Great San Francisco Earthquake
My time travel romance, Wishes and Tears, began with the purchase of an antique book recounting the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, which took place on April 18, 1906.
Of course, the writer in me asked, “What if?” The idea of a modern woman plunging into the San Francisco Bay and surfacing in the past came to me in a dream. Further research led to my hero being a doctor of the time period.
So many years have passed that many people are not aware of this tragic part of American history. Thus, I’ll provide some background on the catastrophe.
In 1906, San Francisco was a prosperous city of towering architectural gems, culture and natural beauty. The evening of April 17 was calm and the Great Enrico Caruso, the famed tenor, was performing at the Grand Opera House. All seemed right with the world, except for news of the recent tragic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy.
The grey morning of April 18, 1906 began like any other in San Francisco. Most of the residents were sound asleep with some servants and housewives stoking fires to prepare morning meals.
The first shock came without warning. It is said to have lasted around two minutes, beginning as a gradual sway only to increase in intensity. Chimneys began to fall, foundations began to crack and building began to tumble apart. The temblor sent panicked residents out into the streets. Many were crushed to death by falling debris as aftershocks continued.
Telegraphic and telephone communication were cut off, as were electric, natural gas and water. Metal streetcar tracks twisted and ferryboats ceased operations.
Broken gas lines helped fuel fires that began to erupt around the city. Without water, the fire department was essentially useless. A light breeze fueled the flames and spread the destruction.
The fire proved far more destructive than the earthquake.
Authorities resorted to dynamite, thinking that the flames could be cut off. This was a mistake. The effect only increased the fire’s intensity. Soon, the business district was consumed, the Grand Opera House reduced to ash and the landmark 15-story Claus Spreckels building aflame. Banks and commercial buildings, thought to be fireproof, were not spared. Chinatown and Stanford University were destroyed. The elegant Nob Hill, bastion of wealth, was dynamited. Pacific Heights was spared due to its location. Explosions and dense smoke enveloped the city. Twenty square miles were in ruins.
Property loss was estimated to be $500,000,000.
As dawn broke, yellow and gold flickering flames ignited the daylight. The fires burned on all day. Residents flocked toward the waterfront docks and toward the hills, seeking escape from the flames and devastation.
Three days passed and the fire still roared. When it was thought to be contained, gale force winds kicked up the flames. Armed policemen and national guardsmen were called in to prevent looting and rioting. With food being in short supply, each person was allowed one loaf of bread, from an out of town baker, for sustenance. Residents camped out in parks and at the waterfront, fighting to keep warm in chilled ocean breezes. These became refugee camps.
Amazingly, less than a week after the earthquake, before insurance companies could tally their losses, plans were underway for rebuilding the city.
The story of the Great San Francisco Earthquake is a lesson in survival and perseverance. One of the world’s most beautiful and romantic cities was brought down to its knees.
Yet, life went on.
This is why I wanted to incorporate the city’s story into a time travel romance. There is, after all, a parallel between two people creating a life together out of the ashes of the past.