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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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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 4 of 25)
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of walls, cornices, falling from great heights on smaller
buildings probably did more of the damage than the actual
shock of the earthquake. The damage to the modem
structures, the skyscrapers, of which the city boasted a large
number, will be the subject of the chief debate. The truth
is, very probably that while there was the appearance of vast



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 53

havoc, that structurally these buildings, in many instances,
were not seriously injured and that repairs to external
injuries would have restored them. The conclusion will
probably be drawn, ultimately, that had there been only
the earthquake, San Francisco, on counting the cost, had
found it far within the calculations of men still under the
spdll of terror. The losses would have gone into the mil-
lions, no doubt, and the story had been a notable one, worthy
a place among the great disasters, but not one to make the
city unique for all time,

A BROOD OF DESTROYERS.

It was the brood of destroyers, bom of the earthquake,
that laid San Francisco low. Fire was to have been ex-
pected. The firemen of the city went confidently to work
to give battle. But the whole appalling truth of peril was
not known until it was discovered that the earthquake con-
vulsions had wrecked the great water mains of the city
and that in the face pi twenty fires .there was no means to
wage war o^ itlienl.'.Jnst'gft.' that "moment, when streets
were crowded, and the* SQcjc^idsfiockc^tne, human life faced
the crowning crisis; fe'th^'ci^ itsfelf 6tt>6d face to face with
its greatest peril at this moment. It was a crisis that spelled
destruction. It was told in that single word, ''doomed,"
that was sent broadcast. From that moment event fol-
lowed event in logical order until three-fourths of San
Francisco lay a seething, charred heap of ashes.

The story divides itself naturally into periods of days.
Wednesday morning, April 18, marked the beginning. The
events, the hopes and fears, of Wednesday form a chapter
by themselves. There was a night of terror. Then Thurs-



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54 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

day dawned on the destruction already wrought. The
earthquake was now a thing of the past. But the monster
of flame was still eating at the heart of the city; firemen
and troops were still engaged in the unequal struggle; an
army of homeless ones demanded shelter; there was no
water and little food; the dead were unburied; the injured
being dragged from point to point ; a throng of terror-mad
people were battling for escape ; these and other awful facts
confronted the authorities on this second day and its story
is a second awful chapter. Another night of suffering
and terror and Friday dawned. Still the fire, spreading
destruction; still the hunger and thirst; still the homeless,
still the problems of the day before, now increased an
hundred- fold. So Friday, with its struggle to save; its
hope against hope and its faith in the face of the rapidly
vanishing city, is a new chapter in the unfolding of the
tragedy. Now organization is succeeding chaos, the out-
side world has been heard from ; men have regained their
faculties ; the need of the hour has been methodically de-
termined: "What otto^brVowT'yiWst'Wbat of to-day r
in men's minds. The worst has* been ' reached, perhaps
past, is the hope \jrl>eo [Frkiay's •chapter cohie^ to an end.
Then dawns Saturday. It brings fresh problems, a new
aspect ; a new chapter. Now comes the glad news that the
fire has reached its utmost boundary. Now comes the time
of recapitulation. Not "What is going?" but "What is left
to us?'* is the question on men's lips. And thus Saturday
adds its score to the whole.

Eaich day, moreover, is a day of detailed things.
Such disasters defy generalities. Step by step the path of
the flame must be followed, its story the story of the last



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER. 57

building that crumbled in its path. The story, from the
human point of view, is the story of the struggle for life
of the individual. Here, also, generalities can carry little
idea of the sum of the human suffering involved. So of
every aspect of the catastrophe. Each is the sum of in-
finite incidents and it is only in the assembling of these that
the reader may hope to get a near view of the events re-
corded, to catch in the sum of the minute development,
scene, by scene, as it were, of a great tragedy the plot that
underlies the whole. This we shall attempt to do.

AN ''EARTHQUAKE CITY."

Althoug^h San Francisco has always been known as
an "earthquake town" frequency of shocks rather than
violence has been characteristic of its seismic history.

There was a violent shock in 1856, when the city was
only a mining town of small frame buildings. Several
shanties were overthrown and a few persons killed by fall-
ing -walls and chimneys. Next in violence was the shock
of 1872, which cracked the walls of some of the public
buildings and caused a panic. There was no great loss
of life. In April, 1898, just before midnight, there was a
lively shake-up which caused the tall buildings to shake
like the snapping of a whip and drove the tourists out of
the hotels into the streets in their night clothes. Three or
four old houses fell, and the Benicia navy yard, which is
on made ground across the bay, was damaged to the ex-
tent of about $100,000.

These were the heaviest shocks. On the other hand,
light shocks have been frequent. Probably the sensible
quakes have averaged three or four a year. These are



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58 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

usually tremblings lasting from ten seconds to a minute
and just heavy enough to wake light sleepers or to shake
dishes about on the shelves. Tourists and newcomers are
generally alarmed by these phenomena, but old Califor-
nians have learned to take them philosophically. To one
who is not afraid of them, the sensation of one of these
little tremblers is rather pleasant than otherwise.

HAVE ALWAYS FEARED DISASTER.

Yet the fear of a great earthquake disaster has always
been over San Francisco. It has accotmted in great de-
gree for the peculiar architecture of the place. It was
only in 1890 that any one ventured to build a high struc-
ture, and the inhabitants have been shy of brick and stone.
The houses and the business blocks, to some extent, are of
wood — ^mainly California redwood. Brick residences are
not common.

With the steady trade winds which prevail there at
all seascMis of the year the city should have been wiped
out by a great conflagration long ago, and would have
been but for the peculiar quality of California redwood,
which smolders in a fire and refuses to break into a bright
and energetic blaze. Given a good water supply the fires
are such that they are easily handled by the fire depart-
ment. In fact, there has never been before this what
might be called a general conflagration in San Francisco.

To understand tJhis disaster it is necessary to consider
the peculiar physical characteristics of the land upon which
San Francisco is built. The original site was a bunch of
high and abrupt hills ending in a peninsula, whose furthest



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER. 59

reach forms one side of the Golden Gate, the entrance to
San Francisco Bay. The greater part of the city proper
is on the inner side of the peninsula, facing on the bay and
not on the Pacific Ocean. The city has been growing out
toward the ocean, however; and Golden Gate Park, which
starts as a broad ribbon of land at about the centre of the
town, has reached an ocean frontage. The city now has
a population of more than 400,000.

The four or five high hills were appropriated early
in the life of the city as a residence district ; and with the
exception of Telegraph Hill, at one comer of the city, they
hold the homes of the wealthy and well to do. The busi-
ness district was set on the low lands in the clefts between
the hills, and, of course, as close to the wharf-room on the
bay as possible.

Such land being valuable, this district has been grad-
ually filled in and extended for fifty years. "When the
water came up to Montgomery street" is a San Francisco
phrase describing the early daysi. Now there are ten
blocks of business streets between Montgomery street and
the water front. Here lies the warehouse and wholesale
district.

The heart of San Francisco is "Newspaper Comers,"
only a block inland from Montgomery street, and there-
fore verging on the old waterfront and the made lands.
Here, on four comers, stood the Chronicle building, eleven
stories, and the first high building in San Francisco; the
Call building, twenty stories, and the tallest structure in
the city; the Examiner building, eight stories, and the new
Mutual Bank building, twelve stories.

Just on the edge of the made land stood the Palace



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6o SAN Francisco's great disaster.

Hotel, not a high building, but covering a block of ground
and one of the largest structures in the city. Across from
it was the Crocker building, ten stories, and the smaller
Hobart building, in which the Postal Telegraph Company
was housed. At the centre of the square formed by the
newq[)aper buildings stood the fountain presented by the
actress Lotta to the city.

FIRST BIQ BUILDING IN 1890.

As has been said, the fear of what might happen in
an earthquake, combined with the scarcity of nearby quar-
ries and brick-yards, kept San Francisco people from build-
ing with a show of permanence. The first to break the tra-
dition was M. H. DeYoung, who put up the eleven story
Chronicle building in 1890. This was in the early days
of skyscraper construction, and the framework of the
Chronicle building was not of steel but of wrought iron,
while the shell was of brick.

The building stood, weathered a few small earthquakes
and had nothing happen to it. San Franciscans took heart
and began to experiment with tall buildings. In 1894,
John D. Sprcckels put up the Call building, noted as one
of the few really beautiful skyscrapers in the country.
This stood out of the city like a tower as viewed from the
hills and was the most conspicuous feature on the land-
scape of San Francisco. The Crocker Building, the Em-
porium Building, the Wells Fargo Building, the new Bald-
win Building and half a dozen others followed.

In 1903, the St. Francis Hotel, a skyscraper, was



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 6i

erected on Union Square. This is a little way out of the
low era of made ground and original waterfront and had
every reason to come unscathed out of an earthquake. In
1905, the Fairmount Hotel, built from the Fair fortune,
was put up on the edge of the highest hill in the city, and
the new Merchants' Exchange Building was completed
on California street. In fact, building mainly of large
structures has been going forward as fast as the limita-
tions imposed by the unions which have ridden the city
would permit.

THE BUSINESS DISTRICT.

The business district lies all along Market street or
north of it. Market street, even after it gets past the area
of made land, is in a depression. Alnwst all the district
south of Market street is on low lands, originally tide
flats. Here are the dwellings of the poor, corresponding
to the tenement district of New York, except that the poor
of San Francisco are housed not in tall tenement buildings,
but in frame houses, often of flimsy construction.

Experience with earthquakes has shown that low lands,
and especially made lands, suffer the most. That seems to
have been the case in this earthquake. It ripped things up
in the wholesale district of made lands, devastated all Mar-
ket street and tumbled about the tenement district.

It is highly probable that the loss of life was almost
entirely confined to this tenement district. It is hardly
necessary to add that the time of the disaster was its only
mercy. The peculiar local conditions, which have packed
most of the business traffic in one street, have made Market



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62 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

street one of the busiest thoroughfares in the United States.
In business hours it is far more thickly congested than any
street in New York. The falling strippings of walls alone
would have killed hundreds and thousands of people.

Just across the Bay from San Francisco, and on the
eastern shore, lie the suburbs of Oakland, Alameda and
Berkeley. Oakland, a city of something more than 70,000
inhabitants, is to San Francisco what Brooklyn is to New
York, except that it is further away - *-about six miles by
ferry. Here are all the terminals of the direct overland
lines, and all passengers, except those coming by the
Southern routes, take ferry at Oakland for San Francisco.
Further along the bay shore and adjacent to Oakland is
Alameda, a residence town on very low land. Hitherto
Alameda has suffered from the slight earthquakes in that
region more than San Francisco. On the other side of
Oakland, eastward of it on the overland routes, is the
college town of Berkeley, the site of the University of Cali-
fornia. Carrying out roughly the parallel to New York,
Oakland would represent Brooklyn, Alameda, Flatbush,
and Berkeley, Long Island City.

WHY WATER MAINS FAILED.

Although the water supply of San Francisco was am-
ple, and was helped out for fire purposes by a system of
salt water mains, the system was made to be the
prey of earthquakes. The greater part of the sup-
ply came from the Spring Valley lakes, some dis-
tance south of the city on the peninsula. The chief main



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 63

ran along the backbone of the peninsula for some distance,
but upon approaching the city it took an abrupt turn to
the east and ran along the made lands until it reached the
business district. From that point it was pumped to reser-
voirs on the crests of the city hills, w*here it got the fall to
supply the residence district. That disturbance of the made
lands, which, of course, broke the water mains, cut off at
once nearly the whole supply of the city. That possibility
had not been foreseen in planning the San Francisco water
mains.

The San Francisco newspapers never mentioned the
possibility of a disastrous earthquake, but the subject was
always in the public mind. A common subject of discus-
sion in San Francisco was the effect of a shake upon the
new tall buildings. Almost all the architects declared that
they stood a vastly better chance than low structures of
brick and stone or ordinary frame buildings. The inter-
locking steel structures, they declared, would sway and
give; the worst that could be expected would be the bom-
bardment of the streets caused by their shaking off their
shells. In this opinion many made an exception of the
Chronicle building, which was built on a rigid iron frame.
As a matter of fact, the Chronicle building came out of it
well, so far as the earthquake was concerned.

BEDLAM FOLLOWS EARTHQUAKE.

This, then, was the city on which the great disaster
fell. No pen ever will adequately describe the bedlam of
the first memorable moments after the first of the series



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64 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

of shocks. No pen will ever describe the spread of terror
throughotit the city, through the first awful day, following
the early morning disaster from earthquake shock.

The first shock came while still the mighty city lay
deep in slumber, weary with the revelries and pleasures
of the night before. In the quiet homes, in the crowded
hotels, men had not yet awakened to the strifes and en-
deavors of the new-dawned day. The stars had but waned,
and the morn was just breaking tiirough the mists and fogs
that hung in gray curtains across the waters of the placid
bay and over the waiting hills. In through the Gk)lden
Gate were blowing the first piping winds wnth the greeting
of the sea.

Then came the rumble of deep thunder from the
mighty bowels of the startled earth. The city shook like
an aspen leaf, and her gray highways suddenly cracked
and split as though the batteries of Satan and hell had been
opened against them from underneath. Along shore the
wharves warped and creaked, and the rakish shades of the
water front fell like stacks of cards. The hills of Sausalito
and Piedmont, the Oakland heights and the dim bluffs
of San Jose rocked like forests in the wind. The clodc
in the tall tower of the Ferry Building stopped as though
the spirit of a demi-god were passing. The majestic struc-
tures of steel and stone that reared their domes against
the sky along Market street, and up and down Montgomery
and the other splendid thoroughfares that line and inter-
sect the mart-crowded town, swayed and swung like pen-
dulums. Then the batteries from below broke forth again,



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VIEW ON MARKET STREET, SAN FRANCISCO, SHOWING
CHRONICLE BUILDING AND SPRECKELS BUILDING



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 67

and still again. Shock followed shock, as though the
enemy that lay masked beneath the buttresses of the earth
were determined to annihilate the city by storm.

AWAKE TO DEATH AND DOOM.

Rude was the awakening from the slumber-bound
night — rude and cruel with messages of death and doom.
Into the rent and reeling streets men, women and children
rushed, half-clothed, with blanched faces and white and
speechless lips. The mighty terror that they had some-
times dreaded and had often laughed at was face to face
with them at last. Their black day of trouble had come,
indeed.

There is no witness of this day's story whose tongue
or pen can describe the wreck and ruin, the death, the doom,
the despair and suffering that lay on every hand. All
through the horror-stricken hours the living hunted for
the dead. Deeds of human bravery, countless and beyond
praise, were performed. The police, the firemen and pri-
vate citizens vied with one another in rendering that service
which nothing can repay. Heroes without number leaped
into the jaws of death to save their fellow human beings,
and in more than one instance sacrificed their lives in the
vain effort to save others. Death and sorrow leveled all
differences, social or otherwise. Saint and sinner huddled
alike in the gloom of this sad night; the same grief tugging
at the heart of each. The holy men of the tabernacles and
the ungodly denizens of the shadows walked side by side,
the same livid fear blanching their lips. Lady of quality



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68 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

and woman of the slums, the vestal virgin and the painted
harridan wept tears together.

Fair and beautiful, from her thrice seven hills, the
city of St. Francis had looked down upon the sunset sea.
Now she lay a bladcened, ruined thing, the pity of the
world. Her shining streets, buttressed with towering
structures of granite and marble and brick, hooped with
steel and bolted with iron, are riven as though by the hand
of devastating demons. Generation after generation she
builded with infinite care and tireless patience until the sons
of the four winds came to look upon her loveliness and the
wonder of her beauty. But in the space of a few short
hours she has been undone. There stands no keeper at the
Golden Gate. From tower and dome and window there
gleam no lamps of welcome. No song creeps out upon
the mirroring waters. Where life was, there now is death.
The dead are at peace, but the living stand with sleepless
eyes waiting for the dreaded dawn of another day.

BUSINESS SECTION STRICKEN.

The successive earthquake shocks fell heaviest on the
great business section of the city. These include the water-
front and several square miles of territory. It is made
ground and to the instability resulting from this fact is to
be attributed the tremendous effect of the repeated convul-
sions of the earth. The whole section had been built up
with imposing business edifices, thickly settled, reaching
from North Beach to far south of Market street. To-day
there is only ruin.

Included in this area is the new ferry building, one



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 69

of the most important structures on the Pacific Coast; the
well-known Palace and Grand Hotels, and others of im-
portance; the Merchants' Exchange, the famous Stock Ex-
ichange; great wholesale houses whose firm names are
known throughout the country; the Nevada Bank, Western
Union and Postal telegraph offices, the Crocker building,
and, in close proximity, the Chronicle, the Examiner and
sixteen-story Call newspaper buildings.

Following the first shock, almost immediately came
a heavier one, and then, swaying and prostrating great
buildings came the third shock, which was the cause of the
chief destruction. It seemed that the city was practically
destroyed. From the ruins of the buildings shaken down
by the five quakes that followed in such close succession,
arose great bursts of flames which swept inward from the
bay. Water mains had been destroyed by the quakes,rend-
ering the fire department engines, such as could be dragged
from fallen walls, almost useless.

The police department was put to work early and
with the assistance of Federal troops sent from the Presidio
military reservation on the outskirts of the city by General
Funston, succeeded in enforcing some measure of order
in the panic which followed the disaster.

From lodging-houses that had fallen, and from other
quarters, poured streams of naked or half-clothed people,
dazed, hysterical or frenzied, not knowing which way to
turn in the great horror of devastation and still further
impending peril which had seized the city.

Husbands were separated from wives and mothers
from children.



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70 SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.

Business men trembled with the thoughts of the losses
which had befallen them and over all palled the overmaster-
ing sense that the danger might not be ended.

SEARCHED RUINS FOR HUMAN VICTIMS.

The firemen, with the assistance of the volunteers per-
mitted to work by the troops and the police, vigorously
endeavored to discover human beings buried under the
masses of stone, brick, mortar and wood and to snatch
the corpses and such persons as might be living from the
rapidly increasing volume of flame.

At 9.45 A. M. the city was a mass of fire from Mont-
gomery street to the water's edge. The fire fighters in
their efforts to stay the progress of the flames, used dyna-
mite freely in destroying structures which might have ma-
terial for the pitiless element to fasten upon.

South of Market street was a sea of roaring red de-
struction from which came reports of exploding gas tanks.

The city morgue was early filled and Mechanics' Pa-
vilion, across from the City Hall, was turned into a mam-
moth receptacle for the bodies of the dead, and as a resting
place for the injured.

Before 10 A. M. three hundred dead had been taken
out, and this number grew and grew until the space re-
served could hold no more. All the physicians, surgeons
and nurses in the city, who had escaped alive from the ter-
rible cataclysm, hastened to oflFer their assistance in the
service of those who were in great need of help.

Meantime, the flames spread, and new reports of death
and demolition poured in upon the nearly exhauste4 work-
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^2, SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER,

"Half of the city already is destroyed/' was the cry
"and the fire is spreading."

From the power of the roaring furnace of flame, the
thunder of exploding gas and other destructive agencies,
including dynamite, it was difficult to distinguish the forces,
and when a report went out, at 2.45 P. M., that there had
been another earthquake shock, some thought it might be
the trembling of the earth consequent upon vibrations of
expanding gases and thuds of fallen weights of material.



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 4 of 25)