*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE SAN FRANCISCO CALAMITY ***
Produced by Donald Lainson; David Widger
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALAMITY
BY EARTHQUAKE AND FIRE
A Complete and Accurate Account of the Fearful Disaster which
Visited the Great City and the Pacific Coast, the Reign of Panic and
Lawlessness, the Plight of 300,000 Homeless People and the World-wide
Rush to the Rescue.
TOLD BY EYE WITNESSES
INCLUDING GRAPHIC AND RELIABLE ACCOUNTS OF ALL GREAT EARTHQUAKES AND
VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS IN THE WORLD’S HISTORY, AND SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATIONS
OF THEIR CAUSES.
EDITED BY CHARLES MORRIS, LL. D.
Earthquake and famine, fire and sudden death—these are the destroyers that men fear when they come singly; but upon the unhappy people of California they came together, a hideous quartette, to slay human beings, to blot from existence the wealth that represented prolonged and strenuous effort, to bring hunger and speechless misery to three hundred thousand homeless and terror-stricken people.
The full measure of the catastrophe can probably never be taken. The summary cannot be made amid the panic, the confusion, the removal of ancient landmarks, the complete subversion of the ordinary machinery of society. When chaos comes, as it did in San Francisco, and all the channels of familiar life are closed, and human anguish grows to be intolerable, compilation of statistics is impossible, even if it were not repugnant to the feelings. And when order is once more restored, after the lapse of many weeks, months and perhaps years, the details of the calamity have merged into one undecipherable mass of misery which defies the analyst and the historian. It is the purpose of this book faithfully to record the story of these awful days when years were lived in a moment and to preserve an accurate chronicle of them, not only for the people whose hearts yearn in sympathy to-day, but for their posterity.
Other frightful catastrophes the world has known. The earthquake which dropped Lisbon into the sea in 1755, and in a moment swallowed up twenty-five thousand people, was perhaps more awful than the convulsion which has brought woe to San Francisco. When Krakatoa Mountain, in the Straits of Sunda, in 1883, split asunder and poured across the land a mighty wave, in which thirty-six thousand human beings perished, the results also were more terrible.
The whirlwind of fire which consumed St. Pierre, in the Island of Martinique, and the devastation wrought by Vesuvius a few days previous to that at San Francisco, need not be used for comparison with the latter tragedy, but they may be referred to, that we may recall the fact that this land of ours is not the only one which has suffered.
But since the western hemisphere was discovered there has been in this quarter of the globe no violence of natural forces at all comparable in destructive fury with that which was manifested upon the Pacific coast. The only other calamity at all equalling it, or surpassing it, was the Civil War, and that was the work of the evil passions of man inciting him to slay his brother, while Nature would have had him live in peace.
The earthquake in San Francisco, which crumbled strong buildings as if they were made of paper, would have been terrible enough; but afterward came the horror of fire and of imprisoned men and women burned alive, and now to it was added the suffering of multitudes from hunger and exposure.
Public attention is fixed on the great city; but smaller cities had their days and nights of destruction, horror and misery. Some were almost destroyed. Others were partly ruined, and beyond their borders, over a wide area, the trembling of the earth toppled houses, annihilated property and transformed riches into poverty. The cost in life can be reckoned. The money loss will never be computed, for the appraised value of the wrecked property conveys no notion of the consequences of the almost complete paralysis, for a time, of the commercial operations by means of which men and women earn their bread.
When the weakness and the folly and the sin of men bring woe upon other men, there are plenty of texts for the preacher and no scarcity of earnest preachers. But here is a vast and awful catastrophe that befell from an act of Nature apparently no more extraordinary than the shrinkage of hot metal in the process of cooling. The consequences are terrifying in this case because they involve the habitations of half a million people; but, no doubt, the process goes on somewhere within the earth almost continuously, and it no more involves the theory of malignant Nature than that of an angry God.
If we contemplate it, possibly we may be helped to a profitable estimate of our own relative insignificance. We think, with some notion of our importance, of the thousand million men who live upon the earth; but they are a mere handful of animate atoms in comparison with the surface, to say nothing of the solid contents, of the globe itself.
We are fond of boasting in this latter day of man’s marvelous success in subduing the forces of Nature; and, while we are in the midst of exultation over our victories, Nature tumbles the rocks about somewhere within the bowels of the earth, and we have to learn the old lesson that our triumphs have not penetrated farther than to the very outermost rim of the realms of Nature.
A few weak, almost helpless, creatures, we millions of men stand upon the deck of a great ship, which goes rolling through space that is itself incomprehensible, and usually we are so busy with our paltry ambitions, our transgressions, our righteous labors, our prides and hopes and entanglements that we forget where we are and what is our destiny. A direct interposition from a Superior Power, even if it be hurtful to the body, might be required to persuade us to stop and consider and take anew our bearings, so that we may comprehend in some larger degree our precise relations to things. The wisest men have been the most ready to recognize the beneficence of the discipline of affliction. If there were no sorrow, we should be likely to find the school of life unprofitable.
For one thing, the school wherein sorrow is a part of the discipline is that in which is developed human sympathy, one of the finest and most ennobling manifestations of the Love which is, in its essence, divine. In human life there is much that is ignoble, and the race has almost contemptible weakness and insignificance in comparison with the physical forces of the universe.
But man is superior to all these forces in his possession of the power of affection; and in almost the lowest and basest of the race this power, if latent and half lost, may be found and evoked by the spectacle of the suffering of a fellow-creature.
The human family looks on with pity while the homeless and hungry and impoverished Californians endure pangs. Wherever the news went, by the swift processes of electricity, there men and women, some of them, perhaps, hardly knowing where California is, were sorry and willing and eager to help. There are quarrels within the family sometimes, when nation wars with nation, and all love seems to have vanished; but the world is, in truth, akin. “God hath made of one blood all the nations of the earth,” and the blood “tells” when suffering comes.
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALAMITY BY EARTHQUAKE AND FIRE
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