Marshfield, February 1907: All shook up
An earthquake helps Kate Ridsdale realign her mind
By Kris Leonhardt
Marshfield native Kate Ridsdale had been in ill mental health, suffering for weeks from what she termed a “mental and nervous shock.”
In November 1906 Ridsdale sailed for Jamaica in the hopes of recuperating from the mental strain she had incurred. However, while in the warm climate she only became progressively worse.
On Monday, Jan. 14, 1907, the air was calm and quiet in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. Ridsdale had received her mail, which was shipped though England, and she lay across her mahogany bed in a silk dress to read through the correspondence.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., the ground beneath the residence began to shift and shake. Ridsdale, no stranger to visiting countries prone to earthquakes, had no concern at first and remained calm until the second tremor hit.
The second shock sent Ridsdale in her slippery silk dress across the bed and onto the floor.
She quickly scrambled to her feet but once again was thrown down. There she remained while the ground continued to tremble.
Knowing she needed to retreat from the building, Ridsdale crawled on her hands and knees to the bedroom door and into the top floor hallway. As she started down the steps, she saw the walls and the roof of the upper floor come crashing down.
Instincts took over, and she scrambled out of the house door with no consciousness of what she was doing.
Within a half-hour of the earthquake, Ridsdale appeared to be clear of her illness, later claiming that humans are “electrical machines” and that the earthquake had re-established her mental circuit.
Over the next days, pandemonium ensued as Jamaicans struggled to take control of the chaos and disaster that remained. With an estimated 1,700 dead, Jamaicans threw the deceased into trenches and buried them or burned them in the street.
Residents and visitors lived on the multitude of fruits and vegetables available on the island and went without meat, bread, and other staples.
Ridsdale, along with May Farnum, eventually left the island and were the first women to sail on an American battleship. They sailed to Guantanamo, Cuba; then Havana; and took a boat to Mobile, Alabama.
They finally arrived in the city of Milwaukee in early February with Ridsdale telling everyone of her miraculous cure.