The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
As written by Alieen Ware Cheesman
When I was about six months old my father was sent to California by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. to establish offices up and down the state, the first being in San Diego where we lived for almost three years. From there on in San Jose with offices started there and in San Francisco.
Early around four am of April 16, 1906, our house started to shake. In eight days I’d be four years old, though I vividly recall that morning. I slept in a crib in my parent’s front bedroom. At the fist shake, my mother lifted me out and with my legs straddling her waist, she kept moving trying to dodge a crystal chandelier that was widely swinging around in circles, afraid it would fall.
A door leading into the bathroom swung open revealing my sister and brother coming from their bedrooms, where they were trying to get into ours. Then another violent lurch and the doors banged shut trapping them in as the slant of the door casing sealed them shut.
In my parents bedroom was a fireplace with windows close by. My father was going to break the window and climb out and go to my sister and brother. He was stopped by my mother who said, “Jack, NO! Those fireplace bricks could come right down on you.” Shortly after, that’s exactly what happened and he’d have been buried under that pile of bricks.
The one-story house went off the foundation and fell back together at the roof, teepee-like. Soot from the two fireplace chimneys was all over everything. Furniture, broken dishes all in a heap on the floor.
We finally got out into the backyard. We could hear the screams of people trapped in the Vendome Hotel Annex at our corner. With blankets, my father improvised a tent where we stayed for the next few days, because the condition of the house forbade entry.
Going first to his San Jose office, he told his employees to do what they could to clean up. He hopped a freight train and got to San Francisco and his office. There too, it was a mess, though untouched by fire. Somehow he got hold of some negative films showing some of the earthquake and fire damage, hopped another freight train for Los Angeles and took the films to my uncle Franklyn E. Wolfe, who was chief managing Editor for the Los Angeles Herald, newspaper and scooped the country with the pictures.