San Francisco Earthquake - Thrilling Personal Experiences - Continued
( Originally Published 1906 )
Hairbreadth Escapes from the Hotels Whose Walls Crumbled—Frantic Mothers Seek Children from Whom They Were Torn by the Quake—Reckless Use of Firearms by Cadet Militia—Tales of Heroism and Suffering.
FOR two weeks or more tragedy, romance and comedy crowded the lives of women and children survivors homeless in the city of ashes and in Oakland, across the bay, the city of refuge. In this latter place thousands separated from their loved ones were tearfully awaiting developments, and every hour in the day members of families were restored to each other who had been lost.
On record in the Chamber of Commerce at Oakland, which was the headquarters of the Oakland Relief Committee, some queer stories were told. Not a day passed but there were from two to eight marriages in that office. Homeless young couples met each other, compared notes and finally agreed to marry.
At the registry bureau in Oakland scores of women, young and old, worked gratis. One applied for work to relieve her mind. She said she had seen her husband and eldest son killed and had fled with her baby. During the rush of people she lost her baby.
One of her first duties was to copy names of the lost and found. In one of the lists she believed she recognized the description of her baby. An investigation was made and the child proved to be hers.
A grief-stricken mother came in crying for her child, which she had not seen since the day of the disaster. A member of the relief committee was detailed on the case and he found the baby. The same day, while walking on the street, he saw a woman carrying a baby in a pillow slip thrown over her shoulder. Two hours later he again met the woman. The pillow slip had ripped and the baby had fallen out unknown to the mother. When her attention was called to this fact the mother fainted.
Again the young man set to work and found the baby two blocks away, but upon returning could not find the mother.
One man escaped with his two babes as he saw his wife killed in a falling building. He seized two suit cases and placed a baby in each and started for the ferry. When he reached Oakland he found both smothered. He became violently insane and was put in a strait-jacket.
Hermann Oelrichs of New York, ten times a millionaire and husband of the eldest daughter of the late Senator Fair of California, arrived in Chicago on a scrap of paper on which was written a pass over all railroad lines. The scrap of paper was roughly torn, was two inches square, but upon it in lead pencil were written these magic words:
"Pass Hermann Oelrichs and servant to Chicago upon all lines. This paper to serve in lieu of tickets.—E. H. Harriman."
Mr. Oelrichs described some of his experiences after he was driven from his quarters in the St. Francis Hotel by the. earthquake. He said:
"It was heaven and hell combined to produce chaos. I have a bad foot, but I forgot it and walked twenty miles that day, helping all I could. Mayor Schmitz had a meeting in the afternoon at the shaking Hall of justice and appointed a committee of fifty, of which I was one. He gave me a commission as a member of the Committee of Law and Order, which, together with my policeman's star and club, I shall hand down to- my son as heir-looms."
"I am proud of that," said Mr. Oelrichs. "That is the Mayor's own signature and he has proved himself every inch a man. Lots of people thought the Mayor was just a fiddler, but they think differently now.
"The regulars saved San Francisco. The militia got drunk and killed people. The hoodlums south of Market street were all burned out and they swarmed up in the swell quarter. The report was that they meant to fire the houses of the rich which had not been destroyed. Every, night a west wind blows from the Pacific, and they meant to start the fire at the west end. That had to be guarded against."
Mr. Oelrichs had fitted up apartments in the St. Francis, packed with curios and rarities to the extent of $20,000. These were all burned.
The operators and officials of the Postal Telegraph Company remained in the main office of the company at the corner of Market and Montgomery streets, opposite the Palace Hotel, until they were ordered out of the building because of the danger from the dynamite explosions in the immediate vicinity. The men proceeded to Oakland, across the bay, and took possession of the office there.
Before the offices of the telegraph companies in hundreds of cities excited crowds of men and women surged back and forth the morning of the catastrophe, all imploring the officials to send a message through for them to the stricken city to bring back some word from dear ones in peril there. It was explained that there was only one wire in operation and that imperative orders had been received that it was to be used solely for company purposes, press dispatches and general news.
Mr. Sternberger of New York was on the fourth floor of the St. Francis, with his wife, son and a maid. After hurriedly dressing he and his family rushed into Union square.
"We had hardly got seated," said Mr. Sternberger, "when firemen came along asking for volunteers to take bodies from the ruins just above the hotel. There was a ready and willing response. It was a low building on which had toppled a lofty one, and all in the former were buried in the debris. We heard the stifled cries and prayers, `For God's. sake, come this way,' `O, lift this off my back,"My God, I'm dying,' and others, nerving us to greater efforts.
'Finally we got to some of them. Bruised, bleeding, blinded by smoke and dust, terrified past reason, the poor fellows who fell in the street fell from utter exhaustion. Those that were penned away below we could not reach, and their seeming far-off cries for mercy and life will ring in my ears till death."
Henry Herz, a New York traveling man, after a terrible experience, made his escape and constituted himself a traveling re-lief committee. At Sacramento he organized a shipment of eggs. At Reno he set the housewives to baking bread, and in Salt Lake City he had raised a potato fund of $400. Mr. Herz crossed the bay in a launch. The boatman asked him how much money he had, and when he replied, with a mental reservation, $46.60, the boatman charged him $46.60 and collected the money in advance.
Worn by the exposure, hardships, and terrors of a two days' effort to escape from the stricken city, Mrs. D. M. Johnson of Utica, N. Y., and Miss Martha Stibbals of Erie, Pa., passed through Denver.
"The first that we knew of the earthquake was when we were awakened in our room at the Randolph Hotel by a terrific shaking which broke loose fragments of the ceiling," said Miss Stibbals. "There followed a tremendous shock which shook the building sideways and tossed it about with something like a spiral motion. When we reached the street people were running hither and thither.
"Fire was breaking out in hundreds of places over the city and the streets were becoming crowded with hurrying refugees. Where they were unable to procure horses, men and women had harnessed themselves to carriages and were drawing their be-longings to places of safety. As we passed through the residence district where wealthy people lived we saw automobiles drawn up and loaded down before houses. Their owners remained until the flames came too near, and then, getting into the machines, made for the hills.
"We saw one man pay $2,000 for an automobile in which to take his family to a place of safety."
"I climbed over bodies, picked my way around flaming debris, and went over almost insurmountable obstacles to get out of San Francisco," said C. C. Kendall, a retired Omaha capitalist, upon his arrival home.
"I arrived in San Francisco the night previous to the earth-quake. I was awakened about 5:15 in the morning by being thrown out of my bed in the Palace Annex. I rushed to the window and looked out. The houses were reeling and tumbling like playthings. I hurried on clothing and ran into the street. Here I saw many dead and the debris was piled up along Market street.
"I went to the office of the Palace Hotel and there men, women, and children were rushing about, crazed and frantic in their night clothes. The first shock lasted only twenty-eight seconds, but it seemed to me two hours.
"A few minutes after I reached the Palace Hotel office the second shock came. It was light, compared with the first, but it brought to the ground many of the buildings that the first shock had unsettled.
"Fires were breaking out in every direction. Market street had sunk at least four feet. I started for the ferry. It is only a few blocks from the Palace Annex to the ferry, but it took me from 6 a. m. to 10:15 a. m. to cover the space.
"Men and women fought about the entrance of the ferry like a band of infuriated animals.
"I made my escape—I do not remember how, for I was as desperate as any of them. As the boat pulled over the bay the smoke and flame rose sky high and the roar of falling buildings and the cries of the people rent the air."
J..C.Gill, of Philadelphia, told his experiences as follows:
"Mrs. Gill and myself were in a room on the third floor of the hotel. We were awakened by the rocking of our beds. Then they seemed to be lifted from their legs, suspended in the air, and as suddenly dropped, while the plaster began cracking and falling. We arose and left our room after putting on a few clothes. We felt that with every step we were treading on glass and that the ten stories above us would fall, not allowing us to escape alive. But once outside the building and with our friends I began to realize what had happened.
"I made my way back to the room and carefully packed our suit cases. I came across a valuable necklace and pearls that my wife in her haste had left behind.
"With hundreds of others we roamed in the park in front of the hotel several hours. When we saw the fire was hemming in the lower part of the city we walked toward the outskirts. Early next morning we decided to leave the city, and started to the ferry. Policemen would stop us, and it was with difficulty and much trepidation that we walked through the burned district, and arrived at the wharf at 5:15, just fifteen minutes before the boat left.
"The scenes we passed through were sickening and indescribable. I fancy that scores of men, wharf rats, who had looted wholesale liquor houses and were maudlin drunk, were burned to death without being the wiser, because of their condition."
"I had been stopping at the Metropole in Oakland," said Frederick Lemon of New York, "and Tuesday night went to Frisco, where I stopped at the Terminal hotel, at the foot of Market street. The first shock threw all the loose articles around my room and I attempted to run unclad from the hotel. Just as I walked out the door I was struck by some heavy beams. I was stunned and while I lay there some one from the hotel brought me my clothing."
"At that time the streets were like bedlam. Soldiers were in control, and while the regulars were almost perfect in their attempts to maintain order the militia men lost their heads. They shot some men without provocation, and never thought to cry `halt' or `who comes there?"'
Henry Kohn of Chicago told of a horrible experience he had. "I had a room on the fifth floor of the Randolph Hotel, Mason and O'Ferrell streets," he said. "The first quake threw me out of bed. By the time I reached the second floor the building had ceased shaking, and I went back, got my clothes, and went into the street. In the building across the street twelve persons were killed. About 11 o'clock in the morning we were in the public square, with about 1,500 other refugees, when a severe shock was felt. People became panic stricken; some prayed, women fainted, and children shrieked and cried.
"The stream of people going up Nob and Telegraph hills all Wednesday was a pitiful sight. Many were barefooted and lightly clad. There was nothing to eat or drink."
Sol Allenberg, a New York bookmaker, was with Kohn at the St. Francis Hotel. "I was sick in my room when the shock struck us," he said, "and my friend helped me out to a boarding house on the hill. There I had to pay $7 for a room for the rest of the day.
"It was two miles from the fire and I thought I was safe enough when I got into my bed at noon, but about two hours later they awoke me to tell me that the fire was only two blocks away, and we got out only a short time before the house went up in flames.
"No exaggeration of the horrible scenes on the street is possible. There was one poor fellow pinned to earth with a great iron girder across his chest. It in turn was weighted down by a mass of wreckage that could not be moved. He could not be saved from the flames that were sweeping toward him, and begged a policeman to shoot him.
"The officer fired at him and missed him, and then au old man crawled through the debris and cut the arteries in the man's wrists. The crowd hurried on and left him to die alone."