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The If You… series.
Q & A.
What did San Francisco look like after the earthquake?
Everything was a mess! There were cracks in the streets that looked like giant zigzags. If you stood in one, it might be as high as your waist.
Telephone and electric wires had snapped and were hanging down from the poles. Cable car tracks that were in the ground were suddenly sticking up like huge, bent paper clips. And trolley car tracks lay twisted in the street.
Some trees had been pulled up by the roots. Branches were cracked and scattered around.
Chimneys had broken off rooftops throughout the city. Some chimneys had fallen inside homes; others were lying in the streets. In parts of the city, whole buildings had collapsed.
Walls of the new city hall building had fallen down. The dome was left standing on top of steel pillars. It had been the largest building in the state of California. After the earthquake, it looked like a skeleton.
The front wall of one hotel fell off completely, and the bedrooms looked like rooms in a doll’s house. Can you imagine sitting in your bed and looking outat the street – with no windows in between!
Some buildings that were three or four stories high sank almost all the way into cracks in the ground. One nine-year-old girl remembered that her father took her out of their hosue through the attic window right onto the street.
Houses moved forward, backward, or sideways. If you went to bed on April 17th on one side of the street, you might have gotten up on April 18th across the street.
After the quake, one man climbed to the top of a hill and looked down on the city. From up high, people in the streets looked as if they were “running about like… excited insects.” [pg. 7-8]
Were any babies born during the disaster?
Yes. One man wrote to his relatives outside of San Francisco. He said that more than thirty babies were born in Golden Gate Park on the very day of the earthquake. A newspaper reported that triplets were born in a tent. And every day during the week after the quake there were stories about more births.
Babies were born in the streets, in the parks, in doorways, and just about any place you can think of except hospitals. [pg. 48]
Where would you live if your house was destroyed?
In the first days after the earthquake, more than half of all the people in San Francisco had to sleep outdoors. The quake and fires had ruined their homes.
Many went to the parks around the city, spread their blankets, and slept outdoors on the ground. Some people made tents. They tied ropes between poles and hung rugs, blankets, sheets, or even tablecloths over them.
Refugees are people who leave their homes because it’s not safe to stay there any longer. They find new places to live. After the earthquake and fires, the homeless people of San Francisco were called refugees. Many stayed in camps that were set up in the parks all around the city.
At first, most of the refugees lived in homemade tents. But then President Theodore Roosevelt and the United States Army Commander in Washington, D. C., ordered Army forts all around the country to ship tents and blankets to San Francisco.
The Army also built barracks for some of the refugees. These were large wooden buildings that had a number of small apartments in them. In the fall, in became too cold and rainy to stay in tents. And there were not enough barrack apartments for everyone who had lost a home. So the city built little cottages, which were called refugee shacks. The smallest had only one room, and the biggest had three rooms. The shacks were painted green and were lined up in rows in the parks.
The city let you keep the shack if you would move it out of the camp. You had to get the shack lifted up and wheels put underneath. Then horses or mules would pull it away. By the summer of 1907, more than a year after the great earthquake, many people began to move their shacks. Everywhere you went, you saw little green houses traveling up and down the streets.
People moved their shacks to small plots of land that they bought or rented. They set the houses down and sometimes painted them, or added porches. Some people even put two shacks together to make bigger houses. A few of these old refugee shacks are standing today, and people are still living in them.
But there was housing even more unusual than tents or barracks or shacks. Cable cars!
The earthquake had broken the cable car tracks. They had to be fixed before the cars would run again. The cable car company moved its cars to an empty lot, and the refugees moved in. Your family might have set up house in an empty cable car. The platforms in front and in back of the cars were perfect as porches. [pgs. 36-39]
Could you mail a letter after the earthquake?
The post office was one of the few buildings in the center of San Francisco that was still standing after the earthquake and fire. Ten brave post office workers fought off the fires day and night, and by April 10th, they were ready to send out the mail again.
There was only one problem. Almost no one had paper or envelopes or stamps. But that didn’t stop anybody.
People wrote messages on the collars or cuffs of their shirts and blouses. They wrote on pieces of wood, scraps of newspaper, pages of books, and pieces of wrapping paper. So long as you had written down the correct address, the post office would send whatever you had written. You didn’t even need a stamp. [pg. 52]