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No one has written of the work of the newspaper men on April 18 and 19 and the following days; they have not time to write it, and no one else can. Only the boys that were in the thick of it know what each other did and what they went through. The first reports to go out were those of the Associated Press, and the first of these reports were gathered by J.M. Carroll, under the direction of Paul Cowles, local superintendent of the association. All the boys know “Jerry” Carroll and saw him at work, but he did not have time to tell them of his first experience on the morning of the 18th.

He lived with his wife at the Newton [at 11th and Market streets], opposite the Majestic Theater, and occupied apartments on the third and top floor. The wall of an adjoining building crashed in on their bed, burying them under nearly a foot of bricks and mortar. They were awakened by the violent rocking of the building and when bricks began falling after the first crash Jerry covered the head of himself and wife with pillows and waited for the and. As soon as the shock passed he arose to find the exit blocked with broken walls and gas pouring from broken pipes. He called for assistance, and some young men pulled them to the roof. From there they made their way barefoot to a neighboring sanitarium and they sought shelter on a lower floor of an office building. In that short walk their feet were badly cut by fragments of glass and sharp-edged bricks. From there Jerry took his wife to the home of a friend nearly a mile way and had their wounds dressed. He was bruised, battered and bleeding in a half dozen places, but as soon as he housed his wife he started on duty. Despite his wounds and torn and bleeding feet he made his way downtown, and found a newspaper man on Mason street, who told him where Cowles and others of the craft might be found. Jerry reported “on duty,” and his work was assigned.

Paul Cowles, Associated Press Chief, or Superintendent, of Bureau, San Francisco 1906“My dinner that night,” says Jerry, “was a can of sardines and a sausage in the rear of a grocery store. At that time the big downtown fire was raging along the edge of Chinatown, licking up great buildings between Kearny street and the water front. The superintendent had supplied me with a number of messengers, and every half hour I dispatched one to Oakland with a report to our chief operator, who had managed to re-establish communication with the East. The last office of the Associated Press on the night of the 18th was on a doorstep in Chinatown, and the copy was written in the glare of conflagration — a light that cost $1,000 per second.”

He had been ordered to report to the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, on the next morning, but that, too, was in the path of the fire. Not knowing where to find the superintendent, he wasted no time in a search for him, but followed the paramount order to newspaper men, and that is “get the story.” He therefore walked to the ferry through the avenues of red-hot bricks, and iron, and atmosphere of dust, smoke and cinders.

Like many others, he acquired a burning thirst owing to the great heat, and there was no water. Some will remember that stream of clear water that ran in the gutter past the Mint. He knelt in the street to drink, but spat out the first mouthful. It was salt. He was not the first that had been deceived by that stream that morning, and even amid all the horrors he was howled at and derided by a crowd on the Mint steps. He was confident of a drink of water on reaching the ferry-boat, but found that refugees ahead of him had drank it as fast as it had been poured into the tanks. On the Oakland side he was joined by Cowles, and Carroll’s story was at once dispatched, while he was ordered to return to the city and watch the progress of the fire. The Postal Telegraph Company had restored a single wire to Oakland, and was working this end from a little shed on a wharf at the foot of Sacramento street. “I was told to write the lead for that night’s story,” says Jerry, “but the Postal people told me I would have to hold it down to 500 words. I could just as well have condensed the Bible into a half column as I could have confined the news of that day in that space. However, I managed to beguile the operator into allowing me a few hundred words more. I have been on duty every since.”

San Francisco Chronicle
MAY 7, 1906

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