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TENNESSEE HEADQUARTERS [at the Presidio] April 19. — No story will ever be written that will tell the awfulness of the thirty-hours following the terrible earthquake. No pen of the most powerful description the world ever saw could ever place on paper the impression of any one of the hundreds of thousands who felt the mighty tremble. No pen can record the sufferings of those who were crushed to death or buried in the ruins that encompassed them in an instant after 5:13 o’clock Wednesday morning.

It is just possible that the most dramatic point in San Francisco when that terrible rumble began was in the immediate vicinity of that imposing pile, San Francisco City Hall, that structure that cost millions upon millions to erect and years of labor to accomplish.

I was within a stone’s throw of that city hall when the hand of an avenging God fell upon San Francisco. The ground rose and fell like an ocean at ebb tide. Then came the crash. Tons upon tons of that mighty pile slid away from the steel framework and destructiveness of that effort was terrific.

I had just reached Golden Gate avenue and Larkin street and had tarried a moment to converse with a couple of policemen. With me were two local newspapermen. We had just bid good-bye to the offices, who proceeded down Larkin street to the City Hall Station. They had gotten midway in the block when the crash came.

I saw those policemen enveloped in a shower of falling stone. Their lives must have been blotted out in an instant. [They survived, but one officer was slightly injured. — G.H.]

“Keep in the middle of the street, Mac,” I shouted to one of my friends.

“That is the only avenue of escape,” returned he.

We staggered over the bitumen.

It is impossible to judge the length of that shock. To me it seemed an eternity. I was thrown prone on my back and the pavement pulsated like a living thing. Around me the huge buildings, looming up more terrible because of the queer dance they were performing wobbled and veered. Crash followed crash and resounded on all sides. Screeches rent the air as terrified humanity streamed out into the open in agony of despair.

Affrighted horses dashed headlong into ruins as they raced away in their abject fear.

Then there was a lull.

The most terrible was yet to come.

The first portion of that shock was just a mild forerunning of what was to follow. The pause in the action of the earth’s surface couldn’t have been more than a fraction of a second. It was sufficient, however, to allow me to collect myself. In the center of two streets rose to my feet. Then came the second and more terrific crash.

The street beds heaved in frightful fashion. The earth rocked and then came the blow that wrecked San Francisco from the bay shore to the Ocean Beach and from the Golden Gate to the end of the peninsula.

As if in sympathy for its immediate neighbor the old Supreme Court building [on Larkin St.] danced a frivolous dance and then tumbled into the street. Beneath that ruin of stone and brick were buried the two blue coated guardians of the police to whom I had been talking a few minutes before. That few minutes, however, seemed to me a century.

That second upheaval was heartrending. It made me thing of the loved ones in different portions of the country. It turned my stomach, gave me a heartache that I will never forget and caused me to sink upon my knees and pray to the Almighty God that me and mine should escape the awful fate I knew was coming to so many thousands.

Down Golden Gate avenue the houses commenced again their fantastic, ogreish dancing. One lone line of frame buildings tottered a moment and then just as a score or more of terror-stricken, white-shirted humanity to reach the open, it laid flat [A set of flats on Golden Gate between Hyde and Larkin]. The cries of those who must have perished reached my ears, and I hope that never again this side of the grave will I hear such signals of agony.

I turned about from that point of view to shut out the terrible sight, but what went on on all sides seemed to be just a repetition of what I had already witnessed. Looking up Golden Gate avenue I saw tons and tons of brick and stone on beam end and then plunge into the street below. Then it was the idea flashed through my mind that God is merciful. What would have been the loss of life had the Almighty allowed that earthquake to occur in midday?

Suddenly, as sharply and as abruptly as it had begun, the end of the temblor came. Ruin endeavored, it seemed to outdo ruin. A world of structural work had found a resting place on mother earth. Bent steel girders and huge blocks of decorative stone made their sleeping place beside all this.

A cloud of deep dust hung tenaciously about the City Hall. I realized that there something dreadful had happened. I peered into the could, but I could not seen even a mark of that building. And as I waited the dust began to settle. First showed the steel shaft on which had for so long floated the country’s flag. imbedded in a ton of steel block, the entire mass had shifted many feet, but still maintained its position atop that pile of structural steel. As the wind carried the dust away and uncovered the ruins there stood a mountain sheared of all its crowning glory. It could be fittingly compared with a mountain that had passed through a forest fire.

The dome appeared like a huge birdcage against the morning dawn. The upper works of the entire building laid peaceably - if that term can be used - in the street below. I thought of those guardians of law ad order whose headquarters were in the basement of the hall on the McAllister and Larkin streets corner, and wondered if the sergeants and office men on duty had escaped. I thought of those angels of mercy nursing their patients in the Central Emergency Hospital and the physicians there, all of whom I knew from personal contact, and whom I had learned to respect and revere, not so much for their ability and cleverness, but because of their usefulness to me in my capacity as a newsgetter. I wondered if they had escaped death as they stood by to help the injured that might have been brought to them.

[Remarkably, the staff of the City Hall Police substation, and Central Emergency Hospital, escaped without injury, although the hospital staff was briefly trapped by fallen rubble. — G.H.]

After I had drawn myself together I found my way to my home, where, thank God, the wreck had not been as complete as many others I had witnessed. Then it was that I realized the condition of an excitement-crazed populace. Herds of huddled creates, attired in next to nothing, occupied the center of the streets, not knowing what would happen next or which way they should turn for safety. Each and every person I saw was temporarily insane. Laughing idiots commented on the fun they were having. Terror marked their faces, and yet their voices indicated a certain enjoyment that maniacs have when they kill and gloat over their prey. Women, hysterical to an extreme point, cried and raved for those they loved when they were standing at their elbow. Mothers searched madly for their children who had strayed, while little ones wailed for their protectors.

It was bedlam.

Strong men bellowed like babies in their furor. All humanity within eyesight was suffering from palsy. No one knew which way to turn, when on all sides of them destruction stared them in the very eye. A number of slight tremors followed the first seven series of shocks. As each came in term fearful agony spread over the countenances of the afflicted ones. Terror stamped its mark in every brow.

Then an unnatural light dimmed the rising sun and the word went forth from every throat: “The city is ablaze. We will all be burned. This must be the end of this wicked world.”

From down south of Market street the glare grew and grew. The flames show heavenward and licked the sky. It looked as if the end of the world was surely at hand.

For an hour more after that terrible shock, which shook the buildings of all San Francisco to the very foundations, people wandered about in an insane fashion. There was no attempt at concerted action to hold the sufferers. People were stupefied, and meanwhile the fire burned and burned.

San Francisco Examiner
April 20, 1906

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