The spirit of ’49 was vital in many of the refugees. One man wanted to know whether the fire had reached his home. He was informed that there was not a house standing in that section of the city. He shrugged his shoulders and whistled.
“There’s lots of others in the same boat,” as he turned away.
“Going to build?” repeated one man, who had lost family and home inside of two hours. “Of course, I am. They tell me that the money in the banks is still all right, and I have some insurance. Fifteen years ago I began with these,” showing his hands, “and I guess I’m game to do it over again. Build again, well I wonder.”
Among the many pathetic incidents of the disaster was that of a woman who sat at the foot of Van Ness Avenue on the hot sands on the hillside overlooking the bay east of Fort Mason, with four little children, the youngest a girl of three, the eldest a boy of ten years. They were destitute of water, food and money.
The woman had fled, with her children, from a home in flames in the Mission Street district, and tramped to the bay in the hope of sighting the ship which she said was about due, of which her husband was the captain.
“He would know me anywhere,” she said. And she would not move, although a young fellow gallantly offered his tent, back on a vacant lot, in which to shelter her children.
In the Golden Gate Park there was the most woefully grotesque camp of sufferers imaginable. There was no caste, no distinction of rich and poor, social lines had been obliterated by the common misfortune, and the late owners of property and wealth were glad to camp by the side of the day laborer. As for shelter, there were a few army tents and some others which afforded a fair degree of comfort, but nine out of ten are the poorest suggestions of tents made out of bedclothes, rugs, raincoats and in some cases of lace curtains. None of the tents or huts has a floor, and it is impossible to see how a large number of women and children can escape the most disastrous physical effects.
The unspeakable chaos that prevailed was apparent in no way more than in the system, or lack of system, of registration and location. At the entrance to Golden Gate Park stands a billboard, twenty feet high and a hundred feet long. Originally it bore the praises of somebody’s beer. Covering this billboard, to a height of ten or twelve feet, were slips of paper, business cards, letter heads and other notices, addressed to “Those interested,” “Friends and relatives,” or to some individual, telling of the whereabouts of refugees.
One notice read: “Mrs. Rogers will find her husband in Isidora Park, Oakland. W. H. Rogers.” Another style was this: “Sue, Harry and Will Sollenberger all safe. Call at No. 250 Twenty-seventh Avenue.”
There were thousands of these dramatic notices on this billboard, and one larger than the others read: “Death notices can be left here; get as many as possible.”