BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Thursday marks the 70th anniversary of one of Kern County’s defining events – the 1952 earthquake, or rather earthquakes – a deadly initial 45-second jolt followed by a series of significant aftershocks lasting 33 harrowing days culminating in what we know today as the August 22nd Bakersfield earthquake.
The series of earthquakes brought down buildings, rattled nerves and changed the face of Bakersfield.
17’s Robert Price has been researching the seismic legacy of the fateful summer of ‘52 for a special report that airs Thursday.
In July 1952, the world was already a volatile enough place. Six-thousand miles from Bakersfield, war raged on the Korean Peninsula. Seven local boys had already been killed.
It was a presidential election year, and California Governor Earl Warren of Bakersfield had just played spoiler at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, helping Dwight Eisenhower earn the nomination as the party’s standard bearer.
A young, largely unknown musician named Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens was performing at honky-tonks like the Blackboard on North Chester Avenue.
College football All-American Frank Gifford, four years out of Bakersfield High School, was preparing for his rookie season with the New York Giants.
Then, on July 21, at 4:52 a.m., four minutes before sunrise, a flash of blue light shot across the eastern horizon and the White Wolf Fault introduced itself with a violent and prolonged spasm. Houses shook, roads split, lives were turned upside down.
The third strongest earthquake in recorded California history – then or since – changed Bakersfield and Kern County in ways no political movement or economic calamity ever could. 33 days of terror and uncertainty had begun.
Read the full story or tune into TV-17 Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. after NBC Nightly News.