Claudine Burnett

Don’t panic! This prediction has nothing to do with the tsunami generated by a volcano near Tonga, which the California coast and other areas of the world experienced on Jan. 15th. However, it does perhaps have ties to another tsunami that struck Tonga on April 30, 1919.

On May 21, 1919, children stayed home from school as their families moved away from the shore, seeking refuge on Signal Hill. All this was due to a prediction that a tidal wave was going to hit Long Beach.

The previous evening Pastor J. A.V. Pieters of the Bethany Baptist Church held a special mid-week service to assuage fears that the prediction could be found in the Book of Revelation. It made no difference that the prediction came from an unknown astrologer. The mere fact that someone had predicted the tidal wave was enough for many to flee the area to escape the great wall of water which they feared would engulf the city.

That day a heavy ground swell and rainstorm made the sea appear threatening, adding to the terror. The Pacific Electric railway noticed a dramatic increase in traffic from those fleeing Long Beach for higher ground. One taxi driver said three families called for rides from the low beach lands to higher ground and said other drivers also had an increase in calls to perform similar services.

The Long Beach Press had received a long letter from a woman signing herself “M.M.” M.M claimed she had predicted the sinking of both the Titanic and Lusitania; now she claimed a gigantic tidal wave would hit Long Beach on May 21st between 4 p.m. and midnight. The article about the prediction was supposed to be humorous, not to be taken seriously. But even local merchants got into the “swim” (so to speak). Walp, Reynolds & Dodd ran a quarter page ad which read:

“The Tidal Wave. Prepare for It.

Get a bathing suit tonight and ride the crest of the big wave. Then after the wave goes by you’ll have it for the summer’s enjoyment – nothing like having a bathing suit of your own – use it when you want – it’ll appeal to you as being more sanitary.” (LBP 5/22/1919)

On May 22, 1919, Long Beach was still afloat, and the Long Beach Press apologized for printing the story, which was geared to make people laugh, not create panic. Some still believed the prophecy had come true. The town clock had stopped at 20 minutes of two, and several claimed it was the tidal upheaval that stopped the clock.

M.M later contacted the paper saying she had made no such claim, though she did admit to having psychic abilities. Perhaps her psychic abilities were just a little off. A giant tsunami had swept through Tonga on the evening of April 30th totally destroying the town of Pangai in the Ha’apai Group in Tonga. News of the destruction didn’t reach the U.S. until July.

Claudine Burnett is a retired Long Beach Public Library librarian who compiled the library’s Long Beach History Index. In her research, she found many forgotten, interesting stories about Long Beach and Southern California, which she has published in 12 books as well as in monthly blogs. You can access information about her books and read her blogs at


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