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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Complete Story
of the San Francisco Horror

by
the Survivors and Rescuers

in the edition published
anonymously,
San Francisco, 1906

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Chapter 8

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p119 Chapter VII
Thrilling Personal Experiences

Scenes of Horror and Panic Described by Victims of the Quake Who Escaped — How Helpless People Were Crushed to Death by Falling Buildings and Debris — Some Marvelous Escapes.

(p278)

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Buildingsº Crumbled like Eggshells.

The stories of hundreds who experienced the earthquake shock but escaped with life and limb constitute a series of thrilling stories unrivalled outside of fiction. Those that contain the most marvellous features are herewith narrated:

Albert H. Gould, of Chicago, describes the scene in the Palace Hotel following the first quake:

"I was asleep on the seventh floor of the Palace Hotel," he said, "at the time of the first quake. I was thrown out of my bed and half way across the room.

"Immediately realizing the import of the occurrence, and fearing that the building was about to collapse, I made my way down the six flights of stairs and into the main corridor.

"I was the first guest to appear. The clerks and hotel employes were running about as if they were mad. Within two minutes after I had appeared other guests began to flock into the corridor. Few if any of them wore other than their night clothing. Men, women, and children with blanched faces stood as if fixed. Children and women cried, and the men were little less affected.

"I returned to my room and got my clothing, then walked to the office of the Western Union in my pajamas and bare feet to telegraph to my wife in Los Angeles. I found the telegraphers there, but all the wires were down. I sat down on the sidewalk, p120picked the broken glass out of the soles of my feet, and put on my clothes.

"All this, I suppose, took little more than twenty minutes. Within that time, below the Palace the buildings for more than three blocks were a mass of flames, which quickly communicated to other buildings. The scene was a terrible one. Billows of fire seemed to roll from the business blocks soon half consumed to other blocks in the vicinity, only to climb and loom again.

"The Call building at the corner of Third and Market streets, as I passed, I saw to be more than a foot out of plumb and hanging over the street like the leaning tower of Pisa.

"I remained in San Francisco until 8 o'clock and then took a ferry for Oakland, but returned to the burning city an hour and a half later. At that time the city seemed doomed. I remained but for a few minutes; then made my way back to the ferry station.

"I hope I may never be called upon to pass through such an experience again. People by the thousands and seemingly devoid of reason were crowded around the ferry station. At the iron gates they clawed with their hands as so many maniacs. They sought to break the bars, and failing in that turned upon each other. Fighting my way to the gate like the others the thought came into my mind of what rats in a trap were. Had I not been a strong man I should certainly have been killed."

"When the ferry drew up to the slip, and the gates were thrown open the rush to safety was tremendous. The people flowed through the passageway like a mountain torrent that, meeting rocks in its path, dashes over them. Those who fell saved themselves as best they could.

"I left Oakland at about 5 o'clock. At that time San Francisco was hidden in a pall of smoke. The sun shone brightly upon it without any seeming penetration. Flames at times cleft the darkness. This cloud was five miles in height, and at its top changed into a milk white."

p121 Mrs. Agnes Zink, Hotel Broadway, said:

"I was stopping at 35 Fifth street, San Francisco. The rear of that house collapsed and the landlady and about thirty of her roomers were killed. I escaped simply because I had a front room and because I got out on the roof, as the stairway had collapsed in the rear. Out in the street it was impossible to find a clear pathway. I saw another lodging house near ours collapse — I think it must have been 39 Fifth street — and I know all the inmates were killed, for its wreck was complete. In ten minutes the entire block to Mission street was in flames."

Mr. J. P. Anthony, a business man who escaped from the doomed city in an automobile tells a graphic story:

Mr. Anthony says that he was sleeping in his room at the Romona hotel on Ellis street, near Macon, and was suddenly awakened at 5:23 in the morning. The first shock that brought him out of bed, he says, was appalling in its terrible force. The whole earth seemed to heave and fall. The building where he was housed, which is six stories high, was lifted from its foundation and the roof caved in. A score or more of guests, men and women, immediately made their way to the street, which was soon filled with people, and a perfect panic ensued. Debris showered into the street from the buildings on every side.

As a result, Mr. Anthony says, he saw a score or more of people killed. Women became hysterical and prayed in the streets, while men sat on the curbing, appearing to be dazed. It was twenty minutes before those in the vicinity seemed to realize the enormity of the catastrophe. The crowds became larger and in the public squares of the city and in empty lots thousands of people gathered.

It was 9 o'clock before the police were in control of the situation. When they finally resumed charge, the officers directed their energy toward warning the people in the streets away from danger. Buildings were on the brink of toppling over.

p122 Mr. Anthony says he was walking on Market street, near the Emporium, about 9 A.M., when a severe shock was felt. At once the street filled again with excited persons, and thousands were soon gathered in the vicinity, paralyzed with fear. Before the spectators could realize what had happened, the walls of the building swayed a distance of three feet. The thousands of bystanders stood as if paralyzed, expecting every moment that they would be crushed, but another tremor seemed to restore the big building to its natural position.

Mr. Anthony said that he momentarily expected that, with thousands of others who were in the neighborhood, he would be crushed to death in a few moments. He made his way down Market street as far as the Call building, from which flames were issuing at every window, with the blaze shooting through the roof. A similar condition prevailed in the Examiner building, across the street.

He then started for the depot, at Third and Townsend streets, determined to leave the city. He found a procession of several thousand other persons headed in the same direction.

All south of Market street about that time was a crackling mass of flames. Mr. Anthony made his way to Eighth and Market, thence down Eighth to Townsend and to Third street, and the entire section which he traversed was afire, making it impossible for him to reach his destination. He attempted to back track, but found that his retreat had been cut off by the flames. He then went to Twelfth street and reached Market again by the city call. San Francisco's magnificent municipal building had concavedº like an egg shell. The steel dome was still standing, but the rest of the $3,000,000 structure was a mass of charred ruins.

It was not yet noon, but the city's hospitals were already filled with dead and injured, and all available storerooms were being pressed into service. Dead bodies were being carried from the streets in garbage wagons. In every direction hysterical women p123were seen. Men walked through the streets, weeping, and others wore blanched faces. Transfer men were being offered fabulous sums to remove household goods, even for a block distant. Horses had been turned loose and were running at large to prevent their being incinerated in the burning buildings. Women had loaded their personal belongings on carts and were pulling them through the city, the property being huddled in the public squares.

"The Grand Hotel tossed like a ship at sea. There was a wavelike motion, accompanied by a severe up and down shake," said J. R. Hand of the Hand Fruit Company of Los Angeles. "The shock was accompanied by a terrific roar that is indescribable. An upright beam came through the floor of my room and the walls bulged in. I thought I should not get out alive. All my baggage was lost, but I still have the key to my room as a souvenir, No. 249.

"I was on the third story of the hotel and got the last vacant room. No one in any of the stronger built hotels was killed, to the best of my knowledge. These hotels were destroyed by fire after being severely wrecked. I reached the ferry station by a trip of about six miles around by the Fairmount Hotel and thence to the water front.

"The Examiner Building went up like a flash. I was standing in front of the Crocker Building and saw the first smoke. Just then the soldiers ran us out. We went around two blocks and the next view we had the building was a mass of flames. The burning of the Palace was a beautiful sight from the bay."

F. O. Popenie, manager of the Pacific Monthly, was asleep in the Terminus hotel, near the Southern Pacific ferry station, when the first tremble came.

"The Terminus hotel did not go down at the first shock," he said. "We were sleeping on the third floor when the quake came. The walls of the hotel began falling, but the guests had time to run outside before the building fell in.

p124 "I started for San Jose on foot. When I reached the Potrero I looked back and saw the business section a furnace. Fires had started up in many places and were blazing fiercely. Finally a man driving a single rig overtook me. He was headed for San Jose and he took me in. After a distance of fifteen miles we took the train and went on."

The Terminus hotel was a six-story structure with stone and brick sides. It collapsed soon after the first shock.

Among the refugees who found themselves stranded were John Singleton, a Los Angeles millionaire, his wife and her sister.a The Singletons were staying at the Palace hotel when the earthquake shock occurred.

Mr. Singleton gives the following account of his experience: "The shock wrecked the rooms in which we were sleeping. We managed to get our clothes on and get out immediately. We had been at the hotel only two days and left probably $3,000 worth of personal effects in the room.

"After leaving the Palace we secured an express wagon for $25 to take us to the Casino, near Golden Gate Park, where we stayed Wednesday night. On Thursday morning we managed to get a conveyance at enormous cost and spent the entire day in getting to the Palace. We paid $1 apiece for eggs and $2 for a loaf of bread. On these and a little ham we had to be satisfied."

"I was asleep in the Hotel Dangham, Ellis and Mason streets, when the shock came," said Miss Bessie Tannehill of the Tivoli theatre. "There were at least 100 persons in the building at the time. At the first shock I leaped from the bed and ran to the window. Another upheaval came and I was thrown off my feet. I groped my way out of the room and down the dark stairway. Men, women and children, almost without clothing, crowded the place, crying and praying as they rushed out.

"When outside I saw the streets filled with people who rushed about wringing their hands and crying. Proprietor Lisser of the hotel offered a cabman $50 to take himself and his wife to the p125Presidio heights, but he refused. He wanted more money. We finally secured a carriage by paying $100. Fire was raging at this time and people were panic-stricken.

"After getting outside of the danger region I walked back, hoping to aid some of the unfortunates. I have heard about big prices charged for food. I wish to testify that the merchants on upper Market street and in near-by districts threw open their stores and invited the crowds to help themselves. The mobs rushed into every place, carrying out all the goods possible.

"I saw many looters and pickpockets at work. On Mason street a gang of thieves was at work. They were pursued by troops, but escaped in an auto."

The members of the Metropolitan opera company of New York were all victims of the great disaster, including Mme. Sembrich, Signor Caruso, Campanari, Dippel, Conductor Hertz and Bars.

All of the splendid scenery, stage fittings, costumes and musical instruments were lost in the fire which destroyed the Grand Opera House, where their season had just opened.

No one of the company was insured, but nearly all of them lost their personal effects. Mme. Sembrich placed the loss by the destruction of her elegant costumes of $20,000. She was fortunate enough to save her valuable jewels. The total loss to the organization was $150,000.

On the morning of the earthquake the members of the company were distributed among the different hotels.

The sudden shock brought all out of the bedrooms in all kinds of attire. The women were in their night dresses, the men in pajamas, none pausing to dress, all convinced that their last hour had come. Ten minutes later Caruso was seen seated on his valise in the middle of the street. Many of the others had rushed to open squares or other places of supposed safety. Even then it was difficult to avoid the debris falling from the crumbling walls.

p126 Several of those stopping at the Oaks were awakened by plaster from the ceilings falling on their bed and had barely time to flee for their lives. One singer was seen standing in the street, barefoot, and clad only in his underwear, but clutching a favorite violin which he carried with him in his flight. Rossi, though almost in tears, was heard trying his voice at a corner near the Palace hotel.

A. W. Hussey, who went to the Hall of Justice on the morning of the disaster, told how at the direction of a policeman whom he did not know, he had cut the arteries in the wrists of a man pinioned under timbers at St. Katherine hotel.

According to the statement made by Hussey the man was begging to be killed and the policeman shot at him, but his aim was defective and the bullet went wide of the mark. The officer then handed Hussey a knife with instructions to cut the veins in the suffering man's wrists, and Hussey obeyed orders to the letter.

A story was told of one young girl who had followed for two days the body of her father, her only relative. It had been taken from a house in Mission street to an undertaker's shop just after the quake. The fire drover her out with her charge, and it was placed in Mechanics' Pavilion.

That went, and it had rested for a day at the Presidio, waiting burial. When many others she wept on the border of the burial area, while the women cared for her. That was truly a tragic and pathetic funeral.

In the commission house of C. D. Bunker a rescuer named Baker was killed while trying to get a dead body from the ruins. Other rescuers heard the pitiful wail of a little child, but were unable to get near the point from which the cry issued. Soon the onrushing fire ended the cry and the men turned to other tasks.

Hundreds of firemen and rescuers were prostrated, the strain of the continued fight in the face of the awful calamity proving more than any man could stand. In the crowds at many points p127people fainted and in some instances dropped dead as the result of the reaction following the unprecedented shock.

At Mechanics' Pavilion scenes of heroism and later of panic were enacted. The great frame building was turned into a hospital for the care of the injured and here a corps of fifty physicians rendered aid. Nurses volunteered their services and also girls from the Red Cross ship that steamed in from the government yards at Mare island and contributed doctors and supplies.

While the ambulances and automobiles were unloading their maimed and wounded at the building the march of the conflagration up Market street gave warning that the injured would have to be removed at once.

This work was undertaken and every available vehicle was pressed into service to get the stricken into the hospitals and private houses of the western addition. A few minutes after the last of the wounded had been carried through the door, some on cots, others in strong arms and on stretchers, shafts of fire shot from the roof and the structure burst into a whirlwind of flame.

One of the most thrilling of all stories related of adventures in stricken San Francisco during the days of horror and nights of terror is that of a party of four, two women and two men, who arrived at Los Angeles April 20, after having spent a night and the greater portion of two days on the hills about Golden Gate Park.

This party was composed of Mrs. Francis Winter, Miss Bessie Marley, Dr. Ernest W. Fleming, and Oliver Posey, all of Los Angeles.

"I was sleeping in a room on the third floor of the hotel," said Dr. Fleming, "when the first shock occurred. An earthquake in San Francisco was no new sensation to me. I was there in 1868, when a boy ten years old, when the first great earthquake came. But that was a gentle rocking of a cradle to the one of Wednesday.

"I awoke to the groaning of timbers, the grinding, creaking p128sound, then came the roaring street. Plastering and wall decorations fell. The sensation was as if the buildings were stretching and writhing like a snake. The darkness was intense. Shrieks of women, high, shriller than that of the creaking timbers, cut the air. I tumbled from the bed and crawled, scrambling toward the door. The twisting and writhing appeared to increase. The air was oppressive. I seemed to be saying to myself, will it never, never stop? I wrenched the lock; the door of the room swung back against my shoulder. Just then the building seemed to breathe, stagger and right itself.

"But I fled from that building as from a falling wall. I could not believe that it could endure such a shock and still stand.

"The next I remember I was standing in the street laughing at the unholy appearance of half a hundred men clad in pajamas — and less.

"The women were in their night robes; they made a better appearance than the men.

"The street was a rainbow of colors in the early morning light. There was every stripe and hue of raiment never intended to be seen outside the boudoir.

"I looked at a man at my side; he was laughing at me. Then for the first time I became aware that I was in pajamas myself. I turned and fled back to my room.

"There I dressed, packed my grip, and hastened back to the street. All the big buildings on Market street toward the ferry were standing, but I marked four separate fires. The fronts of the small buildings had fallen out into the streets and at some places the debris had broken through the sidewalk into cellars.

"I noticed two women near me. They were apparently without escort. One said to the other, 'What wouldn't I give to be back in Los Angeles again.'

"That awakened a kindred feeling and I proffered my assistance. I put my overcoat on the stone steps of a building and told them to sit there.

p129 "In less than two minutes those steps appeared to pitch everything forward, to be flying at me. The groaning and writhing started afresh.

"But I was just stunned. I stood there in the street with debris falling about me. It seemed the natural thing for the tops of buildings to careen over and for fronts to fall out. I do not even recall that the women screamed.

"The street gave a convulsive shudder and the buildings somehow righted themselves again. I thought they had crashed together above my head.

"The air was filled with the roar of explosions. They were dynamiting great blocks. Sailors were training guns to rake rows of residences.

"All the while we were moving onward with the crowd. Cinders were falling about us. At times our clothing caught fire, just little embers that smoked and went out. The sting burned our faces and we used our handkerchiefs for veils.

"Everybody around us was using some kind of cloth to shield their eyes. It looked curious to see expressmen and teamsters wearing those veils.

"Quite naturally we seemed to come to Golden Gate Park. It seemed as if we had started for there. By this time the darkness was settling. But it was a weird twilight. The glare from the burning city threw a kind of red flame and shadow about us. It seemed uncanny; the figures about us moved like ghosts.

"The wind and fog blew chill from the ocean and we walked about to keep warm. Thousands were walking about, too, but there was no disturbance.

"Families trudged along there. There was no hurry. All appeared to have time to spare. The streets, walks, and lawns were wiggling with little parties, one or two families in each. The men had brought bedding and blankets and they made impromptu shelters to keep off the fog.

"The cinders still kept falling. They seemed at times to come p130down right against the wind. They stung my face and made me restless.

"All night we moved about the hills. Thousands were moving with us. As the night wore on the crowd grew.

"Near daylight the soldiers came to the park. They were still moving in front of the fire.

"I had brought a little store of provisions before nightfall and somehow we had kept them. It seemed easy to keep things there. I walked over to the fire made by one squad of soldiers and picked up a tin bucket. They looked at me but made no move. I went to a faucet and turned it on. Water was there. Not much, but a trickling little stream. There was water in the park all night. I boiled some eggs and we ate our breakfast. Then we concluded to try to make our way back to the water front. We did this because the soldiers were driving us from that part of the hills. The flames were still after us.

"The dumb horror of it seemed to reach right into one's heart. Walking and resting, we reached the ferry near sunset. We had come back through a burned district some four miles. I do not understand how the people stood it.

"Other parties staggered past us. They were reeling, but not from wine. It was here that the pangs of thirst caught us. But the end came at last. We reached the ferry and the boats were running. The soldiers were there, too. They seemed to be everywhere. They were offering milk to the women and children.

"We are in Los Angeles now. It hardly seems real. If it were not for the sting of the cinders that still stick to my face and eyes I might think it was all a nightmare."

Adolphus Busch, the St. Louis brewer, gave this account of his experiences in the earthquake:

"The earthquake which shook 'Frisco made all frantic, and was undoubtedly the severest ever experienced in the United States. The St. Francis hotel swayed from south to north like p131a tall poplar in a storm; furniture, even pianos, was overturned, and people thrown from their beds.

"I summoned my family and friends and urged them to escape to Jefferson square, which we did.

"An awful sight met our eyes. Every building was either partly or wholly wrecked, roofs and cornices falling from skyscrapers on lower houses, crushing and burying inmates.

"Fires started in all parts of the city, the main water pipes burst and flooded the streets, one earthquake followed another, the people became terrified, but all were wonderfully calm. Over 100,000 persons without shelter were camping on the hills. There was no light, water, nor food. Regular soldiers and the militia maintained order and discipline, otherwise more horrors would have occurred and riots might have prevailed. Then the worst happened. The fire spread over three-fourths of the city and could not be controlled, no water to fight it, no light, and the earth still trembling.

"Building after building was dismantled to check the progress of the flames, but all of no avail. We were fortunate to secure conveyances and fled to Nob Hill, from which we witnessed the indescribable drama. Block after block was devastated. The fires blazed like volcanoes, and all business houses, hotels, theaters — in fact, the entire business portion — lay in ruins, and two-thirds of the residences."

(p278)

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Wrecked Buildings.


Thayer's Note:

a In the haste to get this book out, this anecdote appears not once, not twice, but three times in it: see Chapter 13 and Chapter 17.


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