A Quack in the Earth

Norphlet, Arkansas

With JJ Kwashnak and Russ Minton

January 2012

The early 20th century saw boom towns growing up overnight in the oil and natural gas rich fields of south Arkansas around the town of El Dorado. Towns like Smackover population skyrocket from 500 to 15,000 in the blink of an eye with the influx of oil workers and wildcatters looking to tap into the rich deposits. Near the town of Norphlet, the Oil Operator’s Trust drilled the well known as J.T. Murphy No. 1. The deposit started pumping out oil and gave indications of a large natural gas field also under the well.

Pumping Derrick

In May 1922 the pressure of the gas field proved too much to be contained by the derrick, and the pressure blew the drill stem right out of the derrick. The sudden release caused the ground to collapse and swallowed up the derricks and other equipment. The sound of the pressure releasing and the equipment collapsing could be heard miles away. The crater continued to collapse on itself and grow larger until finally the something ignited the mix of oil and gas, and an explosion ensued. Feeding off a flow of 150 million cubic feet of gas per day, the flames shot over 700 feet into the sky, burning day and night until the fuel supplying the fire ran out.

Norphlet Crater 1


Norphlet 2

Today all that remains is the crater – a collapsed hole over 100 feet deep and 600 feet in diameter, filling with water and, at points, cast off appliances and garbage. The site is now enclosed in a chain-link fence to keep people from dumping and from falling in, standing as a testament to the power of nature.

Norphlet 3


Directions to the Crater: From Norphlet center, go north on N. Texas Avenue. At the Corner One Stop, make a left on Baugh St. Make the first right on Firetower Rd. Stay to the right and continue on Crater Rd and continue to the crater. It is located by the Hicks Cemetery.

North American Travel

United States Travel

Arkansas Travel

Photos courtesy of J.J. Kwashnak

Last Updated May 2012