March 27th marks the 50th anniversary of Alaska’s Good Friday Earthquake – the largest recorded in North America. Many Sitkans have stories from the epicenter. This is the second story in a four-part series that will air through the 27th.
Dennis Girardot lived in Sitka for 20 years. He currently resides in Juneau. While Sitka is likely the place where he made the most memories, he says his earliest memory was set in Anchorage. That was 50 years ago, but Girardot remembers the details vividly – including his brother’s birthday cake.
Actually my earliest, literally, my earliest childhood memory, I was only five years old, is sitting in the door frame between the living room and the hallway of our second story apartment on Elmendorf Air Force base. We kind of looked out the picture window of the living room and the building was swaying so much that we would see the ground and it would sway back and then we’d see the sky.
All heck broke loose at that point. Things were flying all over the living room including a cage with our pet parakeet. I think we buried it in the yard there at the apartment complex.
Those memories of being in the ‘64 earthquake are with me forever and pretty vivid even to this day, 50 years later.
My mother was in the kitchen preparing a pot of chili and this beautiful cake, birthday cake for my brother in a shape of a guitar. He was a Beatles wanna be at that time. I remember hearing her scream and the chili just went all over the kitchen. All over the cake. A door fell open to the closet and my brother’s presents birthday presents flew out of the closet so he got to see what he was going to get.
Again I don’t remember being scared I just remember being like wow this is maybe even cool. This is cool!
My mother she actual tried to get out of the apartment and she went out into the hallway but didn’t get very far. She just sat down and protected herself. Since that time it’s kind of a funny thing. I’ve often thought, “why did my mother try to get out of the apartment? Why didn’t she come back and be with her family?” I never asked her about that. She’s passed away now. But after her passing I wanted to ask her, “why didn’t you stay us? Why did you try to get out? Or not take us with you?” She was just trying to save herself I guess. I don’t know.
But the next two nights we actual slept in our car my dad had this big Mercury something… it was a blue thing with big fins in the back. The aftershocks were so constant and so strong we didn’t know if the building would hold up.
You know it did alter our future a little bit. My dad had every intention of staying in Alaska and probably even retiring there from the military. My mother would have nothing to do with that after the earthquake she says we’re getting out of here. What’s funny about this is I remember the earthquake and points in time soon after like playing outside among the cracks in the ground. After that everything sort of fades away again for several years until I start having memories again.