The 1906 earthquake in San Francisco struck on April 18 at 5:12 a.m., registering a massive 7.9M on the Richter scale — killing more than 3,000 and leaving a trail of fires that destroyed 80% of the city. Sunday morning, San Francisco erupted in celebration to commemorate the day but to also usher in hope.
Without context, San Francisco’s annual celebration of the 1906 earthquake appears to be an ass-backward event. (The second-largest tremor to ever be recorded in California killed thousands; left entire city blocks either completely charred or buried in rubble; 250,000 San Franciscans became homeless overnight; survivors camped out in Golden Gate Park and the dunes west of the city... or fled to outlying towns.) But at its core, the carousel of levity that spins every year at 5:12 a.m. in downtown is meant to mirror San Francisco’s inherent resilience — all while serving as a reminder to hold on to hope in difficult times.
And suffice to say the past twelve-plus months have been anything but trouble-free.
San Francisco on April 14, 1906, 115 years ago today. 4 days before the devastating earthquake would destroy over 80% of the city. pic.twitter.com/BnkvFUenjp— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) April 14, 2021
“We’re San Franciscans,” Mayor London Breed — she being wrapped in Edwardian regalia, wearing a period-specific hat — told the crowd of gathered "believers," per the Chronicle.
Today marks the 115 anniversary of the San Francisco 1906 earthquake. Every year a ceremony takes places at Lotta’s fountain and the gold fire hydrant saved the Mission neighborhood from being destroyed by the fire ignited by the earthquake. #1906earthquake pic.twitter.com/hOajM6P9EJ— Walter (@littlewaltercon) April 18, 2021
The Examiner describes a small crowd of politicians, firefighters, police, and members of the public — collectively numbering around 75 people — convening before dawn near Lotta’s Fountain to mark the quake’s 115th anniversary. The fountain, an 1875 gift from actress Lotta Crabtree, was a designated meeting point for survivors after the shock. Though crowds gathered at the urban cascade this morning, last year's in-person celebration was canceled out of an abundance of caution during the start of the pandemic.
Breed, flanked by fellow city officials and artist Donna Ewald Huggins — who later led the present crowd in singing the Jeanette MacDonald-sung theme from the 1936 film "San Francisco" — was quick to acknowledge the shared parallels of that dark day to this current difficult moment in time.
“We go through earthquakes. We go through pandemics," Breed said, adding "we go through things" before she was promptly cut off for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost during the catastrophe.
115 years ago at 5:12 in the morning, San Francisco was woken up by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. Follow the link to learn how you can prepare your household for the next major earthquake. https://t.co/hKY6cN04kU pic.twitter.com/7owJlwLmm8— SF Water Power Sewer (@MySFPUC) April 18, 2021
Breed was joined by former San Francisco Mayor Brown, who turned 87 in March, Brown beginning the early morning program with a somber declamation of that day's kaleidoscope of dystopias. By the time the days-long fires were eventually put out, it's estimated that half the city's some 450,000 residents were left homeless.
“The city began to fall apart and before it was over it had fallen apart,” Brown added. “But this city always comes back."
The Golden Hydrant was the only working hydrant immediately following the 1906 Earthquake in and around Dolores Park. We have since built a robust emergency water supply system to help enhance our safety.— SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT MEDIA (@SFFDPIO) April 18, 2021
The photo shows the traditional remembrance and painting of the Hydrant pic.twitter.com/Q7wo2k0qrX
And come back from fire and brimstone (and novel viruses), we will — but it wouldn't hurt to make sure your emergency earthquake kit is all ready to go.
Image: Courtesy of Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.