Saturday, April 18, 2009

1906 San Francisco Earthquake Anniversary

The terrible events of the 1906 earthquake and fires that devastated San Francisco were remembered this morning in a brief ceremony with two of the few remaining survivors as guests of honour.

Marking the exact time and date that the earthquake struck - 5.12 am on April 18 - up to 200 people gathered in the dark for the anniversary at Lotta's Fountain on Market Street in the heart of the city.

Sitting in a vintage car, surrounded by many members of their families, were Rose Cliver, 106-years-old, and Bill Del Monte, 103-years-old. For both Rose and Bill, it was their first appearance at the city's ceremonies which have been held for many years.

Lotta's Fountain, restored to it's original 1875 state and once again flowing with water, was one of the few monuments left standing after the quake that flattened among many others the City Hall. It became the desperate focal point for people seeking information in the search for survivors.

The quake only lasted for about a minute but in it's wake was one of America's greatest natural disasters that took about 3,000 lives, left 225,000 to 300,000 people homeless and caused damage in today's currency of over $8 billion.

Measurements of the quake intensity vary but the US Geological Survey puts it at 7.8, with the epicenter at Mussel Rock, south of the city on the Pacific
Coast and the point where the San Andreas fault enters the San Francisco Peninsula. The quake ruptured the San Andreas fault and caused damage as far south as Los Angeles, north to Oregan and inland to Nevada.

Today that era was invoked with some people dressed in period costumes. Rose and Bill sat in their vintage car in the middle of the ceremonies. Members of the San Francisco Fire Department, who brought a vintage fire engine, participated as well as representatives of the Red Cross and other civic dignitaries.

Rose and Bill were formally thanked for their longevity in a short speech, most of which was inaudible on the sound system. There was a minute's silence, a piper played Amazing Grace and then came the eerie sound of sirens wailing together with the frenetic clanging of a bell from a vintage street car.

Senator Mark Leno laid a wreath on the fountain and the crowd sung 'San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates.'

After that, the crowd milled, many of them surrounding Rose and Bill with great interest and taking photos. Rose, who was three-years-old at the time, lived on Bernal Heights and looked down on the city as it burned. Bill, who was three-months-old, was carried with his family through the burning streets on a 'buckboard' - a horse-drawn cart - and ferried across the bay to safety. Interviews with Rose and Bill and their families are in the next blog.

Not long after, Rose and Bill were driven away for the second part of the ceremony, the painting gold of a fire hydrant in Dolores Park that saved the Mission District churches.

One of the costumed couples were Bea and Dana. 'It's our first time to come here to the event,' said Bea. 'We're trying to connect, that here the city celebrates its history, because we think history is important.'

Also included in this weekend's events were a 'Bloody Mary' breakfast at Lefty O'Doul's, a private screening of Alon Aranya's film '1906' at the Westin St Francis in Union Square where Rose and Bill were treated as guests last night, and a Survivor Luncheon at John's Grill.

pics show: Rose Cliver and Bill Del Monte surrounded by admiring well-wishers; the crowd with Lotta's Fountain to the right; Bea and Dana; Kij and Gregg

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