On Wisconsin: Small quakes turn Clintonville into boomtown

CLINTONVILLE -- A tiny earthquake can pack quite a punch. No buildings were leveled and the National Guard didn't show up, but a series of "swarm" quakes, including one that registered 1.5 on the Richter scale, has done a pretty good job of rilin...

CLINTONVILLE -- A tiny earthquake can pack quite a punch.

No buildings were leveled and the National Guard didn't show up, but a series of "swarm" quakes, including one that registered 1.5 on the Richter scale, has done a pretty good job of riling up this city of 4,600 people west of Green Bay.

Some are wondering if there should now be earthquake drills in the schools and evacuation plans if a larger quake were to hit. At least one believes there's more to come in northeastern Waupaca County.

"I don't believe this is over," said Kent Wichman, who has a cracked basement floor. "The press will be back in the future. There's something going on here."

Wisconsinites are familiar with blizzards and tornadoes, but not earthquakes.


But starting last Sunday, a series of booms, shakes and pops rustled residents out of bed, forced some to flee the city, attracted media from around the country and overshadowed the unseasonably warm weather that even brought out mosquitoes.

A community meeting at the high school drew 400 people on Wednesday night, while about 150 were on hand for Thursday night's meeting, where City Administrator Lisa Kuss announced that "the mystery is solved."

The U.S. Geological Survey told city officials that while most people won't feel anything less than a 2.0 earthquake, the hard granite below the city made it easier to feel movement below. Scientists told the city that the movement, which was 3 miles below ground, can sometimes cause sounds when the vibrations reach the surface.

"It's been a learning experience for all of us," said Kuss, who has been on the job for 14 years. "There is no conspiracy."

Maybe not, but the story was the lead item early Friday on George Noory's "Coast to Coast AM," a nationally syndicated radio show that focuses on ghosts, Big Foot, psychics and UFOs.

On Tuesday night, the Appleton Post-Crescent tried to share the booms with the world via the Internet. The newspaper set up a live webcam pointed at a dimly lit intersection and allowed viewers -- hoping to hear something -- to add their comments.

People from California, Illinois and a guy who grew up in Clintonville but now lives in Torrey, Utah, all chimed in.

So did Harry in Colorado. "I'm addicted to this ... 1,200 miles away in Denver ... Sister-in-law lives right outside town ... keep the town safe," he wrote.


Some, most of them media types (including The New York Times), came here to get a firsthand look, although there really wasn't much to see.

I slept with my window open at the Landmark Motel downtown but heard only passing traffic and a little rain early Friday. However, Clintonville police received two calls from residents reporting more booms.

Green Bay television trucks camped out in the parking lot of the Culver's restaurant.

CNN did many of its live shots from outside The Living Room Coffee Shop & Vintage Decor, a restored carriage house and farm implement building on Main Street that opened in November.

"Some people are scared, some are not concerned at all," said Angie Ditmeyer, owner of the spacious shop that features original wood floors and ceilings. "I think people would like to get back to a normal life."

There was a semblance to that Friday morning when Fox 11 television out of Green Bay had a live report, not from downtown Clintonville but from the banks of the Wolf River in Shiocton where the sturgeon are spawning earlier than usual because of the warm weather.

Founded in 1861, Clintonville is a mostly out-of-the-way community about 40 miles west of Green Bay. However, the city is a major manufacturing hub with companies like Walker Forge, Seagrave Fire Apparatus and Creative Converting.

Sandy Yaeger, executive director of the Clintonville Chamber of Commerce, already has this time next year circled on her calendar and is thinking of an event (possibly Tremorfest?) that could join other community festivals such as next month's wine and beer tasting event, Cork and Caps, the Fireman's Festival in August and the Fall Frenzy in September.


"Maybe we could have dancing in the street and really loud music," Yaeger said.

At Cindy B's Pub & Grill, owner Cindy Beery (I am not making that up), had a paranormal group from Manitowoc visit and felt at least one of the booms, which caused liquor bottles to rattle behind the bar.

"It's been a fun week," said Beery, who has owned the place for 23 years. "I've heard my share of good stories."

Brian Sullivan was excited about the quakes. The Madison Area Technical College student drove from Madison on Wednesday with a laptop computer and digital audio recorder hoping to capture the sounds. It proved a tough task. He was clearly in need of sleep when I saw him Thursday afternoon. He had set up shop in the City Council chambers and was subsisting on mild cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers.

"It's been more media than scientists," Sullivan said. "You would think scientists would be all over this."

Cynthia Burke has a tale that will likely be remembered for years. The 28-year-old mother of three, and her husband, left town early Monday and spent a night in a Green Bay hotel because of the shaking in their home near W.A. Olen Park. They initially thought there was an animal in the house, which forced her husband to grab a baseball bat. She called police again Thursday when the house shook shortly after noon.

"I'm pretty sick of it," Burke said, her 3-year-old twins running circles in the driveway.

Judy Magee spent 45 years as a secretary at Clintonville High School before retiring in 2009. She's now the city's mayor. Magee, 65, said being able to provide answers for many confused, scared and tired residents, was helpful but surreal.


"This isn't exactly how we planned our week," Magee said.

Barry Adams covers regional news for the State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at .

(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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