The desolate waste straight through the heart of the city remained a mute witness to the most heroic and effective work of the whole calamity. Three men did this, and when their work was over and what stood of the city rested quietly for the first time, they departed as modestly as they had come. They were ordered to save San Francisco, and they obeyed orders, and Captain MacBride and his two gunners made history on that dreadful night.
They stayed the march of the conflagration at that critical point, leaving it no channel to spread except along the wharf region, in which its final force was spent. One side of Van Ness Avenue was gone; the other remained, the fire leaping the broad open space only feebly in a few places, where it was easily extinguished.
In this connection it is well to put on record an interesting circumstance. This is that there is one place within pistol shot of San Francisco that the earthquake did not touch, that did not lose a chimney or feel a tremor. That spot is Alcatraz Island. Despite the fact that the island is covered with brick buildings, brick forts and brick chimneys, not a brick was loosened nor a crack made nor a quiver felt. When the scientist comes to write he will have his hands full explaining why Alcatraz did not have any physical knowledge of the event. It was as if New York were to be shaken to its foundation, and Governor’s Island, quietly pursuing its military routine, should escape without a qualm.
The Reign of Destruction and Devastation
Rarely, in the whole history of mankind, has a great city been overwhelmed by destruction so suddenly and awfully as was San Francisco. One minute its inhabitants slept in seeming safety and security. Another minute passed and the whole great city seemed tumbling around them, while sights of terror met the eyes of the awakened multitude and sounds of horror came to their ears. The roar of destruction filled the air as the solid crust of the earth lifted and fell and the rocks rose and sank in billowing waves like those of the open sea.
Not all, it is true, were asleep. There was the corps of night workers, whose duties keep them abroad till day dawns. There were those whose work calls them from their homes in the early morn. People of this kind were in the streets and saw the advent of the reign of devastation in its full extent. From the story of one of these, P. Barrett, an editor on the Examiner, we select a thrilling account of his experience on that morning of awe.