The 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck at 5:12 a.m. on April 18 and registered a massive 7.9 million on the Richter scale. More than 3,000 people were killed and left a trail of fires that destroyed 80% of the city. On Sunday morning, San Francisco erupted in celebration to remember the day but also to instill hope.
Without context, San Francisco’s annual celebration of the 1906 earthquake seems like a backward event. (The second largest tremor ever recorded in California killed thousands; left entire city blocks either completely charred or buried in rubble; 250,000 Franciscans were made homeless overnight; survivors camped in Golden Gate Park and in the dunes west of the city … or in remote cities fled.) But at its core, the Carousel of Recklessness that spins downtown at 5:12 a.m. is meant to reflect San Francisco’s inherent resilience – while also serving as a reminder to hold onto the hope of trouble times.
Suffice it to say that the past twelve months have been anything but problem-free.
San Francisco April 14, 1906, 115 years ago today. 4 days before the devastating earthquake, over 80% of the city would be destroyed. pic.twitter.com/BnkvFUenjp
– Vala Afshar (alaValaAfshar), April 14, 2021
“We are San Franciscans,” said Mayor London Breed – she is wrapped in Edwardian regalia and wearing a hat specific to the time – the crowd of “believers” gathered according to the chronicle.
Today is the 115th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. A ceremony is held every year at the Lotta Fountain, and the golden hydrant saved the mission district from destruction by the fire ignited by the earthquake. # 1906earthquake pic.twitter.com/hOajM6P9EJ
– Walter (@littlewaltercon) April 18, 2021
The examiner describes a small crowd of politicians, firefighters, police officers and members of the public who together number around 75 people who gather near Lotta’s fountain before dawn to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the quake. The fountain, a gift from actress Lotta Crabtree in 1875, was a designated meeting place for survivors after the shock. Although crowds gathered in the urban cascade this morning, last year’s personal celebration at the start of the pandemic was canceled out of caution.
Breed, flanked by fellow city officials and artist Donna Ewald Huggins, who later led today’s crowd singing the theme sung by Jeanette MacDonald from the 1936 film “San Francisco”, quickly recognized the common parallels between this dark day and this current difficult moment at the time.
“We’re going through earthquakes. We’re going through pandemics, “Breed said, adding,” we go through things “before being immediately cut off for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost during the disaster.
Breed was joined by former San Francisco mayor Brown, who turned 87 in March. Brown started the program early in the morning with a somber declamation of the day’s kaleidoscope of dystopias. By the time the day-long fires were put out, it is estimated that half of the city’s 450,000 residents were homeless.
“The city was starting to fall apart and before it was over it was falling apart,” added Brown. “But this city always comes back.”
The Golden Hydrant was the only working hydrant in and around Dolores Park in the immediate aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. Since then we have built a robust emergency water supply system to improve our safety.
The photo shows the traditional memory and painting of the fire hydrant pic.twitter.com/Q7wo2k0qrX
– SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT MEDIA (@SFFDPIO) April 18, 2021
And we’ll be back on fire and brimstone (and novel viruses) – but it wouldn’t hurt to make sure your earthquake emergency kit is ready to go.
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Image: Courtesy Library of Congress, Washington, DC