Tag Archive for: earthquake

No, I’m not referring to my protagonist in the Zodiac Mysteries – Julia Bonatti — although she is a remarkable character and a very talented San Francisco astrologer who solves crimes.  I’m referring to Gladys Cox Hansen (June 12, 1925 – March 5, 2017).  A Gemini!  I’m sure Julia, the astrologer,  would appreciate that!

QuakeIf you’ve never heard of Gladys Hansen, it’s well worth learning about her work.  Because if it were not for her, we would still be woefully uninformed about the real history and the aftermath of the great earthquake of 1906 that destroyed San Francisco.

Quake.1On April 18, 1906 at 5:12 a.m., a quake, somewhere between 7.8 to 8.3 magnitude, ripped the northern 296 miles of the San Andreas fault.  Geologists now consider it had a Mercalli intensity of XI, i.e., extreme!  It lasted approximately sixty seconds, a very long time for an earthquake.  And if you’ve ever been in a quake, you can appreciate just how torturingly long that time span is, as you hang on and pray and hope to survive.
Approximately 28,000 buildings were destroyed, 498 city blocks were leveled and a quarter of the city burned.  After the dust settled and the ensuing fires were put out, the powers-that-once-were in the city were determined to rebuild.  In order to do that, they had to attract money and investors and there was only one way.  They had to lie.  A lot!

They worked hard to propagate the myth that fire destroyed San Francisco, not earthquake.  They even went so far as to alter photographs to show buildings, destroyed in the quake, still standing.  So began a conspiracy of disinformation that lasted for many decades.

Thanks to dedicated researchers like Gladys Hansen we are now closer to the truth.  Not all the way there, but at least a lot closer.  Gladys was a librarian and City Archivist Emerita of the San Francisco Library system.  One day in 1963, well prior to her retirement, she was asked to provide a list of the dead from that fateful day in 1906.
She was sure the Evening Telegramlibrary could offer accurate records, but when she searched and found no names and only a vague figure of 478 dead, she was positive this number could not be correct.  She later discovered the city never reported casualties from either Chinatown or the slums and she came across many victims with Chinese, Irish and Italian surnames.  She’s quoted as saying, “The lack of death [in these areas] simply isn’t credible.”

Gladys decided to make it her mission in life to find and name the dead.  She searched all available records — birth and death records, tenant rolls of buildings, voter registration lists, military files, church records and coroner’s records.  She requested information nationwide, and letters from other parts of the country came pouring in.  Her task was monumental and it continued for years.

Denial of DisasterMrs. Hansen created an online museum The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco and in 1989 co-authored a book, Denial of Disaster with Emmett Condon, retired Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department.  It’s a shocking account of the disaster and the ensuing political machinations.

Here at the museum site, you can find a partial list of “Who Perished.”  The research she gathered also led to a cookbook:  After the Shake, They Baked, containing actual recipes created by people who were living among the rubble or in Army tents in Golden Gate Park.  In fact, I have met people who as young kids remembered living in Golden Gate Park in order to survive.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get a copy of this book from Mrs. Hansen’s heirs, although I would dearly love to have one.  With the museum’s permission, here are a few teasers:

Shrimp salad, to be served in a dozen eggs “boiled hard.”  This specifies the amount of pickles, celery, parsley, radish and onion to be used, but neglects to mention how many shrimp are needed.  The recipe suggests to “chop the shrimps a little.”  I guess it depends on how many shrimps a housewife can get her hands on.  The amount of butter called for in a fricassee of oysters was defined as the size of an egg.   Bread puddings were prepared in covered pots and pies were cooked in Dutch ovens set directly over an open fire.   Every recipe is a tribute to ingenuity under hardship.

Finally, In 2005, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution, co-authored by Hansen, that set aside the official 1907 death count.  At last count, to the best of my knowledge, the number of named dead is well over 6,000 and still counting.  But there are undoubtedly many more souls to be found and named.

Gladys HansenI wish I could have met Mrs. Hansen at some time during the years I lived in San Francisco.  I would have been fascinated by her dedication and persistence.  She died just a few months ago on March 5th at the age of 91 from natural causes.  Even though she has passed on, we can still read her interviews:
SF Gate: Sunday Interview
SF Gate Gladys Hansen
SF Gate San Francisco Archivist

Gladys once said, “Sometimes I think all those who died are right there behind us saying, ‘Keep going.  Keep going.  Keep going.’”  A remarkable woman indeed.  I hope you’ll explore her virtual museum to learn more.

This post first appeared on  July 5, 2017 at The Bookwyrm’s Hoard.

Is a very special day ~ It’s the anniversary of the 8.3 earthquake that struck the city of San Francisco at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906.

Madness of MercuryJulia Bonatti, San Francisco astrologer and my protagonist in the Zodiac Mysteries, is a native San Franciscan, and since most of the city’s residents hail from other places, being a native is a point of honor.  You’ll learn more about Julia on June 8, 2016 when her first adventure, The Madness of Mercury is released.

Now, Julia’s lived in the city her entire life.  She experienced the Loma Prieta quake that brought down the freeway in Oakland and a section of the Bay Bridge, destroyed a large apartment building in the Marina and caused death, injury and lots of other destruction in and around the city.  She’s certainly not old enough to remember the Big One, the 1906 quake that destroyed the city, but every year, she attends the remembrance ceremony that takes place at Lotta’s Fountain at the corner of Market and Kearny Streets with thousands of other people who gather in remembrance of the dead and in tribute to those who rebuilt the city.

SF_Bay_area_USGSAfter the quake, a conspiracy of disinformation began.  The world was told that fire destroyed the city, not the earthquake.  It was the supposedly true story I heard when I first lived in San Francisco.  And even people who had grown up there believed the lie.  But thanks to historians we now know that to be untrue.  Yes, the city burned, but it was the 8.3 quake that leveled the city before any fires started.  The powers-that-were in the city – business people, politicians, insurance companies, the Southern Pacific Railroad — had to propagate the lie.  They needed investors and money coming in to rebuild and so the truth and the dead were swept under the carpet, or actually into the Bay.  That’s not a lie.

San_Francisco_in_ruins_view_from_Captive_Airship_above_Folsom_1906In past years, survivors of the 8.3 quake were honored but sadly, they are all gone now.  William “Bill” Del Monte, the last survivor, who was three months old in 1906, died in 2013.

On April 18th, at 4:00 a.m., San Franciscans gather at Lotta’s Fountain, a cast iron structure at Market and Kearny Streets.  Lotta’s Fountain stood in 1906 and was the place where people gathered and left messages, searching for loved ones.  The commemoration begins at 4:30 a.m., at 5:00 a.m. the Mayor hangs a wreath and eleven minutes later the countdown to 5:12 a.m. begins.  At 5:12 a.m., the sirens blare, followed by a minute of silence.  Then a sing along of “San Francisco.”

Lotta's FountainIt only takes a tiny corner of
This great big world to make the place we love
My home upon the hill, I find I love you still,
I’ve been away, but now I’m back to tell you…
San Francisco, open your golden gate
You let no stranger wait outside your door
San Francisco, here is your wanderin’ one
Saying I’ll wander no more
Other places only make me love you best
Tell me you’re the heart of all the golden west
San Francisco, welcome me home again
I’m coming home to go roaming no more

I may not be attending the ceremony this year, but having survived the 1994 Northridge Quake, I’ll be there in spirit to give thanks, to honor the dead and the courage of those who were able to rebuild this beautiful city by the bay.