At the ferry station on Wednesday night there was much confusion. Mingled in an inextricable mass were people of every race and class on earth. A common misfortune and hunger obliterated all distinctions. Chinese, lying on pallets of rags, slept near exhausted white women with babies in their arms. Bedding, household furniture of every description, pet animals and trinkets, luggage and packages of every sort packed almost every foot of space near the ferry building. Men spread bedding on the pavement and calmly slept the sleep of exhaustion, while all around a bedlam of confusion reigned.
Many of those who sought the ferry on that fatal Wednesday met a solid wall of flames extending for squares in length and utterly impassable. In their half insane eagerness to escape some of them would have rushed into fatal danger but for the soldiers, who guarded the fire line and forced them back. Only those reached the ferry who had come in precedence of the flames, or who made a long detour to reach that avenue of flight. When the news came to the camps of refugees that it was safe to cross the burned area a procession began from the Golden Gate Park across the city and down Market Street, the thoroughfare which had long been the pride of the citizens, and a second from the Presidio, along the curving shore line of the north bay, thence southward along the water front. Throughout these routes, eight miles long, a continuous flow of humanity dragged its weary way all day and far into the night amidst hundreds of vehicles, from the clumsy garbage cart to the modern automobile. Almost every person and every vehicle carried luggage. Drivers of vehicles were disregardful of these exhausted, hungry refugees and drove straight through the crowd. So dazed and deadened to all feeling were some of them that they were bumped aside by carriage wheels or bumped out of the way by persons.
As already stated, the scene had its humorous as well as its pathetic side, and various amusing stories are told by those who were in a frame of mind to notice ludicrous incidents in the horrors of the situation. Two race track men met in the drive.
“Hello, Bill; where are you living now?” asked one.
“You see that tree over there—that big one?” said Bill. “Well, you climb that. My room is on the third branch to the left,” and they went away laughing.
Another observer tells these incidents of the flight: “I saw one big fat man calmly walking up Market Street, carrying a huge bird cage, and the cage was empty. He seemed to enjoy looking at the wrecked buildings. Another man was leading a huge Newfoundland dog and carrying a kitten in his arms. He kept talking to the kitten. On Fell Street I noticed an old woman, half dressed, pushing a sewing machine up the hill. A drawer fell out, and she stopped to gather the fallen spools. Poor little seamstress, it was now her all.”