Monday, September 11, 2006

Eyewitness account of San Francisco Earthquake


This letter from Ernest H. Adams, sales representative of the famed silverware manufacturers Reed and Barton, was a gift to the Museum from Harold E. Kilian of San Francisco.

San Francisco, Cal. April 23, 1906.

Messrs. Reed & Barton.


At last I am able to pass mail through the lines since the 18th, the morning of the most terrible disaster that ever befell a state or city.

For me to describe the scenes and events of the past few days would be an impossibility at present, and no doubt you would have had more news regarding the awful fate of this city than I myself know. All that I can say at this writing is, that about 5:15 a.m., Wednesday morning, I was thrown out of bed and in a twinkling of an eye the side of our house [at 151—24th Ave.] was dashed to the ground. How we go into the street I will never be able to tell, as I fell and crawled down the stairs amid flying glass and timber and plaster. When the dust cleared away I saw nothing but a ruin of a house and home that it had taken twenty years to build. I saw the fires from the city arising in great clouds and it was no time to mourn my loss so getting into what clothing I could find, I started on a run for [115] Kearny St., five miles away.

Reaching the office, I waded through plaster, etc., to find the goods still in the cases but off the shelves without any damage being done them. Locking the doors again I rushed to [the] street to find the city two blocks away in flames and the fire department helpless, as all of the water mains had been ruptured and destroyed. I gathered up a force of seven men, stationed them at our office doors, and started for a truck, after hunting an hour I secured a truck at $50.00 a load and again started for the office. Fortunately I had two guns in the office, and stationing one man at the entrance and one on the truck with orders to shoot, the balance of us went to work, and that dray man pulled the heaviest load of his life. I saved all of the Sterling Hollow and Flat Ware with the exception of a few Flat Ware samples in the trays beside my books, stock sterling and plated ware books. The plated ware, it was impossible to touch, as the flames were then upon us, and another truck at $1,000.00 a load was an impossibility.

By this time the streets were a pandemonium, and locking [the] office doors we mounted our guarded load and started for the country out toward the Cliff House. My house being in ruins I knew not where I would land, but I kept the teamster going with a gun at his back until we were three miles out of town. Meeting a friend, I placed the goods in the parlor of his little cottage that had not been damaged much and I thought was safe. Then I hiked for home to see how the wife was. I found her sitting beside the ruins of what was once her home. (But she is a brick) and never showed the white feather once or since.

All Wednesday night we guarded the treasure, but the fire kept creeping toward us, driving the people back to the Cliff House, the western extremity of the Peninsula, and Thursday I was again forced to move the goods westward. The last stand was our back yard, two miles from the first stand, and I am now with our sterling goods, the remains of our beautiful office.

The city is under martial law and we are living on the government, or at least many are. As soon as the good were safe, I cleaned out the nearest grocery store of canned goods and we are living in a tents, cooking means on a few bricks piled up Dutch-oven style. Will endeavor to get into [the] city tomorrow, but every man caught in town is placed at work clearing the streets and they are kept at work until they drop.

With this valuable property under my care I could not afford to take any chances, and I have stayed close to my cache.

I have had plenty to do, as hundreds are without shelter and little clothing.

One of our prominent attorneys is camped near us and he has advised me that I did the right thing in saving what I could for you, and he said that it will not affect our insurance any and it is only necessary to make affidavit to what stock we had at the time of the fire, and the possibility is that nearly all the insurance companies are broke by this time.

The city is a mass of ruins from the Ferry Building or water front west to Van Ness Ave., and across town from north to south. Within the above radius not business house is left standing. Dohrmann Commercial Co., Shreve & Co., every jeweler are a thing of the past. Not a hotel in town, restaurant or cafe.

As all of our photo books were destroyed, I would request that you forward me a line as soon as possible. W.S. Hollow and W.H. Hollow hotel photos, and regular W. H. stock photos.

Address E.H. Adams, #151—24th Avenue, San Francisco, Cal. W.F. [Wells-Fargo] Express. Send all mail please to the above address.

Will start in and make out a list of what I saved in Sterling and forward it immediately, so that you may present your claim under our insurance policies that you have at the factory.

Trusting that what I have done will meet with your approval.

I remain,

Yours truly,

(Sgd.) E. H. Adams

Here we are all paupers together, but we have our grit left.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

More Video from 1906 Earthquake!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Hi. Rose here. I thought you'd like to see a video I took of the great quake in 1906. Here it is.

(I know, I know, it's 1906 and video hasn't been invented yet. Neither has unitedstreaming. But, hey, think out of the box ...)


Here is a photograph I took after the earthquake. This photo shows the devastation inflicted on the San Francisco City Hall, a building whose construction had been finished long before the earthquake. The building was notoriously poorly-designed and poorly constructed.


May 15, 1906

The San Francisco Earthquake!!!

I was somewhat relieved when I found the plaster walls of the parlor, the ornaments, large old-fashioned mantle mirrors, furniture and heavy family portraits not in the least disturbed … the earthquake showed many strange, unaccountable, tantalizing freaks. In Ocean View, houses intact were moved several feet in the direction of San Francisco. In the cemeteries crosses were moved from their bases and yet are standing, Angels have lost their wings and Saints their heads.

… It was a warm, bright, sunny morning, but toward the east a great, dense, white cloud was rising and spreading over the blue sky. It was strange, and so I informed my Brother-in-law, whom I found lighting a cigar and ready to start on a day's trip to the country for business. He thought the earthquake and cloud an explosion of the powder works.

It all seemed so probable and reassuring that I put on my long black coat and thought I would offer a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Dominic's Church.

I had four or five blocks to walk, and it was really astonishing to see very nice looking, neat houses standing minus their chimneys. … The people of the Western Addition seemed very amiable and we were all inclined to salute each other, though strangers, and quite stiff-necked on other occasions.

… But at the bottom of the hill, how different -- the great, massive door of St. Dominic's Church was completely barricaded by rubbish of all kinds to its highest point.

… One solitary figure sat by the window of the abandoned Fathers' House, though most of its roof was sunken in. He was bent over and trying with tear dimmed eyes to read his Morning Office.

… The people here seemed in a very different mood from those in my part of town. They were seated on their stoops , disheveled and hatless, half dressed and excited. We felt a short, jerky, ugly shock. The people all screamed and jumped. An automobile, a horse started to run. I hurried home in the center of the street. Men cried out: "Lady, be careful of electric wires overhead." It was all very disagreeable and I was glad to get home.

… The Boss (Polk) then made the announcement that we would have to leave the city as by night the fire would be on us.

… I tried to pack all the old clothes, for our best would have been impractical in case of sleeping out of doors or in tents or the Lord knows where. For ten minutes we were working hard in all directions and trying to be clever when suddenly the Boss cried out: "All aboard, only yourselves, no baggage!"

Hurriedly I put on two black cloth skirts, one short and one long coat, and stuck myself with purses, pins, hairpins, safety-pins, needles, spools of cotton, tape, and a belt bag. Mamma had on her long crepe veil, her most shabby black skirt, light cloth coat, rubbers and umbrella. My Sister, her best $60 tailor-made suit, Napoleon felt hat and lorgnette, looking as usual chic and lovely.

It was so suffocatingly hot and, though all large-sized women, we had to cram in, knees all meeting, causing many irritable jerks and grunts and resentment on the part of all.

[NOTE - this is an actual diary excerpt from a 1906 earthquake survivor. See