All posts by Mark Taylor

April 18, 1906-the day the earth shook and fire sprang forth in san francisco

Northeast View of Post & Grant Avenues, San Francisco, 18 April 1906 Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier: 524396)
Northeast View of Post & Grant Avenues, San Francisco, 18 April 1906
Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier: 524396)

At 5:12 a.m. on 18 April 1906, Northern California was awakened by an earthquake that is now considered one of the most significant of all time. The epicenter was near San Francisco and the shaking lasted between 45-60 seconds. It was so powerful that it was felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. The intensity showed the clear difference between bedrock and sediment (or land filled) geology. Those that got the strongest shaking were in sediment filled areas rather than bedrock. Which explains why in San Francisco the damage was the most severe in those areas. Specifically it is the area called SOMA (South of Market or the old term south of the slot)where the greatest damage resulted. That area used to be part of San Francisco Bay but was filled in for more housing, commercial, and industrial uses. Houses and buildings were damaged or collapsed.

This train was on a siding when the earthquake hit on 18 April 1906 and thrown down. In the far right you can see the ruin of a stone store destroyed by the earthquake. Public Domain (USGS)
This train in Point Reyes was on a siding when the earthquake hit on 18 April 1906 and thrown down. In the far right you can see the ruin of a stone store destroyed by the earthquake.
Public Domain (USGS)

Although San Francisco got a significant amount of damage, other areas were likewise damaged. Cities like Santa Rosa got hit hard(the entire downtown was destroyed) and many in the countryside suffered building or infrastructure damage as well. The magnitude of the quake was originally thought to be around 8.3 on the Richter scale. However others argue it was between 7.7 and 7.9 based on new interpretations of earthquake data. However you measure it, the earthquake was one of the most severe in the modern era. The earthquake not only destroyed buildings, injured scores and killing 3,000 (estimated) but caused the fires that made it much worse with water supply being severely limited by broken pipes. City leaders would claim later, to ensure people would come back to the city, that San Francisco was not destroyed by the earthquake but the fires. The truth was (and later researchers would learn this)how extensive the earthquake had been to San Francisco. The fires were a direct result of the earthquake and made a bad situation that much worse. The Army used dynamite to blow up areas to block fires. This usually is a good tactic to blow up ground to create firebreaks. This made it much worse since no one thought about the possibility of flying embers from blown up buildings causing more fires. Which is what happened and made it that much worse.

Today we look back at the old pictures but not really appreciate the total magnitude of the disaster. San Francisco rebuilt but continued its old ways for a long time. Buildings went up in the very areas worst hit by the earthquake with little attention to earthquake safety. But by the late 20th century that had changed as city leaders realized how damaging another 1906 type of quake would be to a modern city. New ordinances were passed and many of the taller buildings in San Francisco today in the Financial District were constructed to handle earthquakes.

photograph of a collapsed facade of a building near Beach and Divisadero Streets in San Francisco
October 1989
U.S. Geological Survey
Public Domain

I learned this from being in one such building during the Loma Prieta Earthquake (17 Oct 1989 at 5:07pm). That earthquake was centered near Santa Cruz and measured 6.9, much less powerful than 1906. But it caused a lot of damage and some loss of life as well. The building I was in (since it is on landfill) was built to sway with the earthquake rather than remain locked in place. It was a weird experience to feel the building rock as it did but it survived just fine while a building across the street and built long before that standard had its top cave in. That building had to be torn down.

Some things did stay the same as 1906. There was little official guidance, mass transit was down, lots of cars stuck in traffic, and plenty of people milling about trying to figure out how to get home. I was lucky as I took a SamTrans bus to Daly City from the old Transbay Terminal. It was long bus ride that took close to 3 hours but I was grateful that bus was running. Those living in the East Bay would have to wait a good long while for BART to run again. And those that watched the World Series that night saw an earthquake live at old Candlestick Park.

Additional Information

The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (USGS)
San Francisco Earthquake, 1906(National Archives)
New S.F. archive includes stunning photos from 1906 quake(S.F. Chronicle,17 April 2015)
San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 18, 1906 (Library of Congress) 1906 film that shows the damage.
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (Bancroft Library Online Exhibit)

Titanic Chronology:Carpathia Arrives on 18 April 1912

New York Times Front Page 16 April 1912
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

It had been a long three days since Titanic sank when Carpathia arrived bearing Titanic’s survivors. What had been first optimistic news turned grim after the miscommunication had been sorted out. Titanic had sunk and 1500 had perished out in the cold North Atlantic. News as to who exactly had survived was not fully known as Carpathia had kept a media blackout during its journey to New York. There was a reporter on board but had to keep his notes secret in a cigar box lined with champagne corks. He would toss it towards a Hearst editor in a tugboat in New York harbor where it would be raced for a special evening edition of New York World. 50 tugboats full of reporters yelled at the ship through megaphones offering money for eyewitness accounts. Carpathia first stopped at Pier 59, the White Star Line pier and offloaded Titanic’s lifeboats. They were all that were left of the ship aside from the flotsam and jetsam that would be found later in the Atlantic. Then Carpathia proceeded to Pier 54 and the Titanic survivors disembarked. It was only then it was truly known who did survive and who did not.

U.S. Library of Congress,Bain Collection, Control #ggb2004010347
Public Domain

Pier 54 is now part of Chelsea Piers and is located at Little West 12th Street and the Hudson River (in the Meatpacking District and Greenwich Village area). It is now part of the Hudson River Park. It is now used mostly for concerts, exhibits, and free movies. Several television shows have used the Chelsea piers as a backdrop for  television shows (Law & Order, Spin City, The Apprentice). There is a desire to convert it into a nautical museum though that has yet to come to fruition. There is also a plan to redevelop Pier 54’s original style pier for mixed use space.

Pier 54, 2012 where Carpathia docked to unload Titanic survivors,
Photo: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)

Sources:
Books
Eaton, John P.; Haas, Charles A. (1994). Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy. Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens
Lord, Walter (2005) [1955]. A Night to Remember. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin
Lord, Walter (1987). The Night Lives On. London: Penguin Books
Lynch, Donald (1998). Titanic: An Illustrated History. New York: Hyperion

Websites:
Encyclopedia Titanica: Titanic Facts, History and Biography

Titanic Chronology: 17 April 1912:The Grim Task of Collecting Bodies

CS Mackay Bennett (circa 1884) Artist Unknown Public Domain
CS Mackay Bennett (circa 1884)
Artist Unknown
Public Domain

With confirmation that Titanic sank with great loss of life, the next task was to collect bodies floating in the Atlantic. The cable ship Mackay Bennett was the first ship hired by White Star (others would be employed as well)to retrieve bodies. The ship emptied itself of its normal stores in Halifax, Nova Scotia and brought aboard supplies for its new mission:

  • Embalming supplies and coffins (100)
  • Chief embalmer of John Snow & Co.,John R. Snow Jr.
  • 100 tons of ice to store the bodies
  • Canon Kenneth Hind of All Saints Cathedral, Halifax

Mackay Bennett left Halifax at 12:28 pm on 17 April 1912. Due to heavy fog and rough sears it would take four days to reach where Titanic sank. They began recovery at 0600 on 20 April. Bodies were manually recovered by skiffs and brought back to the ship. They recovered 51 bodies but realized they did not have enough embalming supplies on hand. Since the laws at the time required bodies to be embalmed before unloading from ships docking in a Canadian port, they followed a general procedure:

  • First class passengers were embalmed and placed in coffins
  • Second class passengers were embalmed but wrapped in canvas
  • Third class passengers were buried at sea

Bodies that were brought back were either transported by relatives to their final resting place or interred in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Titanic Chronology: April 15,1912;Titanic Sinks

Leaving the sinking liner, 27 April 1912
Charles Dixon
Public Domain

When it was determined Titanic would sink, it began transmitting signals by wireless telegraph, Morse lamp, and rockets. The ship nearest by most accounts was SS Californian. Her telegraph operator turned off his equipment at 11:30 pm and never heard the distress calls. Questions linger to this day whether or not they saw Titanic or her rockets being fired. The RMS Carpathia received the SOS and its captain, Arthur Rostron, immediately ordered to proceed directly to the last known coordinates to locate survivors despite having to navigate a dangerous ice field on a moonless night.

Titanic would sink on 15 April 1912 at 2:20 am. Although Titanic met the British Board of Trade regulations and exceeded it for the number of lifeboats required, it did not have enough for the full complement of passengers and crew. As a result over 1,500 men, women, and children would had no means of escape from the sinking ship.

RMS Carpathia (date unknown)
Image: public domain

Carpathia arrives at 4:10 am to rescue survivors who were in lifeboats or able to reach them. 710 survived the initial sinking but the final tally would be 705 due to  death from freezing cold. SS California would arrive later but would find no survivors. At 12 noon Carpathia sounded her horns and began heading back to New York.* It was the moment that many wives knew for certain their husbands had perished.

*It was the moment that many wives knew for certain their husbands had perished.

Titanic Chronology: April 14, 1912

Photograph of iceberg taken by chief steward of Prinz Adalbert on morning of 15 April 1912 near where Titanic sank. At the time he had not learned of the Titanic disaster. Smears of red paint along the base caught his attention. The photo and accompanying statement were sent to Titanic’s lawyers, which hung in their boardroom until the firm dissolved in 2002. Public Domain

Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 pm ship time on 14 April 1912. The night was moonless and the sea calm with temperatures at or below freezing. Titanic was moving quickly but did not see the iceberg until it was nearly upon them. An attempt to steer around it resulted in a collision on Titanic’s starboard side. The iceberg would puncture Titanic enough so that the first five compartments would flood. Since the compartments were not totally sealed all the way up, water would go from one compartment to the other making her sink at the bow.

Titanic Chronology: 1 April – 12 April 1912

Poster Advertising Vinolia Otto Soap for Titanic
Image:Public Domain

1 April-Titanic’s sea trials postponed by bad weather.
2 April- 0600: Sea trials begin. Fire in boiler room six coal hold.
2000 (8.00 p.m.): Trials completed; Titanic returns to Southampton.
4 April-Titanic berths at Southampton around midnight.
10 April-Titanic departs Southampton at 12 noon. While departing,suction from propellers causes New York to break moorings.Collision is averted by tugs and extra speed from Titanic.
17:30 (5:30 p.m.): Arrival at Cherbourg, France. 274 passengers board including John Jacob Astor.22 passengers disembark.
20:30 (8:30 p.m.): Departs Cherbourg for Queenstown,(Cobh), Ireland.
11 April-11:30 (11:30 a.m.) Titanic arrives in Queenstown. 120 passengers board. Among those who depart Titanic is Francis Brown
(later Father Brown, SJ) with his camera and photos of life aboard ship.
13:30 (1:30 p.m.). Titanic departs Queenstown bound for New York with 2,206 passengers and crew.
12 April-Titanic travels 326 miles.

Today is Good Friday

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri(1821-1891)
Public Domain

Today is Good Friday, an important event in the Christian liturgical calendar. Some argue the word Good is a corruption and used to mean God Friday. Others argue it always meant that the day is meant to be pious or holy. For Christians, Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. Observant Christians will mark the day by silent meditation, prayer, and church attendance. Many will fast during the day, particularly during the hours of 12 noon to 3 p.m. Hot Cross Buns are a traditional food many cultures use on this day (and through the Easter season). Most Catholics and Christians will avoid eating meat on this day and usually the main meal will be fish. Good Friday (and sometimes Easter Monday)are public holidays in many countries. Good Friday always occurs on the Friday before Easter Sunday.

Passover Began yesterday At Sundown

Passover is an eight day festival celebrated in the spring between the 15th through 22 during the Hebrew month of Nissan. Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The first two and last two days are considered holidays. On those days holiday meals are served and observant Jews do not work or drive on those days (they also cannot write and even switch on/off electric devices though exception is made for cooking and carrying food outdoors.) The middle four days are called intermediate days and most forms of work are permitted.

A very important way Jews recall the Exodus is that they cannot eat or have an form of leavened bread (and that includes any food or drink that contains wheat, barley, oats, spelt or derivatives of it). That includes a lot of foods from breads, pastas, cookies and cakes, alcohol and soda. Most processed or industrial made foods are thus not allowed unless they have been certified for Passover by a rabbinical authority. It is not uncommon to see certain sodas in heavy Jewish areas reconfigured for the Passover season (such as Coke using real sugar and nothing that is derived from leavened bread in its making).

Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning. (Deuteronomy, 16:1-4)

Seder table
Image: Gilabrand at en.wikipedia

The most important part of Passover is the Seder. It is a fifteen step tradition that is family oriented and packed with rituals for the feast. The most important points of the Seder are eating matzah, bitter herbs(to commemorate the slavery under the Egyptians),drinking wine or grape juice to commemorate their freedom, and most importantly reciting from the Haggadah. The Haggadah is the liturgy of the Exodus from Egypt and the duty of every family to recite the story so the next generation never forgets what Passover means to them.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

The Israelites Leaving Egypt, 1828/1830 by David Roberts (1796-1864)
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

Retro Saturday: Land of the Giants

Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants (ABC, 1968-1970)

TV Screenshot of opening title (Wikipedia)
TV Screenshot of opening title
(Wikipedia)

 Land of the Giants was a show with a simple theme of adapting Gulliver’s Travels to a science-fiction theme. Suppose you landed on a planet where everyone was similar but stood 72 feet taller than you? How would you survive and get back home, if ever? Irwin Allen thought it might be a good theme for a show and crafted this show on that premise. Taking place in 1983, a sub-orbital transport named Spindrift encounters a space storm and is transported to a mysterious planet of the giants. The passengers and crew are stuck on this strange world until they can find a way home.

The world the landed on was never named but similar to Earth. Technology was both familiar and different. They did not have space travel but had advanced technology like cloning, force fields, androids and small nuclear reactors. The people were human and the world similar in many respects (similar geography, animals etc) but its location was either in a parallel universe or another dimension since access was limited by a wormhole. Other sub-orbital spacecraft have crashed on this world and the series is bleak on this regard: none of them survived. So the survivors of Spindrift, which lacks the power to leave, are going to have to survive on this planet for a while. Aside from the giant scale of everything, the inhabitants are not helpful. Some are outright hostile or cruel, others are happy to use them for some purpose and betray them. An authoritarian government wants the little people rounded up since they are a threat.

Abernathy Round Tower in Scotland is 72 feet(21.94 meters) tall. This is how tall a person from Land of the Giants would be on our planet. Photo:Lis Burke(Wikimedia Commons)
Abernathy Round Tower in Scotland is 72 foot(21.94 meters) tall. This is how tall a person from Land of the Giants would be on our planet.
Photo:Lis Burke(Wikimedia Commons)

Like all shows by Irwin Allen, one has to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow. After all 72 foot tall humans would be a problem owing to the Square Cube Law conceived by Galileo Galilei in 1638. It states that as a shape grows in size, its volume grows faster than its surface area. The result is that you would be crushed if you suddenly grew too tall and lacked the structural support for it. Animals in nature that are big develop enhanced skeletal frames and scaling so that they do not get crushed. This is why no Godzilla or King Kong can exist (unless they had evolved that way over time) by some weird radiation or genetic mutation. Only creatures that are in the sea can get enormous since the effects of this law do not apply (which is why you have huge whales, squids, and octopi) thanks to water. Humans that are exceptionally tall (caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland of the brain) suffer serious health issues in the circulatory or skeletal system.

If Irwin Allen wanted to be creative, he would have made them large but not in this way. Perhaps he would have made them more like 8 feet tall and would fit into legends of giants in mythology. Now that would have been interesting, Suppose a race of giants (exceptionally tall humans but not 72 feet  tall) had been on Earth long ago. They came into conflict with normal size humans. For whatever reason, many are wiped out (you could tie it into Biblical stories) but a few remained like Goliath that fought David. Others that did survive ended up on this other world, in a parallel dimension. Part of the story would be finding out who they were, who brought them there, and perhaps their evil intentions of wanting to return to Earth. That would be more plausible and interesting than in making them so gigantic that even with a slingshot, David would have no chance against these giants.

Free roamers like to argue that in this other dimension the laws of physics are alerted or somehow the giants altered themselves genetically be so tall. Hogwash! At any rate each week the survivors were put in peril and eventually rescued themselves or sometimes a giant might aid them. There was no resolution by the time the series ended. They were still trapped and the future on this world of giants looked bleak. At least Gulliver was able to leave Lilliput. It seems the unlucky survivors of Spindrift are marooned unless Allen had thought of a way to get them home again.