San Francisco, CA Earthquake, Feb 1856







Earthquake in San Francisco.

Summary of the Fortnight's News.

From the Alta Californian, Feb. 20.

A violent shock of an earthquake was felt in this city on the morning of the 15th. The people were aroused from their sleep, and hundreds rushed frantically into the streets in their night clothes. The shock lasted some twenty-five seconds, and was preceded by a rumbling sound, like distant thunder. No material damage was done to property. The fire wall fell from one brick store, the plastering was more or less cracked in a good many buildings, and, in some instances, slight fissures are created in brick walls. A great many timid people were terribly frightened for a time, but they were soon led to believe that there was no danger. It was the most severe shock of which we have any account in San Francisco.


Earthquake in San Francisco - Incidents, Accidents, &c.

From the San Francisco Herald, Feb. 20.

The severest shock of earthquake ever experienced in this vicinity since the settlement of California by Americans, occurred on Friday morning, a just 24 minutes past 5 o'clock. In this city and vicinity every building shook to its foundation, and in some quarters houses were swayed and rolled as vessels in a heavy sea. The inmates of every dwelling were awakened, and some some were even thrown from their beds, so violent was the shock. Many persons rushed into the streets, and but that the circumstance of their sudden appearance was of a character to produce sensations of terror rather than merriment, the scene would have been most ludicrous. The large hotels were depopulated instanter, and in the general rush articles of furniture were thrown down, occasioning noises which added considerably to the clatter and confusion caused by the earthquake.

In the upper stories of the large brick buildings the violent motion produced a general commtion among crockery ware. Vessels containing liquids were turned over, either by the shock or in the hurry of the inmates to escape. Every disturbance was credited to the earthquake, however, and it appeared to be an almost unanimous impression that San Francisco was about to share te fate of Jeddo. The howling of the dogs, and fearful bellowing of cattle in the suburbs, produced a fitting accompaniment to the scene. Even the pigs broke from their pens and ran away grunting with fright. The horses tied in stalls fairly shrieked with terror, and tried to break their halters. Indeed, everything animate and inanimate was more or less affected by the shock. We hear of some very remarkable incidents of birds seeking refuge from the impending danger by flight through open windows. From night-watchmen and others, whose duties kept them from sleep, we learn that there were several slight shocks previous to the heavy shock.

The last shock was preceded by a sound as of a heavy gust of wind passing through the cordage of a vessel, and the motion was accompanied by a rumbling noise like that which is produced by a heavily freighted vehicle pssing rapidly over a wooden bridge. The shock occurred at twenty-four minutes past 5 o'clock, apparently ranging from southwest to northeast, and lasted about fifteen seconds. The motion was horizontal and undulating. Some persons describe the motion as of a whirling nature, but this could not have been the case without occasioning much greater damage to the masonry of the brick and stone buildings. It is evident that the violence of the shock was differently experienced in various parts of the city. In some localities in the suburbs its degree of violence was much greater than in others. In several instances the vibrations were so great asto overturn heavy pieces of furniture. Again, the motion is compared to that produced on shipboard when the side of the vessel is struck by a heavy sea-a sudden shock without vibration. Very few persons escaped being aroused by the shock, but some there are of whom it is said that they slept on undisturbed through the whole.


Some estimate may be formed of the violence of the shock, when it is stated that a man sleeping on the third floor of the Custom-House building, was thrown from his bed to the floor. The walls of this building are composed of masonry capable of resisting a broadside from a ship-of-the-line. Notwithstanding its immense bulk and strength, the building was tossed like a feather on the wave.