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.
EDITED BY 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 terror-stricken people.
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 terrible.
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 has suffered.
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 unprofitable.
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 States.
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 thirty feet.
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 proof.
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 picturesque location.
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 attractions.
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 surface.
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 nights.
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 life.
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 ruined homes.
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 Gate Park.
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 orders.
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 supply.
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 were wrecked.
"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 splintered timbers.
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 strength.
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 Great Lakes.
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 obtained.
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 safety.
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 Committee 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, 1906.
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 summer season.
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 describes:
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 cracked.
"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 vicinity.
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 strenuous labors.
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 desperation.
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 treasured possessions.
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 ruin.
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 foundation.
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.