“We’re on the job, and are going to try and stick,” was the way the first message came from him.
This was what came over the wire a little later:
“Terrific earthquake occurred here at 5.13 this morning. A number of people were killed in the city. None of the Postal people were killed. They are now carting the dead from the fallen buildings. There are many fires, with no one to fight them. Postal building roof wrecked, but not entire building.”
The fire got nearer and nearer to the Postal building. All of the water mains had been destroyed around the building, the operators said, and there was no hope if the fire came on. They also said that they could hear the sound of dynamite blowing up buildings. All this time the operators were sticking to their posts and sending and receiving all the business the wires could stand. At 12.45 the wire began to click again with a message for the little group of waiting officials.
This message came in jerks: “Fire still coming up Market Street. It’s one block from the Post Office now; back of the Palace Hotel is a furnace. I am afraid that the Grand Hotel and the Palace Hotel will get it soon. The Southern Pacific offices on California Street are safe, so far, but can’t tell what will happen. California Street is on fire. Almost everything east of Montgomery Street and north of Market Street is on fire now.”
There was a pause, then: “We are beginning to pack up our instruments.”
“Instruments are all packed up, and we are ready to run,” was another message. It was evident that just one instrument had been left connected with the world outside. In about ten minutes it began to click. Those who knew the telegraphers’ language caught the word “Good-bye,” and then the ticks stopped.
At the end of an hour the instrument in the office began to click again. It was from an electrician by the name of Swain.
“I’m back in the building, but they are dynamiting the building next door, and I’ve got to get out,” was the way his message was translated. Dynamite ended the story, and the Postal’s domicile in San Francisco ceased to exist.
Facing Famine and Praying for Relief.
Frightful was the emergency of the vast host of fugitives who fled in terror from the blazing city of San Francisco to the open gates of Golden Gate Park and the military reservation of the Presidio. Food was wanting, scarcely any water was to be had, death by hunger and thirst threatened more than a quarter million of souls thus driven without warning from their comfortable and happy homes and left without food or shelter. Provisions, shelter tents, means of relief of various kinds were being hurried forward in all haste, but for several days the host of fugitives had no beds but the bare ground, no shelter but the open heavens, scarcely a crumb of bread to eat, scarcely a gill of water to drink. Those first days that followed the disaster were days of horror and dread. Rich and poor were mingled together, the delicately reared with the rough sons of toil to whom privation was no new experience.