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  • Mark Twain’s First Report of the 1865 San Francisco Earthquake:A Recovered Document
  • Gary Scharnhorst

Unlike Mark Twain’s other dispatches about the San Francisco earthquake of October 8, 1865, his initial report consisted of an objective account of events. Written the day of the trembler, as the opening sentences make clear, and published in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise a few days later, the long single paragraph was reprinted before the end of the month in the Montana Post, a weekly paper published in Virginia City, Montana, a sister city of Virginia City, Nevada. This paper has been digitized and is available at the “Chronicling America” website maintained by the Library of Congress.

Earthquake at San Francisco.1

There was a light rain last night, and about daylight this morning quite a shower. The weather in the forenoon was clear and warm, with a fresh breeze. At precisely 12:45 P.M.,2 the heaviest earthquake shock which was ever felt in San Francisco occurred. The motion was undulatory, from northeast to southwest,3 and everybody instantly rushed for the streets. Five seconds later, another and far heavier one occurred, and the uproar caused by falling walls, glass coming down in showers on the sidewalks, the frenzied stampede of thousands of people, horse running away, bells ringing, etc., was indescribable. Women fainted,4 men screamed, church congregations piled over each other in the excitement to escape, and many people jumped from second story windows, in some cases receiving severe injuries. A Chinaman in Stout’s Alley was killed. The chimney falling from the Lick House into the rear of the building, crushed the kitchen and injured three servants—none fatally. Three men were injured by falling bricks at Crowell’s warehouse. One man jumped from a window, went through the skylight into the Metropolitan Market, and was badly injured. Many similar incidents occurred. The congregation in the [End Page 268] Catholic Church on Vallejo street carried away doors entirely in reaching the street, and several women and children were injured, but none fatally. The fire-wall of the New Orleans warehouse, on Davis and California streets, six feet high and one-hundred and thirty-seven feet long, came down in a body.5 A large section of the cornice and fire-wall of the Exchange Building, opposite the Custom House, fell. A new brick building on Third and Mission streets will have to be pulled down entirely.6 The rear wall of the store No. 115 California street, next to George F. Bragg & Co., fell out. A one story brick building on the corner of Market and Pine streets was entirely destroyed. The City Hall walls were cracked throughout, and the plastering thrown down; the whole structure ought to come down for safety.7 The City Hall fire bell rang from the shock.8 Many hundreds of windows were broken into pieces smaller than a man’s hand, and three-fourths of the brick buildings on the made-ground part of the city9 are more or less damaged. Many walls were thrown out of line, so that doors can’t be opened or closed, and it will probably be many days before the full extent of damage is ascertained; as it now appears, $250,000 would not repair damages.10 The injury done through the loss of confidence in the stability of large brick and stone structures is incalculable. Everybody is congratulating his neighbors on their escape from death. In the present condition of the walls another shock of equal violence would prostrate at least one-third of the brick buildings in the city. From nearly every store in the lower part of the city people are sweeping out broken glass and fallen plastering.11 Clocks are stopped, water jars upset,12 and in some case people were thrown off their feet by the violence of the shock. There is a lively talk of the immediate repeal of the Fire Ordinance.13 The Occidental, Cosmopolitan, Russ and Lick Houses being on natural ground, suffered less than the buildings north and east of this point,14 and on the flats south of Market street. The fire-wall for...


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