Home | Columns | History Mystery | Books | Speeches | Time Capsules | Oral History | Biography | Links

Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Some 1906 Quake reminiscences by descendants

By Barry Schrader.................................April 18, 2006

Livermore artist/historian Tilli Calhoun may seem ageless but at her library talk last week she started out by assuring people she did not experience the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, but her grandparents did.

Tilli and a few other speakers had oral histories and written remembrances to share from their grandparents who got caught in the cataclysm early the morning of April 18, 1906.

Carl and Ida Holm happened to be in The City for a Danish convention, staying at the Winchester Hotel on Third Street, according to the Livermore Herald, read by Tilli. They felt the shaking, went to the window and witnessed brick building fronts collapsing across the street, creating a suffocating dust cloud. They quickly dressed and joined other hotel patrons who had fled to the streets. They made their way north, then eventually to the Bay where ferries were shuttling refugees across to Oakland. It took her grandparents three days to get home, and without phones or telegraph service their family was terribly worried they might have perished in the disaster.

Tilli added a few more facts gleaned from conversations she had with old time residents and newspaper accounts. Company I, Livermore’s National Guard unit, was dispatched by a special train to assist in patrolling The City. She talked to the late Lou Gardella who as a child recalled going up to a hilltop on the north side of Livermore to see the distant flames. On the local front, she said Pleasanton suffered more damage than its larger neighbor Livermore because it was closer to the epicenter of the quake. More fallen chimneys, toppled water tanks and cracked buildings were reported there. In Livermore the water tank and chimney at the railroad depot collapsed, the two Livermore drug stores reported hundreds of dollars in lost merchandise knocked off their shelves, and a few other chimneys were damaged. Nothing was reported about household china and collectibles that may have perished.

Marie Timmer also had an interesting story to relate, tied to the famous opera star Enrico Caruso. Her grandparents Mary and Steve Ferrario were just married and obtained tickets to see the Great Caruso the night of April 17 at the Mission Opera House in San Francisco. After the memorable performance in which Carusso sang Carmen the Ferrarios took a ferry back to Oakland where they stayed with cousins. But Marie did some research on what happened to the Italian virtuoso. He was staying in the Palace Hotel and newspaper reports had him running down five flights of stairs in his underwear into the street, screaming for help. But Caruso was upset by these news dispatches so in the July 1906 issue of Theater magazine he defended his behavior. He said he was shaken by the jolt and went to his suite’s Bay window where he saw buildings falling, people running around screaming and general chaos. He stood at the window for about 40 seconds thinking he was having a nightmare. But, then regaining his senses, he called for his valet. They quickly dressed and hurried down the five flights of stairs, the valet dragging the star’s trunks along. Once out in Union Square he realized the major catastrophe that had befallen The City and looked for an escape route. He hired a passing wagon driver to haul his luggage along with him and the valet to the ferry and soon crossed the Bay to Oakland, where officials were quick to assist him in boarding a train back to New York. He admitted to being as frightened as others around him and just wanted to get home to Italy to be with his family, he wrote. Marie brought a Caruso recording to play before the program and also displayed a recent Caruso souvenir she picked up in Italy while visiting his home town--a pair of white boxer shorts with Caruso’s name inscribed on them. That drew quite a laugh from the crowd.

Another audience member who volunteered to share her grandparents’ quake experiences was Joyce Brown, former Livermore school board member. Iver and Elisabeth Iversen of Fresno had traveled to The City for the same Danish convention as the Holms and stayed at Yosemite House on Market. The quake sent a large water pitcher tumbling toward their bed. After dressing they fled outside, staying in the middle of the street as everyone was afraid buildings would collapse on the sidewalks, since tremblors were occurring every few minutes it seemed. The only things they ate that day came from restaurants that could not cook, but gave away free cold food. They rented a room at the St. Cathryn Hotel and climbed the seven flights to their room. But by midnight the fires were getting close so they went to Jefferson Square Park and sat on a bench until 3 a.m. The hotel manager had given them a wool blanket, saying “take it because everything in the hotel will burn up anyway.” A homeowner nearby offered them shelter and they slept a few hours on the floor. Early on the 19th they headed through Chinatown, stopping to buy a can of soup which they warmed over the smoldering embers of the fire that had swept through there. They finally got to the Bay and boarded a ferry to Oakland. After one night in Oakland they were able to board a train back to Fresno.

* * *

Thanks to some knowledgeable readers with better documentation than mine I will clarify a couple things from last week’s column. Dave Peterson has studied the major plane crashes in this valley from 1928 to 1962 and had some facts I did not. He said there was a report in the Livermore paper April 12, 1942 about the PBY double plane crash. It seems a Machinist Mate Earl Patrick survived the crash that killed 12 others, but it was never reported if and when he recovered from his injuries. Peterson also told of another deadly crash when a B-29 crashed in the hills south of Livermore on March 19, 1946, killing all seven men aboard. In 2000 he participated in placing a memorial plaque at the site, which is actually located in the Ohlone Wilderness and is quite difficult to reach. He also added that the pilot Fred Andes had twin sons who were born after he left for overseas so never met their father. One of those sons worked at LLNL for many years.

Another reader, Bob Madsen of Pleasanton, was on a Boy Scout campout near Sunol the weekend before the 1941 train wreck there, so saved the newspaper articles about it. He reports the train was no longer called the Chicago Limited, as the Livermore paper stated, but rather the Exposition Flyer. It had been renamed in 1939 to attract more passengers to the San Francisco world’s fair. He also noted that he worked as a fireman on the Western Pacific line starting in 1943 and says the tender car was not a coal car but carried oil to fuel the smaller Engine #83.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

Home | Columns | History Mystery | Books | Speeches | Time Capsules | Oral History | Biography | Links