The San Francisco Calamity
Part 1 out of 7
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, email@example.com.
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALAMITY BY EARTHQUAKE AND FIRE
A Complete and Accurate Account of the Fearful Disaster which
Visited the Great City and the Pacific Coast, the Reign of Panic
and Lawlessness, the Plight of 300,000 Homeless People and the
World-wide Rush to the Rescue.
TOLD BY EYE WITNESSES
INCLUDING GRAPHIC AND RELIABLE ACCOUNTS OF ALL GREAT EARTHQUAKES
AND VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS IN THE WORLD'S HISTORY, AND SCIENTIFIC
EXPLANATIONS OF THEIR CAUSES.
CHARLES MORRIS, LL. D.
Earthquake and famine, fire and sudden death--these are the
destroyers that men fear when they come singly; but upon the
unhappy people of California they came together, a hideous
quartette, to slay human beings, to blot from existence the wealth
that represented prolonged and strenuous effort, to bring hunger
and speechless misery to three hundred thousand homeless and
The full measure of the catastrophe can probably never be taken.
The summary cannot be made amid the panic, the confusion, the
removal of ancient landmarks, the complete subversion of the
ordinary machinery of society. When chaos comes, as it did in San
Francisco, and all the channels of familiar life are closed, and
human anguish grows to be intolerable, compilation of statistics is
impossible, even if it were not repugnant to the feelings. And
when order is once more restored, after the lapse of many weeks,
months and perhaps years, the details of the calamity have merged
into one undecipherable mass of misery which defies the analyst and
the historian. It is the purpose of this book faithfully to record
the story of these awful days when years were lived in a moment and
to preserve an accurate chronicle of them, not only for the people
whose hearts yearn in sympathy to-day, but for their posterity.
Other frightful catastrophes the world has known. The earthquake
which dropped Lisbon into the sea in 1755, and in a moment
swallowed up twenty-five thousand people, was perhaps more awful
than the convulsion which has brought woe to San Francisco. When
Krakatoa Mountain, in the Straits of Sunda, in 1883, split asunder
and poured across the land a mighty wave, in which thirty-six
thousand human beings perished, the results also were more
The whirlwind of fire which consumed St. Pierre, in the Island of
Martinique, and the devastation wrought by Vesuvius a few days
previous to that at San Francisco, need not be used for comparison
with the latter tragedy, but they may be referred to, that we may
recall the fact that this land of ours is not the only one which
But since the western hemisphere was discovered there has been in
this quarter of the globe no violence of natural forces at all
comparable in destructive fury with that which was manifested upon
the Pacific coast. The only other calamity at all equalling it, or
surpassing it, was the Civil War, and that was the work of the evil
passions of man inciting him to slay his brother, while Nature
would have had him live in peace.
The earthquake in San Francisco, which crumbled strong buildings as
if they were made of paper, would have been terrible enough; but
afterward came the horror of fire and of imprisoned men and women
burned alive, and now to it was added the suffering of multitudes
from hunger and exposure.
Public attention is fixed on the great city; but smaller cities had
their days and nights of destruction, horror and misery. Some were
almost destroyed. Others were partly ruined, and beyond their
borders, over a wide area, the trembling of the earth toppled
houses, annihilated property and transformed riches into poverty.
The cost in life can be reckoned. The money loss will never be
computed, for the appraised value of the wrecked property conveys
no notion of the consequences of the almost complete paralysis, for
a time, of the commercial operations by means of which men and
women earn their bread.
When the weakness and the folly and the sin of men bring woe upon
other men, there are plenty of texts for the preacher and no
scarcity of earnest preachers. But here is a vast and awful
catastrophe that befell from an act of Nature apparently no more
extraordinary than the shrinkage of hot metal in the process of
cooling. The consequences are terrifying in this case because they
involve the habitations of half a million people; but, no doubt,
the process goes on somewhere within the earth almost continuously,
and it no more involves the theory of malignant Nature than that of
an angry God.
If we contemplate it, possibly we may be helped to a profitable
estimate of our own relative insignificance. We think, with some
notion of our importance, of the thousand million men who live upon
the earth; but they are a mere handful of animate atoms in
comparison with the surface, to say nothing of the solid contents,
of the globe itself.
We are fond of boasting in this latter day of man's marvelous
success in subduing the forces of Nature; and, while we are in the
midst of exultation over our victories, Nature tumbles the rocks
about somewhere within the bowels of the earth, and we have to
learn the old lesson that our triumphs have not penetrated farther
than to the very outermost rim of the realms of Nature.
A few weak, almost helpless, creatures, we millions of men stand
upon the deck of a great ship, which goes rolling through space
that is itself incomprehensible, and usually we are so busy with
our paltry ambitions, our transgressions, our righteous labors, our
prides and hopes and entanglements that we forget where we are and
what is our destiny. A direct interposition from a Superior Power,
even if it be hurtful to the body, might be required to persuade us
to stop and consider and take anew our bearings, so that we may
comprehend in some larger degree our precise relations to things.
The wisest men have been the most ready to recognize the
beneficence of the discipline of affliction. If there were no
sorrow, we should be likely to find the school of life
For one thing, the school wherein sorrow is a part of the
discipline is that in which is developed human sympathy, one of the
finest and most ennobling manifestations of the Love which is, in
its essence, divine. In human life there is much that is ignoble,
and the race has almost contemptible weakness and insignificance in
comparison with the physical forces of the universe.
But man is superior to all these forces in his possession of the
power of affection; and in almost the lowest and basest of the race
this power, if latent and half lost, may be found and evoked by the
spectacle of the suffering of a fellow-creature.
The human family looks on with pity while the homeless and hungry
and impoverished Californians endure pangs. Wherever the news
went, by the swift processes of electricity, there men and women,
some of them, perhaps, hardly knowing where California is, were
sorry and willing and eager to help. There are quarrels within the
family sometimes, when nation wars with nation, and all love seems
to have vanished; but the world is, in truth, akin. "God hath made
of one blood all the nations of the earth," and the blood "tells"
when suffering comes.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
SAN FRANCISCO AND ITS TERRIFIC EARTHQUAKE
THE DEMON OF FIRE INVADES THE STRICKEN CITY
FIGHTING FLAMES WITH DYNAMITE
THE REIGN OF DESTRUCTION AND DEVASTATION
THE PANIC FLIGHT OF A HOMELESS HOST
FACING FAMINE AND PRAYING FOR RELIEF
THE FRIGHTFUL LOSS OF LIFE AND WEALTH
WONDERFUL RECORD OF THRILLING ESCAPES
DISASTER SPREADS OVER THE GOLDEN STATE
ALL AMERICA AND CANADA TO THE RESCUE
THE SAN FRANCISCO OF THE PAST
LIFE IN THE METROPOLIS OF THE PACIFIC
PLANS TO REBUILD SAN FRANCISCO
THE EARTHQUAKE WAVE FELT AROUND THE WORLD
VESUVIUS DEVASTATES THE REGION OF NAPLES
THE GREAT LISBON AND CALABRIAN EARTHQUAKES
THE CHARLESTON AND OTHER EARTHQUAKES OF THE UNITED STATES
THE VOLCANO AND THE EARTHQUAKE, EARTH'S DEMONS OF DESTRUCTION
THE THEORIES OF VOLCANIC AND EARTHQUAKE ACTION
THE ACTIVE VOLCANOES OF THE EARTH
THE FAMOUS VESUVIUS AND THE DESTRUCTION OF POMPEII
ERUPTIONS OF VESUVIUS, ETNA AND STROMBOLI
SKAPTER JOKULL AND HECLA, THE GREAT ICELANDIC VOLCANOES
VOLCANOES OF THE PHILIPPINES AND OTHER PACIFIC ISLANDS
THE WONDERFUL HAWAIIAN CRATERS AND KILAUEA'S LAKE OF FIRE
POPOCATEPETL AND OTHER VOLCANOES OF MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
THE TERRIBLE ERUPTION OF KRAKATOA
MONT PELEE AND ITS HARVEST OF DEATH IN 1902
ST. VINCENT ISLAND AND MONT SOUFRIERE IN 1812
SUBMARINE VOLCANOES AND THEIR WORK OF ISLAND-BUILDING
MUD VOLCANOES, GEYSERS AND HOT SPRINGS
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALAMITY BY EARTHQUAKE AND FIRE
San Francisco and Its Terrific Earthquake.
On the splendid Bay of San Francisco, one of the noblest harbors on
the whole vast range of the Pacific Ocean, long has stood, like a
Queen of the West on its seven hills, the beautiful city of San
Francisco, the youngest and in its own way one of the most
beautiful and attractive of the large cities of the United States.
Born less than sixty years ago, it has grown with the healthy
rapidity of a young giant, outvieing many cities of much earlier
origin, until it has won rank as the eighth city of the United
States, and as the unquestioned metropolis of our far Western
It is on this great and rich city that the dark demon of
destruction has now descended, as it fell on the next younger of
our cities, Chicago, in 1872. It was the rage of the fire-fiend
that desolated the metropolis of the lakes. Upon the Queen City of
the West the twin terrors of earthquake and conflagration have
descended at once, careening through its thronged streets, its
marts of trade, and its abodes alike of poverty and wealth, and
with the red hand of devastation sweeping one of the noblest
centres of human industry and enterprise from the face of the
earth. It is this story of almost irremediable ruin which it is
our unwelcome duty to chronicle. But before entering upon this
sorrowful task some description of the city that has fallen a prey
to two of the earth's chief agents of destruction must be given.
San Francisco is built on the end of a peninsula or tongue of land
lying between the Pacific Ocean and the broad San Francisco Bay, a
noble body of inland water extending southward for about forty
miles and with a width varying from six to twelve miles. Northward
this splendid body of water is connected with San Pablo Bay, ten
miles long, and the latter with Suisun Bay, eight miles long, the
whole forming a grand range of navigable waters only surpassed by
the great northern inlet of Puget Sound. The Golden Gate, a
channel five miles long, connects this great harbor with the sea,
the whole giving San Francisco the greatest commercial advantages
to be found on the Pacific coast.
THE EARLY DAYS OF SAN FRANCISCO.
The original site of the city was a grant made by the King of Spain
of four square leagues of land. Congress afterwards confirmed this
grant. It was an uninviting region, with its two lofty hills and
its various lower ones, a barren expanse of shifting sand dunes
extending from their feet. The population in 1830 was about 200
souls, about equal to that of Chicago at the same date. It was not
much larger in 1848, when California fell into American hands and
the discovery of gold set in train the famous rush of treasure
seekers to that far land. When 1849 dawned the town contained
about 2,000 people. They had increased to 20,000 before the year
ended. The place, with its steep and barren hills and its sandy
stretches, was not inviting, but its ease of access to the sea and
its sheltered harbor were important features, and people settled
there, making it a depot of mining supplies and a point of
departure for the mines.
The place grew rapidly and has continued to grow. At first a city
of flimsy frame buildings, it became early a prey to the flames,
fire sweeping through it three times in 1850 and taking toll of the
young city to the value of $7,500,000. These conflagrations swept
away most of the wooden houses, and business men began to build
more substantially of brick, stone and iron. Yet to-day, for
climatic reasons, most of the residences continue to be built of
wood. But the slow-burning redwood of the California hillsides is
used instead of the inflammable pine, the result being that since
1850 the loss by fire in the residence section of the city has been
remarkably small. In 1900 the city contained 50,494 frame and only
3,881 stone and brick buildings, though the tendency to use more
durable materials was then growing rapidly.
Before describing the terrible calamity which fell upon this
beautiful city on that dread morning of April 18, 1906, some
account of the character of the place is very desirable, that
readers may know what San Francisco was before the rage of
earthquake and fire reduced it to what it is to-day.
THE CHARACTER OF THE CITY.
The site of the city of San Francisco is very uneven, embracing a
series of hills, of which the highest ones, known as the Twin
Peaks, reach to an elevation of 925 feet, and form the crown of an
amphitheatre of lower altitudes. Several of the latter are covered
with handsome residences, and afford a magnificent view of the
surrounding country, with its bordering bay and ocean, and the
noble Golden Gate channel, a river-like passage from ocean to bay
of five miles in length and one in width. This waterway is very
deep except on the bar at its mouth, where the depth of water is
Since its early days the growth of the city has been very rapid.
In 1900 it held 342,782 people, and the census estimate made from
figures of the city directory in 1904 gave it then a population of
485,000, probably a considerable exaggeration. In it are mingled
inhabitants from most of the nations of the earth, and it may claim
the unenviable honor of possessing the largest population of
Chinese outside of China itself, the colony numbering over 20,000.
Of the pioneer San Francisco few traces remain, the old buildings
having nearly all disappeared. Large and costly business houses
and splendid residences have taken their place in the central
portion of the city, marble, granite, terra-cotta, iron and steel
being largely used as building material. The great prevalence of
frame buildings in the residence sections is largely due to the
popular belief that they are safer in a locality subject to
earthquakes, while the frequent occurrence of earth tremors long
restrained the inclination to erect lofty buildings. Not until
1890 was a high structure built, and few skyscrapers had invaded
the city up to its day of ruin. They will probably be introduced
more frequently in the future, recent experience having
demonstrated that they are in considerable measure earthquake
The city before the fire contained numerous handsome structures,
including the famous old Palace Hotel, built at a cost of
$3,000,000 and with accommodations for 1,200 guests; the nearly
finished and splendid Fairmount Hotel; the City Hall, with its
lofty dome, on which $7,000,000 is said to have been spent, much of
it, doubtless, political plunder; a costly United States Mint and
Post Office, an Academy of Science, and many churches, colleges,
libraries and other public edifices. The city had 220 miles of
paved streets, 180 miles of electric and 77 of cable railway, 62
hotels, 16 theatres, 4 large libraries, 5 daily newspapers, etc.,
together with 28 public parks.
Sitting, like Rome of old, on its seven hills, San Francisco has
long been noted for its beautiful site, clasped in, as it is,
between the Pacific Ocean and its own splendid bay, on a peninsula
of some five miles in width. Where this juts into the bay at its
northernmost point rises a great promontory known as Telegraph
Hill, from whose height homeless thousands have recently gazed on
the smoke rising from their ruined homes. In the early days of
golden promise a watchman was stationed on this hill to look out
for coming ships entering the Golden Gate from their long voyage
around the Horn and signal the welcome news to the town below.
From this came its name.
Cliffs rise on either side of the Golden Gate, and on one is
perched the Cliff House, long a famous hostelry. This stands so
low that in storms the surf is flung over its lower porticos,
though its force is broken by the Seal Rocks. A chief attraction
to this house was to see the seals play on these rocks, their
favorite place of resort. The Cliff House was at first said to
have been swept bodily by the earthquake into the sea, but it
proved to be very little injured, and stands erect in its old
In the vicinity of Telegraph Hill are Russian and Nob Hills, the
latter getting its peculiar title from the fact that the wealthy
"nobs," or mining magnates, of bonanza days built their homes on
its summit level. Farther to the east are Mount Olympus and
Strawberry Hill, and beyond these the Twin Peaks, which really
embrace three hills, the third being named Bernal Heights. Farther
to the south and east is Rincan Hill, the last in the half moon
crescent of hills, within which is a spread of flat ground
extending to the bay. Behind the hills on the Pacific side
stretches a vast sweep of sand, at some places level, but often
gathered into great round dunes. Part of this has been transformed
into the beautiful Golden Gate Park, a splendid expanse of green
verdure which has long been one of San Francisco's chief
Beneath the whole of San Francisco is a rock formation, but
everywhere on top of this extends the sand, the gift of the winds.
This is of such a character that a hole dug in the street anywhere,
even if only to the depth of a few feet, must be shored up with
planking or it will fill as fast as it is excavated, the sand
running as dry as the contents of an hour glass. When there is an
earthquake--or a "temblor," to use the Spanish name--it is the rock
foundation that is disturbed, not the sand, which, indeed, serves
to lessen the effect of the earth tremor.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE CITY.
Leaving the region of the hills and descending from their crescent-
shaped expanse, we find a broad extent of low ground, sloping
gently toward the bay. On this low-lying flat was built all of San
Francisco's business houses, all its principal hotels and a large
part of its tenements and poorer dwellings. It was here that the
earthquake was felt most severely and that the fire started which
laid waste the city.
Rarely has a city been built on such doubtful foundations. The
greater part of the low ground was a bay in 1849, but it has since
been filled in by the drifting sands blown from the ocean side by
the prevailing west winds and by earth dumped into it. Much of
this land was "made ground." Forty-niners still alive say that
when they first saw San Francisco the waters of the bay came up to
Montgomery Street. The Palace Hotel was in Montgomery Street, and
from there to the ferry docks--a long walk for any man--the water
had been driven back by a "filling-in" process.
This is the district that especially suffered, that south of Market
and east of Montgomery Streets. Nearly all the large buildings in
this section are either built on piles driven into the sand and mud
or were raised upon wooden foundations. It is on such ground as
this that the costly Post Office building was erected, despite the
protests of nearly the entire community, who asserted that the
ground was nothing but a filled-in bog.
In none of the earthquakes that San Francisco has had was any
serious damage except to houses in this filled-in territory, and to
houses built along the line of some of the many streams which ran
from the hills down to the bay, and which were filled in as the
town grew--for instance, the Grand Opera House was built over the
bed of St. Anne's Creek. A bog, slough and marsh, known as the
Pipeville Slough, was the ground on which the City Hall was built,
and which was originally a burying ground. Sand from the western
shore had blown over and drifted into the marsh and hardened its
When the final grading scheme of the city was adopted in 1853, and
work went on, the water front of the city was where Clay Street now
is, between Montgomery and Sansome Streets. The present level area
of San Francisco of about three thousand acres is an average of
nine feet above or below the natural surface of the ground and the
changes made necessitated the transfer of 21,000,000 cubic yards
from hills to hollows. Houses to the number of thousands were
raised or lowered, street floors became subcellars or third stories
and the whole natural face of the ground was altered.
Through this infirm material all the pipes of the water and sewer
system of San Francisco in its business districts and in most of
the region south of Market street were laid. When the earthquake
came, the filled-in ground shook like the jelly it is. The only
firm and rigid material in its millions of cubic yards of surface
area and depth were the iron pipes. Naturally they broke, as they
would not bend, and San Francisco's water system was therefore
instantly disabled, with the result that the fire became complete
master of the situation and raged uncontrolled for three days and
Although the earthquake wrecked the business and residential
portions of the city alike, on the hills the land did not sink.
All "made ground" sank in consequence of the quaking, but on the
high ground the upper parts of the buildings were about the only
portions of the structures wrecked. Most of the damage on the
hills was done by falling chimneys. On Montgomery Street, half a
block from the main office of the Western Union Company, the middle
of the street was cracked and blown up, but during the shocks which
struck the Western Union building only the top stories were
cracked. Similar phenomena were experienced in other localities,
and the bulk of the disaster, so far as the earthquake was
concerned, was confined to the low-lying region above described.
THE BANE OF THE EARTHQUAKE.
From the origin of San Francisco the earthquake has been its bane.
During the past fifty years fully 250 shocks have been recorded,
while all California has been subject to them. But frequency
rather than violence of shocks has been the characteristic of the
seismic history of the State, there having been few shocks that
caused serious damage, and none since 1872 that led to loss of
There was a violent shock in 1856, when the city was only a mining
town of small frame buildings. Several shanties were overthrown
and a few persons killed by falling walls and chimneys. There was
a severe shock also in 1865, in which many buildings were
shattered. Next in violence was the shock of 1872, which cracked
the walls of some of the public buildings and caused a panic.
There was no great loss of life. In April, 1898, just before
midnight, there was a lively shakeup which caused the tall
buildings to shake like the snapping of a whip and drove the
tourists out of the hotels into the streets in their nightclothes.
Three or four old houses fell, and the Benicia Navy Yard, which is
on made ground across the bay, was damaged to the extent of about
$100,000. The last severe shock was in January, 1900, when the St.
Nicholas Hotel was badly damaged.
These were the heaviest shocks. On the other hand, light shocks,
as above said, have been frequent. Probably the sensible quakes
have averaged three or four a year. These are usually tremblings
lasting from ten seconds to a minute and just heavy enough to wake
light sleepers or to shake dishes about on the shelves. Tourists
and newcomers are generally alarmed by these phenomena, but old
Californians have learned to take them philosophically. To one is
not afraid of them, the sensation of one of these little tremblers
is rather pleasant than otherwise, and the inhabitants grew so
accustomed to them as rarely to let them disturb their equanimity.
After 1900 the forces beneath the earth seemed to fall asleep. As
it proved, they were only biding their time. The era was at hand
when they were to declare themselves in all their mighty power and
fall upon the devoted city with ruin in their grasp. But all this
lay hidden in the secret casket of time, and the city kept up to
its record as one of the liveliest and in many respects the most
reckless and pleasure-loving on the continent, its people
squandering their money with thoughtless improvidence and enjoying
to the full all the good that life held out to them.
On the 17th of April, 1906, the city was, as usual, gay, careless,
busy, its people attending to business or pleasure with their
ordinary vim as inclination led them, and not a soul dreaming of
the horrors that lay in wait. They were as heedless of coming
peril and death as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah before the
rain of fire from heaven descended upon their devoted heads. This
is not to say that they were doomed by God to destruction like
these "cities of the plains." We should more wisely say that the
forces of ruin within the earth take no heed of persons or places.
They come and go as the conditions of nature demand, and if man has
built one of his cities across their destined track, its doom comes
from its situation, not from the moral state of its inhabitants.
THE GREAT DISASTER OF 1906.
That night the people went, with their wonted equanimity, to their
beds, rich and poor, sick and well alike. Did any of them dream of
disaster in the air? It may be so, for often, as the poet tells
us, "Coming events cast their shadows before." But, forewarned by
dreams or not, doubtless not a soul in the great city was prepared
for the terrible event so near at hand, when, at thirteen minutes
past five o'clock on the dread morning of the 18th, they felt their
beds lifted beneath them as if by a Titan hand, heard the crash of
falling walls and ceilings, and saw everything in their rooms
tossed madly about, while through their windows came the roar of an
awful disaster from the city without.
It was a matter not of minutes, but of seconds, yet on all that
coast, long the prey of the earthquake, no shock like it had ever
been felt, no such sudden terror awakened, no such terrible loss
occasioned as in those few fearful seconds. Again and again the
trembling of the earth passed by, three quickly repeated shocks,
and the work of the demon of ruin was done. People woke with a
start to find themselves flung from their beds to the floor, many
of them covered with the fragments of broken ceilings, many lost
among the ruins of falling floors and walls, many pinned in
agonizing suffering under the ruins of their houses, which had been
utterly wrecked in those fatal seconds. Many there were, indeed,
who had been flung to quick if not to instant death under their
Those seconds of the reign of the elemental forces had turned the
gayest, most careless city on the continent into a wreck which no
words can fitly describe. Those able to move stumbled in wild
panic across the floors of their heaving houses, regardless of
clothing, of treasures, of everything but the mad instinct for
safety, and rushed headlong into the streets, to find that the
earth itself had yielded to the energy of its frightful interior
forces and had in places been torn and rent like the houses
themselves. New terrors assailed the fugitives as fresh tremors
shook the solid ground, some of them strong enough to bring down
shattered walls and chimneys, and bring back much of the mad terror
of the first fearful quake. The heaviest of these came at eight
o'clock. While less forcible than that which had caused the work
of destruction, it added immensely to the panic and dread of the
people and put many of the wanderers to flight, some toward the
ferry, the great mass in the direction of the sand dunes and Golden
The spectacle of the entire population of a great city thus roused
suddenly from slumber by a fierce earthquake shock and sent flying
into the streets in utter panic, where not buried under falling
walls or tumbling debris, is one that can scarcely be pictured in
words, and can be given in any approach to exact realization only
in the narratives of those who passed through its horrors and
experienced the sensations to which it gave rise. Some of the more
vivid of these personal accounts will be presented later, but at
present we must confine ourselves to a general statement of the
succession of events.
The earthquake proved but the beginning and much the least
destructive part of the disaster. In many of the buildings there
were fires, banked for the night, but ready to kindle the
inflammable material hurled down upon them by the shock. In others
were live electric wires which the shock brought in contact with
woodwork. The terror-stricken fugitives saw, here and there, in
all directions around them, the alarming vision of red flames
curling upward and outward, in gleaming contrast to the white light
of dawn just showing in the eastern sky. Those lurid gleams
climbed upward in devouring haste, and before the sun had fairly
risen a dozen or more conflagrations were visible in all sections
of the business part of the city, and in places great buildings
broke with startling suddenness into flame, which shot hotly high
into the air.
While the mass of the people were stunned by the awful suddenness
of the disaster and stood rooted to the ground or wandered
helplessly about in blank dismay, there were many alert and self-
possessed among them who roused themselves quickly from their
dismay and put their energies to useful work. Some of these gave
themselves to the work of rescue, seeking to save the injured from
their perilous situation and draw the bodies of the dead from the
ruins under which they lay. Those base wretches to whom plunder is
always the first thought were as quickly engaged in seeking for
spoil in edifices laid open to their plundering hands by the shock.
Meanwhile the glare of the flames brought the fire-fighters out in
hot haste with their engines, and up from the military station at
the Presidio, on the Golden Gate side of the city, came at double
quick a force of soldiers, under the efficient command of General
Funston, of Cuban and Philippine fame. These trained troops were
at once put on guard over the city, with directions to keep the
best order possible, and with strict command to shoot all looters
at sight. Funston recognized at the start the necessity of keeping
the lawless element under control in such an exigency as that which
he had to face. Later in the day the First Regiment of California
National Guards was called out and put on duty, with similar
RESCUERS AND FIRE-FIGHTERS.
The work of fighting the fire was the first and greatest duty to be
performed, but from the start it proved a very difficult, almost a
hopeless, task. With fierce fires burning at once in a dozen or
more separate places, the fire department of the city would have
been inadequate to cope with the demon of flame even under the best
of circumstances. As it was, they found themselves handicapped at
the start by a nearly total lack of water. The earthquake had
disarranged and broken the water mains and there was scarcely a
drop of water to be had, so that the engines proved next to
useless. Water might be drawn from the bay, but the centre of the
conflagration was a mile or more away, and this great body of water
was rendered useless in the stringent exigency.
The only hope that remained to the authorities was to endeavor to
check the progress of the flames by the use of dynamite, blowing up
buildings in the line of progress of the conflagration. This was
put in practice without loss of time, and soon the thunder-like
roar of the explosions began, blasts being heard every few minutes,
each signifying that some building had been blown to atoms. But
over the gaps thus made the flames leaped, and though the brave
fellows worked with a desperation and energy of the most heroic
type, it seemed as if all their labors were to be without avail,
the terrible fire marching on as steadily as if a colony of ants
had sought to stay its devastating progress.
THE HORROR OF THE PEOPLE.
It was with grief and horror that the mass of the people gazed on
this steady march of the army of ruin. They were seemingly half
dazed by the magnitude of the disaster, strangely passive in the
face of the ruin that surrounded them, as if stunned by despair and
not yet awakened to a realization of the horrors of the situation.
Among these was the possibility of famine. No city at any time
carries more than a few days' supply of provisions, and with the
wholesale districts and warehouse regions invaded by the flames the
shortage of food made itself apparent from the start. Water was
even more difficult to obtain, the supply being nearly all cut off.
Those who possessed supplies of food and liquids of any kind in
many cases took advantage of the opportunity to advance their
prices. Thus an Associated Press man was obliged to pay twenty-
five cents for a small glass of mineral water, the only kind of
drink that at first was to be had, while food went up at the same
rate, bakers frequently charging as much as a dollar for a loaf.
As for the expressmen and cabmen, their charges were often
practically prohibitory, as much as fifty dollars being asked for
the conveyance of a passenger to the ferry. Policemen were early
stationed at some of the retail shops, regulating the sale and the
price of food, and permitting only a small portion to be sold to
each purchaser, so as to prevent a few persons from exhausting the
The fire, the swaying and tottering walls, the frequent dynamite
explosions, each followed by a crashing shower of stones and
bricks, rendered the streets very unsafe for pedestrians, and all
day long the flight of residents from the city went on, growing
quickly to the dimensions of a panic. The ferryboats were crowded
with those who wished to leave the city, and a constant stream of
the homeless, carrying such articles as they had rescued from their
homes, was kept up all day long, seeking the sand dunes, the parks
and every place uninvaded by the flames. Before night Golden Gate
Park and the unbuilt districts adjoining on the ocean side
presented the appearance of a tented city, shelter of many kinds
being improvised from bedding and blankets, and the people settling
into such sparse comfort as these inadequate means provided.
A strange feature of the disaster was a rush to the banks by people
who wished to get their money and flee from the seemingly doomed
city. The fire front was yet distant from these institutions,
which were destined to fall a prey to the flames, and all that
morning lines of dishevelled and half-frantic men stood before the
banks on Montgomery and Sansome Streets, braving in their thirst
for money the smoke and falling embers and beating in wild anxiety
upon the doors. Their effort was vain; the doors remained closed;
finally the police drove these people away, and the banks went on
with the work of saving their valuables. As for the people who
wildly fled toward the ferries, in spite of the fact that ten
blocks of fire, as the day went on, stopped all egress in that
direction, it became necessary for them to be driven back by the
police and the troops, and they were finally forced to seek safety
in the sands. And thus, with incident manifold, went on that fatal
Wednesday, the first day of the dread disaster.
OFFICIAL RECORD OF THE EARTHQUAKE.
It is important here to give the official record of the earthquake
shocks, as given by the scientists. Professor George Davidson, of
the University of California, says of them:
"The earthquake came from north to south, and the only description
I am able to give of its effect is that it seemed like a terrier
shaking a rat. I was in bed, but was awakened by the first shock.
I began to count the seconds as I went towards the table where my
watch was, being able through much practice closely to approximate
the time in that manner. The shock came at 5.12 o'clock. The
first sixty seconds were the most severe. From that time on it
decreased gradually for about thirty seconds. There was then the
slightest perceptible lull. Then the shock continued for sixty
seconds longer, being slighter in degree in this minute than in any
part of the preceding minute and a half. There were two slight
shocks afterwards which I did not time. At 8.14 o'clock I recorded
a shock of five seconds' duration, and one at 4.15 of two seconds.
There were slight shocks which I did not record at 5.17 and at
5.27. At 6.50 P. M. there was a sharp shock of several seconds."
Professor A. O. Louschner, of the students' observatory of the
University of California, thus records his observations:
"The principal part of the earthquake came in two sections, the
first series of vibrations lasting about forty seconds. The
vibrations diminished gradually during the following ten seconds,
and then occurred with renewed vigor for about twenty-five seconds
more. But even at noon the disturbance had not subsided, as slight
shocks are recorded at frequent intervals on the seismograph. The
motion was from south-southeast to north-northwest.
"The remarkable feature of this earthquake, aside from its
intensity, was its rotary motion. As seen from the print, the sum
total of all displacements represents a very regular ellipse, and
some of the lines representing the earth's motion can be traced
along the whole circumference. The result of observation indicates
that our heaviest shocks are in the direction south-southeast to
north-northwest. In that respect the records of the three heaviest
earthquakes agree entirely. But they have several other features
in common. One of these is that while the displacements are very
large the vibration period is comparatively slow, amounting to
about one second in the last two big earthquakes."
If we seek to discover the actual damage done by the earthquake,
the fact stands out that the fire followed so close upon it that
the traces of its ravages were in many cases obliterated. So many
buildings in the territory of the severest shock fell a prey to the
flames or to dynamite that the actual work of the earth forces was
made difficult and in many places impossible to discover. This
fact is likely to lead to considerable dispute and delay when the
question of insurance adjustment comes up, many of the insurance
companies confining their risk to fire damage and claiming
exemption from liability in the case of damage due to earthquake.
Among the chief victims of the earth-shake was the costly and showy
City Hall, with its picturesque dome standing loftily above the
structure. This dome was left still erect, but only as a skeleton
might stand, with its flesh gone and its bare ribs exposed to the
searching air. Its roof, its smaller towers came tumbling down in
frightful disarray, and the once proud edifice is to-day a
miserable wreck, fire having aided earthquake in its ruin. The new
Post Office, a handsome government building, also suffered severely
from the shock, its walls being badly cracked and injury done by
earthquake and fire that it is estimated will need half a million
dollars to repair.
FREAKS OF THE EARTHQUAKE.
One observer states that the earthquake appeared to be very
irregular in its course. He tells us that "there are gas
reservoirs with frames all twisted and big factories thrown to the
ground, while a few yards away are miserable shanties with not a
board out of place. Wooden, steel and brick structures hardly felt
the earthquake in some parts of the city, while in other places all
"Skirting the shore northwest from the big ferry building--which
was so seriously injured that it will have to be rebuilt--the first
thing observed was the extraordinary irregularity of the
earthquake's course. Pier No. 5, for instance, is nothing but a
mass of ruins, while Pier No. 3, on one side of it and Pier No. 7,
on the other side, similar in size and construction, are undamaged.
Farther on, the Kosmos Line pier is a complete wreck."
The big forts at the entrance to the Golden Gate also suffered
seriously from the great shake-up, and the emplacements of the big
guns were cracked and damaged. The same is the case with the
fortifications back of Old Fort Point, the great guns in these
being for the present rendered useless. It will take much time and
labor to restore their delicate adjustment upon their carriages.
The buildings that collapsed in the city were all flimsy wooden
buildings and old brick structures, the steel frame buildings, even
the score or more in course of construction, escaping injury from
the earthquake shock. Of the former, one of the most complete
wrecks was the Valencia Hotel, a four-story wooden building, which
collapsed into a heap of ruins, pinning many persons under its
SKYSCRAPERS EARTHQUAKE PROOF.
In fact, as the reports of damage wrought by the earthquake came
in, the conviction grew that one of the safest places during the
earthquake shock was on one of the upper floors of the skyscraper
office buildings or hotels. As a matter of fact, not a single
person, so far as can be learned, lost his or her life or was
seriously injured in any of the tall, steel frame structures in the
city, although they rocked during the quake like a ship in a gale.
The loss of life was caused in almost every case by the collapse of
frame structures, which the native San Franciscan believed was the
safest of all in an earthquake, or by the shaking down of portions
of brick or stone buildings which did not possess an iron
framework. The manner in which the tall steel structures withstood
the shock is a complete vindication of the strongest claims yet
made for them, and it is made doubly interesting from the fact that
this is the first occasion on which the effect of an earthquake of
any proportions on a tall steel structure could be studied.
The St. Francis Hotel, a sixteen-story structure, can be repaired
at an expenditure of about $400,000, its damage being almost wholly
by fire. The steel shell and the floors are intact. Although the
building rocked like a ship in a gale while the quake lasted, its
foundations are undamaged. Other steel buildings which are so
little damaged as to admit of repairs more or less extensive are
the James Flood, the Union Trust, the CALL building, the Mutual
Savings Bank, the Crocker-Woolworth building and the Postal
building. All of these are modern buildings of steel construction,
from sixteen to twenty stories.
A peculiar feature of the effect of the earthquake on structures of
this kind is reported in the case of the Fairmount Hotel, a
fourteen-story structure. The first two stories of the Fairmount
are found to be so seriously damaged that they will have to be
rebuilt, while the other twelve stories are uninjured.
Various explanations are being made of the surprising resistance
shown by the skyscrapers. The great strength and binding power of
the steel frame, combined with a deep-seated foundation and great
lightness as compared with buildings of stone, are the main reasons
given. The iron, it is said, unlike stone, responded to the
vibratory force and passed it along to be expended in other
directions, while brick or stone offered a solid and impenetrable
front, with the result that the seismic force tended to expend
itself by shaking the building to pieces.
Whether there is any scientific basis for the latter theory or not,
it seems reasonable enough, in view of the descriptions given us of
the manner in which the steel buildings received the shock. All
things considered, the modern steel building has afforded in the
San Francisco earthquake the most convincing evidence of its
From Golden Gate Park came news of the total destruction of the
large building covering a portion of the children's playground.
The walls were shattered beyond repair, the roof fell in, and the
destruction was complete. The pillars of the new stone gates at
the park entrance were twisted and torn from their foundations,
some of them, weighing nearly four tons, being shifted as though
they were made of cork. It is a little singular that the monuments
and statues in the city escaped without damage except in the case
of the imposing Dewey Monument, in Union Square Park, which
suffered what appears to be a minor injury.
In this connection an incident of extraordinary character is
narrated. Among the statues on the buildings of the Leland
Stanford, Jr., University, all of which were overthrown, was a
marble statue of Carrara in a niche on the building devoted to
zoology and physiology. This in falling broke through a hard
cement pavement and buried itself in the ground below, from which
it was dug. The singular fact is that when recovered it proved to
be without a crack or scratch. This university seemed to be a
central point in the disturbance, the destruction of its buildings
being almost total, though they had been built with the especial
design of resisting earthquake shocks.
Such was the general character of the earthquake at San Francisco
and in its vicinity. It may be said farther that all, or very
nearly all, the deaths and injuries were due to it directly or
indirectly, even those who perished by fire owing their deaths to
the fact of their being pinned in buildings ruined by the
earthquake shock, while others were killed by falling walls
weakened by the same cause.
On the night of April 23d the earth tremor returned with a slight
shock, only sufficient to cause a temporary alarm. On the
afternoon of the 25th came another and severer one, strong enough
to shake down some tottering walls and add another to the list of
victims. This was a woman named Annie Whitaker, who was at work in
the kitchen of her home at the time. The chimney, which had been
weakened by the great shock, now fell, crashing through the roof
and fracturing her skull. Thus the earth powers claimed a final
human sacrifice before their dread visitation ended.
The Demon of Fire Invades the Stricken City.
The terrors of the earthquake are momentary. One fierce, levelling
shock and usually all is over. The torment within the earth has
passed on and the awakened forces of the earth's crust sink into
rest again, after having shaken the surface for many leagues.
Rarely does the dread agent of ruin leave behind it such a terrible
follower to complete its work as was the case in the doomed city of
San Francisco. All seemed to lead towards such a carnival of ruin
as the earth has rarely seen. The demon of fire followed close
upon the heels of the unseen fiend of the earth's hidden caverns,
and ran red-handed through the metropolis of the West, kindling a
thousand unhurt buildings, while the horror-stricken people stood
aghast in terror, as helpless to combat this new enemy as they were
to check the ravages of the earthquake itself.
Why not quench the fire at its start with water? Alas! there was
no water, and this expedient was a hopeless one. The iron mains
which carried the precious fluid under the city streets were broken
or injured so that no quenching streams were to be had. In some
cases the engine houses had been so damaged that the fire-fighting
apparatus could not be taken out, though even if it had it would
have been useless. A sweeping conflagration and not an ounce of
water to throw upon it! The situation of the people was a
maddening one. They were forced helplessly and hopelessly to gaze
upon the destruction of their all, and it is no marvel if many of
them grew frantic and lost their reason at the sight. Thousands
gathered and looked on in blank and pitiful misery, their strong
hands, their iron wills of no avail, while the red-lipped fire
devoured the hopes of their lives.
In a dozen, a hundred, places the flames shot up redly. Huge,
strong buildings which the earthquake had spared fell an
unresisting prey to the flames. The great, iron-bound, towering
Spreckles building, a steeple-like structure, of eighteen stories
in height, the tallest skyscraper in the city, had resisted the
earthquake and remained proudly erect. But now the flames gathered
round and assailed it. From both sides came their attack. A broad
district near by, containing many large hotels and lodging houses,
was being fiercely burnt out, and soon the windows of the lofty
building cracked and splintered, the flames shot triumphantly
within, and almost in an instant the vast interior was a seething
furnace, the wild flames rushing and leaping within until only the
blackened walls remained.
THE RESISTLESS MARCH OF THE FLAMES.
This was the region of the newspaper offices, and they quickly
succumbed. The Examiner, standing across Third Street from
Spreckles, collapsed from the earthquake shock. A flimsy edifice,
it had long been looked upon as dangerous. Another building in the
rear of this alone resisted both flames and smoke. Across Market
Street from the Examiner stood the Chronicle building, a dozen
stories high. Firmly built, it had borne the earthquake assault
unharmed, but the flames were an enemy against which it had no
defense, and it was quickly added to the victims of the fire-fiend.
Farther down Market Street, the chief business thoroughfare of the
city, stood that great caravansary, the Palace Hotel, which for
thirty years had been a favorite hostelry, housing the bulk of the
visitors to the Californian metropolis. Its time had come. Doom
hovered over it. Its guests had fled in good season, as they saw
the irresistible approach of the conquering flames. Soon it was
ablaze; quickly from every window of its broad front the tongues of
flame curled hotly in the air; it became a thrice-heated furnace,
like so many of the neighboring structures, adding its quota to the
vast cloud of smoke that hung over the burning city, and rapidly
sinking in red ruin to the earth.
All day Wednesday the fire spread unchecked, all efforts to stay
its devouring fury proving futile. In the business section of the
city everything was in ruins. Not a business house was left
standing. Theatres crumbled into smouldering heaps. Factories and
commission houses sank to red ruin before the devouring flames.
The scene was like that of ancient Babylon in its fall, or old Rome
when set on fire by Nero's command, as tradition tells. In modern
times there has been nothing to equal it except the conflagration
at Chicago, when the flames swept to ruin that queen city of the
When night fell and the sun withdrew his beams the spectacle was
one at once magnificent and awe-inspiring. The city resembled one
vast blazing furnace. Looking over it from a high hill in the
western section, the flames could be seen ascending skyward for
miles upon miles, while in the midst of the red spirals of flame
could be seen at intervals the black skeletons and falling towers
of doomed buildings. Above all this hung a dense pall of smoke,
showing lurid where the flames were reflected from its dark and
threatening surface. To those nearer the scene presented many
pathetic and distressing features, the fire glare throwing weird
shadows over the worn and panic-stricken faces of the woe-begone
fugitives, driven from their homes and wandering the streets in
helpless misery. Many of them lay sleeping on piles of blankets
and clothing which they had brought with them, or on the hard
sidewalks, or the grass of the open parks.
THE CARE OF THE WOUNDED.
Through all the streets ambulances and express wagons were
hurrying, carrying dead and injured to morgues and hospitals. But
these refuges for the wounded or receptacles for the dead were no
safer than the remainder of the city. In the morgue at the Hall of
Justice fifty bodies lay, but the approach of the flames rendered
it necessary to remove to Jackson Square these mutilated remnants
of what had once been men. Hospitals were also abandoned at
intervals, doctors and nurses being forced to remove their patients
in haste from the approaching flames.
There is an open park opposite City Hall. Here the Board of
Supervisors met, and, with fifty substantial citizens who joined
them, formed a Committee of Safety, to take in hand the direction
of affairs and to seek safe quarters for the dying and the dead.
Strangely enough, Mechanics' Pavilion, opposite City Hall, had
escaped injury from the earthquake, though it was only a wooden
building. It had the largest floor in San Francisco, and was
pressed into service at once. The police and the troops, working
in harmony together, passed the word that the dead and injured
should be brought there, the hospitals and morgue having become
choked, and the order was quickly obeyed, until about 400 of the
hurt, many of them terribly mangled, were laid in improvised cots,
attended by all the physicians and trained nurses who could be
The corpses were much fewer, the workers being too busy in fighting
the fire and caring for the wounded to give time and attention as
yet to the dead. But one of the first wagons to arrive brought a
whole family--father, mother and three children--all dead except
the baby, which had a broken arm and a terrible cut across the
forehead. They had been dragged from the ruins of their house on
the water front. A large consignment of bodies, mostly of
workingmen, came from a small hotel on Eddy Street, through the
roof of which the upper part of a tall building next door had
fallen, crushing all below.
FIRE ATTACKS THE MINT.
To return to the story of the conflagration, the escape of the
United States Mint was one of the most remarkable incidents.
Within the vaults of this fine structure was the vast sum of
$300,000,000 in gold and silver coin and a value of $8,000,000 in
bullion, and toward this mighty sum of wealth the flames swept on
all sides, as if eager to add the reservoir of the precious metals
to their spoils. The Mint building passed through the earthquake
with little damage, though its big smokestacks were badly shaken.
The fire seemed bent on making it its prey, every building around
it being burned to the ground, and it remaining the only building
for blocks that escaped destruction.
Its safety was due to the energy and activity of its employees.
Superintendent Leach reached it shortly after the shock and found a
number of men already there, whom he stationed at points of vantage
from roof to basement. The fire apparatus of the Mint was brought
into service and help given by the fire department, and after a
period of strenuous labor the flames were driven back. The peril
for a time was critical, the windows on Mint Avenue taking fire and
also those on the rear three stories, and the flames for a time
pouring in and driving back the workers. The roof also caught
fire, but the men within fought like Titans, and efficient aid was
given by a squad of soldiers sent to them. In the end the fire
fiend was vanquished, though considerable damage was done to the
adjusting rooms and the refinery, while the heavy stone cornice on
that side of the building was destroyed. The total loss to the
Mint was later estimated at $15,000.
Late on Wednesday evening the fire front crept close up to
Mechanics' Pavilion, where a corps of fifty physicians and numerous
nurses were active in the work of relief to the wounded.
Ambulances and automobiles were busy unloading new patients rescued
from the ruins when word came that the building would have to be
vacated in haste. Every available vehicle was at once pressed into
service and the patients removed as rapidly as possible, being
taken to hospitals and private houses in the safer parts of the
city. Hardly had the last of the injured been carried through the
door when the roof was seen to be in a blaze, and shortly afterward
the whole building burst into a whirlwind of flame.
At midnight the fire was raging and roaring with unslacked rage,
and at dawn of Thursday its fury was undiminished. The work of
destruction was already immense. In much of the Hayes Valley
district, south of McAllister and north of Market Street, the
destruction was complete. From the Mechanics' Pavilion and St.
Nicholas Hotel opposite down to Oakland Ferry the journey was
heartrending, the scene appalling. On each side was ruin, nothing
but ruin, and hillocks of masonry and heaps of rubbish of every
description filled to its middle the city's greatest thoroughfare.
Across an alley from the Post Office stood the Grant Building, one
of the headquarters of the army. Of this only the smoke-darkened
walls were left. On Market Street opposite this building the
beautiful front of the Hibernian Savings Bank, the favorite
institution of the middle and poorer classes, presented a hideous
aspect of ruin. At eleven o'clock of Wednesday night the north
side of Market Street stood untouched, and hopes were entertained
that the great Flood, Crocker, Phelan and other buildings would be
spared, but the hunger of the fire fiend was not yet satiated, and
the following day these proud structures had only their blackened
ruins to show. On both sides of Market Street, down to the ferry,
the tale was the same. The handsome and gigantic St. Francis
Hotel, on Powell Street, fronting on Union Square, was left a
ruined shell. This was one of the lofty steel structures that bore
unharmed the earthquake shock, but quickly succumbed to the flames.
Among the other skyscrapers north of Market Street that perished
were the fourteen-story Merchants' Exchange, and the great Mills
Building, occupying almost an entire block.
One section of the city that went without pity, as it had long
stood with reprobation, was that group of disreputable buildings
known as Chinatown, the place of residence of many thousands of
Celestials. The flames made their way unchecked in this direction,
and by noon on Thursday the whole section was a raging furnace, the
denizens escaping with what they could carry of their simple
possessions. On the farther western side the flames cut a wide
swath to Van Ness Avenue, a wide thoroughfare, at which it was
hoped the march of the fire in this direction might be checked,
especially as the water mains here furnished a weak supply.
In the Missouri district, to the south of Market Street, the zone
of ruin extended westward toward the extreme southern portion, but
was checked at Fourteenth and Missouri Streets by the wholesale use
of dynamite. At this point were located the Southern Pacific
Hospital, the St. Francis Hospital and the College of Physicians
and Surgeons. In order to save these institutions, buildings were
blown up all around them, and by noon the danger was averted. It
later became necessary to destroy the Southern Pacific Hospital
with dynamite, the patients having been removed to places of
THE PALACES ON NOB'S HILL.
In the centre of San Francisco rises the aristocratic elevation
known as Nob's Hill, on which the early millionaires built their
homes, and on which stood the city's most palatial residences. It
ascends so abruptly from Kearney Street that it is inaccessible to
any kind of vehicle, the slope being at any angle little short of
forty-five degrees. It is as steep on the south side, and the only
approach by carriage is from the north. To this hill is due the
pioneer cable railway, built in the early '70's.
Here the "big four" of the railroad magnates--Stanford, Hopkins,
Huntington and Crocker--had put millions in their mansions, the
Mark Hopkins residence being said to have cost $2,500,000. These
men are all dead, and the last named edifice has been converted
into the Hopkins Art Institute, and at the time of the fire was
well filled with costly art treasures. The Stanford Museum, which
also contains valuable objects of art, is now the property of the
Leland Stanford University. The Flood mansion, which cost more
than $1,000,000, was one of the showy residences on this hill, west
of it being the Huntington home and farther west the Crocker
residence, with its broad lawns and magnificent stables. Many
other beautiful and costly houses stood on this hill, and opposite
the Stanford and Hopkins edifices the great Fairmount Hotel had for
two years past been in process of construction and was practically
completed. On the northeastern slope of this hill stood the famous
Chinatown, through which it was necessary to pass to ascend Nob's
Hill from the principal section of the wholesale district.
This region of palaces was the next to fall a prey to the
insatiable flames. Early Thursday morning a change in the wind
sent the fire westward, eating its way from the water front north
of Market Street toward Nob's Hill. Steadily but surely it climbed
the slope, and the Stanford and Hopkins edifices fell victims to
its fury. Others of the palaces of millionairedom followed. Huge
clouds of smoke enveloped the beautiful white stone Fairmount
Hotel, and there was a general feeling of horror when this
magnificent structure seemed doomed. To it the Committe of Safety
had retreated, but the flames from the burning buildings opposite
reached it, and the committee once more migrated in search of safe
quarters. Fortunately, it escaped with little damage, its walls
remaining intact and much of the interior being left in a state of
preservation, warranting its managers to offer space within it to
the committees whose aim it was to help the homeless or to store
supplies. Some of the woodwork of the building was destroyed by
the fire, but the structure was in such good condition that work on
it was quickly resumed, with the statement that its completion
would not be delayed more than three months beyond the date set,
which was November, 19O6.
In the district extending northwestwardly from Kearney Street and
Montgomery Avenue, untouched during the first day, the fire spread
freely on the second. This district embraces the Latin quarter,
peopled by various nationalities, the houses being of the flimsiest
construction. Once it had gained a foothold there, the fire swept
onward as though making its way through a forest in the driest
An apochryphal incident is told of the fire in this quarter, which
may be repeated as one example of the fables set afloat. It is
stated that water to fight the fire here was sadly lacking, the
only available supply being from an old well. At a critical moment
the pump sucked dry, the water in the well being exhausted. The
residents were not yet conquered. Some of them threw open their
cellar doors and, calling for assistance, began to roll out barrels
of red wine. Barrel after barrel appeared, until fully five
hundred gallons were ready for use. Then the barrel heads were
smashed in and the bucket brigade turned from water to wine. Sacks
were dipped in the wine and used for fighting the fire. Beds were
stripped of their blankets and these soaked in the wine and hung
over exposed portions of the cottages, while men on the roofs
drenched the shingles and sides of the houses with wine. The
postscript to this queer story is that the wine won and the
firefighters saved their homes. The story is worth retelling,
though it may be added that wine, if it contained much alcohol,
would serve as a feeder rather than as an extinguisher of flame.
A striking description of the aspect of the city on that terrible
Wednesday is told by Jerome B. Clark, whose home was in Berkeley,
but who did business in San Francisco. He left for the city early
Wednesday morning, after a minor shake-up at home, which he thus
A VIVID FIRE PICTURE.
"I was asleep and was awakened by the house rocking. With the
exception of water in vases, and milk in pans being spilled, and
one of our chimneys badly cracked, we escaped with nothing but a
bad scare, but I can assure you it was a terrific and terrifying
experience to feel that old house rocking, jolting and jumping
under us, with the most terrible roar, dull, deep and nerve-
racking. It calmed down after that and we went back to bed, only
to get up at six o'clock to find that neighbors had suffered by
having vases knocked from tables, bric-a-brac knocked around, tiles
knocked out of grates and scarcely a chimney left standing. We
thought that we had had the worst of it, so I started over to the
city as usual, reaching there about eight o'clock, and it is just
impossible to describe the scenes that met my eyes.
"In every direction from the ferry building flames were seething,
and as I stood there, a five-story building half a block away fell
with a crash, and the flames swept clear across Market Street and
caught a new fireproof building recently erected. The streets in
places had sunk three or four feet, in others great humps had
appeared four or five feet high. The street car tracks were bent
and twisted out of shape. Electric wires lay in every direction.
Streets on all sides were filled with brick and mortar, buildings
either completely collapsed or brick fronts had just dropped
completely off. Wagons with horses hitched to them, drivers and
all, lying on the streets, all dead, struck and killed by the
falling bricks, these mostly the wagons of the produce dealers, who
do the greater part of their work at that hour of the morning.
Warehouses and large wholesale houses of all descriptions either
down, or walls bulging, or else twisted, buildings moved bodily two
or three feet out of a line and still standing with walls all
"The Call building, a twelve-story skyscraper, stood, and looked
all right at first glance, but had moved at the base two feet at
one end out into the sidewalk, and the elevators refused to work,
all the interior being just twisted out of shape. It afterward
burned as I watched it. I worked my way in from the ferry,
climbing over piles of brick and mortar and keeping to the centre
of the street and avoiding live wires that lay around on every
side, trying to get to my office. I got within two blocks of it
and was stopped by the police on account of falling walls. I saw
that the block in which I was located was on fire, and seemed
doomed, so turned back and went up into the city.
"Not knowing San Francisco, you would not know the various
buildings, but fires were blazing in all directions, and all of the
finest and best of the office and business buildings were either
burning or surrounded. They pumped water from the bay, but the
fire was soon too far away from the water front to make any efforts
in this direction of much avail. The water mains had been broken
by the earthquake, and so there was no supply for the fire engines
and they were helpless. The only way out of it was to dynamite,
and I saw some of the finest and most beautiful buildings in the
city, new modern palaces, blown to atoms. First they blew up one
or two buildings at a time. Finding that of no avail, they took
half a block; that was no use; then they took a block; but in spite
of them all the fire kept on spreading.
"The City Hall, which, while old, was quite a magnificent building,
occupying a large square block of land, was completely wrecked by
the earthquake, and to look upon reminded one of the pictures of
ancient ruins of Rome or Athens. The Palace Hotel stood for a long
time after everything near it had gone, but finally went up in
smoke as the rest. You could not look in any direction in the city
but what mass after mass of flame stared you in the face. To get
about one had to dodge from one street to another, back and forth
in zigzag fashion, and half an hour after going through a street,
it would be impassable. One after another of the magnificent
business blocks went down. The newer buildings seemed to have
withstood the shock better than any others, except well-built frame
buildings. The former lost some of the outside shell, but the
frame stood all right, and in some cases after fire had eaten them
all to pieces, the steel skeleton, although badly twisted and
warped, still stood.
"When I finally left the city, it was all in flames as far as
Eighth Street, which is about a mile and a quarter or half from the
water front. I had to walk at least two miles around in order to
get to the ferry building, and when I got there you could see no
buildings standing in any direction. Nearly all the docks caved in
or sheds were knocked down, and all the streets along the water
front were a mass of seams, upheavals and depressions, car tracks
twisted in all shapes. Cars that had stood on sidings were all in
ashes and still burning."
Wednesday's conflagration continued unabated throughout Thursday,
and it was not until late on Friday that the fire-fighters got it
safely under control. They worked like heroes, struggling almost
without rest, keeping up the nearly hopeless conflict until they
fairly fell in their tracks from fatigue. Handicapped by the lack
of water, they in one case brought it from the bay through lines of
hose well on to a mile in length. Yet despite all they could do
block after block of San Francisco's greatest buildings succumbed
to the flames and sank in red ruin before their eyes.
THE LANDMARKS CONSUMED.
On all sides famous landmarks yielded to the fury of the flames.
For three miles along the water front the ground was swept clean of
buildings, the blackened beams and great skeletons of factories,
warehouses and business edifices standing silhouetted against a
background of flames, while the whole commercial and office quarter
of Market Street suffered a similar fate. We may briefly instance
some of these victims of the flames.
Among them were the Occidental Hotel, on Montgomery Street, for
years the headquarters for army officers; the old Lick House, built
by James Lick, the philanthropist; the California Hotel and
Theatre, on Bush Street; and of theatres, the Orpheum, the Alcazar,
the Majestic, the Columbia, the Magic, the Central, Fisher's and
the Grand Opera House, on Missouri Street, where the Conried Opera
Company had just opened for a two weeks' opera season.
The banks that fell were numerous, including the Nevada National
Bank, the California, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the First
National, the London and San Francisco, the London, Paris and
American, the Bank of British North America, the German-American
Savings Bank and the Crocker-Woolworth Bank building. A large
number of splendid apartment houses were also destroyed, and the
tide of destruction swept away a host of noble buildings far too
numerous to mention.
At Post Street and Grant Avenue stood the Bohemian Club, one of the
widest known social organizations in the world. Its membership
included many men famous in art, literature and commerce. Its
rooms were decorated with the works of members, many of whose names
are known wherever paintings are discussed and many of them
priceless in their associations. Most of these were saved. There
were on special exhibition in the "Jinks" room of the Bohemian Club
a dozen paintings by old masters, including a Rembrandt, a Diaz, a
Murillo and others, probably worth $100,000. These paintings were
lost with the building, which went down in the flames.
One of the great losses was that of St. Ignatius' Church and
College, at Van Ness Avenue and Hayes Street, the greatest
Jesuitical institution in the west, which cost a couple of millions
of dollars. The Merchants' Exchange building, a twelve-story
structure, eleven of whose floors were occupied as offices by the
Southern Pacific Railroad Company, was added to the sum of losses.
THE FIRE UNDER CONTROL.
For three long days the terrible fire fiend kept up his work, and
the fight went on until late on Friday, when the sweep of the
flames was at length checked and the fire brought under control.
The principal agent in this victory was dynamite, which was freely
used. To its work a separate chapter will be devoted. When at
length the area of the conflagration was limited the wealthiest
part of the city lay in embers and ashes, one of the principal
localities to escape being Pacific Heights, a mile west from Nob's
Hill, on which stood many costly homes of recent construction.
On Friday night the fire that had worked its way from Nob's Hill to
North Beach Street, sweeping that quarter clean of buildings,
veered before a fierce wind and made its way southerly to the great
sea wall, with its docks and grain warehouses. The flames reached
the tanks of the San Francisco Gas Company, which had previously
been pumped out, and on Saturday morning the grain sheds on the
water front, about half a mile north of the ferry station, were
fiercely burning. But the fire here was confined to a small area,
and, with the work of fireboats in the bay and of the firemen on
shore, who used salt water pumped into their engines, it was
prevented from reaching the ferry building and the docks in that
The buildings on a high slope between Van Ness and Polk Streets,
Union and Filbert Streets, were blazing fiercely, fanned by a high
wind, but the blocks here were so thinly settled that the fire had
little chance of spreading widely from this point. In fact, it was
at length practically under control, and the entire western
addition of the city west of Van Ness Avenue was safe from the
flames. The great struggle was fairly at an end, and the brave
force of workers were at length given some respite from their
During the height of the struggle and the days of exhaustion and
depression that followed, exaggerated accounts of the losses and of
the area swept by the flames were current, some estimate making the
extent of the fire fifteen square miles out of the total of twenty-
five square miles of the city's area. It was not until Friday, the
27th, that an official survey of the burned district, made by City
Surveyor Woodward, was completed, and the total area burned over
found to be 2,500 acres, a trifle less than four square miles.
This, however, embraced the heart of the business section and many
of the principal residence streets, much of the saved area being
occupied by the dwellings of the poorer people, so that the money
loss was immensely greater than the percentage of ground burned
over would indicate.
Fighting the Flames With Dynamite.
Shaken by earthquake, swept by flames, the water supply cut off by
the breaking of the mains, the authorities of the doomed city for a
time stood appalled. What could be done to stay the fierce march
of the flames which were sweeping resistlessly over palace and
hovel alike, over stately hall and miserable hut? Water was not to
be had; what was to take its place? Nothing remained but to meet
ruin with ruin, to make a desert in the path of the fire and thus
seek to stop its march. They had dynamite, gunpowder and other
explosives, and in the frightful exigency there was nothing else to
be used. Only for a brief interval did the authorities yield to
the general feeling of helplessness. Then they aroused themselves
to the demands of the occasion and prepared to do all in the power
of man in the effort to arrest the conflagration.
While the soldiers under General Funston took military charge of
the city, squads of cavalry and troops of infantry patrolling the
streets and guarding the sections that had not yet been touched by
the flames, Mayor Schmitz and Chief of Police Dinan sprang into the
breach and prepared to make a desperate charge against the platoons
of the fire. This was not all that was needed to be done. From
the "Barbary Coast," as the resort of the vicious and criminal
classes was called, hordes of wretches poured out as soon as night
fell, seeking to slip through the guards and loot stores and rob
the dead in the burning section. Orders were given to the soldiers
to kill all who were engaged in such work, and these orders were
carried out. An associated Press reporter saw three of these
thieves shot and fatally wounded, and doubtless others of them were
similarly dealt with elsewhere.
A band of fire-fighters was quickly organized by the Mayor and
Chief of Police, and the devoted firemen put themselves in the face
of the flames, determined to do their utmost to stay them in their
course. Cut off from the use of their accustomed engines and water
streams, which might have been effective if brought into play at
the beginning of the struggle, there was nothing to work with but
the dynamite cartridge and the gunpowder mine, and they set bravely
to work to do what they could with these. On every side the roar
of explosions could be heard, and the crash of falling walls came
to the ear, while people were forced to leave buildings which still
stood, but which it was decided must be felled. Frequently a crash
of stone and brick, followed by a cloud of dust, gave warning to
pedestrians that destruction was going on in the forefront of the
flames, and that travel in such localities was unsafe.
FIGHTING THE FLAMES.
All through the night of Wednesday and the morning of Thursday this
work went on, hopelessly but resolutely. During the following day
blasts could be heard in different sections at intervals of a few
minutes, and buildings not destroyed by fire were blown to atoms,
but over the gaps jumped the live flames, and the disheartened
fire-fighters were driven back step by step; but they continued the
work with little regard for their own safety and with unflinching
One instance of the peril they ran may be given. Lieutenant
Charles O. Pulis, commanding the Twenty-fourth Company of Light
Artillery, had placed a heavy charge of dynamite in a building at
Sixth and Jesse Streets. For some reason it did not explode, and
he returned to relight the fuse, thinking it had become
extinguished. While he was in the building the explosion took
place, and he received injuries that seemed likely to prove fatal,
his skull being fractured and several bones broken, while he was
injured internally. In the early morning, when the fire reached
the municipal building on Portsmouth Square, the nurses, with the
aid of soldiers, got out fifty bodies which were in the temporary
morgue and a number of patients from the receiving hospital. Just
after they reached the street with their gruesome charge a building
was blown up, and the flying bricks and splinters came falling upon
them. The nurses fortunately escaped harm, but several of the
soldiers were hurt, and had to be taken with the other patients to
the out-of-doors Presidio hospital.
The Southern Pacific Hospital, at Fourteenth and Missouri Streets,
was among the buildings destroyed by dynamite, the patients having
been removed to places of safety, and the Linda Vista and the
Pleasanton, two large family hotels on Jones Street, in the better
part of the city, were also among those blown up to stay the
progress of the conflagration.
THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE FIRE.
The fire had continued to creep onward and upward until it reached
the summit of Nob Hill, a district of splendid residences, and
threatened the handsome Fairmount Hotel, then the headquarters of
the Municipal Council, acting as a Committee of Public Safety. As
day broke the flames seized upon this beautiful structure, and the
Council was forced to retreat to new quarters. They finally met in
the North End Police Station, on Sacramento Street, and there
entered actively upon their duties of seeking to check the progress
of the flames, maintain order in the city and control and direct
the host of fugitives, many of whom, still in a state of semi-
panic, were moving helplessly to and fro and sadly needed wise
counsels and a helping hand.
The fire-fighters meanwhile kept up their indefatigable work under
the direction of the Mayor and the chief of their department. The
engines almost from the start had proved useless from lack of
water, and were either abandoned or moved to the outlying
districts, in the vain hope that the water mains might be repaired
in time to permit of a final stand against the whirlwind march of
the flames. The cloud of despair grew darker still as the report
spread that the city's supply of dynamite had given out.
"No more dynamite! No more dynamite!" screamed a fireman as he ran
up Ellis Street past the doomed Flood building at two o'clock on
Friday morning, tears standing in his smoke-smirched eyes.
"No more dynamite! O God! no more dynamite! We are lost!" moaned
the throng that heard his despairing words.
A NEW SUPPLY OF EXPLOSIVES.
So, at that hour, the supply of the explosive exhausted, and not a
dozen streams of water being thrown in the entire fire zone, the
stunned firemen and the stupefied people stood helpless with their
eyes fixed in despair upon the swiftly creeping flames.
Had all been like these the entire city would have been doomed, but
there were those at the head of affairs who never for a moment gave
up their resolution. Dynamite and giant powder were to be had in
the Presidio military reservation, and a requisition upon the army
authorities was made. The louder reverberations as the day
advanced and night came on showed that a fresh supply had been
obtained, and that a new and determined campaign against the
conflagration had been entered upon. Hitherto much of the work had
been ignorantly and carelessly done, and by the hasty and premature
use of explosives more harm than good had been occasioned.
As the fire continued to spread in spite of the heroic work of the
fighting corps, the Committee of Safety called a meeting at noon on
Friday and decided to blow up all the residences on the east side
of Van Ness Avenue, between Golden Gate and Pacific Avenues, a
distance of one mile. Van Ness Avenue is one of the most
fashionable streets of the city and has a width of 125 feet, a fact
which led to the idea that a safety line might be made here too
broad for the flames to cross.
The firemen, therefore, although exhausted from over twenty-four
hours' work and lack of food, determined to make a desperate stand
at this point. They declared that should the fire cross Van Ness
Avenue and the wind continue its earlier direction toward the west,
the destruction of San Francisco would be virtually complete. The
district west of Van Ness Avenue and north of McAllister
constitutes the finest part of the metropolis. Here are located
all of the finer homes of the well-to-do and wealthier classes, and
the resolution to destroy them was the last resort of desperation.
Hundreds of police, regiments of soldiers and scores of volunteers
were sent into the doomed district to warn the people to flee.
They heroically responded to the demand of law and went bravely on
their way, leaving their loved homes and trudging painfully over
the pavements with the little they could carry away of their
The reply of a grizzled fire engineer standing at O'Farrell Street
and Van Ness Avenue, beside a blackened engine, may not have been
as terse as that of Hugo's guardsman at Waterloo, but the pathos of
it must have been as great. In answer to the question of what they
proposed to do, he said:
"We are waiting for it to come. When it gets here we will make one
more stand. If it crosses Van Ness Avenue the city is gone."
THE SAVERS OF THE CITY.
Yet the work now to be done was much too important to be left to
the hands of untrained volunteers. Skilled engineers were needed,
men used to the scientific handling of explosives, and it was men
of this kind who finally saved what is left to-day of the city.
Three men saved San Francisco, so far as any San Francisco existed
after the fire had worked its will, these three constituting the
dynamite squad who faced and defied the demon at Van Ness Avenue.
When the burning city seemed doomed and the flames lit the sky
farther and farther to the west, Admiral McCalla sent a trio of his
most trusted men from Mare Island with orders to check the
conflagration at any cost of property. With them they brought a
ton and a half of guncotton. The terrific power of the explosive
was equal to the maniac determination of the fire. Captain
MacBride was in charge of the squad, Chief Gunner Adamson placed
the charges and the third gunner set them off.
Stationing themselves on Van Ness Avenue, which the conflagration
was approaching with leaps and bounds from the burning business
section of the city, they went systematically to work, and when
they had ended a broad open space, occupied only by the dismantled
ruins of buildings, remained of what had been a long row of
handsome and costly residences, which, with all their treasures of
furniture and articles of decoration, had been consigned to hideous
The thunderous detonations, to which the terrified city listened
all that dreadful Friday night, meant much to those whose ears were
deafened by them. A million dollars' worth of property, noble
residences and worthless shacks alike, were blown to drifting dust,
but that destruction broke the fire and sent the raging flames back
over their own charred path. The whole east side of Van Ness
Avenue, from the Golden Gate to Greenwich, a distance of twenty-two
blocks, or a mile and a half, was dynamited a block deep, though
most of the structures as yet had stood untouched by spark or
cinder. Not one charge failed. Not one building stood upon its
Unless some second malicious miracle of nature should reverse the
direction of the west wind, by nine o'clock it was felt that the
populous district to the west, blocked with fleeing refugees and
unilluminated except by the disastrous glare on the water front,
was safe. Every pound of guncotton did its work, and though the
ruins burned, it was but feebly. From Golden Gate Avenue north the
fire crossed the wide street in but one place. That was at the
Claus Spreckels place, on the corner of California Street.
There the flames were writhing up the walls before the dynamiters
could reach the spot. Yet they made their way to the foundations,
carrying their explosives, despite the furnace-like heat. The
charge had to be placed so swiftly and the fuse lit in such a hurry
that the explosion was not quite successful from the trained
viewpoint of the gunners. But though the walls still stood, it was
only an empty victory for the fire, as bare brick and smoking ruins
are poor food for flames.
Captain MacBride's dynamiting squad had realized that a stand was
hopeless except on Van Ness Avenue, their decision thus coinciding
with that of the authorities. They could have forced their
explosives farther in the burning section, but not a pound of
guncotton could be or was wasted. The ruined blocks of the wide
thoroughfare formed a trench through the clustered structures that
the conflagration, wild as it was, could not leap. Engines pumping
brine through Fort Mason from the bay completed the little work
that the guncotton had left, but for three days the haggard-eyed
firemen guarded the flickering ruins.
The desolate waste straight through the heart of the city remained
a mute witness to the most heroic and effective work of the whole
calamity. Three men did this, and when their work was over and
what stood of the city rested quietly for the first time, they
departed as modestly as they had come. They were ordered to save
San Francisco, and they obeyed orders, and Captain MacBride and his
two gunners made history on that dreadful night.
They stayed the march of the conflagration at that critical point,
leaving it no channel to spread except along the wharf region, in
which its final force was spent. One side of Van Ness Avenue was
gone; the other remained, the fire leaping the broad open space
only feebly in a few places, where it was easily extinguished.
In this connection it is well to put on record an interesting
circumstance. This is that there is one place within pistol shot
of San Francisco that the earthquake did not touch, that did not
lose a chimney or feel a tremor. That spot is Alcatraz Island.
Despite the fact that the island is covered with brick buildings,
brick forts and brick chimneys, not a brick was loosened nor a
crack made nor a quiver felt. When the scientist comes to write he
will have his hands full explaining why Alcatraz did not have any
physical knowledge of the event. It was as if New York were to be
shaken to its foundation, and Governor's Island, quietly pursuing
its military routine, should escape without a qualm.
The Reign of Destruction and Devastation
Rarely, in the whole history of mankind, has a great city been
overwhelmed by destruction so suddenly and awfully as was San
Francisco. One minute its inhabitants slept in seeming safety and
security. Another minute passed and the whole great city seemed
tumbling around them, while sights of terror met the eyes of the
awakened multitude and sounds of horror came to their ears. The
roar of destruction filled the air as the solid crust of the earth
lifted and fell and the rocks rose and sank in billowing waves like
those of the open sea.
Not all, it is true, were asleep. There was the corps of night
workers, whose duties keep them abroad till day dawns. There were
those whose work calls them from their homes in the early morn.
People of this kind were in the streets and saw the advent of the
reign of devastation in its full extent. From the story of one of
these, P. Barrett, an editor on the Examiner, we select a thrilling
account of his experience on that morning of awe.
AN EDITOR'S NARRATIVE.
"I have seen this whole, great horror. I stood with two other
members of the Examiner staff on the corner of Market Street,
waiting for a car. Newspaper duties had kept us working until five
o'clock in the morning. Sunlight was coming out of the early
morning mist. It spread its brightness on the roofs of the
skyscrapers, on the domes and spires of churches, and blazed along
up the wide street with its countless banks and stores, its
restaurants and cafes. In the early morning the city was almost
noiseless. Occasionally a newspaper wagon clattered up the street
or a milk wagon rumbled along. One of my companions had told a
funny story. We were laughing at it. We stopped--the laugh
unfinished on our lips.
"Of a sudden we had found ourselves staggering and reeling. It was
as if the earth was slipping gently from under our feet. Then came
a sickening swaying of the earth that threw us flat upon our faces.
We struggled in the street. We could not get on our feet.
"I looked in a dazed fashion around me. I saw for an instant the
big buildings in what looked like a crazy dance. Then it seemed as
though my head were split with the roar that crashed into my ears.
Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one's
hand. Great gray clouds of dust shot up with flying timbers, and
storms of masonry rained into the street. Wild, high jangles of
smashing glass cut a sharp note into the frightful roaring. Ahead
of me a great cornice crushed a man as if he were a maggot--a
laborer in overalls on his way to the Union Iron Works, with a
dinner pail on his arm.
"Everywhere men were on all fours in the street, like crawling
bugs. Still the sickening, dreadful swaying of the earth
continued. It seemed a quarter of an hour before it stopped. As a
matter of fact, it lasted about three minutes. Footing grew firm
again, but hardly were we on our feet before we were sent reeling
again by repeated shocks, but they were milder. Clinging to
something, one could stand.
"The dust clouds were gone. It was quite dark, like twilight. But
I saw trolley tracks uprooted, twisted fantastically. I saw wide
wounds in the street. Water flooded out of one. A deadly odor of
gas from a broken main swept out of the other. Telegraph poles
were rocked like matches. A wild tangle of wires was in the
street. Some of the wires wriggled and shot blue sparks.
"From the south of us, faint, but all too clear, came a horrible
chorus of human cries of agony. Down there in a ramshackle section
of the city the wretched houses had fallen in upon the sleeping
families. Down there throughout the day a fire burned the great
part of whose fuel it is too gruesome a thing to contemplate.
"That was what came next--the fire. It shot up everywhere. The
fierce wave of destruction had carried a flaming torch with it--
agony, death and a flaming torch. It was just as if some fire
demon was rushing from place to place with such a torch."
WRECK AND RUIN.
The magnitude of the calamity became fully apparent after the sun
had risen and began to shine warmly and brightly from the east over
the ruined city. Old Sol, who had risen and looked down upon this
city for thousands of times, had never before seen such a spectacle
as that of this fateful morning. Where once rose noble buildings
were now to be seen cracked and tottering walls, fallen chimneys,
here and there fallen heaps of brick and mortar, and out of and
above all the red light of the mounting flames. From the middle of
the city's greatest thoroughfare ruin, only ruin, was to be seen on
all sides. To the south, in hundreds of blocks, hardly a building
had escaped unscathed. The cracked walls of the new Post Office
showed the rending power of the earthquake. A part of the splendid
and costly City Hall collapsed, the roof falling to the courtyard
and the smaller towers tumbling down. Some of the wharves, laden
with goods of every sort, slid into the bay. With them went
thousands of tons of coal. On the harbor front the earth sank from
six to eight inches, and great cracks opened in the streets.
San Francisco's famous Chinatown, the greatest settlement of the
Celestials on this continent, went down like a house of cards.
When the earthquake had passed this den of squalor and infamy was
no more. The Chinese theatres and joss-houses tumbled into ruins,
rookery after rookery collapsed, and hundreds of their inhabitants
were buried alive. Panic reigned supreme among the fugitives, who
filled the streets in frightened multitudes, dragging from the
wreck whatever they could save of their treasured possessions.
Much the same was the case with the Japanese quarter, which fire
quickly invaded, the people fleeing in terror, carrying on their
backs what few of their household effects they were able to rescue.
As for the people of Chinatown, however, no one knows or will ever
know the extent of the dread fate that overcame them, for no one
knows the secrets of that dark abode of infamy and crime, whose
inhabitants burrowed underground like so many ants; and hid their
secrets deep in the earth.
THE RUIN OF CHINATOWN.
W. W. Overton, of Los Angeles, thus describes the Chinatown dens
and the revelations made by the earthquake and the flames:
"Strange is the scene where San Francisco's Chinatown stood. No
heap of smoking ruins marks the site of the wooden warrens where
the Orientals dwelt in thousands. Only a cavern remains, pitted
with deep holes and lined with dark passageways, from whose depths
come smoke wreaths. White men never knew the depth of Chinatown's
underground city. Many had gone beneath the street level two and
three stories, but now that the place had been unmasked, men may
see where its inner secrets lay. In places one can see passages a
hundred feet deep.
"The fire swept this Mongolian quarter clean. It left no shred of
the painted wooden fabric. It ate down to the bare ground, and
this lies stark, for the breezes have taken away the light ashes.
Joss houses and mission schools, groceries and opium dens, gambling
resorts and theatres, all of them went. These buildings blazed up
like tissue paper.
"From this place I saw hundreds of crazed yellow men flee. In
their arms they bore opium pipes, money bags, silks and children.
Beside them ran the trousered women and some hobbled painfully.
These were the men and women of the surface. Far beneath the
street levels in those cellars and passageways were other lives.
Women, who never saw the day from their darkened prisons, and their
blinking jailors were caught and eaten by the flames."
Devastation spread widely on all sides, ruining the homes of the
rich as well as of the poor, of Americans as well as of Europeans
and Asiatics, the marts of trade, the haunts of pleasure, the
realms of science and art, the resorts of thousands of the gay
population of the Golden State metropolis. To attempt to tell the
whole story of destruction and ruin would be to describe all for
which San Francisco stood. Science suffered in the loss of the San
Francisco Academy of Sciences, which was destroyed with its
invaluable contents. This building, erected fifteen years ago at a
cost of $500,000, was a seven-story building with a rich collection
of objects of science. Much of the academy's contents can never be
replaced. It represented the work of many years. There was a rare
collection of Pacific Sea birds which was the most valuable of its
kind in the world. In fact, the entire collection of birds ranked
very high, was visited by ornithologists from every country, and
was the pride of the city. The academy was founded in 1850, James
Lick, the same man who endowed the Lick Observatory, giving it
$1,000,000, so it was on a prosperous footing. It will take many
years of active labor to replace the losses of an hour or two of
the reign of fire in this institution, while much that it held is
gone beyond restoration.
Back to Full Books