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  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.
(Sgd.) E. H. Adams
Here we are all paupers together, but we have our grit left.