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Bill Thayer

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The Complete Story
of the San Francisco Horror
"by the Survivors and Rescuers"

 p7  Preface

In presenting this history of the San Francisco Horror and Conflagration to the public, the publishers can assure the reader that it is the most complete and authentic history of the great disaster published.

The publishers set out with the determination to produce a work that would leave no room for any other history on this subject, a task for which they had the best facilities and the most perfect equipment.

The question of cost was not taken into consideration. The publishers wanted the best writers, the best illustrations, the best paper, printing and binding and proceeded immediately to get them. The services of the two best historical writers in the United States were secured within an hour after the first news of the catastrophe was received. The names and historical works of Richard Linthicum and Trumbull White are known in every household in the United States where current history is read. They are the authors of many standard works, including histories of recent wars and books of permanent reference, and rank among the world's greatest descriptive writers.

A large staff of photographers have supplied illustrations for this great historical work depicting every phase of the catastrophe from the first shock of earthquake to the final work of relief. These illustrations have special interest and value because they are made from actual photographs taken by trained and skilled photographers. This history of the most recent of the world's great disasters is beyond all comparison the most sumptuously and completely illustrated of any publication on this subject. So  p8 numerous are the illustrations and so accurately do they portray every detail of the quake and fire that they constitute in themselves a complete, graphic and comprehensive pictorial history of the great catastrophe.

The story as told by the authors, however, is one of absorbing interest that thrills the reader with emotion and depicts the scenes of terror, destruction, misery and suffering as vividly as if the reader were an eyewitness to all the details of the stupendous disaster.

The history of the Earthquake and Fire Horror is told consecutively and systematically from beginning to end.

"The Doomed City" is a pen picture of San Francisco while its destruction was impending.

The four days of the conflagration are described each in separate chapters in such a way that the reader can follow the progress of the fire from the time of the first alarm until it was conquered by the dynamite squad of heroes.

A great amount of space has been devoted to "Thrilling Personal Experiences" and "Scenes of Death and Terror," so that the reader has a thousand and one phases of the horror as witnessed by those who passed through the awful experience of the earthquake shock and the ordeal of the conflagration.

For purposes of comparison a chapter has been devoted to a magnificent description of San Francisco before the fire, "The City of a Hundred Hills," the Mecca of sight-seers and pleasure-loving travelers.

The description of the Refuge Camps established in Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and other open spaces depict the sorrow and the suffering of the stricken people in words that appeal to the heart.

The magnificent manner in which the whole nation responded with aid and the conduct of the relief work are told in a way that brings a thrill of pride to every American heart.

"Fighting the Fire with Dynamite" is a thrilling chapter of  p9 personal bravery and heroism, and the work of the "Boys in Blue" who patrolled the city and guarded life and property is adequately narrated.

Chinatown in San Francisco was one of the sights of the world and was visited by practically every tourist that passed through the Golden Gate. That odd corner of Cathay which was converted into a roaring furnace and completely consumed is described with breathless interest.

The "Ruin and Havoc in Other Coast Cities" describes the destruction of the great Leland Stanford, Jr., University, the scenes of horror and death at the State Asylum which collapsed, and in other ruined cities of the Pacific coast.

"The Earthquake as Viewed by Scientists" is a valuable addition to the seismology of the world — a science that is too little known, but which possesses tremendous interest for everyone.

The threatened destruction of Naples by the volcano of Vesuvius preceding the San Francisco disaster is fully described. The chapters on Vesuvius are especially valuable and interesting, by reason of the scientific belief that the two disasters are intimately related.

Altogether this volume is the best and most complete history of all the great disasters of the world and one that should be in the hands of every intelligent citizen, both as a historical and reference volume.


This is not a very good book. In plain language, it was designed to make a fast buck off public curiosity, and was assembled very fast. The story is told in a diffuse and disorganized way, and the writing is sloppy. One anecdote, near-identically worded, even finds its way into three different chapters (check for yourself: 7, 13, and 17)!

It will come as no surprise then, that my hardbound copy, though it has all its pages (or almost: see below), bears no indication of the identity of its publisher: the preface, as you saw above, is coyly signed "The Publishers". Copyright is claimed in due form, however, by a man named Hubert D. Russell, 1906. It has thus lapsed, and the work is in the public domain: details here on the copyright law involved.

I should also point out that the book runs to 34 chapters in 408 pages. I reproduce only the first 20 chapters, thru p266; and for a good reason. The remaining chapters are pure padding: Vesuvius and Pompeii in three chapters, Mt. Etna, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Krakatoa, the Johnstown flood, a chapter on volcanoes in Alaska and Hawaii, everything seems to have been grist for the mill, plumping the book up to a saleable size; but none of it very good either — and without eyewitness immediacy to redeem it.

At least one other transcription of The San Francisco Horror may be found online; unfortunately, it is marred by dozens and dozens of typos (well, alright: we're all human and I'd be very surprised if my own transcription were perfect) — but more seriously, by the omission here and there of entire lines and paragraphs — and finally, the single most valuable aspect of the book, its many photographs of San Francisco immediately after the earthquake, was altogether ignored. This last is what decided me to put it online myself: for all its flaws, Complete Story of the San Francisco Horror, with its photographs, does give the 21c reader a pretty good impression of the events it describes.

Introduction By the Rt. Rev. SAMUEL FALLOWS, D. D., LL. D.

The Doomed City

Earthquake Begins the Wreck of San Francisco and a Conflagration without Parallel Completes the Awful Work of Destruction — Tremendous Loss of Life in Quake and Fire — Property Loss $200,000,000.

San Francisco a Roaring Furnace

Flames Spread in a Hundred Directions and the Fire Becomes the Greatest Conflagration of Modern Times — Entire Business Section and Fairest Part of Residence District Wiped Off the Map — Palaces of Millionaires Vanish in Flames or are Blown Up by Dynamite — The Worst Day of the Catastrophe.

Third Day Adds to Horror

Fire Spreads North and South Attended by Many Spectacular Features — Heroic Work of Soldiers Under General Funston — Explosions of Gas Add to General Terror.

Twenty Square Miles of Wreck and Ruin

Fierce Battle to Save the Famous Ferry Station, the Chief Inlet to and Egress from San Francisco — Fire Tugs and Vessels in the Bay Aid in Heroic Fight — Fort Mason, General Funston's Temporary Headquarters, has Narrow Escape — A Survey of the Scene of Desolation.

The City of a Hundred Hills

A Description of San Francisco, the Metropolis of the Pacific Coast Before the Fire — One of the Most Beauti­ful and Picturesque Cities in America — Home of the California Bonanza Kings.

Scenes of Terror, Death and Heroism

Thrilling Escapes and Deeds of Daring — Sublime Bravery and Self-Sacrifice by Men and Women — How the United States Mint and the Treasuries Were Saved and Protected by Devoted Employes and Soldiers — Pathetic Street Incidents — Soldiers and Police Compel Fashionably Attired to Assist in Cleaning Streets — Italians Drench Homes with Wine.

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.

Thrilling Personal Experiences — Continued

Hairbreadth Escapes from the Hotels Whose Walls Crumbled — Frantic Mothers Seek Children from Whom They Were Torn by the Quake — Reckless Use of Firearms by Cadet Militia — Tales of Heroism and Suffering.

Through Lanes of Misery

A Graphic Pen Picture of San Francisco in Flames and in Ruins — Scenes and Stories of Human Interest where Millionaires and Paupers Mingled in a Common Brotherhood — A Harrowing Trip in an Automobile.

Whole Nation Responds with Aid

Government Appropriates Millions and Chicago Leads All Other Cities with a Round Million of Dollars — People in All Ranks of Life from President Roosevelt to the Humblest Wage Earner Give Promptly and Freely.

All Co‑operate in Relief Work

Citizens' Committee Takes Charge of the Distribution of Supplies, Aided by the Red Cross Society and the Army — Nearly Three-Fourths of the Entire Population Fed and Sheltered in Refuge Camps.

Our Boys in Blue Prove Heroism

United States Troops at the Presidio and Fort Mason Under Command of General Funston Bring Order Out of Chaos and Save City from Pestilence — San Francisco Said "Thank God for the Boys in Blue" — Stricken City Patrolled by Soldiers.

In the Refuge Camps

Scenes of Destitution in the Parks Where the Homeless Were Gathered — Rich and Poor Share Food and Bed Alike — All Distinctions of Wealth and Social Position Wiped Out by the Great Calamity.

Ruins and Havoc in Coast Cities

San Jose, the Prettiest Place in the State, Wrecked by Quake — State Insane Asylum Collapsed and Buried Many Patients Beneath the Crumbled Walls — Enormous Damage at Santa Rosa.

Destruction of Great Stanford University

California's Magnificent Educational Institution, the Pride of the State, Wrecked by Quake — Founded by the Late Senator Leland Stanford as a Memorial to His Son and Namesake — Loss $3,000,000.

Fighting Fire with Dynamite

San Francisco Conflagration Eventually Checked by the Use of Explosives — Lesson of Baltimore Heeded in Coast City — Western Remnant of City in Residence Section Saved by Blowing Up Beauti­ful Homes of the Rich.

Miscellaneous Facts and Incidents

Many Babies Born in Refuge Camps — Expressions of Sympathy from Foreign Nations — San Francisco's Famous Restaurants — Plight of Newspaper and Telegraph Offices.

Disaster as Viewed by Scientists

Scientists are Divided Upon the Theories Concerning the Shock That Wrought Havoc in the Golden Gate City — May Have Originated Miles Under the Ocean — Growth of the Sierra Madre Mountains May Have Been the Cause.

Chinatown, A Plague Spot Blotted Out

An Oriental Hell within an American City — Foreign in its Stores, Gambling Dens and Inhabitants — The Mecca of all San Francisco Sight Seers — Secret Passages, Opium Joints and Slave Trade its Chief Features.

The New San Francisco

A Modern City of Steel on the Ruins of the City that Was — A Beauti­ful vista of Boulevards, Parks and Open Spaces Flanked by the Massive Structures of Commerce and the Palaces of Wealth and Fashion.

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Technical Details


This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The book was fairly well proofread, and the inevitable errors are minor. I fixed them by marking the correction each time, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles. A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any other mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As I mentioned above, much of the value of this book lies in its photographs. But even there, unfortunately, quality has been a problem: not only because a quickly printed book of the early 20c is not going to reproduce the originals as well as could be wished, but also because my copy of the book was defaced by an active child with a pencil. My exemplar also seems to be missing two photographs, on pp29‑30: or at any rate, between the pages numbered 28 and 33 there is only one leaf. (If you own a copy of the book with those pages intact, I'd appreciate hearing from you, of course.)

The photos were inserted with no regard to illustrating the text; they are often grouped in sets of four or six pages, clearly in order to make the work of the book assemblers easier. Some would better have been placed in different chapters, and others have nothing to do with anything. Rather than move them all around to find the best possible match with the text, I almost always chose to leave them in their original chapters, occasionally moving them to match text, but mostly taking advantage of the freedom in photo placement afforded by the Web to scatter them more pleasingly over the webpage.

Four photos and two drawings inserted after Chapter 20 in the print edition, yet relating to San Francisco as well as, or rather than, to the disparate subjects of those later chapters, have been "rescued" and distributed in what seemed suitable places in the online text. This is one of the drawings, which epitomizes the general pruriency of our book — but which I hope was not intended to be instructional, despite its caption; here is as good a place as any:

[image ALT: A drawing of the interior of a house or building in some disorder — pictures out of kilter on the walls, débris on the floor — in which a man lies dead, or maybe asleep or drunk, on the floor in the left foreground. A man wearing a hat and carrying a handbag like a doctor's bag is kneeling over him; in the right foreground a trunk lies open and a man kneels over it and appears to be emptying out its contents; two other men can be seen less distinctly engaging in the same kind of activity, while two others stand and watch, pottery keeping a lookout. It is an imaginative scene of looting corpses after the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.]

Ghoulish Thieves Looting the Dead.

This harrowing scene shows the way the dead and injured are frequently robbed after a disaster.

[image ALT: A drawing of two women in classical robes; the one on the right wears an olive crown and is consoling the other, who weeps into her hands. It is the icon used on this site for 'The San Francisco Horror', a book about the 1906 earthquake.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a detail of the book cover; it is meant to depict America comforting the stricken San Francisco.

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Site updated: 3 Feb 22