Jack London and
London, San Francisco-born author of The
Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf,
and White Fang, was living on
his ranch in Sonoma Valley, north of San Francisco, at the time of the
1906 earthquake and fire. He and his wife, Charmian, arrived in the city
by ferryboat and then wandered the devastated streets for two days and
nights. He recounted his experiences in an article later published in Colliers magazine.
fleeing along Market Street while the city burned.
Remarkable as it may seem, Wednesday
night while the whole city crashed and roared into ruin, was a quiet
night. There were no crowds. There was no shouting and yelling. There
was no hysteria, no disorder. I passed Wednesday night in the path of
the advancing flames, and in all those terrible hours I saw not one
woman who wept, not one man who was excited, not one person who was in
the slightest degree panic stricken.
Before the flames, throughout the
night, fled tens of thousands of homeless ones. Some were wrapped in
blankets. Others carried bundles of bedding and dear household
treasures. Sometimes a whole family was harnessed to a carriage or
delivery wagon that was weighted down with their possessions. Baby
buggies, toy wagons, and go-carts were used as trucks, while every other
person was dragging a trunk. Yet everybody was gracious. The most
perfect courtesy obtained. Never in all San Francisco's history, were
her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror.
All night these tens of thousands fled
before the flames. Many of them, the poor people from the labor ghetto,
had fled all day as well. They had left their homes burdened with
possessions. Now and again they lightened up, flinging out upon the
street clothing and treasures they had dragged for miles.
They held on longest to their trunks,
and over these trunks many a strong man broke his heart that night. The
hills of San Francisco are steep, and up these hills, mile after mile,
were the trunks dragged. Everywhere were trunks, with across them lying
their exhausted owners, men and women. Before the march of the flames
were flung picket lines of soldiers. And a block at a time, as the
flames advanced, these pickets retreated. One of their tasks was to keep
the trunk-pullers moving. The exhausted creatures, stirred on by the
menace of bayonets, would arise and struggle up the steep pavements,
pausing from weakness every five or ten feet.
Often, after surmounting a
heart-breaking hill, they would find another wall of flame advancing
upon them at right angles and be compelled to change anew the line of
their retreat. In the end, completely played out, after toiling for a
dozen hours like giants, thousands of them were compelled to abandon
their trunks. Here the shopkeepers and soft members of the middle class
were at a disadvantage. But the working-men dug holes in vacant lots and
backyards and buried their trunks.
above is an extract of an account in Malcolm E. Barkers book, Three Fearful Days: San Francisco Memoirs of the 1906 earthquake &
fire (Londonborn Publications, San Francisco, 1998).