The San Francisco Earthquake
I found The San Francisco Earthquake by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts in a freebie bin at my favorite used bookstore. I am not sure why I picked it up because I have Simon Winchester's A Crack In The Earth on my bookshelf but have never gotten to it. However, when I got home with this book, I glanced at it, started reading a few pages and got myself hooked.
What I like about this book is the way it is organized. It goes by an actual timeline, who was where doing what, and it uses eyewitness accounts. This book was published in 1971 so there were at least two dozen survivors of the quake who the authors were able to interview. In case you don't know, it wasn't just the quake but a fire consumed most of the city for days afterwards. Thousands died and hundreds of thousands were made homeless and a city that had been considered the pearl of the West was leveled.
I am going to review this by highlighting some aspects of the story that stood out and fascinated me. A little different technique for a review. But first, I have to say, the authors describe what the actual quake - the rip in the Earth - was like. Just reading that description terrified me. I've been in earthquakes before but had no clue the Earth behaved the way depicted in these pages. Wow.
Here are some highlights, plot lines, that made this book a real page turner:
*The actions of a couple men turned the Bank of Italy into the Bank of America. How they did this during the quake's aftermath is a fascinating story in itself. And I say that as a guy who doesn't like banks.
*Caruso. One of the most famous opera singers of all-time. What he was doing, and how he behaved during this crisis at times alternated between amazing and bizarre. Worthy of its own opera.
*The brave actions of the acting Fire Chief Dougherty were medal worthy. He inspired his men by action and saved the city more than once.
*By contrast are the actions of Gen. Funston and the U.S. Army. Funston was an interesting man but his unauthorized martial law lead to the deaths of scores of innocents and his men actually helped spread the fire.
*The corruption and ineptness of Mayor Eugene Schmitz and Abe Ruef didn't stop with the earthquake. Their trials later - and the murders associated with them - is a crime story worth the read.
*The actor John Barrymore. Known as 'The Profile' for his sophisticated look was a star in the silents and the talkies. He was a great actor. He is also one of the most famous alcoholics in history. He went on a 40 hour drinking binge in the aftermath of the quake and penned a fake 'eye-witness' account while drinking that made him even more famous.
This is a great historical accounting of the a quake and fire that consumed one of America's great cities for days. If you are interested in that event, this is a definite recommended read. you can find used copies online. It easily gets a 5/5 on my rating scale.