Eyewitness Accounts of the 1906 Earthquake…

In his post of the 7 stories to read this weekend, Om Malik gave a shout out to Jack London:

The story of an eye witness: Jack London, a San Francisco writer, wrote about the 1906 earthquake that almost destroyed the city by the bay.

This is amazing writing from an amazing writer whose words make that tragedy come alive, a century later.


Mr. London, an old family friend, gave me (Frannie) some incredible advice right about the time of the ’06 earthquake:

If you expect to write stories pulsing with life or put upon canvas compositions that are divinely human, you must go forth and live…
Study human nature by rubbing elbows with the people. Go out and work with them, eat with them, dream with them.”

That was absolutely sage advice.

As for the earthquake, I was out on the town when it hit (Yup! I lived in San Francisco then).

So here’s the deal.

On April 18, 1906, my date, businessman Wesley de Lappe and I were sitting on a park bench, delaying the inevitable return home, when a loud rumbling sound was heard. We were petrified, but close enough to my home to be able to reach my family.

As scary as the quake was, it was the fire that followed that really did the damage — pretty much devoured the entire city.


250 city blocks were devastated and 300K men, women and children were left homeless.

W.R. Hearst referred to it as “the fire OF San Francisco.”

What sticks in my mind is how city residents pulled together post quake / fire.

>> An atmosphere of equality and community spirit akin to the aftermath of war resulted as tents were pitched in vacant lots and parks and among the ashes of Nob Hill.


My life journey took an interesting detour that day, which as Robert Frost said in his poem, “The Road Not Taken“, made all the difference.

My family’s house still stood, but our economic security was gone. Plus, the art school I was attending, the Mark Hopkins Art Institute, was obliterated as was my father’s drug company and his warehouses.

I packed up, moved to Southern California and got involved in the movie business. Yeah, there were a couple of marriages too. But those stories are for another day.


You can read more about my experience here:

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