Rising from the Ashes

As San Francisco celebrates the centennial of the 1906 earthquake, there is a general theme of rising from the ashes and starting over. California has always been a magnet for pioneers looking for new beginnings. And because it sits on the edge of the continent with shifting tectonic plates and gold buried deep in the hills, it’s had a remarkably cataclysmic history.

Before 1849, San Francisco was a sleepy little town of 400 people—more than half of whom were Mormons looking for new land to settle. Then, in one tumultuous year, 40,000 gold prospectors arrived from the east coast, South America, Europe and China. Suddenly, it was an instant city built on a single goal—gold.

Chaos reigned, but not much law and order. In 1850, 1851 and 1852, devastating plagues killed as many as 150 people a week. From 1849 to 1851, six major fires flattened the town. And each time it rose from the ashes.

By 1906, local city government was decidedly corrupt, but San Francisco’s fire companies were considered excellent. Yet on April 18 the earthquake struck which is now estimated to be at least 7.9 by modern Richter Scale standards. The town was in ruins. Water hydrants cracked. Three days of fire devastated the city. San Francisco was doomed, people said. But, once again, there was an unquenchable sense of optimism. Once again, the City was down but not out.

The Salvation Army will participate in the 100th Annual Commemoration of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire—April 18 at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street, at 5:13 a.m.

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