and a freshman at Tumwater High School. I lived near the high school and so on most days I would walk to school.  Tumwater High was built in 1963-64, so it was a newly constructed school all on one floor , with high ceilings in the lunch room/study hall, and in the gym. There were perhaps about 650 pupils enrolled for that school year.

My first class that day was study hall so after making my way to my locker to pick up the books I needed, I walked down the hall a short distance and through the bi-folding doors to my seat at the long lunch table to work on an assignment. The sun was beginning to stream in through the two stories of windows behind me that gave a view to the small courtyard just beyond. My table was in the row closest to the windows, and I was sitting with my back to them.

It was the windows rattling that I noticed first. As with any major event, things seem to happen very quickly and slowly at the same time. I remember sitting there at my table just watching the second hand on the big wall clock above the stage as 15, 20 and then at least 30 seconds went by until it stopped. Unofficial reports say that it lasted about 45 seconds. It may have, I can’t be sure after all these years.

We had all heard the news the year before (27 March 1964) about the terrible 9.2 Mg quake up in Alaska at Prince William Sound on Good Friday that caused so much devastation.

What I do recall is that where the long bi-fold doors ran almost the length of the lunch room, there was a small support wall above them where the school had hung some art pieces by various past and present students. One of these was a very large plaster piece done by Randi Jeans and it came crashing down and shattered into small fragments all over the tile floor.

Our study hall teacher was Mr. Zahn, and we all looked to him for reassurance and guidance about what we should do. What we didn’t know was that he had never been in a big quake before and he had no clue what he should tell us (get under the tables, for instance) to do. As soon as the shaking was over he went out into the hallway to look towards the office for guidance.

Almost like a comedy, when he left every single one of us in that study hall got up and followed him into the hallway. I am sure it came as a bit of a surprise when he turned around to find us all gathered right behind him! Most of us had never been in a big quake either, but at least for me, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to stay in that big room with high ceilings, tall windows and large beams that could come crashing down!

I remember there were a good many of the girls crying, and as we stood in that hallway we moved to the side by the kitchen area and one girl was pretty hysterical. Even though I was pretty shaken up and scare too, I wasn’t crying and so I tried to console this other girl by telling her it would be alright. She did calm down a little bit then, but I still have to laugh at my show of empathy.

As I said, things were happening very fast and my thoughts naturally went to my family. My brother was in another classroom, and my mom was home in our old house that was built probably in the 1920’s. I think everyone wanted to go home, but other than people like me that lived close by and could walk home, they had to wait to see what the roads were like and if the kids had homes to go to. Before I left the school the news about the damage from the quake was slowly filtering in. Damage to the capitol rotunda, and the road around Capitol Lake in Olympia were what we heard about first. And we had some damage at our school too. I think my brother told me that the shop building that was not attached to the main building had shifted on its foundation a few inches. We were all pretty wide-eyed and probably yakking a mile a minute for those first few hours.

It seemed like it took forever for them to give us permission to leave, and but when they did, I was out of there as fast as my two feet would take me. I was worried about my Mom in that old house, and my dad was a carpenter who worked all over Thurston county, so I didn’t have the vaguest idea where he might be. He could have been up on a scaffold somewhere, or out in the open where he would be safer.

Mom told us later that when the house started shaking she made a run for the front yard. She said that as she stood there watching, the old chimney on the house was swaying back and forth, and she was glad she had decided that she was not going to be inside when and if it should fall. She, my dad and my brother had been living out at South Bay when the last big quake (7.1) had hit on April 13, 1949. After you have been in enough quakes, you can almost predict what they will say the magnitude was.
The epicenter lay between Olympia and Tacoma, along the southern edge of Puget Sound. Property damage in Olympia, Seattle, and Tacoma was estimated at $25 million; eight people were killed; and many were injured. Several structures were condemned, including two schools and a church at Centralia, south of Olympia; a junior high school at Auburn, northeast of Tacoma; and a library at Chehalis, near Centralia. School buildings in widely separated towns were damaged seriously. Water spouted from cracks that formed in the ground at Centralia, Longview, and Seattle. One new spring developed on a farm at Forest. Downed chimneys and walls were reported from towns throughout the area. Abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.


My dad came home all in one piece that night, and I am sure we all had our stories to tell for years to come about “where were you during the earthquake?”.


© Carol W. 2006-08-27




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I was on the other end of

I was on the other end of the Oly area, just arriving on my bike on the Roosevelt School playground when it hit. My tires must have absorbed the shock, since I couldn't feel it, but I could see and hear the event. The chain link baseball backstop turned to gelatin and windows were breaking. Best of all, all the adults were running out of the building, screaming! And as an extra bonus, we got to go home! I loved it! Needless to say, I sang a different tune in 2001. From all accounts I've heard, it seems like the 1949 quake was worse than the 65 or 01 quakes.

Oh, and in 1965 the Deschutes Parkway fell into the body of water we now call the Fetid Lake of Doom, just like it did 36 years later. I noticed during the cleanup of the FLOD with Andrew, Kiki, and Anna the powers that be have incorporated some kind of webbing into the banks of the road to help keep it together for the big quake of 2037.

Re: '65 quake

My brother said that he could look out his classroom window at Tumwater High that day and see the ground just rolling and undulating like waves. He could see our house from there too, so I imagine he was hoping to see it still standing!

I'm a 1968 graduate of Tumwater High School. Go Thunderbirds!

You are always welcome at my blogs iPentimento and Pentimento!

Happy anniversary!