Today marks the 105-year anniversary of the Great Earthquake of 1906. This morning's annual bell-ringing homage at Lotta's Fountain was a more somber affair than in the past due to the recent earthquake in Japan. With that, we think the The City That Has Fallen (1933) by William Marion Reedy, pulled together by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, gives a gripping and sobering account of that happened during the Great Quake. "I ran across it in a slim little volume tucked away in the Berkeley library, a reprint of the original from 1933," Madrigal explains. "The essay is a sidelong, scattershot tour through the American conception of 'Frisco.' "


FRISCO it was called in that affection which prompts expression in diminutives. Shaken to shards in the dawn, gulped in part by a mad sea, swept by flame. Ruin covering agony, crowned by hunger, thirst, fever, pest. Death over all.

Beautiful, soft Frisco, luscious as a great pear or a lush cluster of grapes. City of romance, splendor, strife, where the strange odors of the East come in to sweeten the winds of the West. Frisco sleekly fair and like the Pacific, as treacherous, as fair.

Town of wild, strange, tumultuous memories to one who never saw its streets or sensed its paradisiacal lay or felt the subtle, passionate stirring of its more than Italian, curiously blent quattrocento and ultra modern atmosphere.

There gathered the seekers of the Golden Fleece to scatter their shearings, to gamble, carouse, steal, murder, and build a mighty town. The village a hell and then--the Vigilantes. Judge Lynch was its first law-giver, more rigorous than Draco.

Navvies turned Croesus came in and builded banks, their palaces rising in uncouth ostentation, setting up insane speculation, developing rivalries that flowered into duels and into remorseless combines to drive one man, thinking himself broken, into the sea. Names were heralded from there that meant gold in mountains. Flood, O'Brien, Mackay, Fair, Sharon--and a score more. They leagued with or fought one another. They plundered one another and the public. They died--most of them with a plenteousness of wives, equal almost to that of their money...

To read the entire essay, please visit The Atlantic.