Through all the streets ambulances and express wagons were hurrying, carrying dead and injured to morgues and hospitals. But these refuges for the wounded or receptacles for the dead were no safer than the remainder of the city. In the morgue at the Hall of Justice fifty bodies lay, but the approach of the flames rendered it necessary to remove to Jackson Square these mutilated remnants of what had once been men. Hospitals were also abandoned at intervals, doctors and nurses being forced to remove their patients in haste from the approaching flames.
There is an open park opposite City Hall. Here the Board of Supervisors met, and, with fifty substantial citizens who joined them, formed a Committee of Safety, to take in hand the direction of affairs and to seek safe quarters for the dying and the dead. Strangely enough, Mechanics’ Pavilion, opposite City Hall, had escaped injury from the earthquake, though it was only a wooden building. It had the largest floor in San Francisco, and was pressed into service at once. The police and the troops, working in harmony together, passed the word that the dead and injured should be brought there, the hospitals and morgue having become choked, and the order was quickly obeyed, until about 400 of the hurt, many of them terribly mangled, were laid in improvised cots, attended by all the physicians and trained nurses who could be obtained.
The corpses were much fewer, the workers being too busy in fighting the fire and caring for the wounded to give time and attention as yet to the dead. But one of the first wagons to arrive brought a whole family—father, mother and three children—all dead except the baby, which had a broken arm and a terrible cut across the forehead. They had been dragged from the ruins of their house on the water front. A large consignment of bodies, mostly of workingmen, came from a small hotel on Eddy Street, through the roof of which the upper part of a tall building next door had fallen, crushing all below.
To return to the story of the conflagration, the escape of the United States Mint was one of the most remarkable incidents. Within the vaults of this fine structure was the vast sum of $300,000,000 in gold and silver coin and a value of $8,000,000 in bullion, and toward this mighty sum of wealth the flames swept on all sides, as if eager to add the reservoir of the precious metals to their spoils. The Mint building passed through the earthquake with little damage, though its big smokestacks were badly shaken. The fire seemed bent on making it its prey, every building around it being burned to the ground, and it remaining the only building for blocks that escaped destruction.