San Francisco, CA earthquake, Mar 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 souhd, 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.


There was a scene of unusual terror and excitement in Montgomery Block, the large and substantial building on Montgomery street, between Merchant and Washington streets. As soon as the first movement in the building occurred, the inmates of the various rooms were awakened and leaped to their doors in the greatest imaginable haste.

The different halls in the successive stories of the building were soon filled with the terror-stricken occupants-each running hither and thither in their sleeping habiliments towards the various stairways which lead down to the street. Some of those who occupied apartments in the fourth or highest story, rushed from their rooms regardless of their nudity, and came jumping, leaping, and tumbling down the first and second flight of stairs, clearing them in a bound or two, at the most, and with white lips and chattering teeth, held their way until they reached the ground-where they stood in amazement and doubt, until the cold air and the absence of terrestrial commotion calmed their fears and reminded them that the apartments that they had vacated were more comfortable than those into which they had so suddenly precipitated themselves. The building was certainly jostled with great violence by the quake, but it moved as though it stood upon elastic springs. Not the slightest cracking or evidence of a collapse was heard or seen in any part of it.

An amusing incident occurred whilst the commotion was at its greatest height. A gentleman who occupies a room on the third story, and is perhaps blessed with more than an ordinary share of resignation or fortitude, was aroused by the shock and was seen leisurely opening his door as the inmates were flying hither and thither and jumping down the stairways. He calmly answered what was the matter, and was answered by the flying occupants in this wise: "An earthquake! An earthquake! Run! The building is coming down! Don't you feel it?" Mr. ______, with the apparent greatest astonishment, replied, "An earthquake! Oh, d__n it, is that all, I'm going to bed again," and slamming the door violently as if indignant at the alarm of his friends, retired and was seen no more until 10 o'clock A. M.


A favorite young Irishman who attends to a suite of rooms in the building, was seen flying from his apartments in the utmost terror, and in a state of half-nudity, to the street. When he returned, about 8 o'clock A. M., to his morning duties, he was asked by a gentleman upon whom he attended whether he felt the earthquake. "Did I feel it?" said Pat ____, "Faith didn't I? And didn't I run like a hare? Be javers, and if that was a yearthquake [sic], I niver want to see the likes of it again." By the way, PAT never stopped running until he reached the plaza, where he found a multitude of strong-minded and strong-nerved men, and women and children, who has sought it as a great Palladium of safety.


The consternation among the inmates of the large hotels occasioned scenes which may be better imagined than described. The population of the Rassette House rushed, tumbled or precipitated itself down the stairways and into the street; and such an array of beauty unadorned was never before witnessed in San Francisco. This edifice, it is said, shows no marks of injury by the shock. The scene at Wilson's Exchange, St. Nicholas Hotel and International Hotel, were equally remarkable. The occupants of Wilson's Exchange took refuge in the Tehama House, which is frame, and consequently in less danger than the other. Many of the inmates of the International found their way en masse to the Plaza, where, like their companions in misery, they shared each with the other such articles of apparel as had been caught up in the hurry of flight.


Hundreds of the residents of the central portion of the city rushed to the Plaza, naturally thinking that the open space would afford them greater refuge than the roof of a toppling building. Many were almost in a state of nudity-and others whose overpowering sense of modesty suggested the propriety of a little clothing, even in this emergency, might have been seen making their hasty toilet under the shadow of the Plaza fence with as much haste as their trembling limbs would allow. The scene would have been extremely ludicrous under other circumstances. When the shock was over, the rush for pantaloons and petticoats was quite as great.


The fire wall of the north side of the brick building at the corner of Oregon and Front streets, occupied by GOODWIN & CO., fell over into the street. The wall was but eight inches in thickness, and badly put up at that.

The front wall of WILSON'S Exchange Building, on Sansome street, near the south end, is cracked from the foundation to the roof. In its present condition, the southern portion of the building is quite unsafe.

The walls of the building No. 76 Front street, occupied as a stove store by BRITTAN & CO., are cracked in a number of places. The building will probably have to be taken down.

The southern wall of the City Hall Building, on the line of stairway ascending to the upper stories, is cracked from the foundation to the roof. The wall plaster has fallen off in a number of places. A number of brick buildings in the lower portion of the city are slightly cracked, but in most instances the damages may be easily repaired.

The New York Times, New York, NY 14 Mar 1856