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San Francisco During the Eventful Days of April 1906   By: (1832-1909)

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San Francisco During the Eventful Days of April, 1906

Personal Recollections


James B. Stetson

These recollections were written in June, 1906, but the first edition being exhausted and a new one being required, I have included some events that occurred later, without changing the original date.

Personal Recollections During the Eventful Days of April, 1906

As the earthquake and the great fire in San Francisco in the year 1906 were events of such unusual interest, and realizing how faulty is man's memory after time passes, I have here jotted down a few incidents which I personally observed, and shall lay them away, so that if in the future I should desire I can refer to these notes, made while the events were new and fresh in my mind, with some assurance of their accuracy.

On the morning of April 18, 1906, at 5:13, in my residence, 1801 Van Ness Avenue, I was awakened by a very severe shock of earthquake. The shaking was so violent that it nearly threw me out of bed. It threw down a large bookcase in my chamber, broke the glass front, and smashed two chairs; another bookcase fell across the floor; the chandelier was so violently shaken that I thought it would be broken into pieces. The bric a brac was thrown from the mantel and tables, and strewed the floor with broken china and glass. It is said to have lasted fifty eight seconds, but as nearly as I can estimate the violent part was only about twelve seconds.

As soon as it was over I got up and went to the window, and saw the air in the street filled with a white dust, which was caused by the falling of masonry from St. Luke's Church on the diagonal corner from my room. I waited for the dust to settle, and I then saw the damage which had been done to Claus Spreckels's house and the church. The chimneys of the Spreckels mansion were gone, the stone balustrade and carved work wrecked. The roof and the points of the gables and ornamental stone work of the church had fallen, covering the sidewalk and lying piled up against the sides of the building to the depth of eight or ten feet.

About this time Rachel and Nora were knocking, at my door and inquiring if I were alive. I opened the door and they came in, Rachel badly frightened and Nora sprinkling holy water over the room.

I hurriedly dressed and went up, to my daughter's (Mrs. Winslow's) house, 1945 Pacific Avenue, and found her and the children with their neighbors in the street and very much frightened. Their house was cracked considerably, and she had been imprisoned in her room by the binding of the door, which had to be broken open to enable her to escape. The chimneys of her house were thrown down and much valuable glass and chinaware broken. I returned to my house and found that the tops of all my chimneys had been thrown down, and one was lying in the front yard sixteen feet from the building. There were some cracks visible in the library, but none in my room, and only very few in the parlor and dining room. In the kitchen, however, the plastering was very badly cracked and the tiles around the sink thrown out. In the parlor the marble statue of the "Diving Girl" was thrown from its pedestal and broken into fragments. The glass case containing the table glassware in the dining room and its contents were uninjured; very little china and glassware were broken in the pantry; the clocks were not stopped. A water pipe broke in the ceiling of the spare room and the water did some damage.

I then went over to the power house of the California Street Railroad and found that about seventy feet of the smoke stack had fallen diagonally across the roof, and about six feet of it into the stable, where were two horses; fortunately it did not touch them, but before they were released they squealed and cried, most piteously. One of them was so badly frightened that he was afterward useless and we turned him out to pasture and he grew lean and absolutely worthless... Continue reading book >>

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