San Francisco Earthquake

The San Francisco Earthquake: a view of the ruined city.

The San Francisco Earthquake: a view of the ruined city.

At 5:12 A.M. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906 a major earthquake struck the city of San Francisco and the surrounding area.  The earthquake had a likely magnitude of about 7.8 on the richter scale, though some estimates suggest that the quake may have been as high as 8.2.

The earthquake struck near the center of the city, leading to the collapse of many buildings from the shock.  Then fires started throughout the city which raged uncontrolled for days. The flames were fought by local citizens and the army, who often used dynamite to demolish homes and create a fire break in the path of the fire.  About 3,000 people lost their lives, and the city was left in ruins.

To a world grown weary of natural disasters – Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, the Indonesian Tsunami, the San Francisco earthquake may seem almost of no consequence. After all the loss of life was far less than many more recent disasters. However we must not underestimate the shock of the San Francisco earthquake on the psyche of the city or the nation. This earthquake was at the time an unprecedented disaster.

The Ruined Business District of San Francisco, After the EarthQuake

The Ruined Business District of San Francisco, After the EarthQuake

The picture above shows what is left of the once thriving business district of San Francisco. Even when the outer facade of the building did not collapse,  the interior floors often fell into a heap of rubble. This picture was taken from Nob Hill which offered a good panoramic view of the earthquake.

The aftermath of the Earthquake, Looking East on Market Street

The aftermath of the Earthquake, Looking East on Market Street

San Francisco Earthquake: The View from Fifth and Market Streets

San Francisco Earthquake: The View from Fifth and Market Streets

The San Francisco Earthquake: The Ruins of Market Street

The San Francisco Earthquake: The Ruins of Market Street

The above picture is an interesting snapshot of the aftermath of the earthquake. A bunch of men in suits and hats, probably businessmen, are standing nonchalantly on Market Street, surrounded by the ruins of their city. Lying in the gutter is a dead man, likely a looter shot by soldiers brought in to restore order.

Looking after the Dead

Looking after the Dead

The above picture is of a mortuary set up by the National Guard in Jefferson Square to collect the dead of the San Francisco earthquake. The guardsman is cataloguing the dead by recording their description and names. There are supplies of embalming fluids and other funerary supplies set up nearby.

A contemporary account described the devastation:

It was 5:15 o’clock in the morning when the terrific earthquake shook San Francisco and the surrounding country. One shock apparently lasted two minutes and there was an almost immediate collapse of flimsy structures all over the former city. The water supply was cut off and when fires broke out in various sections there was nothing to do but to let the buildings burn. Telegraphic and telephone communication was shut off. Electric light and gas plants were rendered useless and the city was left without water, light or power. Street car tracks were twisted out of shape and even the ferry-boats ceased to run.

The dreadful earthquake shock came without warning, its motion apparently being from east to west. At first the upheaval of the earth was gradual, but in a few seconds it increased in intensity. Chimneys began to fall and buildings to crack, tottering on their foundations.

People became panic stricken and rushed into the streets, most of them in their night attire. They were met by showers of falling buildings, bricks, cornices and walls. Many were instantly crushed to death, while others were dreadfully mangled. Those who remained indoors generally escaped with their lives, though scores were hit by detached plaster, pictures and articles thrown to the floor by the shock.

Scarcely had the earth ceased to shake when fires broke out simultaneously in many places.

Streets Buckled by the San Francisco Earthquake

Streets Buckled by the San Francisco Earthquake

This photograph gives an idea of just how much the earth heaved during the quake: the trolley car tracks have been bent upwards from the ground.

San Francisco Earthquake: The Ruins of Stockton Street

San Francisco Earthquake: The Ruins of Stockton Street

San Francisco Earthquake: Grant Avenue Seen from Market Street

San Francisco Earthquake: Grant Avenue Seen from Market Street

San Francisco Earthquake: Mission Street

San Francisco Earthquake: Mission Street

San Francisco Earthquake: O'Farrell Street

San Francisco Earthquake: O'Farrell Street

On the right can be seen the girders of a modern building which have remained standing while all around it the brick and mortar building shave crumbled completely. However the strong metal frame of the new building did not save it from damage: all of its outer walls have collapsed.

Looking North from Sixth and Market Streets, San Francisco

Looking North from Sixth and Market Streets, San Francisco

The Ruined Shell of the Orpheum Theater on O'Farrell Street

The Ruined Shell of the Orpheum Theater on O'Farrell Street

The fire quickly engulfed the city, despite the efforts of the firefighters. The center was quickly gone; what had not been destroyed by the tremor now was a blackened cinder.  A contemporary account described the panic and desparation:

After sucking dry even the sewers the fire engines were either abandoned or moved to the outlying districts.

There was no help. Water was gone, powder was gone, hope even was a fiction. The fair city by the Golden Gate was doomed to be blotted from the sight of man.

The stricken people who wandered through the streets in pathetic helplessness and sat upon their scattered belongings in cooling ruins reached the stage of dumb, uncaring despair, the city dissolving before their eyes had no significance longer.

There was no business quarter; it was gone. There was no longer a hotel district, a theater route, a place where Night beckoned to Pleasure. Everything was gone.

San Francisco on Fire After the Earthquake

San Francisco on Fire After the Earthquake

A Photograph of the Devastation in the Wholesale District. A Horse Lies Dead in the Middle of the Street, Surrounded by Rubble

A Photograph of the Devastation in the Wholesale District. A Horse Lies Dead in the Middle of the Street, Surrounded by Rubble

Cracks in the Pavement

Cracks in the Pavement

The Ruins of the Emporium: before the earthquake this was the largest department store west of Chicago

The Ruins of the Emporium: before the earthquake this was the largest department store west of Chicago

A Rubble Filled Street

A Rubble Filled Street

The Call Building in the Distance

The Call Building in the Distance

San Francisco Earthquake - Looking Toward the Ferry from Vallejo Street

San Francisco Earthquake - Looking Toward the Ferry from Vallejo Street

There were so many dead that in many cases immediate cremation was deemed necessary to prevent the spread of disease. Many bodies were never identified.

Mark Hopkins Institute on Nob Hill, Before the Earthquake

Mark Hopkins Institute on Nob Hill, Before the Earthquake

The landscape of the city was changed forever.  The palatial homes on Nob Hill were destroyed by the flames.

San Francisco Hotel - Destroyed by the Fire that Followed the Earthquake

San Francisco Hotel - Destroyed by the Fire that Followed the Earthquake

Thousands were left homeless; refugees fled the city by ferry to Oakland and other points. Below is a picture of the ferry terminal, from which many of the injured were evacuated.

Those that remained in the city faced many hardships. With the infrastructure destroyed, exposure and lack of food and water became the enemy. The armed forces organized a relief operation.

A Water Truck Delivering Free Water to the Victims of the Quake

A Water Truck Delivering Free Water to the Victims of the Quake

San Francisco Ferry Terminal

San Francisco Ferry Terminal

Clothes for the Homeless

Relief Workers Hand Out Clothes for the Homeless

Aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake: Pulled Down Telegraph and Telephone Wires

Aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake: Pulled Down Telegraph and Telephone Wires

Soldiers quickly erected tent cities where the suddenly homeless could find shelter. Below is a picture of the tent city erected in Golden Gate Park.

Refugee Tent City

Refugee Tent City

Even where buildings remained standing they were too structurally damaged to reoccupy. Many San Franciscans had to move into the streets in front of their homes. Below is a photograph of a street with dozens of cooking stoves on the sidewalk, a scene that became very common after the earthquake.

Cooking in the Street

Cooking in the Street

The Wreck of City Hall

The Wreck of City Hall

St. John's Church

St. John's Church

Camp Kitchen in a Refugee Camp After the Earthquake

Camp Kitchen in a Refugee Camp After the Earthquake

A Shanty Town Built by Survivors of the San Francisco Quake

A Shanty Town Built by Survivors of the San Francisco Quake

Refugees from the fire that destroyed their homes huddle amid what few possessions they were able to carry away to the safety of Telegraph Hill.

Refugees from the fire that destroyed their homes huddle amid what few possessions they were able to carry away to the safety of Telegraph Hill.

The Clock Tower of the Ferry Terminal - the Clock Stopped at 5:15 the Exact Moment that the Earthquake Struck

The Clock Tower of the Ferry Terminal - the Clock Stopped at 5:15 the Exact Moment that the Earthquake Struck

St. Dominici Church

St. Dominici Church

One of the hardest hit sections was San Francisco’s famous China Town, which was almost completely destroyed by fire.

The picture below shows several thousand Chinese Americans who fled from China Town to the safety of a park.

Refugees from San Francisco's China Town

Refugees from San Francisco's China Town

Personal Belongings Gathered on the Front Lawn of a Destroyed House

Personal Belongings Gathered on the Front Lawn of a Destroyed House

People Living in Tents in a Public Square

People Living in Tents in a Public Square

Refugees in Alameda Park

Refugees in Alameda Park

Survivors of the quake look for the names of loved ones.

Survivors of the quake look for the names of loved ones.

In the picture above survivors are scanning a wall on which the names and contact information of other survivors have been placed. With communications destroyed and thousands of people scattered by teh devastation, it  many friends and families were separated. This wall served as a collection point. It was a scene that would become painfully familiar again during teh 9-11 disaster.

Empty Shells of Buildings

Empty Shells of Buildings

After the earthquake the city of San Francisco was left in ruins. The city resembled the devastated what would become commonplace in a mere 34 years: the bombed out cities of World War 2 such as Coventry or Nurenburg.

Contemporary writers tried to put a positive spin on the disaster.  In The Complete Story of the San Francisco Horror, the authors wrote:

Unexampled as was the loss of property in San Francisco the disaster in that respect alone was converted into a permanent benefit.

No other city with the exception of Chicago ever had such a grand opportunity of rebuilding upon a basis of permanency and beauty.

To a certain extent, they were right. San Francisco was rebuilt and remains today a vibrant beautiful city.

Paris in 1894

Across Paris in 1894

Across Paris in 1894

Below is a series of somewhat satirical illustrations of Paris, the great City of Lights, as it was in 1894. The illustrations are taken from a French book called “A Travers Paris” (Across Paris) by  the noted French illustrator of the Victorian era, Crafty, which was a pseudonym of Victor Gerusez (1840-1906). The original French text was also by Crafty.  The English text below is from my translation of the original text, with some modifications.

A Travers Paris - Illustrations and Original Text (in French) by Crafty. 1894

A Travers Paris - Illustrations and Original Text (in French) by Crafty. 1894

Tourists Sightseeing in Paris: A Car of the Cook Travel Agency next to the Colonne Vendome

Tourists Sightseeing in Paris: A Car of the Cook Travel Agency next to the Colonne Vendome

In recent years several agencies have, for a modest fee,  been transporting foreigners across Paris to show them its monuments, its peculiarities, its beauties and its ugliness.  We would like in this album to achieve the same goal, but rather than outdoors, from a comfortable chair next to a fireplace, thus avoiding the jolting drive as our means of locomotion and the disadvantages poor weather.

Runaway Carriage on the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne

Runaway Carriage on the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne

Like every other day, carriages are returning from the Wood in single file … Suddenly, without knowing what fly has stung, a procession of horses has suddenly taken a disorderly appearance that even the combined efforts of the driver and his co-pilot failed to moderate. He does  not gallop,  he flies, spreading fear among the timorous souls,  and exciting the noblest impulses of devotion in generous natures. The general feeling is fear of what will happen. — Only a few skeptics remain unruffled and all other spectators are bent like so  many question marks ???

The Results: A Carriage Accident

The Results: A Carriage Accident

The expected shock occurred. A cab driven carelessly, coming from the rue de Presbourg, did not have time to avoid the avalanche of four wheels rolling toward him. The rear wheel of the other carriage has struck his own with such force that the two vehicles came to an immediate halt. The cab, lighter than the other, was overturned on its side, while his driver was thrown onto the opposite lane.  Some kind souls are trying to extricate the occupants from the damaged box. A physician, one always finds him in such cases, lavishes his attention to the owner of the Victoria (a type of carriage) whom he has placed on a chair. Meanwhile the driver’s companion is attempting to mislead the authorities by spinning an inaccurate tale, and placing all the blame for the accident on the driver of the other cab, who has been rendered mute by his numerous bruises.

Fire at the School of Medicine, Paris

Fire at the School of Medicine, Paris

An excitable doorman saw smoke in the stairwell. – In his zeal, he went to break the windows of all the alarms in the neighborhood, and from all points of the compass firefighters rushed to the scene of the disaster, some uncertain of its exact location. All the boys they met on the way, escort the firefighters keeping pace along side with long strides, while policemen interrupted the movement, under the fallacious pretext of helping it.

Fire on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris

Fire on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris

Having discovered the threatened building, mastered the “scourge” with a few buckets of water, the municipal crews have started back to their barracks, with an uproar to equal that of their arrival. The fans of free shows have remained on the scene, commenting on the seriousness of the event, whose magnitude grows with each retelling. which according to them, a significance proportioned to the imagination of the speakers. In summary, the disaster is confined to the loss of an old carpet. But the district will be in turmoil until the end of the day, and thanks to measures taken by the competent authority, the movement of cars will be hampered until late in the evening.

Waiting for a Horse Drawn Bus in Paris

Waiting for a Horse Drawn Bus in Paris

The bus stop is a circle in the open, without any amenities, but with the advantage that women are admitted. It is probably for this reason that we see the regulars who, although bearing tickets, do take a seat in vehicles that follow one another without interruption.

An electric streetcar  in Paris

An electric streetcar in Paris

The horses had barely started to get used to steam trams, with their smoke and their whistles, when it was seen fit to use electricity .- It was probably a good intention, as these new vehicles travel without noise or smoke. Unfortunately the electric cabs cause an invincible terror in the Paris cavalry. – These animals that are only half beasts, remain wary of what they can not understand, and the sight of this car with no apparent means of motion inspires the horses with a distrust that does not seem completely unintelligent.

Paris After Midnight

Paris After Midnight

This is a serious problem .- Does the taxi’s night rate apply when the passenger arrives home after 12:30, or is it necessary that the driver was hired after this time for him to have the right to claim the prize (of a higher rate)?  In the present instance, the driver claims to the contrary, while the citizen said he should pay the standard rate. The parties are in extreme perplexity, while the feminine side of the carriage languishes pending the resolution of the conflict.

In Paris, everyone is on the move - even the trees.

In Paris, everyone is on the move - even the trees.

When one lives in Paris, nothing is more difficult than to stay put.- The city contains many attractions, some free some costy, and the temptation is often strong to leave one’s home, attracted by the charm of the street. One never knows what they will see, but one can be sure to see something and that that something will be new. The curiosity is so string that even teh trees succumb and start to move.

[This passage makes a humorous allusion to the illustration above which shows a number of trees being transplanted and moved on wheeled dollies. It suggests that the trees are just like the people of Paris, always on the move.]

Before there were ads on the sides of trucks and buses, Paris had men who pulled carts covered with ads. Here the illustration shows the men taking a break.

Before there were ads on the sides of trucks and buses, Paris had men who pulled carts covered with ads. Here the illustration shows the men taking a break.

It’s time for lunch. Illuminated parked vehicles lined the sidewalks, while their teams stretch their weary limbs and light a comforting cigarette. Though motionless, these vehicles retain their appearance of quadrupeds, causing invincible repugnance in the horses.

A Pedestrian Boulevard

A Pedestrian Boulevard

It is certainly the greatest step towards the human rights in the new era: the right to be crushed only when one wants to e, or when his face is displeasing to the policeman.

A Candy Store on Boulevard de la Madeleine, Paris

A Candy Store on Boulevard de la Madeleine, Paris

Far-sighted people do not wait for January 1 to ship their gifts, but latecomers who waited until the last moment, leave the confectioner scrambling to get the bag ready

The pity is that in these extreme moments the supplies of the popular shops are often exhausted and to meet the public demand, the shopkeepers sometimes find it necessary to replace their usual products with poisonous sweets and adulterated chocolates from the nearest grocer. “Tarde venientibus ossa,” said the poet during the days of forgotten year.

A Paris Book Shop (Boulevard des Italiens)

A Paris Book Shop (Boulevard des Italiens)

Here is the meeting place for connoisseurs of intelligence, who prefer to satisfy their vulgar gluttony with feast of the mind. No indigestion to fear if by chance  the title has  misled them, the heaviest products have never had more serious effects than sometimes causing sleep early, but still quiet and often deep. The great advantage of such gifts is for the donor is that he is not forced  to taste it, the danger lies in giving, without having read it,  a book that demolishes the political beliefs, or the religious and social character of  the recipient.

Collision With a Bicycle

Collision With a Bicycle

Cyclists are generally bold, this is due to their age, their confidence, the little space they need to move, and the speed that they can attain. — It follows that the cyclist starts with all his might, and that if  he encounters an unexpected obstacle, he ends up overturned.

An accident on Rue de Rivoli, Paris

An accident on Rue de Rivoli, Paris


The wood paving stone is sometimes slipping, – it is often the result of natural moisture; – more frequently still, this dangerous state of the roadways comes from an insufficient watering which does not remove all of the refuse on which the horses step. – These days,  there are as many animals lying on the ground as standing upright. as many animals lying are counted than upright, and, without the spirit of fraternity which carries our fellow-citizens between helping, traffic would become definitely impracticable. [It is interesting to see that the Parisians had an equivalent of potholes as far back as 1894!]

A Downpour at Place de Vendome

A Downpour at Place de Vendome

The downpour, so impatiently waited during certain summers,  now multiplies so much that this cataclysm becomes the daily event. – In spite of this regularity, the phenomenon varies so much the hours of its appearance, and occurs with such an instantaneity,  that it  manages each time to surprise and flood a number  walkers, who had believed to be able to benefit from a fallacious break in the rain.

Traveling Salesemen

Traveling Salesemen

The traveling salesmen are well liked by the housewives of the district who support them towards and against all, they are the Masters of the roadway, and the heaviest vehicles are obliged to yield the way to them. – If an unhappy coachman has the audacity to go to a jog-trot, or the awkwardness to pass too close to a customer installed right in the middle of the street, he is subjected to a vocabulary which reveals the vicinity of the markets.

Commuter Train - Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris

Commuter Train - Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris

Everyone, after a laborious day, is eager to find the freshness of a garden more or less extensive, but where one is free to kick back and relax. It is the hour when junk food abounds in the train cars and when melons combine their perfumes with those of the Maroilles cheese and the emanations of expensive or cheap cigars, but also nauseous, of our national manufactures.

A chanteuse sings at an open air concert.

A chanteuse sings at an open air concert.

It is as hot as Senegal all afternoon. Not a seat is vacant. This is the moment when the star appears on the scene, and even on days when the weather is terrible, her many followers make are there. She has not yet opened her mouth, but she appeared, and nothing more is necessary for every face in the crowd to exude complete happiness.

Fishermen at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris

Fishermen at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris

A Water Bus (Cours-la-Reine, Paris)

A Water Bus (Cours-la-Reine, Paris)

The boat touches the dock, and the employee who presides over the control of these aquatic bus is preparing to give the signal for departure. But an entire family spread over the platform hastens heavily – the father is already on the dock and encourages the rest with his voice and gestures, the girl reaches the bridge, but the mother, out of breath, is still on dry land and boarding opportunities seem particularly compromised.

Horses drinking from the Seine, in Paris

Horses drinking from the Seine, in Paris

Cat Overboard

Cat Overboard

A fairly strong flood occurred during the night and the river has received a number of objects carelessly deposited too close to its shores, beams, empty casks, and other materials that float. On one of these wrecks is a cat meowing pitifully, and every feeling heart, whether or not affiliated with the Humane Society, wonders anxiously who will be the brave rescuer to assist the unfortunate feline.

Parisian Cycling Enthusiasts

Parisian Cycling Enthusiasts

While at Potinière [another park] you can admire the expert bicycle riders who have mastered all the secrets o f the art, here one only comes across some beginners studying under the watchful eyes of professionals who ensure that people are usually able, after a dozen lessons, to ride properly. But there are some who just have no balance and manage to capsize at every turn of the wheel.

The Horse Races in Paris

The Horse Races in Paris

The win was quite unexpected. The total bets fell into the hands of the coach who took a “small chance” to his horse, the lad who had brought the horse onto the track and found him cheerful, and  a gentleman who, having never come to the races before,  had bet on the horse because he liked the name.

Horses and Jockeys Returning from the Race

Fans Returning Home After the Horse Race

Everywhere is the same accumulation of cars, horses and bicycles. The lines follow each other without interruption, the horses’ noses touching the hood of the car before threatening the shafts and the rear of the footmen sitting at the back of them. Despite the impatience of some, in a relatively short time, this mass of spectators eventually flows,  someting that at first seemed to be absolutely impossible.

The Horse Market

The Horse Market

A Paris Wedding

A Paris Wedding

The crowd is generally friendly. Marriages are usually held at the same time as when the milliners and dressmakers of the neighborhood take their lunch. Their lack of dowry continues to leave them single without removing their desire and hope to climb in rank. The milliners and dressmakers sit in the back, and their specialized knowledge allows them to accurately estimate the probable resources of the new spouses and their entourage.

The Bride and Groom on the Way to the Sacristy

The Bride and Groom on the Way to the Sacristy

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Paris Wedding

The Wedding Procession

The Wedding Procession

In the sacristy (Church Sainte-Clotilde, Paris)

In the sacristy (Church Sainte-Clotilde, Paris)

This is when the compliments accumulate .- If half of the praise that the couple receives at that moment were deserved, there would be only to happy marriages. Unfortunately these are not always sincere, and this explains why courts sometimes grant a divorce for people who do not agree.

The Wedding Reception

The Wedding Reception

In a certain environment, there is no feast complete without some exceptional food and reasonable absorption of various liquids. These gargantuan feasts are usually held in summer near the Porte Maillot, and extend indefinitely, and often leave the spouses happy memories of their finest indigestion.

A Paris Funeral

A Paris Funeral

Mourners Followiing the Funeral Procession, Paris

Mourners Followiing the Funeral Procession, Paris

And so ends our tour of Paris. A world not that far removed in time from our own, but very different in terms of way of life.

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