California Historical Articles
San Francisco Earthquake - Miscellaneous Facts And Incidents
( Originally Published 1906 )
IN the refugee camps a number of babies were born under the most distressing and pathetic circumstances, the mothers in many cases being unattended by either husbands or relatives. In Golden Gate Park alone fifteen babies were born in one night, it was reported. The excitement and agony of the situation brought the little ones prematurely into the world. And equally remarkable was the fact that when all danger was over all of the mothers and the children of the catastrophe were reported to have withstood the untoward conditions and continued to improve and grow strong as if the conditlons which surrounded them had been normal. This, undoubtedly, was in great part due to the care and kindness of the physicians and surgeons in the camps whose efforts were untiring and self-sacrificing for all who had been so suddenly surrendered to their care.
In an express wagon bumping over the brick piles and broken streets was a mother who gave birth to triplets in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park a week later. All the triplets were living and apparently doing well. In this narrow park strip where the triplets were born fifteen other babies came into the world on the same fateful night, and, strange as it. seems, every one of the mothers and every one of the infants had been reported as doing well.
The following night thirteen more babies were born in the park Panhandle, and these, so far as the reports show, fared as well as those born the first night. In fact, the doctors and nurses reported that there had been no fatality among the earthquake babies or their unfortunate mothers. One trained nurse who accompanied a prominent doctor on his rounds the first night after the shock attended eight cases in which both mothers and children thrived. One baby was born in a wheelbarrow as the mother was being trundled to the park by her husband.
Expressions of sympathy and condolence on account of the great disaster were sent to the President of the United States from all over the world. Among the' messages received within about 24 hours after the catastrophe were the following:
From the President of Guatemala—I am deeply grieved by the catastrophe at San Francico. The president of Guatemala sends to the people of the United States through your eminence his expression of the most sincere grief, with the confidence that in such a lamentable misfortune the indomitable spirit of your people will newly manifest itself—that spirit which, if great in prosperity, is equally great in time of trial.
President of Mexico—Will your excellency be so kind as to accept the expression of my profound and deep sympathy with the American people on account of the disaster at San Francisco, which has so affected the American people.
President of Brazil—I do myself the honor of sending to you the expression of the profound grief with which the government and people of the United States of Brazil have read the news of the great misfortune, which has occurred at San Francisco.
Emperor of Japan—With assurances of the deepest and heartiest sympathy for the sufferers by the terrible earthquake.
King Leopold of Belgium—I must express to you the deep sympathy which I feel in the mourning which the terrible disaster at San Francisco is causing the whole American people.
President of Cuba—In the name of the government and people of Cuba, I assure you of the deep grief and sympathy with which they have heard of the great misfortune which has over-taken San Francisco.
Kirkpatrick, acting premier of New Zealand—South Australia deplores the appalling disaster which has befallen the state of California and extends heartfelt sympathy to sufferers.
Viceroy of India-My deepest sympathy with you and people of United States in terrible catastrophe at San Francisco.
Governor Talbot of Victoria, Australia—On behalf of the people of Victoria, I beg to offer our hearfelt sympathy with the United States on' the terrible calamity at San Francisco.
President of Switzerland—The federal council is profoundly affected by the terrible catastrophe which has visited San Francisco and other California cities, and I beg you to receive the sincere expressions of its regret and the sympathy of the Swiss people as a whole, who join in the mourning of a sister republic.
Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria—I beg to assure you, Mr. President, of my most sincere sympathy with your land in its sorrow because of the terrible earthquake at San Francisco, and I beg to offer you personally, Mr. President, my heartfelt condolences.
Prince Henry of Prussia—Remembering American hospitality, which is still so fresh in my memory, I hereby wish to ex-press my deepest sympathy on behalf of the terrible catastrophe which has befallen the thriving city of San Francisco and which has destroyed so many valuable lives therein. Still hope that news is greatly exaggerated.
Premier Bent of South Wales—New South Wales and Victoria sympathize with California suffering disaster.
Count Witte—The Russian members of the Portsmouth conference, profoundly moved by the sad tidings of the calamity that has befallen the American people, whose hospitality they recently enjoyed, beg your excellency to accept and to transmit to citizens of United States the expression of their profound and heartfelt sympathy.
The cathedral of San Francisco with the residences attached, together with the residence of the archbishop, were saved. Sacred Heart College and Mercy Hospital, together with the various schools attached, were destroyed.
The churches damaged by the earthquake are:
St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo park.
St. James' church.
St. Bridget's church.
St. Dominick's church.
Church of the Holy Cross.
St. Patrick's church at San Jose.
Those destroyed by fire were:
Churches of SS. Ignatius, Boniface, Joseph, Patrick, Brendan, Rose, Francis, Mission Dolores, French church, Slavonian church and the old Cathedral of St. Mary's.
The Custom House with its records was saved. It was in one of the little islands which the fire passed by. All the city records which were in the vaults of the city hall were saved. The city hall fell, but the ruins did not burn. By this bit of luck the city escapes great confusion in property claims and adjustments.
Millet's famous picture, "The Man with the Hoe," was saved with other paintings and tapestries in the collection of William H. Crocker.
Mr. Crocker, who was in New York, said about the rescue of the paintings (Head is Mr. Crocker's butler):
"I am much gratified at the devotion Head displayed in saving my pictures and tapestries at such a time. Besides the `Man with the Hoe,' I have pictures by Tenniel, Troyon, Paul Potter. Corot, Monet, Renoir, Puvis de Chavannes, Pissaro, and Constable. The tapestries consisted of six Flemish pieces dating from the sixteenth century, of which the finest is a `Resurrection.'
It is a splendid example of tissue d'or work, and was once the property of the duc d'Albe."
On April 20 Bishop Coadjutor Greer of the Protestant Episcopal church of New York announced that this prayer had been authorized to be used in the churches of that diocese for victims of the earthquake:
"O Father of Mercy and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need, look down from heaven, we humbly beseech thee, behold, visit and relieve thy servants to whom such great and grievous loss and suffering have come through the earthquake and the fire.
"In thy wisdom thou hast seen fit to visit them with trouble and to bring distress upon them. Remember, O Lord, in mercy and imbue their souls with patience under this affliction.
"Though they be perplexed and troubled on every side, save them from despair and suffer not their faith and trust in thee to fail.
"In this our hour of darkness, when thou hast made the earth to tremble and the mountains thereof to shake, be thou, O God, their refuge and their strength and their present help in trouble.
"And for as much as thou alone canst bring light out of darkness and good out of evil, let the light of thy loving countenance shine upon them through the cloud; let the angel of thy presence be with them in their sorrow, to comfort and support them, giving strength to the weak, courage to the faint and consolation to the dying.
"We ask it in the name of him who in all our afflictions is afflicted with us, thy son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen !"
Mrs. A. G. Pritchard, wife of a San Francisco manufacturer, who, with her husband, was on her way home from Europe to San Francisco, became suddenly insane at the Union Station in Pittsburg, Pa., when she alighted to get some fresh air.
The Pritchards were hurrying to San Francisco with the expectation of finding their three children dead in the ruins of their home.
Landing in New York April 24, the Pritchards learned that their home had been destroyed before any of the occupants had had an opportunity to get out.
Mr. Pritchard said that his information was that the governess was dying in a hospital, and from what he has heard, he had no hope of seeing his children alive.
At Philadelphia a physician told Mr. Pritchard that his wife was bordering on insanity. At the station Mrs. Pritchard shrieked and moaned until she was put into the car, where a physician passenger volunteered to care for the case.
On the afternoon of the fire the police broke open every saloon and corner grocery in the saved district and poured all malt and spirituous liquors into the gutters.
San Francisco was famous for the excellence of its restaurants. Many of these were known wherever the traveler discussed good living. Among them were the "Pup" and Marschand's in Stockton street; the "Poodle Dog," one of the most ornate distinctive restaurant buildings in the United States; Zinkand's and the Fiesta, in Market street; the famous Palace grill in the Palace hotel; and scores of bohemian resorts in the old part of San Francisco. They are no more.
Down near the railroad tracks at what used to be Townsend street, food was mined from the ruins as a result of a fortuitous discovery made by Ben Campbell, a negro. While in search of possible treasure he located the ruins of a grocery warehouse, which turned out to be a veritable oven of plenty. People gathered to this place and picked up oysters, canned asparagus, beans, and fruit all done to a turn and ready for serving.
For a time there was marked indignation in San Francisco caused by the .report that the San Franciscans, in their deep-grounded prejudice, had discriminated against the Chinamen in the relief work. This report was groundless. The six Chinese companies, or Tongs, representing enormous wealth, had done such good work that but little had been necessary from the general relief committee, and, besides, the Chinese needed less. No Chinaman was treated as other than a citizen. entitled to all rights, which cannot be said under normal conditions on the Pacifie coast, Gee Sing, a Chinese member of the Salvation Army, had been particularly efficient in caring foi his countrymen.
The San Francisco daily newspapers, all of which were burned out, were prompt in getting in shape to serve their sub-scribers. On Thursday morning, the day after the fire, the best showing the morning journals could make was a small combination sheet bearing the unique heading, "Call-Chronicle-Examiner." It was set up and printed in the office of the Oakland Tribune, gave a brief account of the great disaster, and took an optimistic view of the future of the stricken city. The day after the papers, though still printed in Oakland, appeared under their own headings and with a few illustrations, showing scenes in the streets of San Francisco.
S. M. Pencovic, a San Francisco druggist, on arriving in Chicago from Paris, said he had a premonition of disaster, which impelled him to hasten home, several days before the earthquake. He left for San Francisco to search for his father and mother, who are among the missing.
"For several days I felt as if something awful was about to happen," said he. "So completely did the feeling take possession of me that I could not sleep at night. At last I could stand it no longer, and I left Paris April 14, four days before the upheaval.
"I embarked on La Savoie at Havre. I tried to send a wire-less message, but could receive no answer.
"The day after the catastrophe the captain of the ship called me to his cabin and told me he had just received a wireless message that San Francisco had been destroyed by an earthquake. I was not surprised."
At the Presidio, where probably 50,000 people were camped, affairs were conducted with military precision. Here those who are fortunate enough to be numbered among the campers were able now and then to obtain a little water with which to moisten their parched lips, while rations, owing to the limited supply, were being dealt out in the smallest quantities that all may share a bit. The refugees stood patiently in line and the marvelous thing about it all was that not a murmur was heard. This characteristic is observable all over the city. The people were brave and patient and the wonderful order preserved by them had been of great assistance. Though homeless and starving they were facing the awful calamity with resigned fortitude."
In Oakland the day after the quake messages were stacked yards. high in all the telegraph offices waiting to be sent through-out the world. Conditions warranted utter despair and panic, but through it all the people were trying to be brave and falter not.
Oakland temporarily took the place of San Francisco as the metropolis of the Pacific cost, and there the finance kings, the bankers and merchants of the San Francisco of yesterday were gathering and conferring and getting into shape the first plans for the rebuilding of the burned city and preventing a widespread financial panic that in the first part of the awful catastrophe seemed certain.
Resting on a brick pile in Howard street was a young Swedish woman, whose entire family had perished and who had succeeded in saving from the ruins of her home only the picture of her mother. This she clutched tightly as she struggled on to the ferry landing—the gateway to new hope for the refugees. A little farther along sat a man with his wife and child: He had had a good home and business. Wrapped in a newspaper he held six hand-painted dinner plates. They were all he could dig out of the debris of his home, and by accident they had escaped break-age.
"This is what I start life over again with," he said, and his wife tried to smile as she took her child's hand to continue the journey. Thousands of these instances are to be found.
Owing to the energetic efforts of General Funston and the officials of the Spring Valley Water Company the sufferers in all parts of the city were spared at least the horrors of a water famine. As soon as it was learned that some few mercenaries who were fortunate enough to have fresh water stored in tanks in manufacturing districts were selling it at 50 cents per glass, the authorities took prompt action and hastened their efforts to re-pair the mains that had been damaged by the earthquake shocks.
John Singleton, a Los Angeles millionaire, his wife and her sister, were staying at the Palace Hotel when the earthquake shock occurred.
Mr. Singleton gave the following account of his experience: "The shock wrecked the rooms in which we were sleeping. We managed to get our clothes on and get out immediately. We had been at the hotel only two days and left probably $3,000 worth of personal effects in the room.
"After leaving the Palace we secured an express wagon for $25 to take us to the Casino near. Golden Gate Park, where we stayed Wednesday night. On Thursday morning we managed to get a conveyance at enormous cost and spent the entire day in getting to the Palace. We paid $1 apiece for eggs and $2 for a loaf of bread. On these and a little ham we had to be satisfied."
John A. Floyd, a Pullman conductor on the Northwestern railroad, living in Chicago, gave a lengthy and vivid description of the, quake and its effects.
"If I live a thousand lifetimes I will never forget that night," he said. "Words are too feeble, entirely too inadequate, to portray the fear that clutched the human breast. The most graphic pen could not faithfully portray the sickening horror of that night.
"Plaster falling from the walls in my room in the fourth floor of the Terminal Hotel in Market street aroused me from a sound sleep about 5 o'clock in the morning. I sat up in bed, and got out onto the floor. The building was shaking like a reed in a storm, literally rocking like a hammock. It was impossible for me to stand. Another shock threw nie heavily to the floor. I remained there for what seemed hours to me. Then I crawled on hands and knees to the door, and succeeded in unlocking it with much difficulty. I was in my night clothes, and without waiting to even pull on a pair of shoes I made my way down those swaying stairs as rapidly as I could.
"When I reached the street it was filled with half mad unclothed men, women, and children, running this way and that, hugging and fighting each other in their frenzy.
"The loud detonations under the earth enhanced the horror. The ground kept swaying from side to side, then roaring like the waves of the ocean, then jolting in every conceivable direction.
"Buildings were parting on all sides like egg shells, the stone and brick and iron raining down on the undressed hundreds in the streets, killing many of them outright and pinning others down to die slowly of torture or be roasted alive by the flames that sprang up everywhere around us.
"When things had quieted somewhat, I went back to the hotel to dress, and discovered that the entire wall of my room had fallen out.
"I succeeded in finding most of my clothes, and after donning them hastily went back to the work of rescue. When I got back to the street from the hotel the entire district seemed to be in flames. Fire seemed to break out of the very earth on all sides of Market street, eating up buildings as if they were so many buildings of paper. A big wholesale drug house on Seventh street exploded, throwing sparking and burning embers high into the air. These fiery pieces descended on the half-clad people in the streets, causing them to run madly for places of safety, almost crazy with the pain.
"Soon the improvised hearses began to arrive. Out of every building bodies were taken like carcasses out of a slaughter pen. Automobiles, carriages, express wagons, private equipages, and vehicles of all kinds were pressed into service and piled high with the bodies. Everywhere these wagon loads of dead bodies were being dragged through the streets, offering a spectacle to turn the most stout-hearted sick.
"With three or four sailors I went up to Seventh street to assist a number of men, women and children who had become entombed under the debris of a flat building.
"They were so tightly wedged in that we were unable to offer them any help and had to stand by and hear their cries as they were slowly roasted to death by the ever increasing flames. I can hear the cries of one of those women ringing in my ears yet—I guess I always will.
"I guess pretty nearly every bone in her body was broken. As we stood by helplessly she cried over and over again:
" `Don't let me die like this. Don't let me roast. I'm cooking, cooking alive. Kill me! Shoot me—anything ! For God's sake have mercy!'
"Others joined her in the cry and begged piteously to be quickly killed before the flames reached them.
"By this time the street level had become so irregular that it was almost impossible to drag the dead wagons over them.
"Dynamite was then brought into use and the buildings were blown up like firecrackers. Flying debris was everywhere in the air, and another mad rush for safety was made, the almost naked people falling over each other in their frantic efforts to get out of the danger.
"While this excitement was at its height a man dressed only in his underclothing made his appearance among the people in a light gasoline' runabout. At top speed he ran into a crowd of women, knocking them down and injuring at least a dozen.
Then he turned back and charged them again. He had gone mad as a result of the scenes of death and destruction.
"Some one called for a gun, hoping that they might stop the fellow by shooting him. None was to be had, and after a desperate fight with sailors who succeeded in getting into the machine he was overpowered and turned loose.
"Everybody in the crowd, I believe, was temporarily crazy. Men and women ran helter-skelter in nothing but their night gowns, and many of them did not have on that much."
Mrs. J. B. Conaty, of Los Angeles, was in Oakland at the time of the shock and felt the vibrations. "The suddenness with which it came upon the people," she said, "was the most appalling thing. When I looked across the bay at 'Frisco from the Oakland shore the city seemed peacefully at sleep, like a tired baby beside its mother. With my next glance at the city I was turned almost sick.
"The ground was shaking beneath me and I thought that the end of the world was at hand. Buildings were falling to the right and left. The earth was groaning and rocking, and flames were shooting high into the sky. Soon the sound of the dynamiting reached us and buildings began to fly in the air like fireworks.
"The sea lashed itself into a fury and beat upon the shores as if it too sought to escape nature's wrath. Over across the bay all was disorder. In the glare of the. blood red flames reflected against sky and sea, white robed, half naked men and women could be seen wildly running about.
"Some of them ran to the water's edge and threw themselves in and others less frantic had to battle with them to haul them out.
"It seemed as if every man, woman and child in 'Frisco was running toward the ferry docks. When the boat arrived on our side of the shore it was packed with men and women, none of whom seemed to be in their right senses. Many of them_ jumped from the boat as soon as it was made fast and ran at top speed through the streets of Oakland until forced to fall through sheer exhaustion.
"One woman in the crowd had nothing on but a night gown. In her arms she carried a 3-year-old girl who was hanging tightly to a rag doll and seemed to be the only one in the vast crowd that was unafraid. Where all these people went to I have no idea.
"I stood on the Oakland side watching 'Frisco devoured. In a space of time so short that it all seems to me like a dream now the whole city, slumbering peacefully but a moment before, presented a perdition beside which Dante's inferno seems to pale into insignificance."
The looters early began operations in the stricken city. The vandal thinking that law and order had gone in the general crash filled his pockets as he fled.
It was the relic hunter who opened the door to the looter. The spirit which sends the tourist tapping about the ruins of the Parthenon, awoke in San Francisco. Idle and curious men swarmed into the city, poking about in the ruins in the hope of finding something worth carrying away as a souvenir of the greatest calamity of modern times.
Scores of men and women were seen digging in the ruins of one store. They were disinterring bits of crockery, china and glassware. Strangely enough, a great deal of this sort of ware had been protected by a wall which stood through quake and fire. One woman came toiling out over a pile of brick, covered with ashes and dust, her hair dishevelled and hands grimy, but she was perfectly happy.
"See," said she, "I found half a dozen cups and saucers as good as new. They are fine china and they will be worth more than ever now."
I asked her if she needed them.
"Oh, dear no!" said she, laughing. "I live over in Oakland. I just wanted them to keep as souvenirs !"
Some hard-hearted jokers were abroad also. Humor dies hard, and perhaps it is just as well that it does, for the six men who started the bogus bread lines would have needed much of it if the soldiers had caught them.
The people of San Francisco had become accustomed to eating out of the hand. They put in long hours every day standing in line waiting for something to be given out. Many of them did not know what was being distributed, but they knew it would be good, so they fell into line and waited.
There were thousands of people in San Francisco who fell into a line every time they saw one. They had the bread line habit.
This impressed itself on these six men, for they went about the town and every time they found a promising spot they lined up and looked expectant. Men came and fell in behind. Women with baskets joined the brigade and in ten minutes these sidewalk comedians had a string a block long behind them and more coming every minute. Then the six jokers slipped away and left the confiding ones to wait. It was a mean trick.
The stranger and the wayfarer was made to feel at home any-where in Oakland and the luxury of sleeping within four walls was not denied to any one. Only a few hardy men who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the weaklings went without covering. The people stripped the portieres and hangings from their walls, tore up their carpets and brought in every spare piece of cloth which would do for a night's covering. The women and children who preferred to stay indoors and on hard floors were taken care of in the public halls, the school buildings, and the basements of the churches. Beds were improvised of sheets and hay and the weaker refugees, who were beginning to go down under the strain, slept comfortably. Oakland did nobly. People shared their beds with absolute strangers, and while the newcomers in the park camps were dead to the world, those who came the day before cheered up considerably. One camp of young men got out a banjo and sang for the entertainment of the crowd.
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