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Sydney Tyler.

San Francisco's great disaster; a full account of the recent terrible destruction of life and property by earthquake, fire and volcano in California and at Vesuvius .. online

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gave way to despair. All the camps were little more than
pools of water. Horses straining with loaded provision
wagons slipped in the treacherous mud, soggy tents, drip-
ping inmates, everywhere a murky blanket of mingled smoke
and moisture ; these were a trinity of misery and wretched-
ness.

The people, in utter abandon, seemed ih thousands of
cases to be overcome by stupor. Men and women were to
be seen crowded about the tiny fires in their tents, cough-
ing and choking from the heavy smoke. Nervous energy
seemed to have vanished. Bitterness, complaining, sullen
anger, had succeeded bravery and faith and hope.

In almost every tent a fire was burning. Coflfee, half
heated, was drunk without enjoyment, soggy food eaten
methodically. Tobacco, which was the sole sustainer of
thousands of men until relief came, had lost its flavor.
Nothing, save the shining of the sun, could help.

And here is one of the remarkable things about the
people who withstood so bravely the calamity. While there
was a call for action they responded magnificently, but with
this dull, uneventful day, they almost gave up hope.

Thousands of delicately nurtured women suffered in-
describable sufferings ; thousands of strong men broke down
completely. Nothing could be done to aid them and it
was the most hopeless day San Francisco had ever endured.

8UFFERINQ IN H08PITAL8.

In the hospitals the suffering was horrible. Whatever



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1 82 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

could be had was sent to these institutions and given women
and children. The homeless were housed in chill and cheer-
less churches, in garages and bams and those who had
saved their homes were called upon to take care of the un-
fortunates exposed to the storm. With few exceptions
those who had hornes responded readily to the new call
made upon them and where they did not, the butt ends
of rifles quickly forced a way through inhospitable doors.
While the storm added to the difficulties of the general
committee, especially of those having in charge the care of
the sick, the sanitation of the city and the housing of the
homeless, it was a spur to even greater efforts to bring
order out of the chaos prevailing. Regular shelter tents
were provided as well as cots standing off the ground. It
was realized that these provisions were imperative, as much
so as the providing of food.

The rain started at midnight and until 3 o'clock in the
morning it poured and drizzled at intervals, while a high
wind added a melancholy accompaniment, howling and
sighing about the buildings in the burned district. For
three hours it ceased and hope was beginning to revive,
but as the sun sent forth its first warm rays, they were
swallowed in the dull clouds again and the blinding sheets
came down once more. All through the day it continued
at intervals.

MAN PLEADS FOR CHILDREN.

One instance of suffering tells all the pitiful stories.

About 4 o'clock, when the rain had been falling heavily
for an hour, a middle-aged man, white faced in his distress
and fatigue, appeared at the headquarters of the Greneral
Committee. He had walked two miles from his camping



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 183

place in the park to make an appeal for his suffering wife
and little ones. As he told of their distress, tears coursed
down his chedcs. His wife and children were, he said,
without covering other than a sheeting overhead, and were
lying on the naked ground, their bodies protected only by
a quilt and blanket, which of his household bedding were
all he had managed to save. These had quickly been soaked
and while unwilling to complain on his own account, he
could not bear to listen to the wails of his loved ones and
had tramped all the way from his camping place to the
committee headquarters in the hope that there he might
find some means of getting his family under shelter.

The condition of the 5,000 persons encamped in Jef-
ferson Square was terrible. Not more than five per cent,
had even an army tent, and makeshifts were constructed of
carpets, bed sheets and every imaginable substance. They
were inadequate to keep out the heavy rain. Houses were
requisitioned for these people as fast as possible.

The St. Paul Lutheran Church, near Jefferson Square,
was utilized as an emergency hospital. In the main audi-
torium about forty-five patients were lying on mattresses
spread on the floor. There were nineteen physicians and
twenty-nine nurses employed. The patients were mostly
suffering from exhaustion, nervous strain or slight wounds.

At Fort Mason there was little misery on account of
the cold rain. About 8,000 persons encamped there and on
account of the sandy and sloping ground sanitation was not
bad. Food was plentiful and of a fair variety. The health
of the refugees at this place was as good as could be ex-
pected under the circumstances.



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184 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

SYSTEM IN FEEDING HOMELESS.

Homeless people were fed in a systematic manner.
From the water front, where the boat loads of provisions
docked, there was an endless procession of carts and drays
carrying food to the scores of sub-stations established
throughout the city and the parks. At these stations food
and drink, comprising bread, prepared meats and canned
goods, milk and a limited amount of hot coffee and even
fruit were served to all those who applied. About 1500
tons of provisions were moved daily from the water front. '

The Committee on Feeding the Hungry reported the
most satisfactory progress in the huge task and established
fifty-two places, where the hungry secured food.

The Committee of the Whole designated a sub-commit-
tee of seven which directed the relief work so far as food
was concerned. Dr. Vorsanger was chairman. The head-
quarters of the bureau were in the City Hall at Bush and
Fillmore Streets.

From all i>oints, news of approaching relief trains
came in, and by Monday night sufficient provisions had ac-
cumulated at the Oakland pier to supply the needs of the city
for more than a week. Plain food of every description was
plentiful and luxuries began to arrive. A coffee famine was
threatened, but fresh consignments of this stimulant were
distributed from almost every food depot.

There was an abundance of meats for stewing, tliough
all the finer cuts were used at the hospitals. Immense cat-
tle trains rolled northward from the prairies of the south-
west and chickens and eggs came from nearby towns. The
most pressing need was for vegetables.

The lines of applicants at the various food stations



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 187

were blocks long. Every one received rations for a srnglc
person as many times a day as he asked. Volunteer dis-
tributors issued the provisions under military protection.

The committee secured two main warehouses, and all
provisions, as they reached the piers, were carted there.
These were the J. A. Folger Building, Spear and Howard
Streets, which stands intact, though in the burned area, and
the Moulder Schoolhouse, Page and Gough Street, which
supplied that part of the residence quarter spared by the
conflagration. Depots for Government supplies were at the
Presidio, the Folsom Street dock and Fort Mason.

Large supplies of blankets, tentings and other material,
to provide coverings for those who were scantily supplied, •
reached the supply stations rapidly. Barracks were com-
pleted at several points and in these many people found com-
fort and shelter against the inclemencies of the weathei.
The situation in the congested camps, such as Golden Gate
Park and the various public squares through the city, was
considerably relieved by the departure of many people for
points on the other side of the bay, after Sunday.

CHINESE SUFFER SEVERELY.

Among the refugees suffering the most severely were
the Chinese. These fled from their caverns in the winding
Chinatown with the first shock of the quake and the soldiers
afterwards refused to let any enter the blazing district.
Consequently few carried away any of their possessions, and
as the holdings of the wealthier class were almost entirely
in real estate or in their business places and homes, all are
destitute.

Although provided for in the distribution of food, they
could obtain no shelter. For the first two days all racial



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1 88 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

distinctions were forgotten in the wild scramble for safety,
but when order had been somewhat restored the Califor-
nian's natural antipathy for the Chinaman reasserted itself.
Even before the fire they were restricted almost en-
tirely to the narrow confines of Qiinatown. At first they
were scarcely remembered in the matter of shelter, but a
permanent sanitary camp for them was finally established
in the blocks bounded, by Franklin and Octavia, Chestnut
and Bay Streets. It was laid out and constructed under the
direction of the army engineers and the Government sup-
plied 4000 shelter tents for the purpose.

RACE TRACK A CAMP.

Shellmound Park, at Emeryville, a few miles outside
the city, and the race track, were transformed into one big
camp for refugees. The cooks of the race track and restau-
rants worked night and day providing food for the homeless
who found shelter in the sheds and some of the track bams.
Hundreds of track followers were shipped from Emeryville
to outside points, and the horsemen who saved any money
divided with the less fortunate. John Lyons, a bookmaker!
drew $7000 from one of the San Francisco banks before it
closed and provided living expenses for many of the track
followers left penniless.

For the first time since the earthquake, the refugees
had plenty of substantial food on Sunday. They were
no longer obliged to subsist upon bread and canned stuff
entirely, as they had been during the previous days of their
trying experiences, but were given hot coffee, canned meats
and even cakes and oranges. Oranges came in plentiful
supply from Southern California, and the sight of Cali-



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 189

fornia's famous product was everywhere hailed with dft-
light.

The gaunt spectre of starvation was banished by th^
magnificent response of the people of California in partic-
ular and by the entire nation in general to the appeals that
went out for assistance. Food by the carload and boat-
load poured into Oakland on Monday, in sufficient quanti-
ties to overwhelm the committees which had in charge its
distribution. So great was the volume of foodstuffs
brought into the general depot at Oakland Mole that the
general committee made an appeal for skilled labor in
handling of these supplies. Grocers, butchers and commis-
sion men were requested to secure men familiar with the
handling of foodstuffs in order that the distribution at the
scores of stations established might go on without con-
fusion.

It must not be understood by the charitable people of the
country that there was a surfeit of food for the sufferers.
While the supply was abundant, it will be well for the
public to remember that the homeless thousands had to
be fed and cared for by the organized relief committee for
an indefinite period. It was desired, therefore, that contri-
butions be continued everywhere until the people who had
been rendered helpless and destitute by the city's misfor-
tune could care for themselves.

There was no danger of a water famine, but the
scarcity of water was causing great inconvenience. About
two-thirds of the section of the city which was not burned
was supplied with sufficient water for pressing domestic
needs, but, of course, there was not enough to be had for
fire-fighting purposes. Because of this fact, the most
stringent orders were- issued by the military and civil au-



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190 SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.

thorities that no fires should be built within any house,
and no lights, not even a candle light, could be shown at
night in the houses. All cooking had to be done on the
sidewalks or in the open streets and in daylight.

The banks, housed in tents or in modem buildings
which were seared but not destroyed by the fire, opened
for business on Monday. The loss of their vaults was
slight ; they were ready to pay all reasonable claims. There
had been a shortage of ready money. People of means,
unable to realize on checks, had been as poor as the poorest.

WORK OF RELIEF SOON UNDER WAY.

The work of feeding the hungry and sheltering the
homeless on Thursday, received more attention. The great
emergency of stopping the spread of the fire having been
met, there was more opportunity for a survey of the situa-
tion. Just as soon as the outside world had learned of the
calamity it had thought of the prospects of suffering, on
the part of the unfortunates who had been thrust out on the
street without food or shelter.

Misfortune has its compensation, for it lets down the
barriers of humanity. The man who may appear cold and
heartless in the ordinary course of business is likely to re-
veal a warmth of sympathy and a heart as true as steel
when emergency arises. Enemies lay aside their bitterness
and work for the common cause.

This was the case in San Francisco. Oakland, across
the bay, and the little cities, villages and communities near
by immediately opened their hearts and their purses at the
first news of the calamity.

Scarcely had the roar and rumble of the earthquake



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 191

died away and the fire started in San Francisco when Oak-
land, herself, a heavy suflferer from the earthquake, be-
gan to ship food supplies by boat to San Francisco.

Other supplies began to come from all directions.
Mayor Eugene Schmitz rose to the occasion and appointed
his bitter enemy, James D. Phelan, chairman of the Gen-
eral Committee, having the situation in charge. Competent
men of prominence in every line of activity were named
to take a hand in the sheltering of the homeless and the
feeding of the hungry.

General Funston, with the large supplies stored in this
vicinity for the army, and with a superb organization under
him, took charge of the distribution and the maintenance
of order. Neighborhood relief stations sprang up like
mushrooms, and they soon learned that general commis-
sions for this purpose had been organized, so they co-oper-
ated.

300,000 TO BE FED.

The great rush was at the parks and on the ocean
beach. The spacious Presidio and beautiful Golden Gate
Park sheltered nearly three hundred thousand persons. Ra-
tions to feed them were distriButed Thursday and Fri-
day. By Saturday the work of relief was well organized
and was extended to every district in the city. Head-
quarters for the municipal government and for the differ-
ent commissions were established in Franklin Hall and
vicinity. Franklin Hall is an ancient frame structure in
Fillmore Street, near Bush. If quickly became the active
centre of the city, while Fillmore Street, an unpretentious
thoroughfare of small stores, was transformed into a
temporary successor to Market Street. Temporary offices



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192 SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.

of the newspapers of the city and the various business
houses were placed in tiny rooms, in barns or in old shacks
all along the streets. Information bureaus were established
here, so people in San Francisco might register to let their
inquiring friends know of their whereabouts.

The main thought was for food and shelter. The
people of San Francisco, a city of 345,000 persons, were
camped in the streets in the public squares, on the military
reservations and in the park. Wednesday night there were
few in San Francisco who remained indoors. Thursday
night the situation was much the same, although a few well
to do found shelter with friends beyond the immediate
line of danger. Friday, the more permanent relief camps
began to be established. Out of the endangered and de-
stroyed districts the people had poured to watch the prog-
ress of the fire. Some had waited too long and hid re-
tained only the scanty clothes on their bodies. Women, es-
caping hastily from endangered buildings, welcomed the
men's overalls which were supplied them to protect them
from the chilled breezes which crept under the scanty gar-
ments against their unprotected limbs. Children were in
their night clothes; men were little better off. The more
provident and far-seeing had gathered together beddinq^
and outer garments, but a large majority had seized only
trinkets. Many a man was observed while the fire was rag-
ing onward wheeling a couch, pausing occasionally to rest
a while upon it, and then dragging it on, while scores were
to be observed hauling trunks by means of ropes, stopping:
frequently to rest before resuming their toilsome march.

As soon as they had dragged their lares and penates
to an open lot, there they sat themselves, Micawber-like, to
await wh^t might turn up next. Procuring a pole h^r^



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SAN FRANCISCO^S GREAT DISASTER. 1 93

and there, they spread an occasional blaricet over their
household goods, stuck up a card with pencilled informa-
tion as to who they were and set out to look for food.
This was not a difficult undertaking. The offerings of the
people in the nation had begun to arrive. Soon after the
earthquake some avaricious butchers and grocers had
sought to get exorbitant prices, relying on the needs of the
populace. They soon desisted. The military seized the
dealers' stores and they were punished as martial law might
require.

AMERICAN "NERVE" TO THE FORE.

Any one who doubts that the Americans are a cheer-
ful race should have seen the spirit displayed throughout
this disaster. If any one maintained that women are the
weaker sex he should have watched their action during
the hour of trouble. Great danger was at hand — long
hours of vigil were near.

It was a test of endurance, mentally and physically.
Many men there were who rose to the situation, but the
women bore the physical burdens. There were some
women who yielded to their fears, but the vast majority
faced peril and even death with calmness and philosoi>hy.
While the men were discussing the fire the women were
packing up the household belongings in a sheet and were
carrying the heavy bundles down the stairs and out along
the streets. They were looking after the children; they were
planning for the future.

When night came and it was necessary to keep an eye
on the progress of the fire, it was the women who said,
"You lie down and go to sleep and Til watch," and when
the crowds had reached the little places of refuge, it was



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194 SAN Francisco's gbieat disaster.

the women who quieted and reassured the children, who
straightened out the few remaining pieces of household
furniture the best they could, also suggested the sticking
up of a blanket on poles to cover them, and who declared
that so far as they were concerned they did not care so
long as they were alive.

Never were there more picturesque camps than those
which gave some sort of shelter to the people driven from
their homes.

The population of the camps was not confined to the
poor. More than one man whose wealth runs into the hun-
dreds of thousands or more was glad to be under a tree
to have his family near the great bulk of the middle or the
poorer classes.

The principal camps were in the military reservations
in the Presidio, in picturesque Golden Gate Park and in
Jefferson Square. Military tents were issued by the gov-
ernment and made to go as far as they could, the remainder
being left to the resources of the individuals.

Some lay under the trees without any covering and
without anything between them and the ground. Nearly
all, however, were able to procure at least a blanket to lie
on and a piece of cloth to put above them. Billboards were
torn to pieces and used for temporary shacks and sometimes
they were raised on poles. Again two boards were set up
like wedged tents. Anything available was used for shel-
ter.

The people without houses were not the only campers,
however, because owing to the conditions of the chimneys
stringent orders had been given prohibiting fires in the
houses.



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SAN FRANCISCO^S GREAT DISASTER. 1 97

CHEERFUL IN MISFORTUNE.

Along every street in the city, even Market Street,
might be seen rows of stoves which had been moved from
the houses or of piles of brick arranged with ovens. About
these men and women bent, busily engaged in cooking their
meals.

Nearly every one seemed to take it as a great deal of
a lark. Cheery calls from neighbor to neighbor could be
heard by any passerby, and the housewives appeared to take
as much pleasure in the way they fried bacon on a piece
of tin over brick ovens as they would ordinarily in giv-
ing the richest heat and flavor to an entree in a course
dinner. Here again, all class distinctions were swept away.

No food was to be had except what was issued by the
relief corps. The supply stations were scattered all over
the city and before the end of time of stress there were be-
tween one hundred and fifty and two hundred of them.
Morning, noon and night, long lines could be seen standing
in front of each station. There was food and plenty, though
it might be simple and a person might have to wait a long
time for it.

There was food for the children, for the man who
stood ahead of the man with the high silk hat and the
frock coat, for the man who, a week before, could draw
his check for $100,000 and get it cashed, but who now
stood in line to get his loaf of bread and can of corned
beef.

In these days nobody knew how much he really was
worth. A man might have had a million a day before
the earthquake and be hurrying around trying to find two
dollars in cash to carry himself and family along. Checks



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ipS San francisco^s great disaster.

were worthless; the best of drafts could not be cadied;
the banks were closed by fire, and throughout California
the Governor was declaring a legal holiday from day to
day to give the financial institutions a chance to get their
bearings.

One man went three days with a solitary hundred
dollar bill unable to get change. Merchants declined credit
to their best customers when by chance they had anything
to sell. Ready cash was the only thing with which to
purchase any article, and even this could not buy food.
The hungry could satisfy themselves in only one way and
that was to go stand in line in every relief station. In that
way plenty could be obtained.

Supplies of food afforded the least of the trouble with
the twenty millions of dollars and more subscribed by the
nation and with the carloads of food which were rushed
on through passenger schedules from all directions.

The feat of feeding the 300,000, was performed with
amazing efficiency, and will remain a bright page in the
history of San Francisco's tragedy.

THE COMMITTEE OF SAFETY.

The following is the list of the members of the Com-
mittee of Safety named by Mayor Schmitz, to whom San
Francisco's 300,000 homeless ones owe a debt of graditude :

James D. Phelan, Herbert Law, Thomas Magee,
Charles Fee, W. P. Herrin, Thomwell Mul^alley, Garret
W. McEnemey, W. H. Leahy, J. Downey Harvey, Jere-
miah Dinan, John J. Mahoney, Henry T. Scott, L W. Hell-
man, George A. Knight, L Steinhart, S. G. Murphy, Homer
King, Frank Anderson, W. J. Bartnett, John Martin, Allan



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San FRANcisco^s (JrKat disaster. 199

Pollock, Mark Gerstle, H. V. Ramsdell, W. G. Harrison,
R. A. Crothers, Paul Cowles, M. H. DeYoung, Claus
Spreckles, Rudolph Spreckles, C. W. Fay, John Mc-
Naught, Dent Robert, Thomas Garrett, Frank Shea, James
Shea Robert Pisis, T. P. Woodward, Howard Holmes,
George Dillman, J. B. Rogers, David Rich, H. T. Cress-
well, J. A. Howell, Frank Maestretti, Clem Tobin, George
Toumey, E. D. Pond, George A. Newhall and William
Watson.



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SURVIVORS TELL HEARTRENDING TALES.

Fully 450,000 persons were in San Francisco on the
morning of April 18, when the earthquake marked the
opening of one of the world's greatest tragedies. Its


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Online LibrarySydney TylerSan Francisco's great disaster; a full account of the recent terrible destruction of life and property by earthquake, fire and volcano in California and at Vesuvius .. → online text (page 11 of 25)