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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story will never be told adequately from the standpoint
of these hundreds of thousands as a whole. It will ever
be a matter of individuals. To each the event is a separate
event. To those who would know and appreciate the many
tragic and dramatic aspects of the catastrophe must learn
as many as possible of these individual stories. Some have
not the power of graphic description. Amid so many
thousands, fortunately for the inquirer there were hundreds
possessing this rare faculty, in some degree. We will go
to some of these to get gliijipses, at least, of our story.

Four residents of Los Angeles, two men and two
women, who were thrown together by the earthquake and
for two days and a night walked the streets and hills
of San Francisco, were Dr. Earnest W. Fleming, Oliver W.
Posey, Mrs. Francis Winter, and Miss Bessie Marley.
They were strangers till they met in front of the Palace
Hotel on Wednesday morning, after the earthquake.

They returned to their homes in Los Angeles, feet
swollen and bruised from miles of walking over ragged,
broken streets, and with flesh seared and blistered from
cinder and flame. The women remained in a local hotel
all evening, prostrated. Mr. Posey went directly home,
but Dr. Fleming, unkempt and disheveled, went to the
Chamber of Q)mmerce to give suggestions for relief.

It was on his advice that the Relief Committee made
purchases of linen and bandages to send north. He said
thousands were suffering from bums.


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I was sleeping in a room on the third floor of the hotel/'
said Dr. Fleming, "when the first shock occurred. An
earthquake in San Francisco was no new sensation to me.
I was there in 1868, a boy of ten, when the first great earth-
quake came. But that was a gentle rocking of a cradle to
the one of Wednesday.

"I awoke to the groaning of timbers, the grinding,
creaking, and roaring. Plastering and wall decorations
fell. The sensation was as though the buildings were
stretching and writhing like a snake. The darkness was
intense. Shrieks of women, higher, shriller than that of
the creaking timbers, cut the air.

"I tumbled from the bed and crawled, scrambling to-
ward the door. The twisting and writhing appeared to in-
crease. The air was oppressive. I seemed to be saying to
myself, 'will it never, never stop?' I wrenched the lock,
the door of the room swung back against my shoulder.
Just then the building seemed to breathe, stagger, and right

"But I fled from that building as from a falling wall.
I could not believe that it could endure such a shock and
still stand. The next I remember I was standing in the
street laughing at the unholy appearance of half a hun-
dred men clad in pajamas and less.

"The women were in their night robes; they made a
better appearance than the men. There was raiment of
every hue — and in many cases raiment never intended to
be seen outside the boudoir.

"I looked at a man at my side; he was laughing at me.
Then for the first time I became aware that T was in paja-
mas myself. I turned and fled back to my room. There T

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SAN fJ^ancisco^s great disaster. 20^

dressed, packed my grip, and hastened back to the street.

"All the big buildings on Market street toward the
ferry were standing, but I marked four separate fires. The
fronts of the small buildings had fallen out into the streets
and at some places the debris had broken through the
sidewalk into cellars.

"I noticed two women near me. They were apparent-
ly without escort. One said to the other, 'What wouldn't
I give to be back in Los Angeles again?"

"That awakened a kindred feeling, and I proffered my
assistance. I put my overcoat on the stone steps of a
building and told them to sit there. In less than two min-
utes those steps appeared to pitch everything forward, to
be flying at me. The groaning and writhing started afresh.

"But I was just stunned. I stood there in the street
with the debris falling about me. It seemed the natural
thing for the tops of buildings to careen over and for fronts
to fall out. I do not even recall that the women screamed.


"The street gave a convulsive shudder and the build-
ings somehow righted themselves again. I thought they
had crashed together above my head. The two women
arose and started to walk. I followed in an aimless sort of

"The street was filled with moving things again. The
rainbow raiment had disappeared, and all were clad in
street clothes. Every one was walking, but there was no
confusion. We did not even seem in a hurry.

"Down Market street the flames were growing
brighter, but we walked with our luggage to the St. Fran-
cis. Fires were burning down toward the ferry, but the

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204 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

Fire Department had turned them. We had faith in the
Fire Department.

"Soon I became aware that squads of soldiers were
patrolling the streets. It appeared perfectly natural. I
do not think I wondered why they were there.


"Men and women were all about us. We looked at
each other and talked, even tried lamely to joke. But every
few minutes a convulsive quiver swept through the city.
The others seemed to be shivering.

"I noticed that the eyes of the men amd w^omen were
rolling restlessly. Their tones were pitched high. It
seemed to grate on my nerves. Then I fell to wondering
whether I was talking shrilly too.

"I went to a grocery without a front and bought a
few supplies, things that would make a cold lunch. The
grocer did not even overcharge me. He was particular
to give me the right change.

"The soldiers came and told us to move on. It
seemed the natural thing to do. By this time the fire was
creeping dangerously close. We would have walked to
the ferry. We tried it on a score of streets, but that wall
of fire was always there. It seemed to creep across in
front of us.

"And in front of the fire always walked the soldiers.
Many times I hired express wagons. We would ride for
a few blocks and get out on the sidewalk. In not a single
instance were we charged more than a reasonable price for
the ride.

"Once we loitered until the soldiers came up. A
rough fellow who had been standing by my side tried to

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 207

dart through the line. He looked like a beach comber.
A young Lieutenant caught him by the coat.

" 'Here!' he called to his men. 'Shoot this man.'
"I hurried on without looking back. I don't remem-
ber that I heard a shot fired. But at the time it seemed
so trivial a matter that I did not pay much attention.


• "The air was filled with the roar of explosions. They
were dynamiting great blocks. Sailors were training guns
to rake rows of residences.

"All the while we were moving onward with the
crowd. Cinders were falling about us. At times our cloth-
ing caught fire — ^just little embers that smoked once and
went out. The sting burned our faces, and we used our
handkerchiefs for veils.

"Everybody around us was using some kind of cloth
to shield his eyes. It looked curious to see expressmen
and teamsters wearing those veils.

"Quite naturally we seemed to come to Golden Gate
Park. It seemed as though we had started for there. By
this time the darkness was settling. But it was a weird
twilight. The glare from the burning city threw a kind
of red flame and shadow about us. It seemed uncanny;
the figures about us moved like ghosts.

"The wind and fog blew chill from the ocean and we
walked about to keep warm. Thousands were walking
about, too; but there was no disturbance. Families
trudged along there. There was no hurry. All appeared
to have time to spare. The streets, walks and lawns were
wiggling with little parties, one or two families in each.

"All night we moved about the hills. Thousands were

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2o8 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

moving with us. As the night wore on the crowd grew.
Near daylight the soldiers came to the park. They were
still moving in front of the fire.

"I had bought a little store of provisions before night-
fall. I walked over to the fire made by one squad of sol-
diers and picked up a tm bucket. I went to a faucet and
turned it on. A little water was there. I boiled some eggs
and we ate our breakfast. Then we concluded to make our
way to the water front as soldiers were driving us from that
part of the hills. The flames were still after us.


"We walked toward the water front for hours. Part
of the time it was through the burned district. The streets
were rough, the sidewalks jagged and broken. The wd-
men suffered severely. Jagged stones and wires cut their
thin shoes from their feet. Bandages did no good.

"The walk back through the ruins was the worst of all.
Dead horses lay along our path. Some were burned to a
crisp. On Howard street, near Market, lay the charred
bodies of two men. Those were the only dead we saw in
the streets.

"Walking and resting, we reached the ferry near sun-
set. Soldiers seemed to be everywhere. They were of-
fering milk to women and children. We took a boat to
Oakland and hastened by trains to Los Angeles. If it were
not for the sting of the cinders that still stick to my face,
I might think it was all a nightmare."


Miss Bessie Tannehill, of the Tivoli Theatre, San
Francisco, is also a refugee here.

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 209

"I was asleep in the Hotel Lang^man, Ellis and Mason
streets, when the shock came/* said Miss Tannehill
"There were at least 100 persons in the building. At the
first shock I leaped from my bed and ran to the window.
Another upheaval came and I was thrown from my feet.
I groped my way out of the room and down the dark stair-
way. Men, women and children, almost without clothing,
crowded the halls, crying and praying as they rushed out.

"We finally obtained a carriage by paying $100. Fire
was raging at this time and people were panic stricken.

"After getting outside of the danger region I walked
back, hoping to aid some of the unfortunates. The mer-
chants on upper Market and nearby streets threw open
their stores and invited the crowds to help themselves.
Mobs rushed into every place, carrying out all the goods

"I saw many looters and pickpockets at work. On
Mason street a gang of thieves was at work. They were
pursued by troops, but escaped in an automobile."


Mr. and Mrs. William R. Harryman were on the
twelfth floor of the St. Francis Hotel when the shock came.

"The room seemed to twist out of shape," said Mr.
Harryman, "and the furniture was disarranged. The
door stuck and it required all my strength to open it. Men
were shouting, women screaming hysterically and every-
body was endeavoring to get to the elevators and stair-
ways. It was soon discovered that the elevators were not
running and the people fell and rolled down the stairs.

"My wife and I descended, and on the first floor found
a mass of people, whom the hotel employees were implor-

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ing to remain there as it was the safest place; but all
seemed determined to get outside.

"Dressing as we ran^ my wife and I found we had
picked up enough clothes to present a respectable appear-
ance, except that we had no shoes. We gradually fought
our way to the ferries.

"All along the way we saw bodies of human beings
who had met death; some had been crushed by falling walls,
others had jumped from high buildings, while still others
had been trampled to death by the excited populace.
Horses, having broken their hitch reins, were dashing
frantically along the streets, knocking people down.

"We finally got aboard a ferryboat and landed on the
other side of the bay. We took the first train for the East."


Officers of the Steamship Itauri, which lay in the har-
bor joined in this description:

"As seen from the bay it was a sublime, but terrible
spectacle. We were anchored more than a mile out in the
roadstead, but the wind as it swept over the burning city
and down upon us was like the breath of a demon. At
times it was impossible for us to remain on deck, so great
was the heat. The terrific concussions of d)mamite
brought hundreds of fish to the surface. Our clearance
papers were burned, but we could not retain our anchor-
age, and late Thursday afternoon we started toward the
open sea.

"Wharves were filled with people. They beckoned
to us that they needed assistance. It was the thought of
self-preservation that kept the Itauri's course unchanged.
At midnight we were 30 miles at sea, but the flames were

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Still visible, and until almost dawn we stood on deck and
watched the reflection of the flames as they played to and
fro on the cloud mountains which hung over the ruined


James D. Phelan, former Mayor of San Francisco and
chairman of the Finance Relief Committee, said:

"When I was awakened in my house by the shock, I
made my way down town toward the fire, which was rag-
ing in two directions. One branch of the fire destroyed
my office building on Market street and the other my
home in the Mission. Of my personal effects I saved
but a few. My family left my home and went to Golden
(late Park, where I followed and pitched two tents which I
had at my home. Later I accompanied my family to Bur-
lingame, 20 miles south, in an automobile.

"The city will be rebuilt on lines of strength and archi-
tectural beauty heretofore unknown."

Rudolph Spreckels:

"I can g^ve no connected account of my experience
now. I have not had time to think about myself. I vol-
unteered as a special officer and assisted the firemen in
trying to check the fire, and my experience at Van Ness
avenue and Union street was certainly a thrilling one. Of
course, San Francisco will be rebuilt, and better than ever."

Herman Oelrichs:

"1 was in the St. Francis Hotel. I lost all my per-
sonal effects except the suit of clothes that I have on and
two flannel shirts. I have done what I could everywhere
to relieve the suffering, and just at present am too ex-
hausted to think connectedly."

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212 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

Homer S. King, president of the San Francisco
Clearing House, said:

"San Francisco has a future and will rebuild. There
is not even a panic, and I have seen more than one panic.

"The banks are more than willing to help the people
who have shared in the common distress. Chicago and
Baltimore recovered from even greater setbacks. The
people of San Francisco have always been progressive, and
are recognized as hard workers. There is no reason why
they should not do the same."


Members of the Metropolitan Opera Company, who
were appearing in San Francisco, and the night before the
earthquake had delighted a monster audience, suffered

All of the splendid scenery, stage fittings, costumes,
and musical instruments were lost in the fire which de-
stroyed the Grand Opera House, where the season had just
opened to .splendid audiences. No one of the company was
injured, but nearly all of them lost their personal effects.

Mme. Sembrich placed her loss by the destruction of
her elegant costumes at $20,000. She was fortunate
enough to save her valuable pearls. The total loss to the
members of the organization may reach $150,000.

On the morning of the earthquake the members of the
company were distributed among the different hotels, most
of them being at the Palace, St. Francis, and the Oaks.
Messrs. Caruso and Scotti, and Misses Walker, Abott, Ja-
coby, and other principals were at the Palace. Messrs.
Plancon and Dippel and Mme. Sembrich were at the St.
Francis, and the musicians and the chorus at the Oaks.

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Mme. Eames, Miss Fremstead, and several others were at
private hotels or residences.


The sudden shock brought the singers out of their
bedrooms in all kinds of attire. The women were in their
night dresses the men in pajamas. None paused to dress.

Ten minutes later Mr. Caruso was seen seated on his
valise in the middle of the street. Many of the others had
rushed to open squares or other places of supposed safety.
Even then it was difficult to avoid the debris falling from
the crumbling walls.

A few had time and presence of mind to pack up some
necessary articles before the outbreak of the fires in all
directions barred them from returning to their rooms, but
very few saved anything except what they had stood in.

Several of those stopping in the Oaks were awakened
by plaster from the ceiling falling on their beds, and had
barely time to flee for their lives.

One singer was seen standing in the street, barefoot
and clad only in his underwear, but clutching a favorite
violin which he had carried with him in his flight. The
first impulse of many was to rush for their trains, which,
however, happened to be across the bay.

Mr. Rossi, the basso, though almost in tears, was
heard trying his voice on a corner near the Palace Hotel.

Gradually calm was restored, and taking a lesson from
the coolness of the Californian, the artists began to regard
their plight as less serious than it might have been.

Nearly all suffered more or less from the sudden stop-
page of the food supply. A rush was made for the nearest
grocery stores, and baskets were quickly filled with provi-

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214 SAN. Francisco's great disaster.

sions and what wine could be secured before the closing of
the liquor establishments. The next day many were re-
duced to a diet of bread, chocolate ,and sardines.

Ernest Goerlitz, general managicr of the company,
until the Grand Opera House was actually reached by the
flames, had hoped to give the proposed matinee perform-
ance of "The Marriage of Figaro.'' He and a few others
thought the playhouse was fire-proof, and not ten minutes
before the building went up in smoke some of the musi-
cians were dissuaded from trying to save their instruments.


Alfred Hertz, the conductor, was one of those quartered
at the Chutes after the earthquake. He slept near the Zoo.

"To my dying day I will never forget my experience
when I was awakened by the roaring of lions. I knew not
but that I was in a jungle or den of wild beasts,'* he said.

Mr. Parvis, Mr. Dufriche, the baritone and stage man-
ager, and Mme. Dufriche, the harpist, narrowly escaped
death when the Oaks collapsed. Mme. Dufriche lost her
precitjus Arard harp in the fire at the Opera House.

The courage displayed by some of the artists, notably
the Misies Edyth Walker and Bessie Abott, helped largely
to '|Uict the fears of their comrades, and their kindness to
the chorus was highly appreciated.

After the earthquake, Mme. Eames and Mme. Sem-
brich found refuge at the home of Dr. Harry Tevis, but
this later was burned, and they were then cared for by
other friends.

Miss Olive Fremstead, who had apartments at the
St. Dunstan, was fortunate to escape with her life, the
building being shattered by the earthquake.

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The guests at the Palace Hotel, among them being
the Misses Walker and Abott, who were on the top floor
when the great shock came, took it for granted that death
was inevitable. The regular swaying of the walls and the'
pitching of the floor they compared to the motion of an
ocean steamer in a storm. Yet, until destroyed by fire,
tfie big hotel stood firmly on its foundation.


The following statement of her experiences during and
after the earthquake was written by Mme. Eames, of the
Metropolitan Opera Company.

"I was in bed, and at the first quiver of the earthquake
awoke to perfect consciousness. I was in a four post bed
with a very heavy mahogany canopy over it. I wondered
whether I had better get out, but the futility of any move-
ment to save myself came over me, and I lay quite still,
only holding to the bed to be kept from being thrown out.
I was absolutely without fear at any time. As soon as the
movements began to quiet themselves I thought of mov-
ing, but each time they redoubled in intensity.

"At last at the end of the first big shock I heard the
voice of our host asking if I were afraid. Of course, I got
up and dressed as quickly as I could, and rushed down to
the Hotel St. Francis to see what was happening to Mme.
Sembrich. Dr. Tevis and I got into an automobile with
which an acquaintance was fortunately passing. On get-
ting there we rushed up six flights on foot, as no elevators
were going, only to find Mme. Sembrich gone. We at last
found her and begged her to come up with us, as Dr.
Tevis' house was on the top of Nob Hill. We passed the day
there watching the flames approaching and feeling shocks

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2i8 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

of earthquakes at intervals, Dr. Tevis all the time trying
to get some sort of conveyance to get us out of town, not
from fear of earthquake^ but of the approaching lire. He
at last found a landau from a livery stable, whose driver
consented to wait in front of the door until we must leave.

"The town was burning between us and the ferries,
and there was then difficulty in getting there. At about
eight o'clock the doctor said we had better get out
to the north beach, as we might be surrounded by flame.,
and not be able to get away. The house was ultimately
surrounded by flames on Thursday and was the last to re-
main standing in that vicinity. It was a monument of per-
fect taste, and was burned to the ground with all in it,
including our clothes, we being able to carry with us in
our hurried flight only our valuables and one change of
clothing. We took blankets and lay out all night on the
ground, the dew falling so heavy that we were soaked.

"About nine o'clock on Thursday morning Dr. Tevis
said the fires had burned themselves out between us and
the ierry and we could get over to Oakland, and must go
at once. The carriage took our few belongings and two of
our party least fit for violent exercise, while the rest of us
walked. At the Oakland ferry we found a large crowd, but
after waiting there three-quarters of an hour for the car-
riage, which we had outwalked, and which through some
misunderstanding had waited for us at another place all
the time, we got safely over to Oakland.

"There, leaving our two maids in carriages, we took
a train to a suburb of Oakland, where lives a relative of
Dr. Tevis. There we found the house closed and lay about
on the ground waiting for them to find means of conveying
us to Dr. Tevis' country place, sixty miles from Oakland
As we wene leaving North Beach for the ferry the manager

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 219

of our host's country place met us^ having come to look for
us, and it was he who told us we could get away.

"All the part of the town through which we walked
was later swept by the flames, which returned to destroy
all that in the previous fire they had left unconsumed.
Through some misunderstanding Sembrich's maid was left
with some members of the opera company in Oakland, so
she returned to the special train they were making up.

"I had lost my voice completely, and felt I could not
return to endure a possible three days' sojourn in a rail-
way train. At about five o'clock Thursday afternoon we
managed to get an automobile, and Dr. Tevis, Mr. Petrigo,
my maid and myself came up here, where we have been
camping out. We found the caretakers in a state of terror
on our arrival, and the house demolished by the earth-
quake. We had taken a ride in an automobile of four

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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 12 of 25)