Looking down California Street from Stockton Street at the Merchants Exchange (with flagpole) after the 1906 earthquake. Photo: The Chronicle 1906
the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"It does not seem to have affected any one with a sense of final destruction, with any foreboding of irreparable disaster. Every one is talking of it this afternoon, and no one is in the least degree dismayed ... but there is no doubt anywhere that San Francisco can be rebuilt, larger, better, and soon."
~ H.G. Wells, writing about the reaction of New York to news of the quake soon after his arrival, 1906
Earthquakes are a fact of life for those dancing in RSCDS-SF Branch. At 5:12 AM. Pacific time, on April 18, 1906, a 7.9-magnitude temblor shook San Francisco for less than a minute, but the rumbling was felt as far north as Oregon, as far south as Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. Devastating fires soon broke out in the city and lasted for several days. San Francisco had a population of about 450,000 at the time of the quake, and 490 city blocks were leveled, with 28,188 buildings (80% of the city) destroyed. And in more recent memory, the Loma Prieta earthquake (sometimes known as the "World Series Earthquake" of 1989), was noted for the interruption to the live broadcast on national television from Candlestick Park in San Francisco, immediately before the game between the local Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. The San Andreas fault looms large in California's consciousness, so raise a quaich and toast to earthquake preparedness and the wild ride that is the San Francisco Bay Area!
Of Quaichs and Quakes
At 5:12 a.m. Pacific time, on April 18, 1906, a 7.9-magnitude temblor shook San Francisco for less than a minute, but the rumbling was felt as far north as Oregon, as far south as Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada.
There remains much uncertainty about the death toll. At least 700 are thought to have perished, with some estimates at more than 3,000. San Francisco had a population of about 450,000 at the time of the quake, and 490 city blocks were leveled, with 28,188 buildings destroyed, 80% of the city. More than 200,000 people were left homeless.
Although the impact of the earthquake on San Francisco was the most famous, the earthquake also inflicted considerable damage on several other cities. These include San Jose and Santa Rosa, the entire downtown of which was essentially destroyed.
The 1906 earthquake remains one of the most significant earthquakes in U.S. history. Scientists study the quake as an example of seismic cycles in the Bay Area in which a huge quake, of magnitude 7.0 or more, is preceded by a series of smaller earthquakes.
This remained one of the largest destructive northern California earthquakes on record until the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake, which took place during the 1989 World Series featured the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants in the first cross-town World Series since 1956. When the quake struck at approximately 17:04, sportscaster Tim McCarver was narrating taped highlights of Game 2, which had been played two days earlier across the Bay Bridge in Oakland. Television viewers saw the video signal begin to break up, heard McCarver repeat a sentence as the shaking distracted him, and heard McCarver's colleague Al Michaels exclaim, "I'll tell you what, we're having an earth—." At that moment, the signal from Candlestick Park was lost. It is speculated that the World Series game saved many lives, as Bay Area residents who would have normally been on the freeways were at home ready to watch the game when the earthquake hit.
Both earthquakes occurred on the San Andreas Fault, a continental transform fault that forms part of the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. The San Andreas Fault extends roughly 1,200 kilometers (750 mi) through California. The fault was identified in 1895 by Professor Andrew Lawson of UC Berkeley, who discovered the northern zone.
The Scottish almost-homophone for quake, "quaich" is a traditional Scottish drinking vessel, usually a shallow two-handled drinking cup or bowl.
Traditionally quaichs are made of wood, an artform known as "treen". Some early quaichs are stave-built like barrels and some have alternating light and dark staves. The staves are held together by bands of willow or silver. In the 17th century craftsmen began to make them out of silver.
The quaich was used for whisky or brandy, and in the 19th century Sir Walter Scott dispensed drams in silver quaichs. A collector, one of the quaichs he owned was the Waterloo Tree Quaich. It was made in part from wood Scott had taken from the Waterloo Elm, when he visited the battlefield shortly after the Battle of Waterloo (the elm tree had been the Duke of Wellington's command post for much of the battle).
In his collection he also owned some other quaichs made from commemorative wood: one made from Falkland Oak; one made from Queen Mary's yew; and another made from the Wallace Oak.
The one he kept for himself was particularly precious to him, because in 1745 that quaich, made of wood with seven bands, had travelled from Edinburgh to Derby with Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Some quaichs' bottoms are made of glass, allegedly so that the drinker could keep watch on his companions. A more romantic quaich had a double glass bottom in which was kept a lock of hair so that the owner could drink from his quaich to his lady love, and in 1589, King James VI of Scotland gave Anne of Denmark a quaich or "loving cup" as a wedding gift, a tradition that has continued to this day.
For a collection of vintage photographs showing the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, click the vintage quaich - a George III Silver-mounted Wooden example from Scotland, 18th century.