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

. (page 24 of 25)
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 24 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

real terrors by others imaginary or wilfully invented. I re-
member some who declared that one part of Misenum had
fallen, that another was on fire; it was false, but they found
people to believe them. It now grew rather lighter, which
we imagined to be rather the forerunner of an approaching

Digitized by



burst of flames (as iri truth it was) than the return of day.
However, the fire fell at a distance from us; then again we
were immersed in thick darkness, and a heavy shower of
ashes rained upon us, which we were obliged every now
and then to stand up to shake oflF, otherwise we should have
been crushed and buried in the heap.

"At last this dreadful darkness was dissipated by de-
grees, like a cloud of smoke ; the real day returned, and even
the sun shone out, though with a lurid light, as when an
eclipse is coming on. Every object that presented itself to
our eyes (which were extremely weakened) seemed
changed, being covered deep with ashes as if with snow."


Vesuvius is inseparably linked with the destruction of
Pompeii, so graphically described by the younger Pliny.
Although the burning mountain before that time always
had been regarded as an extinct crater, the volcano ceased
its activity after that awful exhibition of its power, and for
124 years remained dormant. The principal eruptions of
Vesuvius have been as follows: A. D. 79, 203, 472, 512, 685,
993» 1036, 1049, 1 138, 1306, 1631, 1779, 1793, 1822, 1861,
1872, 1906. The eruptions of 1631, 1872 and the present
month are the most destructive since the ashes of the vol-
cano sealed up the two ancient cities at its foot. That of
1 63 1 killed about 4,000 persons; in 1872 about 60 perished;
and it is estimated that thus far almost 500 persons have
fallen victims to the present fury of Vesuvius, while the
property loss, at present only to be estimated, may reach

Pompeii was buried under materials from twenty to

Digitized by



twenty-five feet deep. The greater part of this covering is
composed of volcanic ash. Several strata of volcanic ma-
terial have been found by excavators, showing that more
than once the lava, mud and ashes from the crater have
fallen over the same place. Five-sixths of the depth of the
materials has been found to consist of pumice stone of an
irregular shape, from the size of a pea to two or three
inches in diameter. Upon the authority of some scientists
who have examined these materials it is said that fire was
no element in the destruction of Pompeii.


Soon after the destruction of the ancient city searches
were made, either by those who escaped or by looters, and
many articles of value removed. There is evidence tending
to show that these researches were continued over a long
period. It is also known that the Emperor Alexander
Severus made Pompeii a sort of artistic quarry, from which
he drew a great quantity of marbles, columns and beautiful
statues which he employed in adorning edifices he con-
structed in Rome. The furniture once in the Basilica and
the columns of the porticos of Eumachia were missing when
the ruins were uncovered, and it has reasonably been sug-
gested that they were removed, probably by the imperial


Charles III, the first Bourbon King of Naples, had a
palace erected at Portici in 1748, and more remains of an
ancient town were brought to light. A Spanish officer of
Engineers was employed to examine the subterranean

Digitized by


SAN Francisco's great disaster. 411

canal, and he was led to conjecture that a buried city was to
be found on its lines. Excavations were then commenced,
and have been continued, with intermissions, down to
the present time. In 1755 the Accademia Ercolanese
was instituted for the investigation of the antiquities dis-
covered, and under their auspices was published in nine vol-
umes the "Pitture d^Ercalano." The publication caused a
sensation among the learned, and worldwide interest has
since been felt in the gigantic work of uncovering the
ruined cities. Since 1828 the work of research has gone
forward very energetically, until now it is almost possible
to gain a fairly thorough history of the manners and cus-
toms of Pompeii under the Roman rule.


Besides the temples which surround the forum, the re-
mains of four others have been discovered, three of which
are situated in the immediate neighborhood of the theatre.
Among the most conspicuous buildings are the theatres, of
which there were two, placed, as was usual in Greek towns,
in close juxtaposition with one another. The largest of
these, which was partly excavated in the side of the hill, was
a building of considerable magnificence, being in great part
cased with marble, and furnished with seats of the same
material, which have, however, been almost wholly re-
moved. Its internal construction and arrangements re-
semble those of the Roman theatres in general, though
with some peculiarities that show Greek influence, and we
learn from an inscription that it was erected in Roman
times by two members of the same family, M. Holconius
Rufus and M. Holconius Celer, both of whom held im-
portant municipal offices at Pompeii during the reign of

Digitized by



Augustus. The smaller theatre, which was erected, as
we learn from an inscription, by two magistrates specially
appointed for the purpose by the decurions of the city,
was of older date than the large one, and appears to have
been constructed about the same time as the ampitheatre
soon after the establishment of the Roman colony under
Sulla. The smaller theatre is computed to have been
capable of containing" fifteen hundred spectators while the
larger could accommodate five thousand persons.


Adjoining the amphitheatre was found a large
open space, nearly square in form which has been
supposed to be a forum boarium or cattle market,
but, no buildings of interest being discovered around it,
the excavation was filled up again, and this part of the
city has not since been examined. Among the more im-
portant public buildings in Pompeii were the thermae, or
public baths, an institution that always held a prominent
position in every Roman or Graeco-Roman town. Three
different establishments of this character have been discov-
ered, of which the first, excavated in 1824, was for a long
time the only one known. Great as is the interest at-
tached to the various public buildings of Pompeii, and
valuable as is the light that they have in some instances
thrown upon similar edifices in other ruined cities, far more
curious and interesting is the insight afforded us by the
numerous private houses and shops into the ordinary life
and habits of the population of the ancient town.


The architecture of Pompeii must be regarded as
presenting in general a transitional character from the pure

Digitized by



Greek style to that of the Roman Empire. All the three
orders of Greek architecture — the Doric, Ionic and Cor-
inthian — are found freely employed in the various edifices
of the city, but rarely in strict accordance with the rules
of art in their proportions and details^ while the private
houses naturally exhibit still more deviation and irregu-
larity. The architecture of Pompeii suflFers also from the
inferior quality of the materials generally employed. No
good building stone was at hand; and the public as well as
private edifices were constructed either of volcanic tuff,
or brick; or the irregular masonry known to the Romans
as opus incertum. In the private houses, even, the col-
umns are mostly of brick covered merely with a coat of
stucco. In a few instances only do we find them making
use of a kind of travertine, found in the valley of the Sarno,
which, though inferior to the similiar material so largely
employed at Rome, was better adapted than the ordinary
tuff for purposes where g^eat solidity was required. The
portion of the portico surrounding the forum which was
in the process of rebuilding at the time when the city was
destroyed was constructed of this material, while the
earlier portions, as well as the principal temples that ad-
joined it, were composed in the ordinary manner of vol-
canic tuff.

Digitized by



Accounts of earthquakes are to be found scattered
through the writings of many ancient authors, but they are,
for the most part, of little value to the seismologist. There
is a natural tendency to exaggeration in describing such
phenomena, sometimes, indeed, to the extent of importing
a supernatural element into the description. It is true that
attempts were made by some ancient writers on natural phil-
osophy, to offer a rational explanation of earthquake phe-
nomena, but the h3rpotheses which their explanations in-
volved are, as a rule, too fanciful to be worth reproducing
at the present day. It is, therefore, unnecessary to dwell
upon the references to seismic phenomena which have come
down to us in the writings of such historians and philoso-
phers as Thucydides, Aristotle, and Strabo, Seneca, Livy,
and Pliny. Nor is much to be gleaned from the pages of
mediaeval and later writers on earthquakes, of whom the
most notable are Fromondi (1527), Maggio (1571), and
Travagini (1679).

Even at the present day, after all that has been written
on the subject, but little is really known as to the origin of
earthquakes. Probably several distinct causes should be rec-
ognized, for it is hardly to be supposed that all subterranean
disturbances, differing, as they do, so widely in intensity
and in duration, should be referable to one common mechan-
ism. Any great concussion, even upon the surface, is com-
petent to produce tremors which may be regarded as dimin-
utive earthquakes ; thus the great landslip at the Rossberg,
in Switzerland, in 1806, was accompanied by a local quaking
of the ground. Volgar and Mohr have suggested that some
of the small earthquakes which have been felt in Germany


Digitized by


SAN Francisco's great disaster. 415

may be referred to the falling-in of the roof of enormous
subterranean cavities formed by the long-continued solvent
action of water on deposits of rock-salt, limestone, and gyp-
sum. Such causes, however, can have given rise to only
very petty shocks, and must be quite subordinate to subter-
ranean disturbances of a more general character.

The late Mr. Poulett Scrope was led to refer most
earthquakes to "the snap and jar occasioned by the sudden
and violent rupture of solid rock-masses, and, perhaps, the
instantaneous injection into them of intumescent molten
matter from beneath." He believed that the rupture of the
rocks was due to expansion of deeply seated masses of
mineral matter, consequent upon either increased tempera-
ture or diminished temperature. It is argued, however, by
Mr. Mallet, on mechanical principles, that such fractures
could produce only very weak impulses; but he believes
that some earthquakes, especially those marked by long-
continued tremors, may be due to the movement and crush-
ing of rock masses by tangential pressures produced by
secular cooling of the earth. Steam has always been a
favorite agent with seismologists, since it is clearly compe-
tent to produce great effects by its sudden generation or by
its sudden condensation. It has been suggested that water,
finding its way through fissures in the earth's crust, might
reach highly-heated rocks and remain quietly, in the spher-
oidal condition until a local reduction of temperature sud-
denly caused it to flash into steam. After all, the origin of
earthquakes is probably to be regarded as part only of a
much wider question. Whatever causes are competent to
produce volcanic action are, in all likelihood, equally com-
petent to produce the ordinary manifestations of seismic en-
ergy. A reaction is clearly traceable between the geographi-
cal distribution of voUcanocs and the chief earthquake-areas ;

Digitized by


4i6 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

and although it is not for a moment to be supposed that the
volcano and the earthquake stand to each other in relation
of cause and effect, it is nevertheless highly probable that
they represent merely different expressions of the same sub-
terranean forces.


History records many earthquakes of tremendous
force and destructiveness. In B. C. 464, the whole of
I.aconia was shaken. The story is told by Thirlwall in
his "History of Greece." The earthquake opened great
chasms in the ground and rolled down huge masses from
the highest peaks of Taygetus; Sparta, itself, became a
heap of ruins, in which not more than five houses are said
to have been left standing. More than 20,000 persons
were believed to have been destroyed by the shock and
the flower of the Spartan youth was overwhelmed by the
fall of the buildings in which they were exercising them-


The Lisbon earthquake cost 20,000 lives and great
portions of the city were engulfed. Grace Aguilar in her
novel 'The Escape" gives a graphic pen picture of the
tragedy, which occurred on November i, 1755. Alvar
Rodriguez, a rich Jew, whose wealth has excited the cupid-
ity of officials of the Spanish Inquisition and his young
bride, Almah Diaz, are on the point of being put to death.
The earthquake is their salvation. The incident is thus

The executioners hurried forward, the brands were

Digitized by



applied to the turf of the piles, the flames blazed up be-
neath their hand — when at that moment there came a
shock as if the earth were cloven asunder, the heavens rent
in twain. A crash so loud, so fearful, so appalling, as if
the whole of Lisbon had been shivered to its foundations,
and a shriek, or rather thousands and thousands of human
voices, blended in one wild, piercing cry of agony and
terror, seeming to burst from every quarter at the selfsame
instant, and fraught with universal woe. The buildings
around shook, as impelled by a mighty whirlwind, though
no such sound was heard.

The earth heaved, yawned, closed, and rocked again,
as the billows of the ocean were lashed to fury. It was a
moment of untold horror. The crowd assembled to wit-
ness the martyrs' death, wildly shrieking, fled on every side.
Scattered to the heaving ground, the blazing piles lay
powerless to injure; their bonds were shivered, their guards
were fled. . . One bound brought Alvar to his wife and
he clasped her in his arms.


Every street and square, and avenue was choked with
shattered ruins, rent from top to bottom; houses, con-
vents, and churches presented the most fearful aspect of
ruin; while every second minute a new impetus seemed
to be given to the convulsed earth, causing those that re-
mained still perfect to rock and rend. Huge stones, falling
from every crack, were crushing the miserable fugitives
as they rushed on, seeking safety they knew not where. .
None dared ask the fate of friends— none dared ask, "Who
lives?" in that one scene of universal death.

Digitized by


4i8 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

On, on sped Alvar and his precious burden ! On, over
the piles of ruins; on, unhurt amidst the showers of stones,
which hurled in the air as easily as a ball cast from an in-
fant's hand, fell back again laden with a hundred deaths;
on, amid the rocking and yawning earth, beholding thou-
sands swallowed up, crushed and maimed, worse than death
itself, for they were left to a lingering torture — to die a
thousand deaths in anticipating one; on over the disfigured
heaps of dead, and the unrecognized masses of what had
once been magnificent and gorgeous buildings.

His eye was well nigh blinded with the shaking and
tottering movement of all things animate and inanimate
before him; and his path was obscured by the sudden and
awful darkness, which had changed that bright, glowing
hue of the sunny sky into a pall of dense and terrible
blackness, becoming thicker and denser with every suc-
ceeding minute, till darkness which might be felt, envel-
oped that city as with the grim shadow of death.

His ear was deafened by the appalling sounds of hu-
man agony and nature's wrath; for now sounds as of a
hundred waterspouts, the dull, continued roar of subter-
ranean thunder, becoming at times loud as the discharge
of a thousand cannons; at others resembling the sharp
grating sound of hundreds and hundreds of chariots driven
full speed over the stones; and this, mingled with the
piercing shrieks of women, the hoarser cries and shouts
of men, and the deep, terrible groans of mental agony and
the shriller screams of instantaneous deaths, had usurped
the place of the previous awful stillness, till every sense
of those who yet survived seemed distorted and maddened.

Digitized by


SAN Francisco's great disaster. 419


A shock, violent, destructive, convulsive, flung them

A new and terrible cry added to the universal horror.

"The sea! The sea!"

Alvar sprang to his feet, and, cliasped in each other's
arms, he and Almah gazed beneath. Not a breath of
wind moved, yet the river tossed and heaved as impelled
by a mighty storm — and on it came, roaring, foaming,
tumbling, as if every bound were loosed; on, on over the
land to the very heart of the devoted city, sweeping oflF
hundreds in its course and retiring with such velocity and
so far beyond its natural banks that vessels were left dry
which had five minutes before ridden in water seven fath-
oms deep.

Again and again this phenomenon took place; the
vessels in the river at the same instant whirled round and
round with frightful rapidity, and smaller boats dashed up-
wards, falling back to disappear beneath the booming

As if chained to the spot by the horror, Alvar and
his wife yet gazed; their glances fixed on the new marble
quay, where thousands and thousands of the fugitives had
congregated; fixed as if unconsciously foreboding what
was to befall.

Again the tide rushed in — on, on, over the massive
ruins, heaving, raging, swelling, as a living thing; and at
the same instant the quay and its vast burden of humanity
sunk within an abyss of boiling waters, into which the
innumerable boats around were alike impelled, leaving not
a trace, even when the angry waters return to their chan-
nel, suddenly as they had left it, to mark what had been.

Digitized by


420 SAN Francisco's great disaster.


Terrible it was. From three several parts of the
ruined city huge fires suddenly blazed up, hissing, crack-
ling, ascending as clear columns of liquid flame up against
the pitchy darkness, infusing it with tenfold horror — spread-
ing on every side — consuming all wood and wall which
the earth and water had left unscathed; wreathing its
serpent like folds in and out the ruins; fascinating the eye
with admiration, yet bidding the blood chill and the flesh

Fresh shouts and cries had marked its rise and pro-
gress, but, aghast and stupefied, those who yet survived
made no effort to check its way, and on every side it spread,
forming lanes and squares of glowing red, flinging its lurid
glare so vividly around that even those on the distant
heights could see to read by it; and fearful was the scene
that awful light revealed.

Now, for the first time, could Alvar trace the full ex-
tent of destruction which had befallen. That glorious city
which, a few brief hours previous, lay reposing in gorge-
ous sunlight — mighty in its palaces and towers — in its
churches, convents, theatres, magazines, and dwellings —
rich in its numberless artisans and stores — lay perished
and prostrate as the grim specter of long ages past, save
that the fearful groups yet passing to and fro, or huddled
in kneeling or standing masses, some bathed in the red
glare of the increasing fires, others black and shapeless —
save when sudden fire flashed on them, disclosing what
they were — revealed a strange and horrible present amid
what seemed the shadows of a fearful past.

Digitized by


SAN Francisco's great disaster. 421


South America, along its western side, has been a re-
gion of many earthquakes. The Cordillera, a coast range,
is a great terrestrial billow, bristling with volcanoes, active
and extinct, and in almost every part showing striking
evidence of volcanic agencies. It is throughout volcanic,
as if overlying some vast fissure of the earth's crust,
reaching nearly in a right line from north to south. But
the two great centers of pronounced and frequently recur-
ring disturbance coincide nearly with the sites of the capi-
tals of the two republics, Ecuador and Peru, namely Quito
and Lima.

The first earthquake recorded in this r^on preceded
the Lisbon disaster by a few years. It occurred in the
year 1746, on the 28th day of October, and was felt over
a vast expanse of country. During the night at half past
10 o'clock, the earth was suddenly convulsed, and as a
contemporary in Lima wrote, "at one and the same time
came the noise, the shock and the ruin," so that in a space
of four minutes, during which the earthquake lasted, the
destruction was complete, and Lima was reduced to a heap
of ruins.

Of upward of 3000 houses but twenty-one remained
standing. There were seventy-one churches, great and
small, all of which were destroyed. Still, owing in part
to its occurrence early in the evening, before the people
were in their beds, only 1141 persons were killed out of
a population of perhaps from 40,000 to 50,000. Seventy
of these were patients in the Hospital of St. Anne.


Many other earthquakes, more or less disastrous, are

Digitized by


4^2 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

recorded in Peru and Ecuador. But it was in 1868 that
there took place what are known as *'the great South
American earthquakes/' which for their extent, violence
and widespread devastation may be regarded as the most
terribk seismic disturbances on record. For months, the
catastrophe was portended by hurricanes, tremors and
volcanic eruptions in almost every quarter of the globe.

The great shocks in th6 South American continent
took place on August 13 and 16. They were felt, more
or less severely, over an extent, from north to south, of
more than sixty degrees of latitude, all the way from the
Isthmus to Cape Horn. Yet their lateral action seems to
have been checked, on the east certainly, by the chain of
the Cordillera, and effectually stopped by the Andes., So
terrific were the shocks in Peru and beneath the seas
adjoining that great tidal waves broke on the shores of the
Pacific islands and on those of distant New Zealand, Japan
nnd California.


Until the year 1883, few people of the world gene-
rally had ever heard of the little Island of Krakatoa, lying
in the Sunda Straits, midway between Java and Sumatra.
Beneath the big mountain, an extinct vocano, was the
thriving little seaport of Anjer, crowded with yellow-
skinned Malays. Back of the town were scores of small

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are always closely
associated, and it was earthquake shocks that, in 1883, gave
the first warning of disturbance within the cone of Kraka-
toa. These were felt over a wide area, throughout all the
adjacent islands. Then came the signs of volcanic activ-
ity. But at first the eruption did not threaten to be of
any serious type. In fact, the good people of Batavia, a
hundred miles away, so far from being terrified at what
was in progress in Krakatoa, thought the display was such
an attraction that they chartered a steamer and went forth
for a pleasant picinic on the island.

Digitized by


SAN Francisco's great disaster. 423

But as the summer advanced, the vigor of Krakatoa
steadily increased, the noises became more and more vehe-
ment, and at last the thunders of the recurring explosions
caused consternation over a wide region. There were
other symptoms of the approaching catastrophe. With
each successive convulsion, a quantity of fine dust was

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24

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 24 of 25)