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San Francisco Earthquake

Street Scene After San Francisco Earthquake (4/18/1906)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-74421

San Francisco Earthquake

A century ago, on April 18, 1906, readers of the Wisconsin State Journal learned of the San Francisco earthquake in screaming headlines: Death of Thousands and Loss of $50,000,000 Toll of San Francisco Horror. Earthquake that struck at 5:10 a.m. practically wrecked the city. Shocks continue. Fires rage in all directions.

Several Madisonians received letters from relatives who survived the event.
Matilda Eddy’s letter to Ernest W. Eddy, operator of the One Minute Coffee Shop, was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on April 25. About 5 a.m. an earthquake struck the town; for five minutes I thought I was gone. Things in the room were swaying and going in all directions. A bookcase went down by my side. I was stunned and could not move. There was a nightdress parade outside for an hour. China was smashed, the piano and bureaus were moved. Market Street was on fire. Water mains burst, and authorities were obliged to blow up buildings. The fire that was three miles away, after burning 24 hours, was now six blocks away. There were many aftershocks. We slept in tents in the hills. Goods were carried into the streets. Vacant lots were filled with bedding and furniture. People were crazy. There was much stealing. Three people were shot yesterday.

Mrs. E. M. Walker’s letter was published on April 28. She wrote that she was awakened by the rumbling. Soot poured into her room from a wrecked chimney. Buildings were falling outside. People were screaming. Telegraph wires and poles were down in the street. Streetcars had stopped in their tracks. The tracks were torn up. Outside walls had fallen from many houses, and only the skeleton of rooms remained. Some buildings sank to their eaves in the dirt. There were thirteen aftershocks; people were frantic at each. She and her companions fled from the fire. They propped planks against a fence and covered it with a blanket, taking shelter from the dust and debris caused by dynamiting the buildings. Food was all sold out quickly at high prices, and survivors had to rely on government supplies. She fled the fire four times, ending up at Ft. Mason, where 200,000 people were taking refuge. Ships in the harbor at the time of the earthquake were held there by the government, and the supplies on board were used for survivors. Sanitation was horrible. Some survivors were ferried to Oakland.

Mark Gajewski