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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committee. On attempting to arrest the person who had
charge of the schooner, one of the vigilance committee's
policemen, named Hopkins, was stabbed by the afterwards
notorious Judge Terry, who, with some others, had under-
taken to protect the man. The signal for a general meeting
under arms was sounded, and in a short time 1,500 men
were reported ready for duty. In an hour 4,000 men were
under arms and prepared to act against the so-called law-
and-order party, who were collected in a force at the dif-
ferent armories. These armories were surrounded.


Judge Terry was demanded and delivered up, and all
the arms and ammunition in the armories were removed.
In this way was settled the question of power between the
vigilance committee, who wished to restore order and were
working to establish an honest judiciary and a pure ballot,
and their opponents, the law-and-order party, who wished
to uphold the dignity of the law by means of a butcher's
knife in the hands of a judge of the supreme court. Al-
though the committee were masters in San Francisco, their
position was made more precarious by the very fact of their
having disarmed their opponents. The attention of the

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whole Union was attracted to the state of things in Cali-
fornia, and it was rumored that instructions had been
sent from Washington to all the United States vessels in
the Pacific to proceed at once to San Francisco; and that
orders were on the way, placing the United States military
force in California at the disposal of Governor Johnson.
The committee went on steadily with their work. * * *
All the important changes which they had undertaken had
been carried out successfully, and they would gladly have
given up the responsibility they had assumed had it not
been for the case of Judge Terry. * * * At last the physi-
cians announced that Hopkins was out of danger, and on
the 7th of August, Judge Terry was released. * * * Hav-
ing got rid of Judge Terry, the committee prepared to
bring their labors to a close, and on the i8th of August
the whole association, numbering over 5,000 men, after
marching through the principal streets of San Francisco,
returned to their headquarters in Sacramento Street, where,
after delivering up their arms, they were relieved from duty.
In the following November, there was an election of city
and county officers. Everything went off quietly. A
"people's ticket,'' bearing the names of thoroughly trust-
worthy citizens, irrespective of party, was elected by a large
majority and thus was begun a reputation for good gov-
ernment, which, ever since, has been maintained.

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Vesuvius, the most romantic volcano of history, has
a bad reputation, and the fact that its present outburst does
not equal or surpass in fatalities its memorable eruption of
the year A. D. 79 is due almost entirely to an appreciation
of its previous destructive character.

From the examination of the ruins of the buried cities
of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and from the graphic descrip-
tion of the eruption which destroyed those ancient and popu-
lous towns left in the two letters of Pliny the younger, it
is evident that the fury of the present activity of "The Chim-
ney of Hell," as the mountain was known in the Dark
Ages, is far greater than on the occasion which introduced
Vesuvius to history. Contrary to ccwnmon belief, the loss
of life in Pompeii was not over 2000 souls. Yet the city
had a population of about 30,000.

As on the occasion of the first recorded eruption of Ve-
suvius, a large part of the old mountain, known as Monte
Somma, was blown away by the terrific explosion, so, dur-
ing the present season of activity a part of the cone has been
removed by the violence of the disruption.

For 2000 years prior to the year 79, when Pompeii
was destroyed, the mountain had never shown signs of ac-
tivity. Although recognized as a volcanic cone, it was be-
lieved that Vesuvius was extinct, and farmers, shepherds
and vine-growers settled on its fertile grassy sloi>es, all
unconscious that they were sleeping on the sides of a dan-
gerous crater. Even in those days there had been long
warnings, and those who had profited by them were saved.
Others, who could not or would not, were buried under the


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39* SAN Francisco's great disaster.

ashes and volcanic mud, where they were found eighteen
centuries later by industrious archaeologists.


The means of transportation in the days of Pompeii's
greatness were, of course, meagre, compared with the steam-
ships, railroads, trolley roads and automobiles of the present.
When the sick or feeble or the loiterers attempted to leave
Pompeii they were unable to do so. Those who had neglec-
ted the warning perished. How many victims Vesuvius
may lay claim to this time is not yet known, but few, if
any of them, have been buried, as were those of the year 79.
Certainly, eighteen centuries hence the archaeologist prob-
ably will not find them in the position where they fell.

The fertile slopes of Vesuvius have ever been the
sirenlike tempter of the vine-grower. Four crops a year
have been the temptation held out to the farmer. That
was, he contended, worth a risk, and then the Government
Observatory, established in 1841, always gave timely warn-
ings. An examination of the ashes the other day showed
that they will prove an active and valuable fertilizer. So,
even after the present display of force is over and the old
mountain once more becomes peaceful, the farmers will
return to the farms on the slopes and chance it again.

The hero of the eruption of 1906 was Professor Mat-
teucci, director of the Royal Observatory, high on the moun-
tain, directly opposite the crater. The professor has given
to the world his experiences during the days of the volcano's
activity during which he stood by his post.

"I first observed Mount Vesuvius giving imusual signs
about a month ago, when the lava began to overflow, taking
a southwest direction. This gradually increased as several

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small lava streams formed into one great current.

'The real danger began the middle of last week. Then
an enormous stream of lava came from the summit, meet-
ing the other streams which burst from the lower strata. It
was this that overwhelmed Bosco Trecase. Throughout
the lava discharge the volcano was comparatively quiet and
without electrical phenomena or explosions. The only
ominous sign was the advancing wave of lava and the cin-
ders forming an enormous cloud in the shape of a pine tree
over the crater.


"Our really terrible period came at 3 o'clock Sunday
morning and lasted until 8 o'clock. The mountain,
which hitherto had been silent, suddenly gave out a
deafening roar and a great rent was made in its cone.
Huge solid rocks were hurled skyward. Some of them
fell near the observatory, threatening to crash in the roof,
but most of them fell far outside the observatory zone.
There was no scoria in this first discharge, but solid bullet-
like stones, which cut the roof and damaged the windows."

"At midnight on Saturday," said Professor Matteucci,
"I ordered the women and children of the household to be
removed. This was just before the rain of huge stones
began, and I was then left with Professor Perret, of New
York, my American assistant, and two domestics. There was
scarcely any eating and all domestic order was abandoned.
We snatched a few bites now and then; most of the time I
ate right here," and the observer pointed to the remains of
a recent meal on the desk in his study.

Throughout Sunday enormous solid blocks of stone
rose to a height of 2500 feet from the crater, while ashes and

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398 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

sand were thrown much higher, but toward Monday the
terrible shocks of earthquake gradually diminished.

"One of the worst features of the eruption was the un-
usual extent of the electrical phenomena, the darkness be-
ing broken by vivid flashes of lightning, giving the sky
a blood-like color, with short, heavy peals of thunder inter-
spersed. These moments were terrible — very terrible. Yes,
it was a veritable hell.

"Observation was extremely difficult under such dis-
turbing conditions. The seismatic instruments were badly
affected by the electrical intensity, each explosion being an-
nounced by a violent movement of the instrument, which
seemed ready to burst into pieces."

"Compared with other great eruptions," continued the
observer, "this is one of the most important in the history
of Vesuvius. Its effects are less terrible than those of the
eruption of the year 79, when Pompeii was buried, but it
equals in intensity the great eruptions of 163 1 and 1872.

"What results this eruption will yield to science is not
yet certain. Eruptions are not exact in science. You can-
not count on Vesuvius ; each of its eruptions has its char-
acteristics. This one was marked by an abundance of elec-
trical phenomena. I have already collected quantities of
cinders and scoria for comparison with similar matter from
other eruptions and later I wjll collect large stones."


Singularly, an American scientist is the only one shar-
ing Professor Matteucci's opportunities of observation.
This is Professor Frank A. Perret, of New York.

"I have only been here three months," said Professor
Perret "I came to Italy originally for my health. I had

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 399 .

studied volcano disturbances, and met Professor Matteucci.
We became mutually interested, and he honored me by in-
viting me to share his observations as an honorary assistant.
The post of assistant to which I was recently appointed by
the University of Naples came at a most fortunate moment,
as it permitted my observation of this tremendous disturb-
ance, which is beyond the faintest conception of those out-
side the immediate terrors of Vesuvious.

"The most terrible moment came Saturday night. I
had gone to Bosco Trecase for the purpose of photograph-
ing the lava stream that was then deluging that town. I re-
turned to the observatory about midnight. The dynamic
force of the main crater increased enormously, and new
crater mouths opened in the mountainside within ten min-
utes of each other. This caused immense havoc. From
Naples crowds flocked to Bosco Trecase to witness the
sight which was grander there than at any other point.

"At midnight the situation in the observatory was ter-
rible. The ground rocked under it and it was impossible
to stand firmly on one's feet. The roaring of the main
crater was deafening; the volcano operated like a fountain,
its discharge rising and spreading, and then falling over a
great area. The electric phenomena were terrifying. The
claps of thunder were constant, with a lurid play of light-
ning. The cause of the phenomena was friction from the
ascending particles, generating electricity which displayed
itself in incessant lightning and thunder claps.

"No one thought of sleep, but all stood gazing at the
scene. At 3 o'clock in the morning the lowest station
seemed to be burning, and at 3 130 o'clock the whole cone
broke open with a tremendous earthquake shock. Red hot
projectiles were precipitated toward Mount Somna and the
observatory. That seemed to be the critical moment, and

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the brigadier of the carbineers ordered a retreat. We made
our way to a small house down the mountain side, but even
the rain of stones continued. One of the carbineers was
struck on the head and badly cut. After this the intensity
of the eruption steadily decreased.

The eruption of 1906, began early in April with earth-
quake shocks, loud detonations, lava streams and showers
of ashes that covered the ground an inch deep. People
began flocking from the region on April 5.

The eruption increased in violence. A dense fog,
charged with ashes and sulphurous fumes, hung over the
land, and condensing vapors came down in floods of rain.
The earth was in a constant tremor, and the incessant ex-
plosions were compared to a heavy cannonade. On April
6, the main stream of lava, two hundred feet wide, was
pour:ng down the mountain side at the rate of twenty-one
feet a minute, the vegetation in its path shriveling in ad-
vance from the wave of heat that preceded it. Hot mud,
ashes, and black sand mixed with water came down in
"caustic rain." The churches were crowded with praying
worshipers. At night a pillar of fire a thousand feet high
illuminated the land and sea like the flame of a gigantic
lighthouse. The military engineers tried to build obstruc-
tions to protect the towns in the path of the streams, but
the lava rolled over them, destroyed Boscotrecase, a place
of ten thousand inhabitants, and drove out the thirty thou-
sand of Torre deir Annunziata. The observatory on Vesu-
vius was destroyed, and the director and employees nar-
rowly escaped with their lives. By the 9th a hundred and
fifty thouand refugees were gathered at Naples, and the
streets of the city were buried in ashes to a depth of more
than three feet. A majority of the fatalities seemed to have
happened at Ottajano and San Guiseppe, on the northeast

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side of the mountain. King Victor Emmanuel and Queen
Helena went to Naples, and the King visited the threatened
villages at the foot of the mountain. King Edward and
Queen Alexandra were advised to stay away. The Italian
fleet was ordered to go to Naples to assist the refugees and
the captains of several foreign ships offered their vessels as
shelter. A partial clearing of the smoke cloud on the after-
noon of April 9, revealed the fact that the outline of
Vesuvius was altered. The whole cone had been blown
away, and it was estimated that the summit was 250 metres
lower than it was before the eruption. At that time the
extent of the flow of lava was said to have surpassed any-
thing known in two centuries.


Vesuvius enters history with the eruption which buried
the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum on October 24 of
the year 79. So far as is known there is no previous record
of an eruption. For sixteen years before the fatal year
there were what to modem scientists would be undeniable
signs of promised activity in the terrible earthquakes which
occurred with fatal frequency for sixteen years before the
awful event. A great part of Pompeii was thrown down by
a shock in the year 63, and the next year, just after Nero
left the building in Naples, where he had been singing, the
structure was destroyed by seismic disturbances.

It is not unlikely that these warnings did have their
effect upon some of the inhabitants of the cities on the
Bay of Naples. According to Dion Cassius, who wrote a
century later, Herculaneum and Pompeii were destroyed
"while the population were sitting in the theatre." Excava-
tions have not proved this statement, for only a few bodies

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402 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

have been uncovered in the old theatres of Pompeii, and
these are believed to be the remains of gladiators either
slain or wounded here. If the theatres were filled there
is evidence that the spectators were able to make their


The most famous description of the historic outburst
is that left by Pliny the younger, who was an eyewitness,
in two letters which he wrote to Tacitus.

"Your request/' he wrote in the first epistle, "that I
would send you an account of my uncle's death, in order to
transmit a more exact relation of it to posterity, de-
serves my acknowledgments, for if this accident shall be
celebrated by your pen the glory of it, I am well assured,
will be rendered forever illustrious. And notwithstanding
he perished by a misfortune which, as it involved at the
same time a most beautiful country in ruins, and destroyed
so many populous cities, seems to promise him an everlast-
ing remembrance; notwithstanding he has himself com-
posed many and lasting works, yet I am persuaded the
mentioning of him in your immortal writings will greatly
contribute to render his name immortal.

"It is with extreme willingness, therefore, that I exe-
cute your commands, and should indeed have demanded
the task if you had not enjoined it. He was at that time
with the fleet under his command at Misenum. On the
24th of August, about i in the afternoon, my mother de-
sired him to observe a cloud which appeared of a very un-
usual size and shape. He had just taken a turn in the sun,
and, after bathing himself in cold water and making a light
luncheon, gone back to his books. He immediately arose
and went out upon a rising ground from whence he might
get a better sight of this very uncommon appearance. A

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 405

cloud, from which mountain was uncertain at this distance
(but it was found afterward to come from Mount Vesuvius),
was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you
a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a
pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a
tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of
branches, occasioned, I imagine, either by a sudden gust of
air that impelled it, the force of which decreased as it ad-
vanced upward, or the cloud itself being pressed back again
by its own weight, expanded in the manner I have men-
tioned; it appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark
and spotted, according as it was either more or less im-
pregnated with earth and cinders.


"Meanwhile broad flames shone out in several places
from Mount Vesuvius, which the darkness of the night
contributed to render still brighter and clearer. But my
uncle, in order to soothe the apprehensions of his friend,
Pomponianus, assured him it was only the burning of the
villages, which the country people had abandoned to the
flames. After this he retired to rest. The court which led
to his apartment being now almost filled with stones and
ashes, if he had continued there any time longer it would
have been impossible for him to have made his way out.
So he was awakened and got up, and went to Pomponianus
and the rest of the company, who were feeling too anxious
to think of going to bed.

"They went out then, having pillows tied upon their
heads with napkins, and this was their whole defense
against the storm of stones that fell round them.

"It was now day everyivhere else, but there a deeper

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darkness prevailed than in the thickest night, which, how-
ever, was in some degree alleviated by torches and other
lights of various kinds. They thought proper to go further
down upon the shore to see if they might safely put to sea,
but found the waves still running extremely high and

"There my uncle, laying himself down upon a sail doth
which was spread for him, called twice for some cold water,
which he drank, when immediately the flames, preceded by
a strong whiflF of sulphur, dispersed the rest of the party and
obliged him to rise. He raised himself up with the assis-
tance of two of his servants, and instantly fell down dead,
suffocated, as I conjecture by some g^oss and noxious va-
por, having always had a weak throat, which was often in-
flamed. As soon as it was light again, which was not till
the third day after this melancholy accident, his body was
found entir^e, and without any marks of violence upon it, in
the dress in which he fell, and looking more like a man
asleep than dead."


In his second letter Pliny gives further particulars:
"There," he wrote, "had been noticed for many days
before a trembling of the earth, which did not alarm us
much, as this is quite an ordinary occurrence in Campania,
but it was so particularly violent that night that it not only
shook, but actually overturned, as it would seem, every-
thing about us. My mother rushed into my chamber,
where she found me rising, in order to awaken her. We
sat down in the open court of the house, which occupied a
small space between the buildings and the sea. As I was at
that time but i8 years of age I know not whether I should

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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 407

call my behavior in this dangerous juncture courage or
folly; but I took up Livy and amused myself with turning
over that author, and even making extracts from him, as if
I had been perfectly at my leisure. Though it was now
morning the light was still exceedingly faint and doubtful;
the buildings all around us tottered, and though we stood
upon open ground, yet as the place was narrow and con-
fined, there was no remaining without imminent danger.
We, therefore, resolved to quit the town.

"A panic-stricken crowd followed us, and (as to a mind
distracted with terror every suggestion seemed more pru-
dent than its own) pressed on us in dense array to drive
us forward as we came out. Being at a convenient distance
from the houses we stood still in the midst of a most dan-
gerous and dreadful scene. The chariots, which we had
ordered to be drawn out, were so agitated backward and
forward, though upon the most level ground, that we could
not keep them steady, even by supporting them with large
stones. The sea seemed to roll back upon itself, and to be
driven from its banks by the convulsive motion of the earth.
It is certain at least the shore was considerably enlarged,
and several sea animals were left upon it. On the other side
a black and dreadful cloud, broken with rapid, zigzag
Hashes, revealed behind it variously shaped masses of Hame.
These last were like sheet lightning, but much larger.

"Soon afterward the cloud began to descend and cover
the sea. It had already surrounded and concealed the Is-
land of Capri and the promontory of Misenum.

"My mother now besought, urged, even commanded
me to make my escape, at any rate, which, as I was young,
I might easily do; as for herself, she said her age and cor-
pulency rendered all attempts of that sort impossible; how-
ever, she would willingly meet death if she could have the

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4o8 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

satisfaction of seeing that she was not the occasion of mine.
But I absolutely refused to leave her, and taking her by the
hand, compelled her to go with me. She complied with
great reluctance, and not without many reproaches to her-
self for retarding my flight.

"The ashes now began to fall upon us, though in no
great quantity. I looked back. A dense, dark mist seemed
to be following us, spreading itself over the country like a
cloud. 'Let us turn out of the high road/ I said, 'while we
can still see, for fear that, should we fall in the road, we
should be pressed to death in the dark by the crowds that
are following us.' We had scarcely sat down when night
came upon us, not such as we have when the sky is cloudy,
or when there is no moon, but that of a room when it is
shut up and all the lights put out.


"You might hear the shrieks of women, the screams of
children and the shouts of men; some calling for their
children, others for their parents, others for their husbands,
and seekinj": to recognize each other by the voices that re-
plied; one lamenting his own fate; another that of his fam-
ily; some wishing to die from the very fear of dying; some
lifting their hands to the gods, but the greater part con-
vinced that there were now no gods at all, and that the final
endless night, of which we have heard, had come upon the
world. Among these there were some who augmented the

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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 23 of 25)