From Stricken San Francisco (the big shake of '06)

American Chess Bulletin vol. 3 No. 5, May 1906,
published by Hartwig Cassel and Hermann Helms

Inquiries instituted by the Bulletin among chess players of the Western metropolis, which, on April 18, experienced the dreadful visitation that drew forth universal sympathy and kindled anew the sense of human brotherhood in every breast capable of feeling, has resulted in a number of responses which must of necessity furnish intensely interesting reading to our patrons. Quartermaster Sergeant Charles G. Colesworthy, stationed at Fort Miley, and known to many as a diligent exponent of correspondence chess, writes stirringly and in quite a cheerful vein of his own experiences on the eventful morning in question:


The American Chess Bulletin, P.O.Box 1207, New York City:

Dear Sirs--Yours of the 23rd inst. to hand. While I formerly had the opinion the nothing could possibly happen that would drive away thoughts of chess from my mind, my ideas have decidedly changed. I do not think I remembered I ever played chess during the period from the morning of the 18th to the 25th; on the latter date I received a postal with moves in a correspondence game, and, truthfully, the notations seemed Greek to me for a moment.

My experiences during the shock were lively enough for me. My first impression was that an explosion had occurred, as it commenced without any preliminary tremors; the next was to extinguish a lamp standing on a hall table. First the bed jambed me up against the wall, and when I got loose the shaking was such that I fell in every direction but towards the door; finally, the bed reared up and, luckily (funny sort of luck when one thinks of it), knocked me through the door into the hall, just as the lamp was falling and I fell on top of it. The shocks quieting down, my wife managed to reach the stairs with the baby, while I grabbed my daughter, mattress and all, and we staggered downstairs. By the time we had opened the front door, the shocks were over. Again we were in luck, for the chimney had fallen on the front steps, and I hate to think of what would have happened to us had we reached the door a moment quicker. So much for myself, which is nothing.

The suffering of thousands of homeless from the fire can never be told. Women and children in their night gowns, pursued by the fire from place to place, reached here after wandering two days and a night without food or shelter, yet I never heard a murmur. Even while the fire was burning, we received relief supplies from Oakland, the people of that city fairly going hungry to supply us. It may be of interest to you to learn that there have been over fifty shocks since the first, though minor ones, but it developed us all into a colony of sprinters and I am now able to reach the front door in two jumps.

Yours very truly,

Another resident of the unfortunate city and an enthusiastic correspondence player is John D. McKee, cashier of the Mercantile Trust Company of San Francisco, who sends the following encouraging report:

SAN FRANCISCO, Cal., April 30, 1906
The American Chess Bulletin, P.O.Box 1207, New York:
Dear Sirs--Many thanks for your kind inquiry of the 23rd inst. The Mercantile Trust Company of San Francisco's Building is of the best construction and was not damaged at all by the earthquake. The fire raged all around us, but our damage was not serious. Our safe deposit department in the basement was not even smoke begrimed. We are fitting up a temporary office in our building and will be able to resume business in a few days.Myself and family are well and comfortable.

With kind regards to all inquiring friends,
Yours very truly,
John D. McKee.

A week's engagement booked by the Bulletin for Geza Maroczy at the Mechanics Institute chess rooms in San Francisco, for the week of April 30 to May 5, had, as a matter of course, to be canceled, and the Hungarian champion found time instead to go to New Orleans.

Another subscriber, who desires that his name be withheld, describes his experience in the following graphic manner:

Land's End, Oakland, Calif., May 2, k1906.

Dear Sirs--Your kind letter at hand. Many thanks for good wishes and tender of assistance. Am doing very well. Lost everything by quake and fire, except my native California nerve, and position with the Western Union Telegraph Company. So you see I'm all right. At 5:14:18 a.m., of April 18, I was awakened by the house creaking and shaking and pitching so rapidly that I fell out of bed in trying to arise. I jumped up, grabbed an overcoat and ran through the hall, being thrown against the walls a couple of times before I reached the street. My wife, with a blanket thrown around her, had got there ahead of me. The earth seemed to be in a great convulsion and the street was full of small fissures, luckily none of them very large. Chimneys and brick walls were falling everywhere, killing many people. A man was killed in the same house I occupied by a brick chimney falling from across the way right through his bedroom window, before he could arise. It is my opinion, judging from personal observation, that over five hundred people were killed outright. Of course, the papers minimize that feature of the catastrophe. The earth soon stopped quaking; then the cry of "fire" arose, and flames shot up from about thirty different places south of Market street. The water mains had been broken like pipe stems and he cement flooring of the reservoirs had cracked into a thousand pieces. Dynamite was hurriedly procured from the forts and from the powder works across the bay, and the losing game began. Soon the roar of dynamite could be heard for miles, but, of course, when it would shatter the buildings there was no water to throw a stream over the embers and the dynamite would only lower the flame. The extreme western part of the city was saved by Van Ness Avenue being a broad steet. The papers have informed you as to the loss, etc. No question but that it was the greatest fire in history. In regard to chess matters, I will state that the fine Mechanics Institute Library (with which the Mercantile Library had been consolidated a short time ago), containing over two hundred and fifty thousand books, is a remembrance. The Mechanics Institute Chess Club, an adjunct of the library, is no more. It was the headquarters of all chess players here; in fact the only club in the city. No doubt there will be another fine library erected on the site by the Association after a while, but for the present chess clubs are "non est."

Still another San Francisco friend sends a brief, laconic message:

"Please change my address, 979 Market street (which is no more), to------and oblige."

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