The 1906 Earthquake (Part 5)

Part 5: Ralph Rambo’s Account Continues

“Agnews Asylum had suffered the worst catastrophe in the Valley. Santa Clara College had nobly responded. With all the wires down, a horseman had taken word to Santa Clara and at least 100 students had run or ridden their wheels after the horseman to the great disaster. Wagons passed us transporting casualties to Santa Clara after they were pulled from the ruins.

“Agnews Asylum was 18 years old. It held 1018 patients. The main building was four stories high. There were four towers and it was two blocks long. The construction was all brick with no metal reinforcement. Its cost had been a million dollars, an enormous sum in those days.

“The quake would leave 119 dead and 400 wounded. Doctor Stocking, head of Agnews escaped but Gustavus Braden, Superintendent, and head doctor E.A. Kelley were killed in the wreckage. The first shock toppled the towers; the second tumbled the interiors into the basement. The search for bodies would continue until April 20th.

“When we arrived there was some apparent confusion, but it was well controlled by sheriff’s deputies. The bodies of the dead or wounded had been laid out on the lawns for identification or attention. We saw Santa Clara Mission priests giving aid or in some cases last rites. The violently insane had been tied to trees until they could be transferred to the Stockton Asylum. There were no recorded escapes (but in a sense there was to be one.) Some of the less violent cases wandered the grounds closely watched. Fortunately, many did not realize their predicament. A couple greeted us warmly as visitors. One man stood on a tree stump and recited verses from the Bible. He had a little audience of inmates.

“But our attention was immediately turned to finding [mother’s half-sister] Mary. It turned out that the cottages were at a sufficient distance from the main buildings to be little harmed by the quake. Of course Mary was overjoyed so see us and quickly gathered her few belongings. We saw nothing of a matron. We simply departed with our “Escapee.” To this day I cannot recall or explain how we spirited her away that day without some formal release. Anyway under the unusual circumstances we did just that! And with our canine traveler quickly joining Mary in the back seat, we took off for Santa Clara and homeward.”

Next week in Part VI, Leonard McKay concludes Ralph Rambo’s account.

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