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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 9 of 25)
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FOUGHT FLAMES WITH WINE.

An incident of the fire in the Latin quarter on the
slope of Telegraph Hill was the use of wine instead of
water in fighting the fire.

The only available water supply was found in a well
dug in early days. At a critical moment the pump sud-
denly sucked dry and the water in the well was exhausted.

Italian residents crashed in their cellar doors with
axes, and, calling for assistance, began rolling out barrels
of red wine. The cellars gave forth barrel after barrel
until there was fully 500 gallons ready for use. Then barrel
heads were smashed in and the bucket brigade turned
from water to wine. Sacks were dipped in the wine and
used for beating out the fire. Beds were stripped of their
blankets and these were soaked in the wine and hung over
the exposed portions of the cottages, and men on the roofs
drenched the shingles and sides of the house with wine.
The wine won and the plucky fire fighters saved their
homes.

The Fire Department of San Francisco which was con-
sidered one of the best equipped in the country outside of
New York, was made up of thirty-three engine companies,
seven truck companies, a water tower, a monitor battery,
and two fireboats. In addition there was the Underwriters'



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER. 1 47

Fire Patrol, a company maintained by the fire insurance
companies, with a fire-alarm box system similiar to that
of New York, with boxes in all of the public buildings and
many in private establishments.

HOW THE MINT WAS SAVED.

Harold French, an employee of the mint, gave a
graphic account of how the flames were successfully
fought. He said:

"Nearly $20,000,000 in coin and bullion are stored in
the vaults of the mint and for the preservation of this
prize a devoted band of employees, reinforced by regular
soldiers, fought until the baffled flames fled to the con-
quest of blocks of so-called fireproof buildings.

"For seven hours a sea of fire surged around this
grand old federal edifice, attacking it on all sides with
waves of fierce heat. Its little garrison was cut off from
retreat for hours at a time, had such a course been thought
of by those on guard. The United States mint was con-
structed in 1874 of granite and sandstone blocks, massive
monoliths, well calculated to resist fire from without.
Within, however, were enough inflammable materials to
feed a lively conflagration. Iron shutters shielded the
lower floors, but the windows of the upper story, on which
are located the refinery and assay office, were exposed.
Also a tarred roof over the refinery constituted a weak spot
in the defense. Tanks of wood and other inflammable
material scattered about the roof and upper story were a
serious menace.

MINT EMPLOYEES WORK RAPIDLY.

"After the fire had swept past the Mission street side
and the certainty of its returning from the north became



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148 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

apparent. Captain of the Watch Laws ordered everything
on the roof that would burn thrown into the yard. Sol-
diers and mint employees worked with utmost haste,
throwing g^eat timbers and tank staves into the court.

"Here are located some thirty tanks of blue vitriol, the
surfaces of which soon were covered with debris, into
which increasing showers of cinders fell. Fortunately, the
mint possesses a good well, and Engineer Brady pumped
water to the fire fighters assembled on the roof. Of these
forty were mint employees, and they were aided by a com-
pany of coast artillery.

"As the fire swept up Fifth street the heat increased
to a dangerous degree as, one by one, the Metropolitan
hall and the historic Lincoln school burst into flame, re-
inforced by the roaring furnace of the Emporium. On the
west the block bounded by Sixth and Market streets on
the north gave the gravest concern, for from this quarter
the fire was certain to rage in its fury.

"Fanned by a roaring northerly wind, the flames
rioted through the structures stretching from the Windsor
hotel to the Emma Spreckels' building, sheets of fire
200 feet high licking up the intervening houses on Mint
avenue. Augmented by these tinder boxes the blast of
fire burst on the northwest corner of the mint like the
breath of a second Pelee.

"A few desperate fighters under ex-Chief Kennedy
of Oakland were driven from between the tottering chim-
neys, under whose twin terrors they had struggled to the
last, throwing buckets of water upon the blazing roof over
the refinery. It is largely due to the experience of former
Chief Kennedy that this tar covered roof, the weakest spot
of all, was saturated with sufficient water to stay the
flames.



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SAN FRANCISCO^S GREAT DISASTER. 149

"When the fire leaped Mint avenue in solid masses of
flame the refinery men stuck to their windows as long
as the glass remained in the frames. Seventy-five feet of
one-inch hose played a slender stream upon the blazing
window sill, while the floor was awash with diluted sul-
phuric acid. Ankle deep in this, soldiers and employees
stuck to the floor until the windows were shattered.

TONQUE OF FIRE LICKS INNER WALLS.

"With a roar the tongues of fire licked greedily the
inner walls. Blinding and suffocating smoke necessitated
the abandonment of the hose and the fighters retreated
to the floor below. The roar of falling walls, the thunder
of bursting blocks of stone, the din of crashing glass,
swelled to an unearthly diapason. If thirteen inch shells
were crashing against the mint walls the deafening de-
tonations and the force of their impact would scarcely
have exceeded the fury of the attack. Down in the deeps
where untold wealth is so well safeguarded, artillerymen,
ringed with blanket rolls and leaning on their rifles,
coughed in the strangling smoke.

"Then came a lull; the walls of brick buildings across
the street had all fallen. There was yet a fighting chance,
so back to the upper story the fire fighters returned, led
by Supt. Leach, who, by example and words, encouraged
his men to extinguish the blazing inner woodwork of the
refinery,

DEFENDERS EXHAUSTED, MINT SAVED.

"The roof was next swept by a hose, cooling the cop-
per sheathed surface until it became passable for wet, acid



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150 SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.

soaked feet. An army officer axe in hand, tore up sections
of blazing tar roof, beneath which a stream of water was
directed. At length as 4 o'clock drew near, the mint
was pronounced out of danger, and a handful of exhausted
but exultant employees stumbled out on the hot cobble-
stones to learn the fate of some of their homes.

"The mint presents a scorched and glassless front on
the north and west, and the towering smokestacks are to
be torn down, but the building is intact and the plant is
unharmed and ready for a resumption of work.



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CARING FOR THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND
HOMELESS VICTIMS.

With the fires at San Francisco under control, the feed-
ing of the hungry and sheltering of the homeless became
the great problem of the city and military authorities, who
had to deal with the terrible situation brought about by
earthquake and conflagration. Martial law was proclaimed ;
strict orders issued to guard against the outbreaks of pes-
tilence; concentration camps were established; an orderly
system of food distribution was arranged; temporary shel-
ter! were erected in Golden Gate Park ; vacant houses that
were safe were reopened, and every facility was given by
transportation companies for all who cared to do so to
leave for the outlying cities and towns that were open to
them.

In the great procession of the homeless and destitute
to the ferries, on their way out of their ruined city, all
distinctions were obliterated in the common misfortune.
The long period of terror, anxiety and privation had told
on all, and most of them were at the point of exhaustion,
and many women fainted. The city of Oakland received
the bulk of these, cared for all it could, and those who
could be forwarded to other places were sent away on trains.

For the first time in its history, San Francisco has had
its taste of martial law. When darkness fell upon the
desolated city on Wednesday night, every inhabitant of the
houses that were left standing groped about their homes
in darkness early in the evening, the survivors of the ter-
rible calamity cooking their suppers on fires built in front
Qf their houses. The wind fanned many of the fires into

151



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152 SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER.

threatening blazes, and for a time it looked as if many new
fires would be started. But police orders were issued that
all fires must be put out, and, with a score of assistants and
soldiers, the building of fires in front of houses was sum-
marily suppressed. In all of the homes left standing no
lights were allowed to be burned. In places where persons
lit their lights contrary to the orders of the police and the
militia, citizens formed a safety corps and forced the occu-
pants to extinguish them. The only exception was in the
case of hospitals. Soldiers patrolled the streets, and no
citizen was allowed to pass from one block to the other
except by written permission of the Qiief of Police.

Mayor Schmitz has issued the following proclamation,
which citizens were instructed to observe :

"Do not be afraid of famine. There will be abundance
of food supplied. Do not use any water except for drinking
and cooking purposes. Do not light any fires in houses,
stoves or fireplaces. Do not use any house closets under any
circumstances, but dig earth closets in yards or vacant lots,
using, if possible, chloride of lime or some other disinfectant.
This is of the greatest importance, and the water supply is
only sufficient for drinking and cooking. Do not allow any
garbage to remain on the premises — bury it and cover imme-
diately. Pestilence can only be avoided by complying with
these regulations.

"You are particularly requested not to enter any busi-
ness house or dwelling except your own, as you may be mis
taken for one of the looters and shot on sight, as the order*
are not to arrest, but shoot down any one cauglit stealing."

Dr. Vorsanger, chairman of the committee to feed the
hungry, reported that everjrthing possible was done to pro-
vide food for the populace, and that ao far as could b# told^



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SAN FRANCISCO S GREAT DISASTER. 1 53

not a hungry person existed in San Francisco Wednesday
night. There was no trouble in the distribution of the food
nor in procuring it, and in quality and quantity it was satis-
factory.

At the Young Men's Christian Association building on
Page Street, near Stanyan, and at the Park Lodge, thou-
sands and thousands were fed from morning till night, all
kinds of provisions and clothing, meat, vegetables, bread,
canned goods, tea and coffee, and the like, were handed out
in abundance, not one being turned away. Dr. Vorsanger
appealed to all citizens who owned teams of horses to come
to the front with them as the committee experienced diffi-
culty in moving the supplies.

Wednesday night, to the hundreds of thousands who
endured its horrors, seemed interminable. From every sec-
tion of San Francisco there had been an exodus through-
out the day. Until the sweep of the fire along the water
front had interfered, all of the available ferries had been at
work carrying the panic stricken people to Oakland and
other cities nearby. When it was no longer possible to flee
from the city by this means, the tide of humanity turned
toward the city parks and the night settled down upon great
camps of these refugees, without food, illy clad, shelterless.
The rich and the poor mingled there. There were thou-
sands of children. There were the sick, the halt, the blind.
Every class of people of the most cosmopolitan city in
the country was represented. They were huddled under
the makeshift coverings, the more precious of their posses-
sions littered around them. Many had tiny improvised ovens
and a few had actual stoves. The city had secured
1400 tents but this was not enough canvas to cover the
hundredth part of the throng. The army officials had sup-



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154 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

plied what tents they could and were undertaking to give
food and water to the refugees. In another day the ar-
rangements would be marvelously complete and there would
no longer be reason why any should starve. But on this
first night of horror there was only chaos. Its memory will
linger in the minds of all who had part in it as long as life
lasts.

SAFE ON THE HILLSIDES.

Thursday morning residents of the hillsides in the cen-
tral portion of the city were seemingly safe from the roar-
ing furnace that was constuning the business section. They
watched the towering flames and speculated as to the ex-
tent of the territory that was doomed.

Suddenly there was whispered alarm up and down the
long line of watchers, and they hurried away to drag cloth-
ing, cooking utensils, and scant provisions through the
streets. From Grant Avenue the procession moved west-
ward. Men and women dragged trunks, packed huge bun-
dles of blankets, boxes of provisions — everything. Wagons
could not be hired except by paying the most extortionate
rates.

But there was no panic. The people were calm,
stunned. They seemed not to realize the extent of the
calamity. They heard that the city was destroyed so far as
business plants were concerned ; they told each other in the
most natural tone that their residences were destroyed by
the flames, but there was no hysteria, no outcry, no criticism.

More than 100,000 homeless persons spent the night
in the parks and the city streets outside the district where
the fires were r?ging.



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SAN Francisco's great disaster. 157

STILL BURNING ON THURSDAY.

The flames continued their advance all day Thursday
practically unchecked, and on Thursday night no less than
300,000 persons, or nearly three quarters of the population
of San Francisco, spent the night somewhere under the open
sky, because their homes were either destroyed or so peril-
ously threatened by the conflagration that it was impossible
to remain in them.

Even in the districts not immediately threatened thou-
sands of persons left their homes and fled to the parks and
open places. All Wednesday night, an army 6l men,
women, and children walked the streets, headed to the west-
ward. Most of them were bound to the Presidio or Gk)ldcn
Gate Park. Thursday their numbers were trebled. Golden
Gate Park and the surrounding hills resembled one vast
camping ground. From the Government reservation were
sent all the available tents that could be spared. Impro-
vised tents were put up in all the open spaces.

Fireplaces were built in the streets ; beds and mattresses
draggpd from burning houses were scattered about in the
open. Not that anybody was steeping much, but there was a
limit to the time that human beings could remain on their
feet.

The inhabitants in the hills north of the wrecked Hayes
Valley section piled their belongings into express wagons
and automobiles, many of them hired at fa'Bulous rates, and
hauled them away to the parks or the Presidio. The latter
was crowded to the limit of its capacity with refugees.

DEAD LYINQ IN THE STREETS.

Thursday was bright and warm. The sun beat down on
the tired workers and rescuers. There -was scarcely any
water to relieve the suffering. The dead, in many instances.



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158 SAN Francisco's great disaster.

lay in the streets and the ruins, but the authorities did all in
their power to remove the bodies in order that a pestilence
might be prevented.

It was necessary repeatedly to move the injured from
places where they had sought refuge, for tHe fire kept in-
creasing with alarming rapidity. Water was the incessant
cry of the firemen and the people, but there was only a scant
drinking supply.

Already the threat of famine was heard. The follow-
ing appeal for aid was sent out by Mayor Schmitz to Gov-
ernor Pardee, and shows the destitute condition of the
people and their dire need of food and shelter:

"Send all supplies and tents possible to Golden Gate
Park. Have bakeries in small towns bake all the bread they
can. We want bedding, food and tents."

The committee of safety consisting of fifty prominent
citizens, met with Mayor Sohmitz Thursday morning and
organized a finance comnrittee, composed of James N.
Phelan, F. W. Hellman, Claus Spreckles, J. Downey
Harvey, Thomas Magee, J. L. Flood, Wililam Babcock, W.
F. Herrin, M. H. De Young, and Robert J. Tobin.

Before the meeting had organized, Qaus Spreckles
gave $25,000, Rudolph Spreckles $10,000, Harry Tevis
$10,000, Gordon Blanding $10,000, Elinor Martin $5,000,
J. L. Flood $5,000, with a promise of more. These were
the earliest gifts to a relief sum that was destined to reach
many millions.

SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS.

Marcel Cerf, chairman of the committee of refuge for
the homeless, had temporary structures erected in Golden
Gate Park for the protection of the homeless. Major Mc-



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SAN FRANCISCO^S GREAT DISASTER. 159

Iver of the United States army laid out a sanitary camp at
this point, work on which was rushed as rapidly as lumber
could be secured. The camp was under the supervision of
an officer of the engineer corps of the United States army,
and the chief of the army medical staff was in charge of it
as sanitary officer. The conditions among the homeless in
the park were excellent, except in the Mission district, where
the committee was not able to reach all the people. A sub-
committee impressed all vacant buildings, and all deserted
houses that, after examination, proved to be safe.

Under the direction of the authorities, committees of
the Associate Charities Board set to work to organize the
housing facilities of the city. It was determined that owners
of houses that had escaped should not be premitted to take
full possession of the structures, but that all must be used
for the benefit of the entire populace. So a house to house
canvass was made with the object of quartering as many
people as possible.

At the same time efforts were put under way to get as
many vehicles as possible for the distribution of relief sup-
plies. Every wagon and automobile in sight was pressed
into service. The lack of teams was met before noon. In
many cases individual's came forward and offered the ser-
vices of their horses and wagons, one man providing the
committee with twenty vehicles.

Mayor Schmitz announced that the water company
promised a supply of water in the western addition and in
the Mission on Friday. Committees were appointed to take
charge of the relief of the destitute. Mayor Schmitz ap-
pointed his committee of fifty citizens special officers, with
full power to represent him and with power to requisition
men, supplies, vehicles, and boats for public use.



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i6o SAN Francisco's great disaster.

Every unburned grocery in San Francisco was taken
in charge by the authorities, and each family was allowed to
buy only a limited supply of food. In many places the police
and the troops stood by to prohibit overcharging. General
Funston announced that he hoped rations would soon reach
the city and the people be supplied from the Presidio.

Bakeries were built within the reservation, and the
bread supply therefore did not fail completely.

One hundred and fifty Stanford students traversed the
various districts of the city, handing out supplies from door
to door. The McNeary Mills sent 5,000 pounds of flour a
day from Thursday on.

At best the city never carried more than three days'
supply of provisions and food, and with the wholesale dis-
tricts and warehouses wiped out, this period was shortened.
Despite the police and the troops, prices were in many in-
stances more than trebled! A correspondent was obliged to
pay 25 cents for a small glass of mineral water in the Hayes
Valley district. That part of the city had been laid waste,
and not a drop of water was to be had there except bottled
mineral water.

OAKLAND HOUSES 50,000 REFUGEES.

Oakland, on Thursday night, housed and fed probably
50,000 refugees. All day the stream of humanity poured
from the ferries, everyone carrying personal baggage and
articles saved from the conflagration. Thousands of Chi-
nese men, women, and children, all carrying luggage to the
limit of their strength, poured into the limited Chinatown
of Oakland.

Thousands sf persons besieged the telegraph offices,
and the crush became so great that soldiers were statisned



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SAN FRANaSCO's GREAT DISASTER. l6l

at the doors to keep them in line and allow as many as pos-
sible to find standing room at the counters. Every boat from
San Francisco took hundreds of refugees carrying luggage
and bedding in large quantities. Many women were bare-
headed, and all of them were weak from sleeplessness and
exposure to the chill air.

Hundreds of these people lined the streets of Oakland,
waiting for some one to provide them with shelter. Early
on Thursday morning representatives of the Oakland re-
lief committee appeared on the streets and at the railroad
stations. Restaurant prices increased from 25 to 100 per
cent.

A realty syndicate at once offered Idora Park for the
use of those left without shelter by the earthquake. The
offer was gratefully accepted by the Police and Fire Depart-
ments, and 200 cots were placed in the theater for the use
of the refugees. Relief stations were also established at
the City Hall and at the various public parks throughout
Oakland.

THE SECOND NIQHT IN CAMP.

The second night of general camping out in the park
differed but little from the first, except that the people were
on the whole more comfortable. The volunteer fire fight-
ers who had pretty well dropped out of the work, now that
the fire had turned, were rested up. There were more blank-
ets and shelter tents, thanks to the troops.

AMPLE MEDICAL SUPPLIES.

It was inevitable, under the circumstances, that many
should fall sick from diseases brought on from exposure.
The troops sent all such to the hospital of the Presidio.



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1 62 SAN FRANCISCO^S GREAT DISASTER.

There was nothing to show that an epidemic of any kind
was threatened. The cases were of pneumonia, acute rheu-
matism, and the like. It was a fortunate circumstance that
the physicians' convention was just over when the earth-
quake came and that most of the delegates had remained in
the city.

The medical department of the Presidio, with the
thoughtfulness and foresight which marked the work of the
army all through, systematically appropriated the stock of
the drug stores as they were threatened by the flames, and
the medical supply department at the Presidio was well
stocked.

There was a strange change in the appearance of the
crowd. On Wednesday they were actively miserable, but
still able to weep or to laugh at their hard luck. By Fridny
they simply were dead of face and eyes. There was no emo-
tion left in them. The soldiers were haggard.

Back with the refugees went a g^eat part of the Cadet
Battalion of the University of California. These young
men were not a success as police, and General Funston,
having no time to train them in their duties, dismissed the
corps.

President Jordan telegraphed from Stanford Univer-
sity, offering the aid of a volunteer corps of 150 students.
Rabbi Vorsanger, needing the help of young and active
men to aid in distributing provisions, accepted the offer.
They arrived on Friday and were set at work. Of course,
all classes were dismissed at both of the universities. Stan-
ford, where the water supply is c'^mple and the sanitation
good, took care of some of the refugees.

Among the people who made San Francisco and who



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 9 of 25)