Wednesday, April 18: 5:12 am San Francisco

The earthquake of April 18, 1906 cracked the face of this pocket watch from the 5 past the hour hand.
Chronicle photo by Mark Costantini

The early morning of April 18, 1906 the San Francisco Bay Area was stirring as the people prepared for another beautiful day.  Unfortunately, before sunrise on April 19 the great city would be reduced to rubble as fires would destroy what the earthquake left from its impact.  The uncontrollable fires would rage on for days.

Panoramic view of earthquake and fire damage from Stanford Mansion site, April 18–21, 1906

Listed below is an excerpt from famed writer Jack London who wrote an account of what he saw on April 18 and in the days to come.  His full account is in the links below.

On Wednesday morning at a quarter past five came the earthquake. A minute later the flames were leaping upward. In a dozen different quarters south of Market Street, in the working-class ghetto, and in the factories, fires started. There was no opposing the flames. There was no organization, no communication. All the cunning adjustments of a twentieth century city had been smashed by the earthquake. The streets were humped into ridges and depressions, and piled with the debris of fallen walls. The steel rails were twisted into perpendicular and horizontal angles. The telephone and telegraph systems were disrupted. And the great water mains had burst. All the shrewd contrivances and safeguards of man had been thrown out of gear by thirty seconds’ twitching of the earth-crust.  Jack London, Collier’s May 5, 1906

Mr. London’s account shows the heroic, the despair, the misery and the greed which manifests itself in a disaster.  He mentions one man attempting to sell a pair of horses for a $1000 as the fires rage and the homeless huddle together.

San Francisco City Hall

Another account is from William Ford Nichols, Episcopal Bishop of California.

as I passed from cot to cot and from one to another, lying everywhere on the floor of the great Pavilion; one man suffering more from anxiety as to what had become of his wife than from his own injuries; another who told me his son had been stricken dead by his side in the early morning; another to whose side I was hurriedly called by a nurse as just passing away from the promise of robust manhood; others groaning from the pain and heartache of permanent maiming; others dazed and oblivious of their peril or predicament. And yet, with it all, the effect seemed to be more of suppression than of expression of the sense of crowding calamity, as those who had come through mercifully preserved tried to show quietly and tenderly their gratitude by ministering to those who had suffered.”  Bishop Nichols’ full account is in the links below.

Disasters and calamities befall this planet traversing the cosmos daily—be they natural or human made.  The end result is suffering and misery.  The loss of possessions is very faint in comparison to the loss of life.

On the night of April 17, 1906 people went to bed with hopes and plans for tomorrow.  For many those hopes and plans died before sunrise.

How is it with you this night?  What hopes and plans do you have for tomorrow?

The only real time that we possess is the now of our lives.  We are not prognosticators of our possible tomorrows.

Live life well with no regrets.  Whatever looms on the horizon of tomorrow will come with its joys or its miseries.

We can no more control Fate than we can master the weather.  What we can do is to live and be as prepared as we can for the cruel vicissitudes which come without mercy to various parts of this earth each day.


G. D. Williams       © 2012

Call Building on Market Street Before The Earthquake
The Call Building On Market Street After The Earthquake