The Coney Island earthquake of 1884

New York City isn’t immune to earthquakes; a couple of small tremors measuring about 2.5 on the Richter scale even struck back in 2001 and 2002.

But on August 10, 1884, a more powerful earthquake hit. Estimated from 4.9 to 5.5 in magnitude, the tremor made houses shake, chimneys fall, and residents wonder what the heck was going on, according to a New York Times article two days later.

The quake was subsequently thought to have been centered off Far Rockaway or Coney Island.

[This photo shows a sweet Coney Island beach day in the 1940s, site of a tremor a mere 60 years earlier.]

It wasn’t the first moderate quake, and it won’t be the last. In a 2008 Columbia University study, seismologists reported that the city is crisscrossed with several fault lines, one along 125th Street. 

[Headline of The New York Times, August 12, 1884]

With that in mind, New Yorkers should expect a 5.0 or higher earthquake centered here every 100 years, the seismologists say.

Translation: We’re about 30 years overdue. Lucky for us the city adopted earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.

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14 Responses to “The Coney Island earthquake of 1884”

  1. Brooks Says:

    Most of the city was built pre-code, and I shudder to think what a strong quake could do to our oldest brick-and-mortar neighborhoods.

  2. petey Says:

    the epicenter of one of the recent ones (2002?) was under 83rd and 2nd! i also clearly remember another one in the mid 1980s, which was centered in quebec but shook in manhattan. i’d never felt an earthquake before, but knew immediately what it was – odd.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    We’ll call it the Yorkville Quake of 2002!

  4. Nabe News: January 20 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] August 10, 1884, an estimated 4.9 – 5.5 magnitude earthquake shook Coney Island [Ephemeral […]

  5. petey Says:

    this link says two 2001 quakes were under 102nd and park, and 55th and 8th: http://www.dukelabs.com/NYC%20Quake/NYCQuake.htm; but a map linked in that link (http://www.dukelabs.com/NYC%20Quake/Lobeck.jpg) shows the fault running SE through 83rd and 2nd about, and i know that i read that when it hit, but now i can’t find a reference online!!!

  6. Jill Says:

    The quake in the mid-80’s put a nice big crack in the spot where the ceiling and walls meet in my bedroom in the East village.

    • Kozmic Karma Koala Says:

      Jill, I am on 112 and Bway and I am currently having a crack that appeared after the 2011 tremor , which I slept through. I remember the 1987 tremor centered in Ardsley,NY . I had come home, was sitting on the bowl before a shower , and RRRRRRRM ….3 seconds and it was done. I turned on 1010WINS and they said “it appears there has been an earthquake in NYC”. WILD !!!

  7. NomadView Says:

    Have you ever heard of Tesla and the Earthquake machine? I will see if I can find more on this story but apparently he created a device that worked on the natural vibration of a structure, boosting each cycle. He left this device on in his laboratory- he actually said the thing was small enough to fit in his pocket- and went out. When he returned the whole building was shaking and he managed to smash the thing with a hammer before it brought down the whole building. His original lab was somewhere in New York if my memory is correct. This is the story anyway- couldn’t tell you whether there is any validity to it at all.

  8. Norman Coady Says:

    Check the song, “August 10th, 1884” from the Rock Opera Depossession:
    [audio src="http://depossession.com/audio/1884.mp3" /]

  9. Ricky Says:

    When I got up in the morning after the quake in the 80’s, I remembered being being awakened in the middle of the night and sitting str8 up in bed but I thought it had been a dream. When I turned on the TV I was surprised to learn it had been an earthquake that woke me up.

  10. pat Says:

    i remember a tremor in the Hudson Heights section of Manhattan in 1998 i believe and i was wonderingg why my bed was shaking. it was a earthquake tremor. i think we should be all concerned. 30 years overdue? wow. lets get the hell outta manhattan

  11. Jason Says:

    This resource shows all of the historical earthquake data for New York. Check it out!

    http://www.homefacts.com/earthquakes/New-York.html

  12. Mark Says:

    We New Yorker are so arrogant and take too much for granted. We can use a little something like a quake to humble us and be more appreciative.

  13. Could an earthquake strike 125th Street? | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the last major city quake happened in 1884 and was centered around Coney Island. “The New York City metro area is susceptible to an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 5.0 […]

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