News Article - San Francisco 1906 Earthquake and Fire Oram Genealogy & Family History
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Joseph Garfield Heermance - December 2, 1881 - January 19, 1972

MODESTO BEE, Sunday, April 19, 1959

Local Resident Recalls Visit To SF In 1906 On Day of Big Quake, Fire

By LaVerne Potts
Joseph G. Heermance, 1107 14th Street, displays the first San Francisco newspaper put out by the combined dailies of that city after the big earthquake and fire of 53 years ago. The newspapers joined in publishing the edition, using the press of the Oakland Tribune.
The San Francisco earthquake and fire of April 18 and 19, 1906, horrible as it was, was nothing compared to some of the record quakes which have rocked the world. But to retired Modesto jeweler Joseph G. Heermance who witnessed the San Francisco holocaust, it was bad enough to cause him to write relatives in Albany, NY, he "trust that I may never be forced to write you on such a subject again".
Heermance, now 77, while looking through his belongings recently came across his faded copies of newspapers, clippings and other mementoes of that historical event. The 1906 quake and fire killed 452 (now estimated at 3,000 to 6,000) persons and did $350,000,000 damage.
One of Heermance's keepsakes is the April 19, 1906 edition of the combined The Call - Chronicle - Examiner newspaper put out on the press of the Oakland Tribune after the plants of the San Francisco newspapers were destroyed.
Story In Headlines

The headlines tell the story: Earthquake And Fire; San Francisco In Ruins--No Hope Left For Safety Of Any Buildings--Blow Buildings Up To Check Flames--Whole City Is Ablaze--Church Of Saint Ignatius Is Destroyed--Mayor Confers With Military And Citizens--At Least 500 Are Dead--Newspaper Row Is Gutted--Entire City of San Francisco In Danger Of Being Annihilated--Big Business Buildings Already Consumed By Fire And Dynamite--300 Smaller Structures Swept Out And Remainder Are Doomed--Panic Stricken People Flee--750 Are Treated--Dead In Street--Big Fire In Mission--Residences Burning--Ruins 20 Companies--Emporium In Ruins--Without A Newspaper--Heartbreaking Scenes At The Pavilion--Martial Law Is Declared--San Jose Is Ruined--Refugees Go To Oakland--Santa Rosa Is A Total Wreck, etc., etc.
Heermance, who at the time of the earthquake lived in Oakland and worked in San Francisco, went into San Francisco the morning immediately after the tremblor. In a letter to relatives in New York, he explained:
"As we left the Oakland Mole we could see that there were several fires in 'Frisco, but never dreamed that it was as bad as it proved to be.
"Arriving at the Ferry Building I looked up Market Street, which seemed to be all ablaze, so I went along the waterfront to Folsom Street, but there was fire everywhere. After some difficulty I worked myself to Bryant Street, where the Schmidt Lithographing Company was situated. (The company where he worked). The building was intact, not even the cement floor cracked or a window broken, but the structure has since been consumed by fire.
"I then walked to the corner of 2nd and Howard Streets and found all the buildings in that vicinity afire. On every hand wagons were carrying away goods and the greatest excitement prevailed. Things looked so bad that I knew my wife would hear the news and become worried, so I determined to return to Oakland. I worked my way down Mission Street to the Ferry Building, climbing over the dead bodies of steers and horses. I caught the 8:30 boat and arrived home at 9:15. I slept for awhile and then determined to go back to San Francisco and look up some friends.
"I started with my wheel (bicycle) at 4 o'clock, but found every avenue cut off, as martial law had been declared and no one was allowed to enter the city. I finally found a conductor who permitted me to ride to the Mole and I arrived in 'Frisco at 5:30. Everything on the waterfront was gone and the entire section I had gone through in the morning was in ruins. I walked along, pushing my wheel down Broadway. I passed many burning buildings and at times the heat became intense. I had to cover about five miles this way, often going around a block, and at times the guards refused to let me by.
"I finally got to the corner of Market and Church Streets and found that father and mother were safe. I then started back and found that in some places the fire had spread two and three blocks. The parks and streets presented a sickening sight. People were running about dragging their trunks with them and carrying bundles. The few things they saved from the fire is all they have left. The man of wealth walked along with the working man, carrying his pack on his back, both being in the same class.
"It is impossible to describe the sight and condition of things here. You cannot imagine leaving a city as I did on Tuesday night and finding it on fire Wednesday morning and in ruins Wednesday evening. Thousands are out of employment and people are coming to Oakland as fast as boat and train can carry them. Provisions are running low, but already supplies from outside cities are arriving. I must stop now, but trust that I may never be forced to write you on such a subject again." Who are your ancestors?


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