Jilara (jilara) wrote,

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The Day the Earth Shook...

At 5:12 A.M. my father and his mother and two sisters, on their way to visit friends in Sonoma County, were rudely wakened by literally being thrown across the room. My father woke as his bed slammed into the opposite wall, rudely dumping him out of it. His mother and sisters were screaming. Years later, he would comment "we had no idea then that we were practically on top of the epicenter."

Meanwhile, back home in San Francisco, his father had gotten up and was getting ready for his morning rounds as a respected Eye-Ear-Nose-and-Throat Doctor. Their house, on the block just west of Van Ness, bucked like a restive horse. Aunt Elena appeared in her bathrobe, saying she'd take care of the house, because they both knew already that it was going to be bad, and his services as a doctor would be required. Hastily, Dr. Beckman dressed and headed for his offices in the downtown. Panic consumed the city. He stopped and rendered aid to people trapped and injured. Amazingly, when he reached his offices, the building was still standing. A Chinese laundryman was passing with a pushcart. He handed him money and bought the cart on the spot. Making his way to the 5th floor, he loaded up with medical supplies and took it to the pushcart, and made several trips. Then he headed out to care for the injured. He would never return home again, for there would be no home to return to. Days later, he would meet up with Aunt Elena in Golden Gate Park.

By that time, one of his close friends (another doctor) would be shot dead by the National Guard for refusing to surrender his buggy filled with medical supplies, in front of his nurse, who was rudely dumped out with his body and jeered at as she called them demons. His own pushcart would be confiscated and precious supplies dumped into the street by the National Guard thugs who were terrorizing the very people they should have been helping. The family home would be destroyed when the fire jumped Van Ness. His offices would be dynamited to theoretically stop the fire, then burned. His bank would be burnt, along with his money, leaving him with the money in his pockets. Most of his patients would be homeless. The city would be burned to cinders.

It would be over ten days before the various members of the family would find out their fates, when Dr. Beckman and his wife's sister Elena finally caught a ferry to Oakland, to meet up with his older son and his wife. My father and his sisters had caught a lumber schooner to Mendocino, to meet family friends. And their world would have changed forever. There would be stories of heroism and ignobility, and of how a great city was brought to its knees by the forces of nature unchained. It was a time never to be forgotten. It was 105 years ago today.

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