The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

At 5:12 on the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco was rocked by an earthquake estimated now to have been of magnitude 7.8 (the Richter scale was yet to be instituted; this magnitude is the same as the recent initial Tibetan earthquake.) While the main epicenter of the quake was offshore, it is assumed to have been associated with the San Andreas Fault, a strike-slip boundary. There were two jolts, a foreshock of about 25 seconds and the main shock, which lasted a devastating 42 seconds.earthquake damage

It must have felt like it went on forever.

The initial death toll was reported in the hundreds, but that was partly due to under-reported fatalities in crowded Chinatown; it’s now assumed that thousands died in the initial quake.

Areas north of San Francisco, like Santa Rosa, were hit even harder, and the Salinas River was permanently shifted to a new channel, emptying six miles south of its previous course.earthquake damage

Here is one eyewitness account of the initial devastation:

“Of a sudden we had found ourselves staggering and reeling. It was as if the earth was slipping gently from under our feet. Then came the sickening swaying of the earth that threw us flat upon our faces. We struggled in the street. We could not get on our feet. Then it seemed as though my head were split with the roar that crashed into my ears. Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one’s hand. Ahead of me a great cornice crushed a man as if he were a maggot – a laborer in overalls on his way to the Union Iron Works with a dinner pail on his arm.” (P. Barrett).train after earthquake

As terrible as the quake itself was, what happened in the days following the quake left hundreds of thousands of residents homeless, and changed the face of San Francisco forever.

That’s the subject of my next post.


The Voice of the Early 1900s: Enrico Caruso

In the climactic chapters of FORGIVEN, Kula spends an evening at the opera and hears Enrico Caruso perform. It was to be his last performance in San Francisco, and her last night of stability.

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was an Italian tenor who captivated the world with his voice. He lived during the advent of the phonograph, and in part because his celebrity was spread through the new media of his time – newspapers, books, and magazines – his popularity expanded worldwide and his notoriety continues to this day.

In April 1906, Caruso visited San Francisco as part of a series of performances by artists of the Metropolitan Opera. He sang Don Jose in Carmen to an enthusiastic audience. But on the following morning, April 18th, he like all San Franciscans was awakened by the first jolt of the great earthquake of 1906. He escaped unharmed, and even went on to eat breakfast. But the fires that broke out following the earthquake destroyed most of the city, including his hotel, his entire personal wardrobe, and the sets of the opera company.

Caruso left the city and vowed never to return, and he never did.

Here is a recording that speaks to his tremendous ability:

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The opera Carmen tells the thwarted romantic story of the naive soldier Don Jose and the seductive but doomed Carmen. For Kula, this story would have been a scandalous revelation, and hearing the great Caruso would have been a high point in her sheltered life. The earthquake might have seemed like a fitting coda, if not for the terrible tragedy in the making.

More on that in the next post.

The Wealthy of Old Nob Hill


In FORGIVEN, after Kula's rude introduction to San Francisco's meaner streets, she finds her way to the home of her future benefactor. Here's how she describes it: "Turrets and towers, porches and balconies...these only began to describe what looked … [Continue reading]

San Francisco: The Barbary Coast and Chinatown


In FORGIVEN, Kula's first experience of San Francisco is most unfortunate, as she is abandoned by a thief in the heart of the Barbary Coast. She's lucky to have landed there in the light of day, for this was not a place safe for proper young ladies. … [Continue reading]