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[TIMELINE] Gin Chow - "Weather Prophet" & Celebrity Predicted 1925 Earthquake

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  • madchinaman
    Farmer Grew Claim to Fame as Weather Prophet By Cecilia Rasmussen, Times Staff Writer http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2005
      Farmer Grew Claim to Fame as 'Weather Prophet'
      By Cecilia Rasmussen, Times Staff Writer


      Stories of Other Success Chinese Entrepeneurs in Idaho during the
      1900s can be found at


      Gin Chow was a strawberry farmer and "weather prophet" whose reputed
      prediction of the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake went unheeded. But
      everything he said thereafter was recorded by the scribes of the
      period, who considered him a kind of seismic Nostradamus.

      Southern California has had boatloads of seers, from cricket-
      listeners and stargazers to rainmakers and palm readers.

      But stories about Chow's predictions caught the attention of the
      press, which helped make a California legend of the man who once
      sold strawberries and casaba melons on the streets of Santa Barbara.

      All the accounts came after the fact, but the gist of them is this:
      Two days before Christmas in 1920 or 1923, depending on the source,
      Chow supposedly posted a notice in the Santa Barbara post office
      stating that the city would be flattened by an earthquake on June
      29, 1925.

      Sure enough, the biggest and deadliest temblor since the 1906 San
      Francisco earthquake and fire struck at 6:44 a.m. that day. The
      ground shuddered for 19 seconds, about the time it takes to draw
      three or four slow, deep breaths.

      When it stopped, nearly a dozen people were dead and hundreds

      Almost every stone and brick chimney was shaken loose by the 6.3-
      magnitude temblor, and 70 buildings in the commercial district were

      Part of the 1797 Spanish presidio was destroyed, and one of the
      Santa Barbara Mission's two famous bell towers crumbled.

      Parts of the luxurious Arlington Hotel collapsed, injuring Capt.
      George Allan Hancock and killing his 22-year-old son, Bertram, who
      was asleep in an adjoining room. (Nine years earlier, Hancock had
      donated 23 acres of Hancock Park's La Brea Tar Pits to the citizens
      of Los Angeles.)

      The capriciousness of the disaster was sobering: A maid who ran to a
      doorway in answer to her rich employer's screams saw the elderly
      woman plunge several floors to her death as the floor gave way
      beneath her bed.

      In the midst of the chaos, a Times reporter filed his story via
      telegraph from a table set up in the middle of the street.

      But it was Santa Barbara newspaper publisher Thomas More Storke and
      Times columnist Harry Carr who fashioned Gin Chow's reputation.

      Beginning six years after the earthquake, in books and eventually
      hundreds of newspaper articles, the two praised Chow as a "weather

      In late 1931, Carr encouraged Chow, an immigrant from Canton, China,
      to write a book of forecasts: "Gin Chow's First Annual Almanac,"
      with a foreword written by Carr.

      Storke, a son of the man who founded the 19th century Los Angeles
      Daily Herald, wrote in his 1958 book "California Editor" that Chow's
      record for accuracy on disasters, wars and weather was uncanny.

      "He predicted the 1923 earthquake in Yokohama, which killed 143,000
      Japanese," Storke wrote. "His most remarkable prophecy, however,"
      was forecasting the date of the Santa Barbara quake at least two
      years before it happened.

      Storke wrote that Chow "hit it right on the nose, to the undying
      puzzlement of the seismologists who had ridiculed his audacity.
      Scientists still have no idea how he did it."

      Storke also cited a 1932 prediction of a U.S. war with Japan that
      would end in 1946 — a year later than World War II actually ended —
      and his long-term weather predictions. Chow wrote that it would rain
      on March 19, 1939. It did.

      It took a few years after the Santa Barbara earthquake for the world
      to hear about Chow's "prediction."

      The skepticism about his forecasting was overwhelmed by the
      celebrity buzz of the moment.

      But there were doubters.

      Santa Maria Rotary Club members called him "crazy." A pair of
      scientists at Scripps Research Institute chided him on a few errors
      he had made.

      But Storke wrote that Chow's "batting average in the meteorological
      department was far better than that of the U.S. Weather Bureau."

      Chow was born in 1857, the son and grandson of teachers, whom Chow
      called prophets.

      At age 16, he sailed into San Francisco with an uncle. His first job
      was washing dishes in a French restaurant.

      By 1890, he had moved south and become renowned in the Santa Barbara
      area for his fruit and vegetables. He grew them on his small farm in
      the Lompoc Valley, where he lived with his wife and three children.

      Chow's predictions — derided though they were — made him a celebrity
      in a state that loved its oddballs.

      At Carr's suggestion, Chow put his past predictions and some future
      prognostications into the little book.

      In February 1932, wearing traditional Chinese robes and hat,
      the "Prophet of Lompoc" signed more than 2,500 of his books at J.W.
      Robinson's posh downtown Los Angeles department store.

      Chow said he used a mystic "key" handed down from his ancestors to
      make his "calculations." Critics derided it as magic in the guise of

      Chow kept 60 journals from decades of his predictions, according to
      a Times story in 1931, which described them as "bound in red paper,
      the shade of firecrackers. The thin tissue-like pages Gin Chow
      fingered with expertness revealing familiarity. The characters on
      the pages were in red and black ink…. "

      Of course, the reporter could not read Chinese — and therefore could
      not know what Chow had written.

      But Chow had his believers, including the Times' Carr, who used
      Chow's weather forecasts in his daily column.

      Readers began betting on Chow's predictions — and lost money as his
      forecasts became more erratic. Then readers lambasted Carr for
      having printed the predictions.

      Chow himself made his weather forecasts over KHJ radio, sometimes
      weeks and months ahead. For a time, he was a popular guest speaker
      at clubs and ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

      Chow needed the income from his book, which was published in two
      editions, to help save his farm from bankruptcy.

      His other travails included a lawsuit against the city of Santa
      Barbara, which had dammed a river flowing through his property. The
      suit, filed in 1928, was settled a few months before he died, but
      not in his favor.

      The case set a precedent for the state to build more dams, according
      to Santa Barbara Historical Society curator David Bisol.

      Chow's last known prophecy proved correct, at least in part.

      In mid-1932, he was seriously gored by a neighbor's bull. Doctors
      held out no hope, but Chow was sanguine.

      "My time still one year off yet," he told the nurses at Santa
      Barbara Cottage Hospital, saying he would die in August 1933.

      He was right about the year but not the month.

      In June 1933, as Chow walked along State Street in Santa Barbara, he
      was struck by a farmer's truck. He died the next day, at 76.


      The 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake: Gin Chow's Earthquake Prediction

      His record for accuracy was uncanny. He predicted the 1923
      earthquake in Yokohama, which killed 143,000 Japanese. His most
      remarkable prophecy, however, came in 1923 when he announced that on
      June 29, two years later, Santa Barbara would be visited by a major
      earthquake. He hit it "right on the nose," to the undying puzzlement
      of the seismologists who had ridiculed his audacity. Scientists
      still have no idea how he did it.
      -T. M. Storke, from California Editor, Westernlore Press, 1958, Los

      Actually, what baffles seismologists is that so many people believe
      the story of Gin Chow's earthquake prediction, which is regularly
      repeated in print to this day. The story apparently derives from a
      claim Gin Chow made in Gin Chow's First Annual Almanac, published in
      1932, in which Gin Chow says that he posted a notice in the Santa
      Barbara Post Office on December, 23, 1920, saying an earthquake
      would strike the area on June 29, 1925.

      Gin Chow was a successful Chinese immigrant who was well-known in
      the Santa Barbara area for making weather predictions that were
      supposedly better than government weather forecasts. Thomas Storke,
      who is quoted above, was editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press for
      many years, including during the 1925 earthquake, and was a direct
      descendent of the first commander of the Santa Barbara Presidio,
      José Francisco De Ortega.

      Despite Storke's belief in Gin Chow's earthquake prediction, and
      despite the numerous times the story of the prediction has been
      repeated, there is no evidence that Gin Chow's "prediction" is
      anything but a bogus claim made after the fact.


      Gin Chow

      He reported in the 1930s that after his arrival in southern
      California he first washed dishes in a French restaurant, and then
      went into domestic service for six years. Following that period he
      became a gardener. Eventually he bought land and became a farmer.
      (Gin Chow. Gin Chow's First Annual Almanac. Los Angeles: Wetzel
      Publishing, 1932. p. 29.)


      Price became a nationally recognized expert in water law several
      years later after winning the famous case of Gin Chow vs. City of
      Santa Barbara. In that case, Gin Chow, a Chinese-born fortune teller
      who had accurately predicted the 1925 earthquake five years before,
      alleged that Santa Barbara and Montecito didn't have the right to
      divert flood waters from the Santa Ynez River. Price represented
      Santa Barbara and Montecito in the case that took more than a year
      to try, with the court finally ruling in their favor.

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