Every April 18 since the 1906 earthquake there has been a commemoration in San Francisco celebrating the survival of this city and its people.
Since the earthquake hit at 5:12 a.m., the celebration begins at 4:30 in the morning at a historical fountain at Market and Kearny Streets.
Cast iron and 24 feet high, Lotta’s Fountain was a meeting place, on that fatal day in 1906, for survivors to leave messages for loved ones.
Named after Lotta Crabtree, a vaudeville performer who donated it in 1875, the fountain is the site of much celebration every year. (Fountain info here.)
The 1906 earthquake destroyed 80% of the city; approximately 3,000 people died. Fires were the major destruction. Over 100 years later, the earthquake remains the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California’s history. More EQ info here.
In researching my upcoming novel based in San Francisco, I visited the event in 2014.
As it goes every April, presenters dressed in period costumes made proclamations and acknowledgements, and gave an earthquake overview to the crowd of 75-100 people.
Survivors attend every year. For the 2006 centennial celebration there were 11 survivors who attended, but each year the survivors are fewer. This year, sadly, the last of the survivors passed away.
Mayor Ed Lee, the fire chief, and police chief spoke to our crowd about the importance of fire safety and awareness.
Then at 5:12 am, when the first historical tremor hit, loud sirens screamed out across the dark morning, followed by a moment of silence.
My favorite part: the sing-along, made possible by lyrics printed and distributed to event goers.
We sang “San Francisco” as sung in the 1936 film classic by Jeanette MacDonald. Everyone merrily joined in: “Open your Golden Gate, You let nobody wait outside your door….”
The Golden Hydrant attracts a few minutes of frivolity near Dolores Park. It magically pumped out water when all water was thought to be depleted, and saved a neighborhood.
Following the hydrant event is the Bloody Mary Breakfast at Lefty O’Doul’s Pub.
Watch for a scene of the 1906 commemoration in my new novel, Golden Gate Graveyard by Jet Eliot. A mystery with history, due out later this year.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted