The 1906 Earthquake (Part 3)

Part 3

I have told you a little about what happened in San Jose and San Francisco. Now let’s see what Ralph Rambo remembers about that fatal day and incident. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ralph Rambo, he was an eminent historian and cartoonist who wrote 14 pamphlets about life in Santa Clara Valley. The following account is taken from his excellent booklet, E Day. The family’s windmill, their sole source of water, had been toppled by the quake.

“Each of us at once had our own imperative plans for the day. Dad had an immediate desire to reach San Jose and order windmill repair. He realized that many must have fallen, with few water systems out in the country, windmills could be counted by the dozens.

“I supposed my desire was to contact my neighboring school friends and playmates, the Coykendall Brothers, and nine or ten Portuguese-American kids, the Whites, in their neighboring home. We could exchange reactions, arguments and childish forecasts.

“My mother’s thoughts took first place. They can be discussed frankly now but in those long-gone days they would be a very delicate subject. Her half sister “Mary” was an inmate of the Agnews State Hospital, commonly known or called Agnews Insane Asylum… Mary had occasional, unpredictable, often violent, melancholy “Spells” as they were termed. Today such symptoms would no doubt bear a complicated neurotic appellation. We shall settle for old-fashioned melancholia… [The family] had Mary quietly committed to Agnews. There Mary was comfortably settled in a group of cottages facing a broad lawn in the shadow near a tall building. Now this sudden earthquake (and Mary’s location near a tall building) gave Mom a serious concern. Agnews became the most important objective for Dad and me.

“Dad and I used the two-seated surrey instead of the buggy for this rescue mission. So armed with ample advice, and an equally ample lunch of thick bacon sandwiches and a quart of Gravenstein applesauce, we set off down Miller Avenue. In those days the avenue dead-ended at Stevens Creek Road opposite Bill Craft’s 100-acre hayfield. Bill was in his four-horse team, preparing to plow for his spring planting of grain.

“Stevens Creek road was strangely deserted that morning. People were staying at home, trying to return to normal. After all, brick chimneys were down everywhere. House furnishings were upset and people like us had lost their water supply. And the continuing aftershocks were strong reminders of what might happen again soon. We saw not one automobile, but despite the earthquake we did meet one of the Picchetti Brothers coming down from their mountain ranch in the upper Stevens Creek Canyon.

“We soon came to my one-room 26-pupil Doyle School. Naturally I was pleased to see it vacant on that Wednesday school day. Built in 1883, it had sturdily withstood the quake, and so had its boarded up tank house and Scott windmill. Whoa! It was not vacant! At least it was partly occupied. There on the high steps of the school was our school dog! He was a most friendly animal, one of strange habits. He had no owner but attended school regularly. When we stopped he ran to us shivering. He squeezed in between us. I looked at Dad. He spat his tobacco accurately over the dashboard and said nothing, clucked at the horse and we drove on. We had made our first rescue.

“Made a short detour in order to see the quake’s effect on the Winchester House. But later we would learn that one of its tallest spires crashed through Sarah Winchester’s bedroom. Rescued by servants, the terrified lady fled to her Northern Peninsula Mansion. There she had built a large barge on the bayside. She lived in it for a short time.

“All was not as serene as it looked as we finally approached O’Connor Hospital, then on Meridian Road and Race Street. It turned out that the patients were showered with plaster and the chapel had been destroyed, but no one was killed.

“We were now in what we considered to be San Jose’s city limits, population about 25,000. If we had arrived later in the day we would have seen exciting posters attached to telephone poles and buildings. We would find that an acquaintance, Frank Coykendall was self-appointed for this act. Frank was quite a prominent citizen and well known for his excitable nature. Naturally an earthquake of 8.3 intensity gave Frank ample excuse for his bold project. In extra heavy black type the poster proclaimed:




“It turned out that this was uncalled for. The Sheriff had appointed many deputies. We saw National Guardsmen patrolling the streets, later saw them pitching their tents in St. James Park. And yet in retrospect we salute Frank for adding this bit of civic melodrama and we must remember that looting was very serious in San Francisco.

“Dad accomplished his mission of ordering a new windmill. There were 18 orders ahead of his.”

Next week in Part IV, Ralph Rambo’s account continues.

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