Friday, February 22

Mardi Gras Quake

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By Art Cashin

On this day (+1) in 1887, throughout large sections of the world, Christians prepared for 40 days of Lenten repentance by doing lots of repentable things.

In some countries, the carrying-on was called "Fasching" or "Shrovetide" or "Carnevale." But in France it was called "Mardi Gras" and was a national running, sinning start on Lent.

Anyway, on this particular day, along the French Riviera, the partying was grinding to a reluctant halt. In the pre-dawn hours, in costumes and in an alcoholic fog revelers began heading toward their villages. Suddenly, in village after village the church bells began to ring.

Clearly it was too early for morning Mass, be it Ash Wednesday or not. Then came the second realization - the bells were ringing because the earth had begun to tremble. Freshly laden with sin and lacking the expected luxury of 40 days of atonement, nervous villagers hastened for church and the chance of absolution.

Unfortunately, further shocks toppled steeples onto the would-be penitents. Then whole villages began to collapse or slide away. And the aftermath was particularly macabre as so many bodies in Harlequin and Jester costumes lay, peering out with lifeless eyes beneath the rubble.

Before it ended, thousands died in what became known as the Mardi Gras Quake. Back then folks thought natural calamity was brought on by sin. We, of course, know that this theory must be false since, thank goodness, we would have slid into a banking crisis by now.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

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