I met a great lady today. The Grandest of Grande Dames. Her name is Dorothy Cramer, “Cramer with a ‘c,’” if you please. Dorothy is the docent at the New Madrid Historical Museum, but to me she is much more than that. I think I found my soul mate. I found her by taking the road I had not planned to take. A detour off the Avenue of the Saints, just inside the Missouri State Line, offered a psychic pull. I had been on the road for five days and even a three-mile detour can seem like too much, but two factors intervened to make me take that exit. One, I have always been fascinated by the story of the New Madrid earthquake, and two, after what has happened in Nepal, earthquakes are front and center in my cerebral cortex.
First stop was at the levee and the historical marker that delineated the fault line in 1811-1812. 2000 shocks rocked the area in five months and five of those were 8.0 or more in magnitude. The Mississippi River reversed course and church bells rang on the eastern seaboard due to the massive movement of the earth. The New Madrid Museum that Dorothy reigns over documents the event and much more; including seismograph recording of continuing activity.
Dorothy was alone in the little museum when I walked in the door. I introduced my self as a traveling photojournalist. “Five dollars and take as many photos as you want. I have two movies I can show you also.”
I demurred on the movies and went on my way, exploring the dark rooms and artifacts including many relics from the Civil War. Most interesting was a truly “petrified” snake, forever preserved in a strike position and unearthed from an Indian mound. It has been dated to the time of the quake and speculation remains whether it was coiled and ready to strike because of the quake. Either way, the snake is oddly preserved behind its Plexiglas exhibit space, and whether petrified by time or emotion is all in the mind of the beholder.
Dorothy was waiting for me as I rounded the corner near the seismographic exhibit space. “In 2102 we might have dodged a big one.” She pointed to a chart on the wall that indeed indicated that experts picked that year as part of an “earthquake cycle.”
Yeah, Dorothy knows everything there is to know about earthquakes and keeps tabs on even minor tremors. “There was a 3.3 a few days ago. The local paper prints the events.”
We were bonding over earthquakes. I liked her. She liked me.
“You from here?” I asked.
“Now, yes, but I was born in St. Louis and lived in New Orleans.”
“Well, just remember Cramer with a ‘c.” People can’t find me in the phone book if they use a “K.” “My maiden name was Baker, everyone could spell that---well except for one teacher who asked me how to spell Baker.”
And, so the conversation rambled from this to that in a simple, easy flow. Dorothy reminded me of the Grandmother I wished I had, but I am too old to have a living Grandmother. I wanted to sit at her knee and have her tell me stories forever. I wanted to experience an earthquake with her.
Dorothy said she hoped I would come back when she noticed me getting fidgety about hitting the road. I shook her hand and sincerely said, “I am so happy to have met you.”
Dorothy beamed. “I am happy to have met you too,” she said. “You are a kind lady.” “A very nice lady.”
My turn to beam. No one ever called me a lady before. And, I am not always kind.
“You are the best, Dorothy. A great lady.”
With that, she blew me a kiss as I went out the door.
I will be back.