Remembering Kent Warshauer, Storyteller

Release Date:

On August 25, 2006, Kent Warshauer, author of the popular Hawaii Tribune-Herald column "The Riddle of the Relic," passed away at the age of 56.

Remembering Kent Warshauer, Storyteller...

Kent Warshauer, author of the popular Hawaii Tribune-Herald column "The Riddle of the Relic,".

(Public domain.)

With his passing, Hawaii lost a historian, archivist, research sleuth, abstract expressionist artist, Harley-Davidson mechanic, and all-around iconoclast.

Kent himself was both riddle and relic. Those who knew him wondered how he-a relic of an age where people lived by their word-survived. Kent eschewed working for "the establishment" so he could enjoy artistic, intellectual, and political freedom of expression while pursuing his knack for digging up history. By so doing, he satisfied our curiosity about our own island's past and helped us remember it. His sense of history covered the gamut-from sugar mills to shipwrecks, from the railway system to the roads that once circled the island, from mistaken labels on banyan tree plantings to mistaken attributions of first arrivals in Hawaii. Nothing was too minute or remote to escape his interest in all things historical and Hawaiian.

Eager to contribute to the record of unacknowledged or little-known volcanic and seismic phenomena, Kent researched and brought us thousands of articles-on our own history and on roads, trails, overlooks, and long-forgotten structures in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. He was fascinated by our work and how we came to be situated on Uwekahuna Bluff, on the northeast rim of Kīlauea caldera. Nothing was taken for granted.

Kent also brought numerous articles on related subjects, including pumice or debris rising from spots in the ocean that could be the locus of submarine landslides, volcanoes, or hydrothermal vents. No plume of smoke seen rising-seemingly from Mauna Loa-escaped his attention, either, just in case it wasn't a cane fire. He was instrumental in finding information in newspapers that enhanced our understanding of past eruptions. For example, the southwest rift zone eruption of 1916 was preceded by previously unknown summit activity in Mokuaweoweo. It was this attention to detail that separated Kent from other lava groupies.

Using the references that Kent contributed, Thomas L. Wright, former Scientist-in-Charge of HVO, and Fred W. Klein (USGS at Menlo Park) compiled a list of 17,000 earthquakes in their "Catalog of Hawaiian Earthquakes, 1823-1959" (USGS Professional Paper 1623). The authors state:

"His files demonstrated the necessity of using newspaper data in our location estimates and magnitude assignments. We followed up on his work by spending many additional hours looking at newspapers on microfilm."

Kent was passionate about the value of newspaper articles in reconstructing history and correcting errors in published material. He applied that zeal to his own work as columnist and contributed to various newspapers, newsletters, books, government publications, and research projects, among which was "Moku Ola," a history of Coconut Island, which he meticulously researched, wrote, and completed.

The funeral service for Kent reflected a broad cross section of people he helped, and stories of his generosity with research materials were remarkable or noteworthy. When an author of a new book was asked where he got his material, he replied, "A guy on the Big Island (whose name he did not know) helped me."

The articles from old Hawaii newspapers that Kent gave HVO grew into a valuable collection occupying more than three feet of shelf space. One of the most frequently visited shelves in our library, it will be called "The Kent Warshauer Collection" in honor of a man who asked for nothing more from us than to use what he uncovered in furthering our understanding and completing our records of earthquakes and eruptions in Hawaii.

We will miss his enthusiasm, his impish good will, his utter devotion to causes and projects he believed in, and-ever-ready to recount history and the lessons it held-his impulse to tell us a good story no matter how busy we were. He compelled us to stop, listen, and question ourselves, if only to verify what we knew. For that, and more, we honor Kent's uniqueness as an individual and thank him here and in our hearts for his contribution to our work.

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Volcano Activity Update

This past week, activity levels at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano have remained at background levels. The number of earthquakes located in the summit area has slightly increased (usually less than 10 per day that are large enough to locate) with the largest number located south and west of Halema`uma`u. Widening of the summit caldera, indicating inflation, continues.

Eruptive activity at Pu`u `O`o continues. On clear nights, glow is visible from several vents within the crater. A seismometer at Pu`u`O`o recorded numerous gas-piston-like signals in the past week, but no visible evidence of gas-pistoning was observed. Gas pistons are, essentially, big gas-bubble bursts. Lava continues to flow through the PKK lava tube from its source on the flank of Pu`u `O`o to the ocean at East Lae`apuki and through an eastern branch of the PKK tube, called the Campout flow, to the ocean at East Ka`ili`ili. Both locations where lava is entering the ocean are within Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park.

Access to the sea cliff near the ocean entries is closed, due to significant hazards. The surrounding area, however, is open. If you visit the eruption site, check with the rangers for current updates, and remember to carry lots of water when venturing out onto the flow field.

There was one earthquake beneath Hawai`i Island reported felt within the past week. A magnitude-3.3 earthquake occurred at 10:51 p.m. H.s.t. on Sunday, September 24, and was located 1 km (1 mile) within Kīlauea caldera at a depth of 15 km (10 miles).

Mauna Loa is not erupting. During the past week, earthquake activity remained low beneath the volcano's summit (five earthquakes were located). Extension of distances between locations spanning the summit, indicating inflation, continues at slow rates.