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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 5 of 25)
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SWEEP OF DESTROYING ANGEL.

With water mains broken, fire department powerless,
and flames spreading; with morgues and hospitals filled
to overflowing; with electric light and power wires down;
and telephone and telegraph communication cut off; with
railroads crippled so that rolling stock could not be moved
and relief trains barred from entrance; with many of the
largest buildings prostrate and others rocking, threatening
to fall at any moment; and with panic rampant, the condi-
tion of San Francisco was one of almost benumbing hor-
ror.

The first efforts to secure some faint conception of
the extent of the terrible catastrophe produced pitiable re-
sults. About all that could be told was that several shocks
of earthquake, variously estimated at from three to five
or more, had rent the city; that hundreds of people were
killed and injured and that a great fire was raging on the
South Side, and another forcing its resistless way up Mar-
ket street from the wate.*" frorjt ©weeping buildings in its
way.



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER. 73

On the right side of Market street, going from the
ferry, was the splendid plant of the Postal Telegraph Com-
pany. Following the first outbreak, the operators of this
company heroically remained at their posts and gave the
first tidings of San Francisco's overwhelming calamity to
the world.

Subsequently, the company's power plant was put
out of commission by the crush of falling bricks. At that
time, half the wholesale district was burning, and there
was no water.

The third shock startled the city at 8.45 A. M. At
that time telegraph and telephone communication was
virtually at an end. The wind was blowing a gale and the
Palace Hotel, opposite the Postal, was in flames. From
the water front to Montgomery street was a glare of flame,
every moment increasing the destruction and the horror.
The massive and imposing caravansary which has sheltered
some of the world's most famous travelers, was rapidly
emptied of guests and employees.

At least fifty large blocks lay in ruins at 9.30 A. M.,
and the damage to others could not be estimated.

The water front was a scene of entire wreck and de-
struction.

STREETS BECOME IMPASSABLE.

Horrors accumulated. The streets were impassable on
account of the great masses of fallen and burned structures.

In some of the principal streets great fissures ap-
peared.

New fires broke out in different parts of the city, and
it seemed that if the wind did not change the entire me-
tropolis must go.



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74 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

The Western Union Buildng and Associated Press
headquarters at 302 Montgomery street were demolished
and hasty quarters were established elsewhere. The Sun-
set and long distance telephone services were soon out of
business.

It was learned that there was a quake down the coast,
possibly beyond San Luis Obispo; that San Jose was de-
stroyed; and that Salinas, Watsonville and other towns in
that region had suffered exceedingly ; that Napa was partly
destroyed and that the damage and suffering had extended
eastward into Nevada and even beyond.

Panic reigned. Those who could do so tore madly
through devious courses to the blackened, smoking water
front, hoping to escape by ferryboats or other craft across
the bay. Street cars were out of commission and people
rushed madly along as best they might.

Everything was gone on Market street from First to
the ferry on both sides of the street, although the Palace
and Grand Hotels resisted the sweep of the flames longer
than other structures.

From Sixth street, on the west, to the water front,
on the east, south of Market street roared the destructive
element, and the Jessie street side of the Palace Hotel
caught fire.

From Market street to Washington and from San-
some to the water front was another mass of flame to the
northward.

The sweep of the winds carried burning brands into
the outlying district and soon a block on Mission street,
between Twenty-first and Twenty-second streets, was
{iblaz^, TJii^ i§ several niik§ from the business section,



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.



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and threatened with detruction sJiould the fire continue
to spread, the southern residence section of the city.

With the disaster only a few hours old, thousands of
people were homeless and destitute, and all day long streams
of people fled from the stricken districts to places of safety.

The furious fires raged all day, and the fire depart-
ment was powerless to do anything except to destroy the
buildings threatened. All day long explosions shook the
city, and added to the terror of the inhabitants.

All efforts to prevent the fire from reaching the Palace
and Grand Hotels were unsuccessful, and both were com-
pletely destroyed, together with all their contents.

All of San Francisco's best playhouses, including the
Majectic, Columbia, Orpheum and Grand Opera House were
destroyed. The earthquake demolished them for all prac-
tical purposes, and the fire completed the work of destruc-
tion.

The handsome Rialto and Casserly Buildings were
burned to the ground, as was everything in that district.

MECHANICS' PAVIUON MORQUE.

The scene at the Mechanics' Pavilion during the early
hours of the morning and up until noon when all the injured
and dead were removed because of the threatened destruc-
tion of the building by fire, was one of indescrible sadness.
Sisters, brothers, wives and sweethearts searched early
for some missing dear ones. Thousands of persons hur-
riedly went through the building inspecting the cots on
which the sufferers lay, in the hope that they would find
some loved one that was missing.

The dead were placed in one portion of the building



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yS SAN Francisco's great disaster.

and the remainder was devoted to hospital purposes. After
the fire forced the nurses and physicians to desert the
building, the eager crowds followed them to the Presidio
and the Children's Hospital, where they renewed tlieir
search for missing relatives.

More than seven hundred and fifty persons who were
seriously injured by the earthquake and the fire had been
treated at the various hospitals throughout the city by
Wednesday afternoon.

The front of the Bailey and Lacist Building on Clay
street, near Montgomery, fell in killing three men.

Captain Gleason of the Police Department was seri-
ously injured at noon by the falling of tiling.

The stereotypers and pressmen of the Examiner and
the Call, as soon as the shock was felt, rushed out of their
buildings and found a coffee house at Stevenson and Third
streets had collapsed. They at once set to work with axes,
and everything in the way of an implement with which
they could provide themselves, to rescue those inside.

FEDERAL TROOPS ON QUARD.

Mayor Schmitz was about early, and took measures
for the relief and protection of the city. General Funston
was quickly communicated with and by 9 o'clock the Fed-
eral soldiers were guarding the streets and assisting the
firemen in dynamiting buildings.

General Funston realized that stem measures were
necessary, and gave orders that looters were to be shot at
sight. Four men were summarily executed within six
hours.

At a meeting of fifty citizens called by the Mayor it



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.



79



was announced that 1400 tents would be pitched in Golden
Gate Park, and arrangements had been made to feed the
destitute in the public squares. A Finance Committee, with
James D. Phelan at the head, was appointed and Mayor
Schmitz was instructed to issue drafts on this committee
for all funds needed.

"THE DYNAMITE IS GONE."

Throughout Wednesday the fires that immediately
followed the earthquake burned unchecked. Vast columns
of smoke arose from a half dozen sections of the city, an-
nouncing to adjacent cities and towns that destruction was
under way. The firemen, robbed of the only effective foe
of fire by the breaking of the city water mains secured the
entire supply of dynamite to be found in the city. They
destroyed building after building in the path of the fire
but without avail. The little gaps they made utterly failed
to check the conflagration which, while it burned slowly,
was none the less stubborn and resistless. Although the
failure of the heroic efforts of the police, firemen and sol-
diers was at times sickening, the work was continued
with a desperation that will live as one of the features of
the terrible disaster. Nevertheless, while the people knew
that the fire fighters were at work, even if they were de-
pending on the uncertain aid of dynamite, there was a cer-
tain amount of confidence that somehow they would win.

This hope, too, was to vanish. In mid-afternoon it
developed that the last charge of the explosive had been
used. The firemen gazed into each others' eyes in des-
pair. "The djmamite is gone!" was the word. The full
import of this nefw catastrophe was immediately recog-



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8o SAN Francisco's great disaster.

nized. "The city is doomed !" was the conclusion each one
reached in his own mind. Presently someone coupled the
phrases and then they sped around the city, from mouth to
mouth, the dreadful culminating fact in the long series of
horrors :

"The dynamite is gone and the city is doomed." It
was the apotheosis of San Francisco.

Meantime the fire kept eating out the heart of the city.

It seemed that the acme of its misery was reached at
dusk, when flames burst from all sides of the beautiful
Hotel Fairmount, the structure above every other which
was apparently most strongly protected from the oncoming
fire.

Surrounding that lofty pinnacle of flames as far as
the eye could see to the south, to the east, and far out to
the west lay in cruel, fantastic heaps, charred and smoky,
all that remained of a prosperous city.

SCENE OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION.

Day dawned on a scene of death and destruction.
During Thursday night the flames had consumed many of
the city's finest structures and skipped in a dozen direc-
tions to the residence portions. They had made their way
over into the North Beach section and, springing anew to
the south, they reached out along the shipping section down
the bay shore, over hills and across toward Third and
Townsend streets. Warehouses and manufacturers' con-
cerns fell in their path. This completed the destruction
of the entire district known as the "South of Market
street."

After darkness thousands of homeless made their way



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SAN PRANtlSCO's GREAT DISASTER. 8l

With their blankets and scant provisions to Golden Gate
Park and the beach to find shelter. Those in the houses
on the hills just north of the Hayes Valley wrecked sec-
tion piled their belongings in the streets, and express
wagcns and automobiles were hauling the things away
to the sparsely settled regions.

Hundreds of troops patrolled the streets and drove
the crowds back, while hundreds more were set to work
assisting the fire and police departments. The strictest
orders were issued, and in true military spirit the soldiers
obeyed. The curious were driven back at the breasts of
the horses of the cavalrymen, and all the crowds were
forced from the level district to the hilly section beyond to
the north.

The magnitude of the calamity became apparent
when the sun rose and dissipated the pall of darkness that
hung over the city. Looking eastward from the heights
in the central portion of the city, everything attested to
the awful havoc wrought by earthquake and flame. Where
once rose noble buildings, stood nothing but frail walls,
tottering chimneys, heaps of twisted iron and huge piles
of brick and mortar. Adding to the horror of the situa-
tion was the fact that the work of destruction had not
reached its conclusion and that the flames were raging
beyond control.

It was with grief and horror that the community
viewed the ruin. The people were seemingly half dazed
by the magnitude of the disaster.

Policemen were stationed at some of the retail shops,
regulating the sale of foodstuffs and permitting only a
small portion of goods to be delivered to each purchaser,



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Sz SAN Francisco's great disaster.

the idea being to prevent a few persons from gathering
in large quantities of supplies.

The military was unusually strict in observing the en-
forcement of the order to shoot all looters. One man on
Market street, who was found digging in the ruin of a
jewelry shop, was discovered by a naval reserve man and
fired upon three times. He sought safety in flight, but
the reserve man brought him down, running a bayonet
through him. The bodies of three thieves were found
lying in the streets on the south side. Many reports of
looters being killed by the troops were current. Con-
certed action of any kind, in fact, was out of the ques-
tion, and almost every official acted on his own responsi-
bility, it being a physical impossibility to communicate with
superior authorities.

DANGER FROM FALUNQ WALLS.

At first some sort of systematic communication could
be had by means of automobiles, but after two days of the
fire every street was piled high with ruins, and to add to
this trouble there was constant danger from falling walls.
On miles of streets the front walls of ruined build-
ings, still stood, swaying with the concussions of
distant dynamite explosions and the rising winds. Fre-
quently a crash of stone and brick, followed by a cloud
of dust, gave warning to pedestrians of the danger of
travel.

All manner of reports of death and disaster came to
the temporary headquarters of the authorities, but these
reports were received guardedly, allowance being made
for the likelihood of exaggeration, due to the confusion
that prevailed.



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SAN FkANClSTO^S GREAT DISASTER. 83

The fire on Sunday morning, at 7 o'clock, was burning
grain sheds on the water front about half a mile north of
the ferry station. It was confined to a comparatively
small area by the work of fireboats on the bay and the fire-
men on shore who were using salt water pumped from the
bay in the effort to prevent it from reaching the ferry
building and the docks in that immediate vicinity.

On the north beach the fire did not reach that part of
the water front lying west of the foot of Powell street,
The fire on the water front was the only one burning.
The entire western addition of the city lying west of Van
Ness avenue was safe. The flames north of the ferry
were under control at 8.30. They had burned as far south
as the Lombard street dock, where they were checked by
the firemen and soldiers under General Caster.

Everything except four docks was swept clean from
Fisherman's Wharf, at the foot of Powell street, to a point
around westerly almost to the ferry building. This means
that nearly a mile of grain sheds, docks, and. wharves were
added to the general destruction.

In the section north of Market street the ruined dis-
trict practically bounded on the west by Van Ness
avenue, although in many blocks the flames destroyed
squares to the west of that thoroughfare.

The Van Ness avenue burned line runs northerly to
Greenwich street, which is a few blocks frcm the bay.
Then the boundary goes up over Telegraph Hill and down
to that portion of the shore that faces Oakland. Practically
everything in the district bounded by Market street, Van
Ness avenue, Greenwich street, and the bay is in ashes.

On the east side of Hyde Street Hill the fire burned
down to Bay street and Mongomery avenue, and stopped



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84 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

at that intersection. All south of Market street, with per-
haps scMBC exceptions in the vicinity of the Pacific Mail
dock, is gone. This section is bounded on the north by
Market street, and runs south to Guerrero street, goes out
that street two blocks, turns west to Dolores, runs west
six blocks to about Twenty-second, taking in four blocks
on the other side of Dolores.

The fire then took an irregular course southward,
spreading out as far as Twenty-fifth street, and going
down that way to the southerly bay shore.

VALUABLE REDORDS FOUND INTACT.

The best news for property owners was that the rec-
ords in the Hall of Records had been found intact. Had
they been destroyed, a great tangle over real estate titles
would have been the rsult. Now all such matters can be
adjusted speedily. It was found that the Federal Court
records also were unharmed.

The great modern steel structures were practically
uninjured by the earthquake, except for cracked walls and
displaced piaster^ All these structures of course subse-
quently were badly damaged by the flames so far as the
inner construction is concerned, but the walls are, in most
cases, intact.

The most notable cases of practical immunity from
the shock were the St. Francis Hotel, the Fairmount Hotel,
the Flood Building, the Mills Building, the Spreckels Build-
ing, and the Chronicle Building.

M. H. DeYoung, publisher of The Chronicle, tele-
^^phed to Charles J. Brooks, his New 'VSork representa-
tive :



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 87

"We have not missed an issue. New building all right.
Will finish and occupy as quickly as possible. Tell all our
friends that we appreciate all they have done for us.
Everybody connected with the business and editorial de-
partments are all well."

MINT AND POST OFFICE OPEN.'

The branch of the United States Mint on Fifth street,
and the new Post Office at Seventh and Mission streets
are striking examples of the superiority of workmanship
put into Federal buildings. The old Mint Building, sur-
rounded by a wide space of pavement, was absolutely un-
harmed. The Mint was able to resume business at once.

The Post Office Building also was virtually undam-
aged by fire. The earthquake shock did some damage to
the different entrances to the building, but the walls are un-
injured. Every window pane, of course, is gone, as they
are in almost every building in town, but the Government
was able to resume postal business immediately.

The Fairmount Hotel, while seriously damaged in the
interior, was left intact as to the walls, and the manage-
ment offered space in the building to any of the various
Relief Committees who desired to house the homeless or
to store supplies.

Mission Dolores ChurcH, the oldest building in the
city, erected one hundred and thirty years ago by the Span-
ish missionaries, survived the earthquake shock and was
saved from the fire. It is constructed of adobe blocks.
The newer church, built of brick alongside of the old build-
ing, suffered from the earthquake.

A trip through the burned districts on Saturday re-



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S8 SAN FRANCISCO^S GREAT DISASTER.

vcaled a scene of unspeakable desolation. From many
points on Market street, as far as the eye could reach in
any direction, there was nothing but skeleton walls and
smoldering ruins.

San Francisco was not destroyed by the earthquake.
While old buildings in that part of the city, which stood
on "made" ground east of Montgomery street, and some
of that district lying south of Market, suffered from the
shock, it was fire that wrought the great devastation and
wiped out the entire business section and probably half of
the residence section.

Much of the vigilance of the military authorities was
devoted to the enforcement of the orders of the Mayor
that no fires should be built in any buildings until after
chimneys had been duly inspected and that no lights should
be lighted in any houses.

In many cases persons who had fled from their homes
in fear of the advance of the fire returned next evening and
again took possession. Some of these at nightfall lighted
lamps. Others attempted to make fires. In almost every
case citizens interposed, and when they could not make the
Mayor's order effective the military was called in.

In many cases persons built fires in the streets in or-
der to cook food. But as the wind was blowing high these
fires were forbidden and citizens and the military quickly
had them put out.

On Sunday, rude altars set up in the open spaces of
the burned city, formed centers of worship for the home-
less, churchless thousands. It was a Sunday in striking
contrast to the Easter day, just one week before, when San
Francisco was on parade with all its wealth and finery.
Many ministers preached to crowds of dirty, bedrag-



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 89

glcd men and women, the same who a week ago had made
the Easter parade so gay and splendid. All over the parks
there were congregations gathered around ministers,
who preached from cracker boxes, or whatever improvised
pulpit they could find.

One or two of the churches were able to have services
indoors, but most of the churches lucky enough to escape
burning were damaged so badly as to be unsafe. In some
places the pastors preached from the steps of their ruined
churches. Nearly all the refugees listened to sermons. A
more religious day San Francisco has not spent in years.

A DAY OF WEDDINGS.

This first Sunday after the disaster was a day of wed-
dings. It was amazing in a way to see a people, with their
city destroyed, yet ready to marry and give in marriage.
In this city marriage licenses are part of the formality of
weddings. The romantic couples who wanted to wed in
the face of disaster would have been embarrassed but for
the city clerk who rescued the book of blanks for marriage
licenses from the ruins of the City Hall on Friday.
Young people who were betrothed before the earthquake
decided to face the future as one. In a few cases the be-
trothals dated after the earthquake and the romances grew
out of common danger and fearful experiences together
while the great fire was raging.

THE TURN IN THE TIDE OF FLAME.

Sunday marked the turn in the tide of disaster. It
became evident that the tremendous battle with the flames,



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90 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

which had been waged on Saturday, had met with a marked
degree of success and San Franciscans realized now that a
portion of their city would be saved. On Sunday, too, it
became possible for the city and Federal officials to give al-
most undivided attention to the work of relief.

Mayor Schmitz heralded the hopeful news in a proc-
lamation, which will remain one of the historical features
of the catastrophe. This was his message :

*'To the Citizens of San Francisco:

"The fire is now under control and all danger is passed.
The only fear is that other fires may start should the peo-
ple build fires in their stoves and I therefore want all citi-
zens not to build fires in their homes until the chimneys
have been inspected and repaired properly. All citizens
are urged to discountenance the building of fires. I con-
gratulate the citizens of San Francisco upon the fortitude
they have displayed and urge upon them the necessity of
aiding the authorities in the work of relieving the desti-
tute and suffering. For the relief of those persons who are
encamped in the various sections of the city everything pos-
sible is being done. In Golden Gate Park where there are
approximately 200,000 homeless persons, relief stations
have been established. The Spring Valley Water Com-
pany has informed me that the mission district will be sup-
plied with water this afternoon, between 10,000,000 and
12,000,000 gallons daily being available. Lake Merced
will be taken by the Federal troops and that supply pro-
tected."

A clear sky over the mission district showed to those
who were watching the progress of the fire that it had been
extinguished in that direction. The spread of the flames



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER. 9I

toward the western addition, the best part of the city re-
maining, had been stayed and the only part of the con-
flagration that now demanded the attention of the fire-



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 5 of 25)