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Century-old Kingston quake monument stands tall

Published:Thursday | May 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM
This monument was erected after the 1907 earthquake and fire that destroyed the city of Kingston and left around 1,000 people dead.

In the stillness of the moment, the dearth of its environs belies the richness of its heritage, but this shall pass.

These days, it's a somewhat lonely place that was once part and parcel of the historic May Pen Cemetery.

But a century ago, a monument was erected to keep alive the memory of hundreds of souls lost in the 1907 earthquake that brought Kingston to its knees as did the one to which Port Royal yielded in 1692.

In an initiative spearheaded by The Gleaner, the shrine was erected on a mass grave in memory of 500 special Jamaicans who perished in the earthquake of January 14, 1907.

But things are about to change for the forlorn community of Little Eighth Street.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, the member of parliament for the area, has her eyes set on developing the lands into a park.

Residents are waiting with bated breath.

"The PM came with a team and clean it up, because it must be a park, finally," beamed Junior Grant, a resident of the Bumper Hall community.

For Grant, it would be a far cry from the jolt that sparked a fire in the city of Kingston, which competed with the vengeance of the quake.

"The rich, the great and the small are levelled," screams the headstone at the base of the whitened monument that leaps to the skies.

"Until the angel calls them, they slumber."

But these days the place and time appear to be an almost forgotten milieu.

George Thompson was born 105 years ago, three years after the Kingston earthquake snatched the lives of hundreds of Jamaicans.

Thompson now lives mere metres away from the spot where 500 victims of the quake were buried in Bumper Hall, South West St Andrew.

It is the spot where The Gleaner - 73 years old at the time and not spared in the devastation - was instrumental in erecting the monument for the hundreds of person who had no one to mourn their deaths.

The remains of the 500 lost souls were deemed to be unrecognisable in the aftermath of the carnage that devastated the city.

It was Joan Russell, better known as 'Joan', who served as tour guide when a Gleaner team ventured into the community in search of the monument.

In all, about 1,000 persons perished in the quake.

"This enclosure marks the spot where 500 whose remains are unrecognisable were buried together," it reads.

It was six months later, on June 2, 1907, that more than 6,000 persons assembled in what was then a part of the May Pen Cemetery to witness the unveiling of the memorial erected to the memory of those who perished in the earthquake.

The Gleaner Company, which opened a fund for the erection of a suitable memorial, called in the assistance of an independent committee to decide on the design.