Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

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The ’71 Quake – Through The Eyes of Children

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Recently a former teacher at St. James Catholic School gave the Historical Society a stack of essays written by her third grade class immediately after the Sylmar Quake in February of 1971. Those writings are priceless! Here are some samples.

One boy reported an example of animal premonition: “I was sleeping and before the earthquake my dog jumped on my back and woke me up.”

This girl managed to blame her sister for the quake: “I was in my bed. And my sister said that she wanted something to happen so she could not go to school and do her Spanish. Then the earthquake started.”

All was chaos and noise in this family’s house: “Well, I was sleeping, and my grandmother was sitting up in her bed. She thought it was the wind so she got up and closed the window, and then the earthquake came and knocked her down. My mother ran up the stairs and grabbed her and grabbed us too and ran back downstairs. My dad was yelling his head off. Marguerite was crying out, ‘What are you doing to us, St. Andrew!?’ I walked into the kitchen and screamed because there was glass all over the place.”

Here’s one that has a typical little boy’s take on the aftermath: “In our bathroom there was cough syrup all over the floor. It looked like blood.”

This family seemed to take a medical emergency in stride: “And the kitchen was very dirty, and my picture fell down, and my mom broke her leg. And then my dad went to shave.”

Some young writers pointed out the ironies in the damage: “My mother’s unbreakable dishes broke, and her breakable dishes didn’t break.” “My father’s bar had a lot of bottles. The stuff that they drink broke, and the stuff that they don’t drink did not break.”

Spilled alcohol seems to have been a theme in the damage: “Mom came in the kitchen. She was angry. We had syrup and gin on the floor.”

This narrative gave a glimpse into the community’s reaction to the quake at a local supermarket: “We got to go to Lucky’s while my dad went to work. Lucky’s ceiling fell down, and everything came off the shelves and some broke. My mom got stuck when the ceiling fell down. Four other people were stuck in it too. A lot of people tried to get in Lucky’s. There was a sign up, ‘Sorry closed – Will be open Wednesday 10 o’clock’. But some people were mad because Lucky’s was not open.”

Other writers observed nature’s reactions: “Another earthquake came and we looked up into the mountains and we could see a landslide.” “The mountains were all dusty from the earthquake, and the trees whistled like anything.”

The winner for run-on sentences and creative spelling is this one: “I cood here 9 lamps brake and all of our glace and my closit was a mess and I felt a pice of glass and my desk fell down and my candel fell on my head and that hirt so that I screamed and my pool table fell down in my closit and my mom’s good vace fell down and my good games fell down and I had to clean it up and I didn’t like it at all and…” It went on for an entire page before the first period was reached.

This girl’s family barely averted a major disaster: “Our TV almost fell down and blew up.”

Some passages gave some indications of how adults were affected: “My mom was very scared. She made us put on long pants, and all day long she lay down. We said the Rosary.”

This young boy managed to put a positive spin on the quake’s damage: “I thought it was our washing machine, until I felt the shaking. After I got dressed, I went upstairs and listened to the radio. When the man said ‘no school’, I flipped!”

It doesn’t sound like any of the kids were permanently traumatized: “I was just so frightened that I could cry, but I didn’t.”

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