January 17, 2014

San Francisco Just Before the Earthquake of 1906. Now with Sound

Twelve minutes of life before disaster taken over one hundred years ago. It takes you all the way to the turnaround for the streetcar at the Ferry building where the breeze from San Francisco Bay, at that moment, blows a man's full beard to the right.

"Shot on April 14, 1906, four days before the San Francisco earthquake and fire, to which the negative was nearly lost.

It was produced by moving picture photographers the Miles brothers: Harry, Herbert, Earle and Joe. Harry J. Miles cranked the Bell & Howell camera which was placed on the front of a streetcar during filming from Market Street from 8th, in front of the Miles Studios, to the Ferry building. The Miles brothers were en route to New York when they heard news of the earthquake. The sent the negative to NY and returned to San Francisco to discover that their studios were destroyed.
The film was long thought to have been shot in September of 1905, after being dated as such by the Library of Congress based on the state of construction of several buildings.
However, in 2009 and 2010, film historian David Kiehn, co-founder of Niles Film Museum in Niles, California, dated the film to the spring of 1906 from automobile registrations and weather records. Kiehn and eventually found promotional materials from the film's original release and dated the film to April 14th, 1906. "

A few days later....

aa_california_street__san_francisco.__aftermath_of_the_earthquake_and_fire_of_april_18__1906.jpg
"Clearing away the debris, California Street, San Francisco." Aftermath of the earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at January 17, 2014 10:46 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Amazing film. There is not that much difference between the way people acted then and now. People hitching rides on the backs of cars, kids running in front of the trolly or the seemingly absolute confidence of the drivers with so many near misses.

Posted by: Kelvin at January 17, 2014 12:32 PM

Wonderful experience! I want to save it and watch it over and over. My own father could have been one of the boys. It's interesting to think that the traffic, which would be condemned today, was simply FREE. Free of government telling us how to behave. There is wonderful sense of freedom in the film. Thank you, GVL

Posted by: Peter Hughes at January 17, 2014 2:10 PM

Wonderful experience! I want to save it and watch it over and over. My own father could have been one of the boys. It's interesting to think that the traffic, which would be condemned today, was simply FREE. Free of government telling us how to behave. There is wonderful sense of freedom in the film. Thank you, GVL

Posted by: Peter Hughes at January 17, 2014 2:10 PM

Mt grandfather, Lester Jones, was an aide to General Pershing. He awakened the general that morning to inform him of the earthquake.

Posted by: Roy Lofquist at January 17, 2014 4:03 PM

Mt grandfather, Lester Jones, was an aide to General Pershing. He awakened the general that morning to inform him of the earthquake.

Posted by: Roy Lofquist at January 17, 2014 4:03 PM

Wonderful. It's easy to believe that these are the days of "miracle and wonder," but my gosh, horses and autos sharing the same street. Imagine that.

Posted by: Estoy Listo at January 17, 2014 6:30 PM

Wonderful. It's easy to believe that these are the days of "miracle and wonder," but my gosh, horses and autos sharing the same street. Imagine that.

Posted by: Estoy Listo at January 17, 2014 6:30 PM

People dressed with such dignity back then, particularly the women.

Posted by: Jason at January 18, 2014 10:52 AM

Thanks for this. My grandfather was the age of these newsboys. You can feel the energy in the place, can't you?

Posted by: Rezzie at January 19, 2014 8:13 AM

I worked at the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office and all death records (MEO death registry) prior to the earthquake were destroyed by the fire and documentation goes forward from around April 14. It is fascinating to leaf through the old records, when all information was handwritten by men, with flourishes of sometimes unreadable cursive penmanship because it is so calligraphic. These records sometimes included pictures of the deceased, pasted in and preserved for posterity. Did you know that the Chinese were not counted among the dead and that an old Chinese cemetery was found in the Civic Center area when the City was building the new Public Library? All human skeletal remains were called in by the construction crew to the SF MEO to secure for a proper burial, which was done by the Chinatown mortuary on Green Street. The Chief Medical Examiner when I was there, the late Boyd G. Stephens, MD, also had an opium pipe collection in his office from the opium dens of Chinatown that were uncovered when BART was being constructed. Did you also know that many of the house fires were a result of arson, because there was no insurance payment for earthquake losses but was for fires? (Who even knew they even had insurance back then?)

Another bit of SF trivia, horse carriage or horse versus pedestrian deaths were not uncommon. I recall reading one death narrative where a child darted into the street into the path of a horse and the death investigator actually documented that the parents were careless. One could never ever say that or anything remotely like that today.

Posted by: Nancy at January 19, 2014 9:44 PM

*documentation of death records goes forward from after the '06 earthquake.

Posted by: Nancy at January 19, 2014 10:55 PM

Who even knew they even had insurance back then?

Actually, Nancy, insurance is pretty old. Lloyd's of London went bankrupt trying to pay claims following the Great Fire of 1666, so the concept, at least in the West, has been around for a very long time.

Posted by: waltj at January 21, 2014 1:35 PM
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