Jilara (jilara) wrote,

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April 18, 1906

A rumble like a train starts to sound, and the wood of the stagecoach inn in Olema shrieks, as a force of nature picks up my father's bed and slams it hard against the opposite wall. His mother and sisters are screaming...

A block off of Van Ness, at the family home in San Francisco, something similar happens, waking Dr. O.H. Beckman and his wife's sister, Elena Pernu.
A friend of my grandfather's, a lamplighter, has just climbed up his ladder and turned down the the gas for a tall gaslamp on Market St. as daylight approaches. Suddenly, the ground trembles. He grabs for the lamp post, and hangs on for dear life as his ladder collapses and the lamppost bends and sways impossibly. Suddenly, the wall of a brick building near him collapses, and the rubble floods around the lamppost like the sea. He hangs on. And the shaking stops, and he looses the lamppost to drop two feet down onto the pile of bricks and rubble that has engulfed his perch.

Telling Aunt Elena to tend to the house, Dr. Beckman heads out, walking toward his offices on Geary St. Along the way, he stops to help men dig the trapped out of the rubble, always heading on toward his offices, where he knows he has more medical supplies. It is chaos. Smoke billows. People trapped in buildings are calling out for help. At Geary St, he realizes he needs a way of transporting medical supplies. A Chinese laundryman is running along with a pushcart. He calls to him, offers the man a $20 gold piece for the cart. Sold. He goes up to his offices on the 5th floor and brings down everything he can carry, loading the cart. Then he hits the streets, tending to the injured.

South of Market, one of his physician friends was returning from an early-morning emergency call in his buggy, his nurse beside him. It is now a little past 7 am. They have been rendering aid as they go. A group of men in military uniform approach and stop them. The men order them to surrender the buggy, because they need it. The doctor refuses, saying he's a physician, and they need to render aid and transport the injured to safety. Heated words are exchanged. A shot rings out. The doctor slumps in his seat. They order his nurse out of the buggy and throw the doctor's body in the street and drive off. Officially, the doctor has been shot as a looter...

Fires are burning out of control. Dynamite is starting to be used to create firebreaks. The city is in chaos. Aunt Elena is told the fires are coming, and ordered out of the house. She joins a group of refugees and heads for Golden Gate Park...

In Olema, people realize something horrible has happened. The ground has ripped apart near town. No one knows what is going on in San Francisco. My grandmother realizes there is probably no way of finding out what has gone on in San Francisco, so she does the only thing she can think of: she pays someone to take they the rest of the way on their journey: visiting a friend's ranch in Sonoma County. When news comes, people will be able to find them.

Near the downtown, as the fires rage, Dr. Beckman continues to render aid as the day wears on. The National Guard appears and starts ordering people around. They see his pushcart full of medical supplies. They tell him they are authorized to recquisition all vehicles, and must have the cart. He protests that it's not even a vehicle, and it's full of supplies he needs to treat the injured. Tough, they tell him. His supplies are dumped in the street, and they disappear with the pushcart.

You can hear the screams of the trapped coming from the buildings, as the fires engulf them. There is nothing anyone can do. It is like a vision of hell.

Aunt Elena arrives in Golden Gate Park. Someone has set up a makeshift soup kitchen. She volunteers and starts working there, dishing out meals to new arrivals.

It will be three days before Dr. Beckman and Elena Pernu locate each other. In that time, the family home, being in the dynamite zone, will be blown up, then the fire will burn everything. Because he didn't trust banks, the majority of Dr. Beckman's money was in the safe deposit of a bank vault down off of Market St. It will be dynamited and burned. Nothing will remain. Of the seven-story office building on Geary St., where his offices occupied the 5th floor, it can be seen clearly in several photos in the first day after the quake. Eventually, it, too is dynamited, and the fires burn all. A telegram is sent to my grandmother and the children, at the ranch in Sonoma County: they are to go to the coast and take a ship to Fort Bragg, California, and find some family friends. My grandfather will join them when he is able. Aunt Elena helps Dr. Beckman with a medical station in Golden Gate Park for the next few days, then eventually takes the ferry to Oakland, where my father's older brother Dolph lives. Three weeks later, Dr. Beckman arrives in Fort Bragg. His total possessions in the world are $200 in his pocket and a gold nugget stickpin he brought back from the Klondike. They settle in Fort Bragg. No one returns to San Francisco until my father does, as an adult.

It seems particularily appropriate to use my grandmother's picture for this post...

There are also tales of noble deeds and ignoble ones, relayed as family stories, but those are ones you might hear similar elsewhere. I leave the telling to other sources. May we never forget the stories, or those who perished, and the way of life that perished with them, 100 years ago today.

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