The Bancroft Library
Dedicated to the City of San Francisco
CITY OF MANY HILLS OVERLOOKING BAY AND OCEAN, GUARDIAN OF THE SIERRA GOLD AND HOLDER OF THE KEYS TO UNLOCK CATHAY, TO THEE IN THIS HOUR OF NEED I PLEDGE MY TROTH AND OFFER THIS HUMBLE TRIBUTE. AT HIGH-TIDE OF THY PROSPERITY, THY WHARVES THRONGED WITH SHIPPING, THY MARTS BUSY WITH TRADE, THY COFFERS REPLETE WITH GOLD, CAME THE DESTROYING ANGEL. I KNEW THEE AND LOVED THEE THROUGH MANY A YEAR—LOVED THE LARGENESS OF THY HEART, THE ABUNDANCE OF THY HOSPITALITY, THE BEAUTY OF THY CONTOUR AND SURROUNDINGS— LOVED THEE, KNOWING WELL THY FAULTS, THY STAINS AND SCARS. NOW THOU HAST SUFFERED AS NO CITY E'ER SUFFERED BEFORE. EARTHQUAKE-ROCKED AND FIRE-DEVASTATED, THY MARTS AND DWELLING-PLACES SWEPT TO NOTHINGNESS IN THREE BRIEF DAYS, THOU STANDEST SHELTERLESS BUT UNAFRAID. THY FAIR HILLSLOPES ARE STREWN WITH MILES OF DESTRUCTION, THY CHILDREN HAVE FACED HUNGER AND DEATH, THY HOMES OF YESTERDAY ARE NO MORE. BUT BETTER THAN HALLS OF JUSTICE AND PAVILIONS OF PLEASURE, BETTER THAN CHURCHES AND HOMES, ARE LOVING HEARTS, TRIED BY A COMMON SORROW, TRIUMPHING OVER A COMMON DISASTER. TODAY, FACING A LOSS WHICH HAS APPALLED THE WORLD, THOU ART THE RICHEST IN THE FEDERATION OF CITIES, FOR THOU HAST TESTED THE COURAGE OF THY PEOPLE, PROVED THE LOVE AND LOYALTY OF THY CHILDREN, MADE CERTAIN BOTH THE HEROISM AND THE KINDLINESS OF THY DAUGHTERS AND SONS. HAIL, DEAR SAN FRANCISCO, PUEBLO OF GRAY FRIARS AND SPANISH DONS, CAMP OF THE ARGONAUTS, METROPOLIS OF THE NEW PACIFIC—HAIL, CITY OF YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW! I SALUTE THEE REBORN, REJUVENATED, CASTING THE SLOUGH THAT UNWORTHILY ENVISAGED THEE, RISING OUT OF THY BURNED SELF TO A MORE FAIR, MORE GLORIOUS REALIZATION OF THY PROMISE AND THY DESTINY!
THE GRAY dawn stole in peace over San Francisco on the morning of April 18th. Serene and cloudless was the sky; the air was balmy, and no hint of impending disaster troubled the hearts of the few early risers. Milk wagons rattled over the cobblestones; hucksters' teams and market carts were making their way, ere the peep of sun, into the narrow byways of the wholesale district. In the fish-markets the Greek venders were sleepily opening stalls, and a herd of cattle was trampling restively on to Butchertown. The solitary policeman strolled idly along the way, passing a belated bartender returning from all-night service in a tenderloin saloon. A newsboy whistled down the street on his way for papers. Save for these, the highways were deserted.
Five o'clock, and all was well with the half-million sleepers beside the Golden Gate. Families of artisans and mechanics living in homes and lodging-houses south of Market Street were bestirring themselves. Oil-stoves were lighted, and smoke was lazily curling out of kitchen chimneys. Still the vast majority of people were peaceful in the sweet sleep of early morning, when, at thirteen minutes past the hour, the deeps of the earth, far down under the foundations of the city, began to rumble and vibrate. The whole community was awake in a flash. The earth tremors increased in violence, and rose and took possession of all walls, shaking them so that masonry and timbers crunched and creaked and
After forty-eight tumultuous seconds, every one of which was packed with sensations of destruction, followed a bewildering calm. Then people rushed out-of-doors, and the streets were full of men in parti-colored pajamas and women in night-gowns, all calling wildly one to another. A few knelt on the curb in prayer, while the crowd looked vacantly at the quiet buildings as if still expecting to see them fall. Clouds of brick-dust rose from the silent city.
Somewhat dubiously people reentered their homes to dress, a few hysterical women alone refusing to leave the open. But in certain quarters of the metropolis stirring scenes were in progress. The great City Hall, an imposing pile surmounted by its lofty dome—a building upon which seven million dollars had been wasted in notorious graft—was unmasked of its vainglorious show. The massive, ill-laid walls of its dome came roaring and crashing down in an avalanche of destruction. Great pillars of encased brick parted as if smitten by the mailed fist of an avenging Nemesis, and the far-spread wings were crushed in and beaten to dust. Still the figure of Liberty stood on the summit of the steel-framed dome, but the building which had been
In the big down-town hotels, clerks vainly tried to stay the panic of fleeing guests, who, finding elevators stopped, rushed pell-mell down-stairs in their night-clothes. Bricks from the California Hotel killed a physician in the top story, and, crashing through the adjacent engine-house, fatally injured the sleeping fire chief, Dennis Sullivan. With his wounded wife beside him, he lingered in the hospital, powerless to aid, while the city he had guarded so well was burning.
The greatest havoc was wrought in the crowded districts of the poor, "South of Market." An old lodging-house at the corner of Sixth and Howard Streets, the "Brunswick," collapsed ere people had time to escape by the narrow exits. The proprietor was to have been married that fateful Wednesday, and at the first shock of the earthquake he rushed to find his bride-elect. They were but four feet apart when the falling walls struck him dead. She, too, was buried in the debris, but rescuers took her out alive as the building burst into flames. Most of the roomers perished. Out on Valencia Street, between Eighteenth and Nineteenth, stood another lodging-house, "The Valencia-Street Hotel." The house was built upon a fill where in early days a creek known as "The Willows" had meandered, and here the force of the earthquake was greatest. The filled land sank over six feet and the earth convulsions shook the building until it collapsed with a sickening crash. What must have been the anguish of the imprisoned roomers when the house dropped as if about to be swallowed up, and the four stories were
Few people living in well-constructed houses were injured by the earthquake. Cracked plaster and demolished chimney-tops were in most cases the only tangible evidences of the jar, but scattered here and there throughout the city more serious tokens of the disturbance were visible. Rocky soil resisted the vibrations, but on loose, filled land the earth waves rose and fell like the sea. Even the firm-rooted trunks of trees shook violently. At the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Vallejo Street, where the level had been raised in grading, the asphalt was broken from curb to curb, and the ground dropped away a foot or more on the lower side. Many places on Market Street toward the ferry were similarly affected, and a great upheaval and subsidence of the street and sidewalk occurred on Mission Street in the swamp-filled land about the new Postoffice [sic] Building. Street-car rails were arched up one or two feet above the ground, wires were snapped and tangled, and water mains broken. Out on the San Bruno Road the big forty-four-inch supply-pipe was shattered for a space of two thousand feet. Some reservoirs were badly cracked, and the unsupported walls of the power plants caved in. The roof of the Majestic Theater collapsed, and masonry crumbled from the walls and spires of many churches. The steeple of St. Patrick's Church next to the Grand Opera House was sprawled across the street, and its battered clock lay in the gutter.
Old-timers talked of previous shakes, and agreed that even the famous temblor of '68 had been outdone. Yet comparatively few outside the quarters
At first the most exaggerated reports of the death rate were spread abroad. Estimates varied from five to twenty thousand, and every one was surprised at a later date to learn that at most a few hundred had actually perished. A scientist who was in the Charleston and also in the San Francisco earthquake assures me that the former was by far the more severe. Buildings of good construction, whether steel-framed sky-scrapers or wooden houses, escaped without appreciable damage. Yet it was bad enough at best, and without added disaster would have cast a gloom over the city for many a long day. There were perhaps not over three hundred lives crushed out in that moment of anguish—insignificant in comparison with what might have happened at a later hour of the day. But the stories of those three hundred lost lives—how fraught with woe they would be! Here is one of them:
Little Sam Haskell, eight years of age, lived with his mother and father on Market Street near the
The First Day of the Fire
RESIDENTS in the district north of Market Street were startled by an explosion just after the earthquake. The gas works had blown up. Then fire-engines and hook-and-ladders thundered down the streets, gongs clanging and bells jangling. On looking to the south, curling clouds of smoke were seen ascending from the lowlands beyond Market Street and from several points on the water-front. Flames seemed to be springing up here and there all over town, and soon fifty-two separate fires were blazing simultaneously. One by one they were extinguished by the alert firemen, and the townsfolk, with nerves already racked by the terrors of the earthquake, began to grow more composed.
But what means the measured tramp of soldiers marching from the Presidio in the direction of town? Why the clattering hoofs of cavalry hurrying along the peaceful streets? That smoke-cloud "South of Market" and along the water-front was rising higher and darker and more ominous, and at its base could be seen angry-looking flames.
Strangely terrible was the scene on those down-town streets between six and seven o'clock that morning. The fire gained tremendous headway among the flimsy rookeries along the water-front, and in the quiet of morning was forging its way up toward the business quarter. The streets, littered with debris, were lonely and deserted. An awed policeman stood watching the angry flare, the ashes sifting down upon
"South of Market" was in the throes of destruction. Rumor leaped swifter than the flames that the disaster was world-wide. Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago—all were shaken down or engulfed, said report. It was easy to give ear to such tales when viewing awful scenes on every hand!
Numbers of ignorant people believed the end of the world had come, and men and women rushed witlessly up and down the streets. Lost children fled bewildered before the flames, crying for help, yet no one heeded them. One man, crazed with the awfulness of the scene, rushed down betwixt burning walls cursing the fire and defiantly shaking his fist at the flames. Suddenly a veering gust swept the smoke-cloud about him and he was given up for lost. Presently the cloud lifted and he came staggering forth like a veritable salamander, still gesticulating and shouting to the fire: "Burn me if you dare!"
Among the flimsy rooming-houses many were imprisoned by falling walls. Mingling with the cries of the injured were heard the reassuring voices of those who were caught in the wreckage.
"I'm all right," called one man to his companion, "If I can only get this timber out of the way;" and the other answered:
"I'm not hurt,—only caught by the wrist so I can't stir."
Even while they spoke the fire was creeping nearer, and in spite of the desperate efforts of policemen, firemen and bystanders to release them, the flames
Now troops of artillery are hurrying down Montgomery Street with rattling caissons. Boom!—a dull muffled roar sounds from the midst of the fire. It is the first charge of dynamite. The firemen, working like mad, rushing hose-lines up to the very brink of destruction, had suddenly found the water streaming more feebly out of the nozzles. A little longer and it had failed altogether. The terrible truth flashed upon them. San Francisco was without water in this her greatest hour of need—dynamite was the only resort!
While the firemen were thus making their first determined stand against such overwhelming odds, hospital vans and automobiles were speeding hither and thither, carrying the wounded to places of refuge. The greatest number made for the Central Emergency Hospital in the City Hall. This being found in ruins the big barn-like Mechanics' Pavilion just opposite was pressed into service. Automobiles and wagons gathered mattresses tossed from windows along the way, and as the line of ambulances reached the improvised hospital, doctors, nurses, policemen,
The floor of the great Pavilion was crowded with patients and attendants. As people were carried one by one into the room screaming and moaning, an injection of morphine quieted each, and they were hurriedly placed upon operating-tables for emergency treatment. Not a few were delirious from terror. Many had been buried under falling walls and were blackened from bruises. Others suffered from scalp wounds, burns, gashes, contusions, and broken limbs. A paralytic had dragged himself over burning embers and was fearfully seared. Doctors washed burns in picric acid, stitched up wounds and fastened splints on broken limbs. Red Cross nurses were busy carrying buckets of water, running for supplies, and assisting in minor operations. Priests consoled the wounded and administered extreme unction to the dying.
By ten o'clock the policemen outside glanced uneasily at the increasing shower of ashes sifting down on them. Presently the roof caught fire from bits of lighted charcoal falling round about, but a bucket-brigade quickly put out the incipient blaze. Still the danger crept nearer, moment by moment. Ere noon came the warning to leave. Without haste or confusion the hundreds of injured were carried to the line of automobiles, vans and wagons, and in fifteen minutes all were moving toward the Golden Gate Park and Presidio Hospitals. It was none too soon, for hardly had the Pavilion been abandoned ere the crackling flames beat down upon the erstwhile refuge, leaving desolation in its path.
We dwellers in the Berkeley Hills on the east shore
The big ferry bumped into its slip and we hurried through the dark stone building to the foot of Market Street. Up and down the water-front the flimsy rookeries were roaring and crackling. Wellman-Peck's big modern grocery house a block north was enveloped in a perfect whirlwind of flame. The new Terminus Hotel on the north of Market was just igniting, while Smith's Cash Store opposite was burning furiously. In the open street about the Ferry Building were crowds of dazed people, many with bundles of clothes or traveling-bags. They seemed but little interested in the burning city, and were bewildered rather than excited. They stood in the presence of an overpowering reality and seemed unable to grasp its meaning. When, at quarter past eight, another rather sharp earthquake occurred, people rushed screaming from the walls, but in an instant
I hurried north along the docks, hat against face as screen from the scorching heat. Up in the Latin Quarter saloons had already been looted, and people were making ready to leave—bargaining with extortionate expressmen, throwing clothes and furniture out of windows, and dragging trunks, children's express wagons, loaded baby buggies, or, in fact, anything on wheels or casters. Others, incredulous that the fire would reach them, sat passively on their door-steps.
Doubling on my tracks I turned down Montgomery Street into the heart of the business district. Troops of regulars were swinging down the pavement, passing the surging throng of dumbfounded people. Here and there plate-glass windows had been broken, leaving stores exposed, and in front of all such, paced sentries. A company of infantry was drawn up before the Sub-Treasury Building. There was no confusion or disorder at any point, the immensity of the peril casting a spell of solemn quiet over the crowds.
Looking down the narrow alleyways toward the wholesale district, I saw dead horses and demolished wagons amid piles of brick. A two-story brick building stood divested of its front wall, showing all the secrets of its interior to the curious crowd, and, as I passed it, Browning's lines popped into my brain:
|I have mixed with a crowd and heard free talk|
|In a foreign land where an earthquake chanced|
|And a house stood gaping, naught to balk|
|Man's eye wherever he gazed or glanced.|
|The whole of the frontage shaven sheer,|
|The inside gaped: exposed to day,|
|Right and wrong and common and queer,|
|Bare, as the palm of your hand, it lay.|
True to life was this description, but houses thus injured were rare exceptions. All modern buildings of good construction stood practically intact, although on the facade of the Mills Building I noticed that corners of granite and terra-cotta had been nicked out of smooth wall surfaces as if by a mason's chisel. Meeting Weather Forecaster McAdie on the street, he pointed up at Old Glory fluttering proudly from the signal station atop the Mills Building.
"I put it at half-mast first," he said, "but soon after raised it to cheer people." Then he told how San Francisco was cut off from telegraphic communication with the world, and of how he was trying to reach Washington by Manila cable.
The Mutual Life Insurance Building — a modern structure of terra-cotta, on California and Sansome Streets, was blazing fiercely, but no one appeared to heed it. At the corner of Montgomery and Market Streets, the heart of the business district, buildings showed little trace of damage. The Call Building, like a peerless white sentinel, watched over the burning city. The lofty new red-brick Chronicle tower was intact, the Palace Hotel seemed undamaged, and the Crocker Building held its gore defiantly. On crossing Market Street I was stopped and turned
"The city is doomed," was heard on every lip. The ominous boom of dynamiting sounded intermittently. A company of cavalry clattered down Market Street from the direction of the smoke-cloud, driving the crowds off into the side streets.
Then the fire, like a vast living presence of doom, took possession of that great central mart, where, for so many years, the tide of business and pleasure had swept back and forth along the way. On the rear block the Grand Opera House, which a few hours since had rung with the bewitching strains of "Carmen," was a roaring, crackling pit. One hose-line still spouted a full stream, and the firemen stood upon the Market Street curb directing a hopeless charge of water against the raging flames. Walls were crashing near them, death and destruction was round about, but they held their ground until the fire had claimed for its own everything on the south side of the street.
From the windows of the Call Building, faint wisps of smoke were floating. Then in a flash, high and low, flames burst out of the shattered windows of the stately tower, and a mighty smoke-cloud rolled in one mass high into the heavens. The Examiner Building opposite became a terrific furnace, its floors collapsed, its festive Spanish front crumbled, and only a fragment of its walls marked the spot. Regulars
So the fire traveled from building to building, from block to block, from street to street, smoke-clouds belching from roofs and windows, granite cracking and crumbling, plate glass shivered to fragments, or melted as by a blow-pipe, steel plates bending and twisting, impotent to withstand the advancing holocaust. Automobiles rushed madly back and forth with artillery officers carrying loads of dynamite. In vain they blasted building after building, for out of the very ruins sprang the hungry flames to continue the work of devastation.
Many were the deeds of heroism enacted amid that cataclysmic sweep of flame. Surrounded on all sides by the burning city, hemmed in by a roaring sea of fire, a devoted band of employees of the United States Mint, under the leadership of Superintendent Frank A. Leach, and aided by a guard of regular soldiers, and ex-Chief Kennedy of Oakland, fought against the overwhelming odds. For seven hours were they besieged in that fearful oven, choked with smoke, faint with the heat and exertion, yet undismayed.
By similar efforts of small devoted bands of employees, firemen and soldiers, fighting with bucket-brigades, wet blankets and small hose pipe, the splendid new Postoffice [sic] Building was saved (though afterwards badly damaged by dynamiting), and the fire was turned aside from the Appraisers' Building, the Branch Postoffice [sic] on Sansome and Jackson Streets, and the Montgomery Block at the corner of Montgomery and Washington Streets, where a large part of the Sutro Library with its priceless old tomes was stored. These still remain like oases amid the universal devastation—monuments to the unrecorded deeds of heroes.
Shortly after the earthquake the Mayor hurriedly summoned Chief of Police Dinan and other officials for a conference, and a plan of action was outlined.
"It's time to get out of here, gentlemen!"
The air was growing oppressive and stifling. Buildings were being dynamited all about them, and the meeting adjourned to the historic square opposite, where, beside the Robert Louis Stevenson drinking fountain they continued their deliberations. Presently Portsmouth Square became untenable and they moved again, this time going up through Chinatown to the Fairmont Hotel on the summit of Nob Hill. This splendid structure of white stone was nearing completion, but unfurnished, and was supposed to be outside the fire zone. After perfecting their organization, electing a secretary and outlining a plan for a "Relief Committee of Fifty" the members scattered to look to the safety of their families.
The sun wheeled down to the sea, a blood-red ball of ill omen. Night came, but in lieu of darkness there was a wild unearthly glare that lit up the streets as on the day of doom. Still the business district north of Market Street and centering at Kearny remained intact, although the opposite side of the great
Union Square was packed with a motley crowd—guests from the big hotels and denizens of the tenderloin, with trunks and rolls of bedding, all watching the thrilling spectacle as it moved up-town, nearer and nearer, block by block, lighting the midnight darkness with its unearthly awesome glare. The silent rain of ashes increased, and the incalescent air warned the crowd to abandon their trunks and save their lives. The park was left to the presiding genius of the place—the figure atop the shaft commemorating Dewey's victory in Manila Bay—and the flames worked their will, first to the east, then advancing on the north and south sides. The tall St. Francis Hotel was spared until the early morning watch, when it, too, ignited, and was soon divested of its splendid trappings.
Chinatown was ablaze early in the evening and
In every quarter the night was full of terror. The mighty column of smoke rose thousands of feet in air, crimsoned by the wild sea of flame below it. Scarce a soul ventured to sleep. A procession of weary refugees moved continuously toward Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and the cemeteries. Homeless throngs rallied about the great cross on Lone Mountain, and many a footsore, heartsick mother with her little ones leaned against overturned tombstones. From the heights, the calm starlit night was intensely black in contrast to the vast crater, whence flames leaped in fantastic shreds high above the burning city. There was a ceaseless crash as buildings and homes shuddered and fell in the fiery maelstrom, and the boom of the dynamiting sounded throughout the night. Nearly five hundred were known to have been killed by earthquake and fire, a hundred more were missing, and the homes of thousands were blazing every hour. "Your home will be the next to go, dear heart, and mine! Who knows what the end will be?" So they whispered one to another through that awful night.
The Second Day
THURSDAY morning dawned, fair and beautiful, but bringing no hope to the inhabitants of the doomed city. As if dissatisfied with its task, the fire turned back toward the water-front and the Latin Quarter north of Market Street, while another great conflagration was raging amid machine-shops and homes of artisans in the Potrero and Mission districts to the south and west. Here the suffering of the people was most poignant, and hungry crowds of homeless poor, gathered in whatever open plot they could find, watched the destruction of all that made life possible for them.
Nine o'clock found a small party of men in an automobile, seeking a road from the water-front to attend the Citizens Relief Committee meeting at the Fairmont Hotel. Speeding north along the docks we made our way past burning blocks of the whole-sale district where the efforts of the firemen were concentrated on saving the wharves and shipping opposite. Up toward Broadway we found the excited populace hastening toward the parks. Women were harnessed to heavy trunks which they dragged painfully up the hills. Others carried the most absurd assortment of bric-a-brac—broken vases and plaster busts, crockery and miserable chromos in gilt frames. One man was hauling a clothes-basket full of flat-irons—all that was left of his laundry. There was a ceaseless groaning of trunks dragged along the cement sidewalk. And oh the pet cats,
As we looked south, we saw every block in the throes of destruction, but a wide detour brought us to Mason Street. We headed up-hill for the Fairmont, only to run into a cordon of soldiers and fire-engines. Back a block to Powell—and here were no guards! The district had been abandoned to the fire, which had swept the eastern side of the street and was now roaring along the western blocks. It was the only avenue open to the appointed place of meeting, and we raced ahead. Wires were dangling across the way and crackling walls were almost ready to topple upon us. Full speed up the hill, over a wire snag —a sharp turn to right, just missing a dangling loop as we all ducked under! A punctured tire would have finished us, but there was no time to think of that. The heat was terrific and the noise and confusion bewildering.
In a jiffy we were past it, rushing on to California Street and up to the summit of Nob Hill. The Mark Hopkins Institute of Art was afire, and Lieutenant C. C. McMillan was saving the pictures, driving people to work at the point of his revolver when they stopped to question his authority. Artillery officers ran up to us asking for more dynamite, as their supply was exhausted, and our automobile was soon speeding away for more. Furniture was being hurried from the doomed Flood, Stanford and Crocker mansions atop the hill, for the insatiable red monster was sparing neither rich nor poor that day.
On entering the Fairmont Hotel we found it already afire, the window-sills having ignited. The Citizens Relief Committee had adjourned to the North
Groups of fagged policemen came in and ate a frugal breakfast of crackers. Automobiles stopped for supplies of gasoline, and we loaded an express wagon with kegs of giant powder. Men, worn and haggard, asked eagerly for water. Weary women trudged by, loaded like pack-horses. And all the time the black cloud loomed darker and nearer, charcoal and ashes falling lightly in the street.
Suddenly the word came to leave. "The whole block will be dynamited in half an hour!" I stepped within the inner door where a row of awe-stricken prisoners peered between bars. "What is to be done with them?" some one asked.
"Taken out to the Park and shot," was the careless rejoinder. "They're all looters."
The big black police van drove up and policemen carried out armfuls of rifles. I have never heard what became of those peering faces behind the bars. No doubt they were sent with other prisoners to Alcatraz Island, but at that time anything seemed possible. Following is the proclamation handed to us for distribution:
"The Federal Troops, the members of the Regular Police Force and all Special Police Officers have been authorized by me to KILL any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime.
"I have directed all the Gas and Electric Lighting Co.'s not to turn on Gas or Electricity until I order them to do so. You may therefore expect the city to remain in darkness for an indefinite time.
"I request all citizens to remain at home from darkness until daylight every night until order is restored.
"I WARN all Citizens of the danger of fire from Damaged or Destroyed Chimneys, Broken or Leaking Gas Pipes or Fixtures, or any like cause.
"E. E. SCHMITZ, Mayor.
"Dated April 18, 1906."
When this proclamation was being distributed on the 19th, the request that all citizens remain in their homes from darkness until daylight seemed like mockery. They were fleeing for their lives and the homes of thousands were no more.
The Mayor also gave stringent orders to close all saloons, and soldiers were commanded to destroy all liquor. This, together with the summary shooting of a few looters, soon put a stop to disorder. The city was never under martial law as commonly reported in the papers, the Mayor being at all times in control, but the cooperation of the military under Brig.-Gen. Funston gave a martial character to the enforcement of law and order. Indeed the city was governed by an extraordinary emergency administration of discipline. Under the Mayor's proclamation, any person vested with civil or military authority was given the right to suppress disorder by killing whoever questioned his commands, and many tales of swift punishment are told. It is difficult to verify these stories and to eliminate the fictitious and sensational accounts which were repeated and
An Italian on the water-front was seen taking chickens from a coop. A militia officer ordered him to go to work fighting fire. He refused and the officer shot him, leaving him to die in the street. His body was weighted with scrap-iron and dropped in the Bay. A man stooped to pick up a trifle dropped by some other refugee, when a soldier ran his bayonet through him. A cadet in the regiment of the University of California was shot by a regular. The story was told of a man who undertook to wash his hands in some water from a bucket reserved for drinking, when a soldier killed him. A hurry call for an ambulance came to the tent Emergency Hospital at the Park. The Red Cross attendants on answering the summons found a young man wounded, shot in the dusk of evening while walking out of his own back door. The soldier had mistaken him for a looter.
A steam schooner was taking refugees from the water-front by means of a gang-plank of two rough boards. A mother with her baby in arms was stepping cautiously down when a burly Swede behind gave her an impatient push. She lost her balance and fell, drowning with her baby before help reached her. Without an instant's delay a soldier shot the Swede dead in his tracks.
But there was little time to think of these by-plays in the great drama. We hurried out on Fillmore Street, well beyond the fire zone, to Franklin Hall, the Mayor's future office and City Hall, if indeed any fragment of the city were to be spared. The first task was to get some organization out of
A small corner office was reserved for the Mayor, and deal tables were brought from a near-by candy store, one for each of the ten sub-committees. Soon typewriters were clicking and office work was organized. The force of the California Promotion Committee was on hand at the service of the Mayor, and assisted materially in the strenuous work. But the pressure upon the officials and chairmen of the Relief Committee was tremendous. Every one had business of life and death, demanding instant attention. Soldiers, policemen, Red Cross employees, volunteers in the relief work and town politicians vied with one another and with the representative men of wealth and power for a hearing of their particularly urgent business.
The humble task of notifying men of their appointment on the Relief Committee was assigned me, and I posted over the town in an automobile, rushing
The order was given to stop all automobiles and impress them into public service. Some owners volunteered the use of their machines, and went in person as chauffeurs. A few grumbled and threatened to break down their engines. But the automobiles were a godsend in that time of peril. They sped hither and yon with messages, carried the sick and helpless to places of refuge, conveyed firemen and military officers from point to point, rushed the dynamite from wharves to the scene of the conflagration, and in fine went whizzing and whistling tirelessly about the city on errands of relief and mercy.
The army officers at the Presidio and Black Point, trained for such emergencies, were in cooperation with the Mayor from the beginning. Not only in fighting the fire and policing the city, but in caring for the sick, in distributing food and clothing, and in the sanitary measures early taken, the regular army, under General Funston, rendered invaluable aid. The Pacific Squadron, directed by Admiral Goodrich,
Meanwhile the fair city of San Francisco upon its many hills was burning, and the bewilderment of people was complete. As I hurried up the hills men stopped me all along the way to ask how far the fire had come and if I thought their homes in danger. Just then a man with a megaphone came dashing down the street in an automobile, shouting continuously: "Time to leave! Time to leave! The fire is coming—only two blocks away!"
People would say to one another, "Surely it will never burn as far as this," but anon the soldiers were ordering them from their homes, driving them at the point of the bayonet if they resisted.
At three o'clock of Thursday afternoon the only hope left was that the Western Addition, including the north end of the peninsula to the west of Van Ness Avenue, and the Mission district beyond Dolores Avenue, might be saved, these two wide cross-streets offering the first effective break to the fire. Back-firing was tried on Van Ness Avenue as a last desperate expedient. It was a terrible spectacle when all the fine mansions, costly apartment hotels and churches along this broad street were in a blaze. The excitement was indescribable. Bright shreds of flame lept [sic] frantically up, steeples blazed and crackled, walls crashed, while the colossal pall of smoke spread above the doomed homes. A deafening boom shattered window-panes near and far. A blazing building heaved and collapsed, and the firemen rushed upon the scattered embers with the hose-line, for here a scant supply of water was available.
Automobiles passed up the avenue with finely
When, in the late afternoon, it was learned that despite the most heroic efforts to stay the fire, it had crossed Van Ness Avenue, men shook their heads dubiously. There seemed no hope for the remaining residence section. But with the courage of despair the fire-fighters made their stand at Franklin Street, a block to the west, and with dynamite and water succeeded in checking the conflagration at this critical point. For the time being it had been arrested in its triumphal sweep toward the ocean.
But the night was full of terror, for there was still abundant fuel to feed the insatiable flame. Still the crimson cloud swept heavenward—the awfulest torch which human eyes have ever gazed upon. Still the firemen and soldiers fought on without rest or sleep. Still the half-million people, supperless and cold in the dewy night air, watched and wondered. Would it end ere they were all driven to the rim of the ocean? The boom of the dynamiting continued, and the crash of falling walls.
The Third Day
BY FRIDAY morning the outlook for the section beyond Van Ness and Dolores Avenues was more encouraging. The storm center had now moved toward North Beach. The strong west wind swept the fire back over the unburned district between Van Ness Avenue and the Bay, and vast torrents of flame poured down toward Russian and Telegraph Hills and around them in the direction of the water-front. Thousands of refugees thronged the hills, and, as the fire came sweeping closer, they were in imminent danger of destruction. A fleet of tugs and steamers hastened to their rescue, and they embarked at Meiggs Wharf for points across the Bay.
The little colony on the summit of Russian Hill made a valiant stand in defense of their homes, again and again beating out the fires with wet sacks. The steep rocky slopes rendered their position somewhat isolated, but Mr. Eli T. Sheppard's residence on the hillside was more directly in the path of the flames. Mr. Sheppard, a veteran of the Civil War and an ex-official in the Oriental service, thinking first of his invalid wife, had left his home the day previous, and escaped to Berkeley. But an old war comrade, Mr. E. A. Dakin, who occupied an annex of the historic old Sheppard home, stayed upon the hill until all hope was gone. Then as the flames came charging upon the house, he hoisted a large American flag to the flagpole and dipped it three times in a parting salute. Some soldiers stationed below, seeing the signal and supposing the house to be a military
The flames came sweeping up to the residence of Ina Coolbrith just below, and the poetess whom we all love and honor walked toward the sea, leaving her home to burn with all its treasures. Some members of the Bohemian Club succeeded, by dint of plucky fighting, in saving Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson's home, which now stands amid the surrounding desolation as testimony of their prowess.
The fishermen's huts and other picturesque shanties huddled on Telegraph Hill were saved by the use of blankets soaked in wine. Water having failed, wine casks were rolled out of cellars and sufficed to put out the fires as house after house ignited.
While these scattered groups of men were fighting for their homes, the main wave of fire again rushed threateningly right in the teeth of a stiff west wind, up to Van Ness Avenue, sweeping all to the north of the area burned a day earlier. Again the Western Addition, and for that matter all that remained of the city, was in jeopardy. Houses across the avenue began to smoke and blister. I joined the fire-brigade here, as did a number of citizens who realized that the last stand was to be made. The firemen carried their hose right up to the curb, with fiery walls tottering above them. Some of the men had been without sleep since the earthquake and worked until they
We amateur firemen carried the hose and brought wet cloths to hold before the men on the firing line, where they stood doggedly in the blistering heat playing the water upon the roaring walls. Then there was a rush with buckets and wet blankets for smoking roofs and cornices opposite. When the block was finally saved, a great cheer went up from the onlooking crowd, the only one I heard during all those terrible days.
It had scarce died away when we noticed the fire had jumped the cross-street a block east, and was crouching there, gnawing savagely away at the frame dwellings. Dynamite was hurriedly placed in the houses fronting on Van Ness. It seemed just in time to blow up a path along the Avenue ahead of the flames; but instead, a party of officers in an automobile made a spectacular run up the hill to the east, right amidst the burning houses, and there left a charge of dynamite which exploded soon after with a deafening crash, scattering the fire it was meant to check. Why did they not blast the houses on Van Ness and save the Western Addition beyond peradventure? Word was passed around that the corner house belonged to an army officer who was determined that his house should not be dynamited. A half-hour went by while firemen and officers conferred in the streets. Then the order was given to carry the hose up that hill into the midst of the burning block. The stream of water might
Late that afternoon I went along the water-front in a launch, and looked upon the burning city. Despite all efforts to arrest the flames, they had invaded the docks and lumber-yards about Meiggs Wharf. The open roadstead was crowded with ships, men-of-war, and steamers, painted with the ruddy glow that never should be on land or ocean. Awe-spelled throngs stood upon their decks, gazing at the thrilling spectacle. Fire-tugs were pumping water upon the flames that waved and lashed before the brisk wind. Dynamiters were sending off their thundering blasts. But look, another path of fire has swept down from the hills to the docks! Nothing can save the Ferry Building and the wharves, we all agreed. But something did save them—the indomitable pluck and courage of those men on the tugs, the deluge of streams of sea water, the heavy blasts of dynamite.
The ruby sun dipped into its pall of smoke. The Golden Gate, with fleets of anchored ships in the offing, was veritably a sea of molten gold. Never before was the ruin of a city consummated in a scene of such thrilling splendor.
The End of the Fire
OVER the Berkeley hills peered the morning sun, clear and radiant—unmindful that a city, late so joyous, now lay in ruins. It was Saturday, and many a family awoke from the sleep of exhaustion, chilled to the bone in the dewy morning air. Some had tents and blankets, but thousands were without protection, lying upon the ground in the only clothes they had saved. Black clouds of smoke arose from the burning oil and coal on North Beach, and everywhere fires still smouldered, but the mighty conflagration had spent its fury.
What a scene of desolation, where late had stood the proudest city of the Pacific! It might have been a ruin of a thousand years. Nay, even Pompeii or Nineveh or Babylon would not have seemed more ancient. So fierce had been the heat that scarce a trace of charred timber remained. Flames had leaped from the asphalt of the streets, and basalt blocks beneath were chipped and cracked like shale. The very ashes had been sucked up into that fiery vortex and swept away to sea. The wind eddying amid the ruins caught up clouds of lime and brick-dust, but no ashes. Look where you will up the highways, and piled heaps of bricks and snarls of wire block the way. The coloring is of livid red and pale purple, with patches of whitish gray lime and dun ground. Some rows of withered trees or an occasional charred telegraph pole are the only touches of black in the picture.
A narrow foot-path up Market Street alone leads through the business district, and here two silent processions pass in single file, the refugees burdened with their all, slowly moving toward the ferries, and the relief corps hastening to the Mayor's office far out at Franklin Hall, or to the various camps. Express wagons loaded with foodstuffs and automobiles with Red Cross flags flying are also making their way up the winding lane between the brick piles.
Tottering walls rise on either hand, all hollow and crumbling. Great hulks of buildings stand gaunt and defiant. The walls of the Palace Hotel remain, divested of the bulging windows, but the floors have all fallen through, leaving the building but a mockery. The new Monadnock Block, which contained almost nothing combustible, is less damaged, but the adjacent Examiner Building has been blown to fragments. The Call tower stands proudly, defiant of earthquake though marred by fire,—still beautiful and triumphant amid all this misery. The old Chronicle Building opposite is gutted, but the unfinished annex towering beside it is practically unscathed.
And thus through the muster of steel-frame, fire-proof-cased leviathans—the Crocker Building, Mills Building, Merchants' Exchange, Kohl Building, Emporium, Flood Building, St. Francis Hotel, Shreve Building, and others! They stand, but the fire has consumed all inflammable material, and some are ruined beyond repair. All structures of less thorough-going workmanship are unrecognizable heaps of twisted steel and chaotic masonry.
In the factory district "South of Market" is a
The Stevenson Monument remains unscathed, a long row of temporary graves hard by, and a camp of soldiers and refugees round about—a shelter for the living and the dead. Upon the summit of California Street the Fairmont Hotel is the only work of man that breaks the contour of the hill.
Up on the slopes where wooden residences had jostled one another for many a long year, there are blocks upon blocks where no obstacle save an occasional chimney varies the monotony of the shaven crown. The foundation bricks and most of the chimneys have fallen into the cellars, where they lie in company with mutilated bath-tubs or boilers, metal piano plates and battered stoves. A careful survey of these ruins shows now and then a bit of broken Chinaware, or a doll's head serenely smiling, as when loved and fondled by some happy child. Ah, the children of those miles of vanished homes—where are they now?
YOU WON'T do it again, will you, dear papa?" said a little tot to her father as he picked her up after the earthquake. Children found it such a new experience to be shaken about in this fashion, and then to be marched away from their home and to look back and see it burning in company with whole blocks of other houses.
A little girl in San Diego wrote this letter:
"To the Mayor of San Francisco—Dear Sir:
Will you please find my papa? He worked at the `Pleasanton,' Sutter and Jones Streets, and lived at 654 Post Street.
"I am so worried about him that I cannot study.
"My papa's name is Joseph Mathews. With respects,
Hazel E. Mathews."
Upon the trees in Jackson Park the following notice was posted:
|Mrs. Bessie O. Steele, aged 33, dark hair, brown eyes, 5 ft. 5 in., weight 135, slender.|
|Helen Steele, 6 years old, brown eyes.|
|Donald Steele, 2 years old, blue eyes.|
|Supposed to be stopping at Rex Hotel. Report to Masonic Temple, Oakland.|
|W. E. Steele."|
That husband and father, walking from camp to camp in search of his slender wife, his brown-eyed girl
As a special officer of the committee for housing the homeless it was my duty to inspect a large district at the north end of San Francisco, learning the needs of people and helping, in so far as possible, to supply their most urgent necessities. How many of us have ever stopped to think what the needs of three hundred thousand people would be, who had lost everything in the world except the clothes on their backs? Some, to be sure, had saved what they could carry—a blanket for the family, a few provisions for a day, and some trifles or keepsakes. But the majority had little or nothing. Small wonder if despair had seized them! It was to be expected that men with haggard faces, hysterical women and crying children would be found throughout the camps. But nothing of the sort was in evidence. The world has perhaps never seen such an example of calm acceptance of the inevitable as San Francisco presented. The orderly crowds on the streets gave earnest of the composure of the great host in the camps. During the tension of the days when the fire was advancing, people were awed, silent, hoping to be spared but knowing not what to do. When their homes and business were destroyed, the suspense was ended and there was no complaint.
"How did you come out?" was the usual salutation of friends on meeting.
"Oh, I can't complain," came the cheerful rejoinder. "Lost everything, but we're no worse off than the rest."
And this was the keynote to the situation. The
Men and women who had lived in wealth and elegance stood in the bread-line with Chinese and negroes, with street-sweepers and paupers. At one of the camps I saw a lady sitting upon a small roll of bedding—all she had rescued—with two negro servants standing near to wait upon her. Poor thing! she didn't know what to tell those two servants to do, and so they just stood there. Another lady was frying a beefsteak on a silver platter—the only cooking utensil she had saved.
Even in this time of peril and distress many a facetious remark was bandied about, or posted by the way to cheer the lagging. On the day of the earthquake this doggerel was put up on placards about town:
|The cow is in the hammock,|
|The cat is in the lake,|
|The children's in the garbage-bin,—|
|What difference does it make?|
|Cherries are ripe somewhere—|
Down amid the debris on lower Market Street, fastened to a crumbling fragment of wall, was a sign which read:
"Crashed but not crushed. Wholesale crockery and glassware, now open for business at our temporary quarters."
A bill-board company posted this sign all over town:
"WORK, morn, noon, night, and make Dear New Frisco the wonder of the age—one million by 1915."
I walked over Russian Hill while the bricks were still smoking. For blocks and blocks every house was razed. Two men stood looking at a cowering, starved terrier. I took some lunch from my pocket and offered a bite to the dog, but the frightened creature was too bewildered to eat, and ran away, its tail between its legs.
"Say, stranger," said one of the men, "if that dog doesn't want the food I wouldn't mind having it myself. I haven't tasted anything for two days." And from the way those two men divided my lunch and fell to eating, I knew they were famished.
I walked on, when suddenly, out of the very midst of the ruin, arose the strains of a piano. It was the weirdest, most uncanny music imaginable. Some one had saved this instrument and stood it against a rocky bank out of the reach of fire, and now, when every vestige of humanity was swept away as if by the fiat of an enchanter, the owner had returned and sat down to play.
While making my way over the hill I encountered a young Italian walking hand in hand with an Irish girl. I asked them if they knew where to get food, when the girl produced a bag from under her shawl, and offering it to me, said:
"Have some candy?"
What need had these two lovers for more, as they
But to the old, and infirm, the sick, and the mothers with children, the realities of life were bitter enough, despite the mask of good cheer which concealed the heartache.
I found one mother with two young children and a third soon expected, who had walked in the night with her little ones, driven by the fire, the whole length of the city, from her "South-of-Market" home to a vacant lot on North Beach, where a cable-car conductor and his wife had taken care of her. The children were recovering from measles, so the only shelter I could find for them was in a detention branch of a contagious hospital.
The problem of feeding and sheltering this homeless army was grappled with by the Relief Committee and the military authorities from the very day of the earthquake. The burning of all wholesale provision-houses, and of all the leading retail groceries, left not merely San Francisco but the surrounding cities in danger of a famine. The earthquake had moreover wrought fearful havoc in Santa Rosa and San Jose, as well as in other towns of lesser size. Refugees began pouring into Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda, and these cities were severely taxed in caring for the homeless multitude. All the city banks were burned, continued legal holidays were declared by the Governor, and money was practically out of circulation. Plainly San Francisco must live on the bounty of her neighbors, but how prevent starvation before help arrived?
Attention was first turned to the corner groceries in the unburned district. Soldiers entered them and
The California Baking Company baked forty thousand loaves for distribution the first day, but how were forty thousand loaves to feed five hundred thousand people? Swiftly came the response. From Sacramento and Stockton, and other near-by cities—from Los Angeles and the other cities of the South, from Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and the other cities of the North—train-loads of food were despatched. From President Roosevelt, from the great financiers of the East, and indeed from every quarter of the country and every corner of the world came telegrams offering aid. The railroads carried supplies free of charge, passenger-trains being side-tracked for these speeding trains of freight which were rushed through on record time. The generosity of the government, of corporations, of cities and of individuals was in proportion to the urgency of the need. The world has never known so great a loss, nor so munificent a response to the need of the hour. Seven million dollars in supplies and money—the gifts of loving hearts the country over—were on their way to San Francisco. Military stores were diverted to the public use, and the entire military arm of the government turned its attention to the work of relief. Tents,
If the elements seemed cruel in thus destroying the city and driving people from their homes into the open, there seemed the very perversity of a malignant fate in the bitter-cold rain which followed on the Sunday after the fire. All night it poured down in torrents, unmindful of the homeless thousands, sparing not the aged and infirm, drenching mothers and babies. I started on my round next morning with a heavy heart. Surely the people must be crushed by this, I thought. A driving rain mingled with hail was sweeping over the city as I walked up the street. Few were abroad on the devastated highways, but those few were without protection from the storm. No umbrellas, no overcoats or waterproofs, but stout hearts failed not. Every passer-by had a cheery word of salutation. I met an old man swinging his cane, puffing a cigar, his clothing drenched, but a smile on his face as he nodded good morning.
It was unnatural, almost superhuman, this universal good cheer. When I reached the camps the rain had ceased and people were getting dry as best they might. Men had stood all night in the downpour so that their wives and children might crawl under pieces of sheet-iron or tents improvised of blankets or boards. One mother told me how she had crouched on hands and knees throughout the night, a living tent prop, holding an old waterproof over her three babies. She was shivering in a thin waist as she talked, and hers were the only tears I saw that day.
Clothes were the pressing need. I secured an outfit for that shelterless mother and her children; but how useless individual aid seemed where a whole city needed to be clothed! On the morrow a friend opened her spacious home as a clothes-distributing station, and for days a line reaching the length of the block stood at her door. Wagon-loads of old clothes were dumped there, assorted by a large force of willing assistants, and given out. Still the need continued, despite the tons of garments supplied. Of course there were frauds and repeaters among the great army of needy. One woman, after looking about, held up a jacket and said it was all she could find, but a sharp-eyed attendant began pulling out shirt-waists from under her sacque, and extracted five garments she had thus stowed away. Another woman could find nothing to suit her because she was in mourning. Old-clothes dealers stood in line to secure a new stock in trade.
But on the other hand it was fine to see the many evidences of thoughtfulness for others—men who cared not what they wore themselves if they could only find clothes for their children; others who mentioned some trifle, often a pair of shoes, which could not be supplied, and remarked as they went away empty-handed: "Never mind; there are plenty who need things more than I do."
When this clothing station was well established I was assigned to another district to distribute tents, blankets and tinware. Three long lines waited to be served. Blankets were the urgent need, and box after box, bale after bale was distributed.
An Irishwoman, seeing us giving out comforters of parti-colored design, and leaving the blankets for the sick, or for special orders, said:
"Don't give me one o' thim gaudy things; let me have a blanket to remind me uv auld Ireland. We don't have thim gaudy things there." She received her blanket.
A young man, on being handed a comforter, eyed it critically and said:
"Do you think it's big enough for two?"
"Who's the other one?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "I've just been married today."
The marriage-license clerk was compelled to work overtime, for a perfect avalanche of weddings followed the disaster—homeless women by the score seeking the protection of the men they had promised to marry.
We continued giving out the tents and blankets until six in the evening, but with the lengthening shadows came also a lengthening line. I asked the people to disperse and return in the morning, but no one moved. I ordered them to leave, but they stood silent and determined. The line was then a block long, and we were far from our homes in Berkeley. I sent for a soldier, and he came with his gun and bayonet and stood before the tent, but no one stirred from the spot.
Then a sick man pressed forward with a doctor's certificate ordering a blanket. I told him to go inside and get one. Another sick man, pale and emaciated, broke from the line with an order, and he also was passed in. An old paralytic followed, and so it went. Anxious-looking mothers, holding babies in their arms, would say:
"You're not going to make us sleep another night without covers when there are blankets in plenty here?"
"No, no; go in and get one." How could we turn them away! The wind was blowing up rain-clouds. For another hour we gave them out, as fast as people could sign receipts. Still the line continued to form and to press forward.
"We must get out of here," said my companion. It was growing dusk. So we decided to distribute on tally, without signatures. Hastily we ripped open bales and sent people on their way rejoicing. A hundred additional comforters had thus been put into the hands of the eager crowd, when a deputy sheriff appeared on the scene, fuming and important.
"You are acting contrary to orders in giving out these supplies," he said.
I explained that no orders had come to me—that I was simply to use my discretion. He persisted that a new rule had been made that afternoon, and that no supplies were to be distributed except on a written order from headquarters. It was absurd, cruel, impossible, to make these people walk for miles in search of an order, carrying their babies, perchance, and in the end, no doubt, being referred to some one else. But I was in no mood to argue the point that night. The man even accused me of giving comforters to children—a reckless waste of supplies forsooth! It was dark, and a line over a block in length stood outside. More people were arriving every moment, and we might have stood there all night long.
"Military orders have come to close the station!" I shouted. Then we drew down and tied the tent-flaps, called a detail of soldiers to disperse the crowd, and reluctantly left.
Walking down the length of Market Street in the dark was an experience of a lifetime. There stood the
The killing of Mr. H. C. Tilden, a prominent business man who had worked tirelessly as a member of the Relief Committee, was one of the needless tragedies. He was returning from San Mateo in an automobile at midnight when challenged by guards of doubtful authority, and shot dead. Members of the National Guard, who had been on duty during the crisis, were also accused of some needless shooting, but the charge was not substantiated. The evidence is not clear, and probably never will be clear, as to just how many people were shot by regulars and national guardsmen. That newspaper accounts and current stories were greatly exaggerated is undoubted, but the report of the Coroner that only three deaths occurred from gunshot wounds, and the report from military authorities that no one was shot by regular soldiers, hardly seem convincing, as a full account. Certain it is that, whatever deaths, deserved or otherwise, were caused
The first strenuous efforts at caring for the scattered multitude having temporarily provided for the most urgent wants, the Relief Committee and the military officers, under command of General Greely and Dr. Devine, gradually worked out a more systematic plan. Owing to the scarcity of water, there was imminent danger of starting a fresh conflagration, and for some time no lights or fires were allowed within doors. The difficulty at the hospitals in caring for the sick and dying, in utter darkness, through the long watches of the night, can be imagined.
People who were so fortunate as to have saved their homes were obliged to cook in the streets, and signs were posted about town warning all to put wind-breaks about their fires. In the gutter before each door an open kitchen was improvised. At first, pieces of sheet-iron were supported on bricks, but as time wore on, people moved old stoves into the street, surrounding them with screens made of window-shutters, bill-boards, or cloth attached to frames. All cooking was done on the curb, and many facetious signs appeared on the sides of these street-kitchens. One was the "Bon Ton Beanery"; another bore the inscription, "Cafe Fiesta, open all night. Meals $2 up." One little fireplace had a board wind-break to the west, upon which was printed: "Notice—A Branch of the Fairmont Hotel in Here." Another kitchen was labeled "Skidoo Cafe—Wanted, a boy to brush flies off the guests." "Red Cross Buns" were advertised upon one board shack, and "Camp Quaker" was printed upon another. A shingled hut no bigger than a dog-kennel
There were grave fears of an epidemic. Sewer- and water-pipes were badly cracked and there was constant danger of sewage leaking into the drinking water. Accordingly warning was early given to boil all drinking water. In my daily rounds I repeated this order at every camp. One Irishwoman seemed surprised at the suggestion.
"And so we must boil all the water we drink?" she questioned.
"Yes, every drop," I replied with emphasis.
"And must we boil the water we cook in, too?" she continued.
As I left, her neighbor was trying to explain to her why this latter was an unnecessary precaution.
Public latrines were speedily built at frequent intervals throughout the city. As early as the second or third day notices were posted directing property owners to carry all garbage and refuse to the street curb or edge of the camp. The garbage crematory had been destroyed, so all refuse had to be either cremated in the street or carted off to scows which dumped it into the sea. When the condition of the water supply became worse, even more precautions were taken. No milk could be sold or distributed until
The city at the same time presented to the world a most impressive object lesson in temperance. The edict against the sale of liquor was enforced with military impartiality. All saloon licenses were revoked, and crime disappeared. From a city notorious for its saloons, San Francisco became in a day a municipality where no intoxicating liquor was dispensed. It was not the place for criminals, toughs or cowards, and they speedily decamped. It is no idle boast to say that today, less than a month after the devastating fire, San Francisco is the most law-abiding, the most orderly and the most healthful city in the land, and that it has been all this ever since the end of the disaster.
The Spirit of the People
THE REBUILDING of San Francisco is a tale of the future, but it had its inception in the very midst of the conflagration. Never before has the myth of the Phoenix had such impressive realization. The indomitable spirit seemed to permeate all classes. It appeared in the most surprising ways. A bartender from one of the notorious dives worked for several days at sorting and distributing clothes. He told me he believed this calamity would work a great moral reform throughout the city, and his was no emotional clap-trap. He was the father of five children.
An artist widely known beyond the Pacific Coast, finding his pictures burned, his home gone, his means of livelihood taken from him, started out to find work. The only job he chanced upon was handling freight on the water-front. He was physically disqualified for such labor, but he could at least do his best. When he reported for work, however, the place was already filled, and a day later he was in an architect's office drafting plans for the new San Francisco.
William Keith, honored as the foremost landscape painter of the West, crossed the Bay from his Berkeley home on the morning of the earthquake and tried to reach his studio, but failed. During the afternoon a party of friends went to his rooms and saved his great collection of canvases, nearly two thousand in number, carrying them in an express wagon to a home on California Street. Here, a day later, all but twenty-six were burned. When Mr. Keith became
But of the many instances of indomitable resolution, none touched me more than that afforded by a little group of scientists who had for years made the California Academy of Sciences known throughout the civilized world. Early on the morning of the earthquake Mr. Leverett M. Loomis, the Director of the Museum, arrived at the Academy with several of the curators and assistants. Finding the elevated bridge to the working departments torn asunder, they hastened down to the rear building. The marble slabs of the Museum stairway had also been shattered by the earthquake, but undismayed, the little party climbed to the sixth floor by clinging to the banisters and metal framings. Miss Alice Eastwood, the botanist, lowered type specimens of plants down the light-well while the others saved the most important records of the institution and a few of the rarest treasures.
Mr. Loomis worked with a will in selecting and carrying down these invaluable documents and specimens. On the floor below was the pride of his life—the great study collection of birds, collected through many years of patient toil. Not till the very last, when the building was surrounded on three sides by fire and the air was hot and stifling, did he go to this room. Quietly he opened case after case, taking out the rarest specimens
"Hurrah for the New Academy!"
Miss Eastwood had secured an express wagon, into which the rescued specimens, books and records were loaded—all that was saved of the accumulated store of fifty years! These she carried to her own home, but the fire followed. With the help of friends she removed them by hand to the summit of Russian Hill. Again the relentless pursuer drew near, and they were taken to Fort Mason, where they remained until the danger was over.
But Mr. Loomis was less fortunate with the birds which he took to his home. Here also the insatiate flames followed. Securing a wheel-chair, he had barely time to save his father, a helpless paralytic, and the birds had to be abandoned. But scarcely had the fire died away ere a temporary office had been secured, and here the Curator of the Museum went to work, planning for new work, new books and collections, and a new and better building to house them.
On the morning following the earthquake, the
Bank clerks, while their vaults were too hot to open, went into the street and cleared away the bricks. Men of wealth who had suffered enormous losses, neglected all private business and thought only of their civic duties. Women forgot that they were homeless while caring for others more unfortunate than themselves.
And this is the spirit of the new San Francisco. It rises above misfortune; it grows great through disaster; it expands to the immeasurable needs of the hour. We who have suffered all things will dare and do all things: this is the temper of the people. Ten square miles in ruins—ten square miles out of the heart of the most populous city of the Pacific—its banks, office buildings, warehouses, factories, churches, libraries, museums, homes, incinerated—nothing left but broken brick and scrap-iron throughout all those desolate wastes of hill and plain,—and the spirit of the people not merely unbroken, but exalted, enthused with the will to do and to serve! If
It would be idle now to prophesy the future city. Weeks have elapsed, yet the banks have not ventured to open their vaults, and insurance companies are still trying to figure up their two-hundred-million-dollar loss. Twice that sum would probably not suffice to replace the property destroyed. Immediate relief has been furnished with a prodigal hand, but the current of life cannot be at once restored to its normal channels. Not a soul within hail of San Francisco but has suffered loss. Who needs shop-girls and clerks when there are no stores? Who is going to buy pictures now? Who will pay the musicians when theaters and cafes are with the wreckage? Who will employ cooks and waiters when hotels are demolished and families are camping in tents? Not a law library remains in San Francisco. How many lawyers are needed when business men are busy caring for the relief of the hungry? And even doctors are at a discount, for the open-air life and absorption in other people's troubles have given good health to all.
Architects, builders, mechanics, masons, carpenters and laborers will have more than enough to do, and as money finds its way into circulation once more, conditions will readjust themselves. Meanwhile there will be many weary months to test the patience, the endurance, the fortitude of people without homes and deprived of their means of livelihood.
By a strange good fortune the Burnham plans for the architectural improvement of San Francisco were just completed, and a book of detailed description was ready for distribution at the time of the disaster. It was surprising to find people remarking at the very
To be sure, as men are coming to feel the pinch and count the cost, they speak of the bare necessities for the present. But these necessities include wider streets to prevent the spread of fire, contour roads to make the steep hills more accessible, reservoirs on the various hills, surrounded with park areas to protect them, and an extension of the fire limits, insuring buildings of better construction in a large section of the town. Thus, even from utilitarian motives, the new San Francisco will be a better built and a more beautiful city than the old.
Of cities as of men is it true that there is a destiny that guides their ends, rough-hew them how we will. Beside the Golden Gate, with one of the world's most perfect harbors bearing the commerce of the Orient to its wharves, the metropolis of all the trans-Rocky Mountain region, San Francisco could not be destroyed. It would rise to preeminence in spite of all adversities. But with men and women tried as these have been, tested and proved by such a calamity, who rise even while their city is burning and say, "We will rebuild it better than before"—with such men and women to grapple with this mighty task there can be but one result. Earthquake has shaken them, fire has done its worst; but out of the chaos, order is growing; out of the heaps of brick will rise stately buildings; and out of the suffering hearts will rise courage and tenderness, loyalty, and the spirit of brotherhood. It is worth the cost. Let us thank God for such calamities when they bring us such rewards.
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
Title: San Francisco through earthquake and fire
By: Keeler, Charles Augustus, 1871-1937, Paul Elder and Company.
Contributing Institution: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000; http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
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