Thursday, July 30, 2009

18 April 1906 - San Francisco - They Were There!

We all know what happened in the early morning on 18 April 1906 in San Francisco - and what happened afterwards. Much of the city of San Francisco was destroyed by earthquake and fire.

The Elijah McKnew family resided at 4135 19th Street in San Francisco during this time. They are enumerated at this address in the 1900 census. I posted this picture taken of the family in the days after the earthquake in my post Scanfest Today dated 7 September 2007.

In the picture, Elijah and Jane McKnew are surrounded by four of their children on the sidewalk in front of their home. Loose bricks can be seen on the curb and in the street. There appears to be a small stove with a teakettle on the right in front of May McKnew. It looks like Jane McKnew has a skillet in her left hand and a pancake spatula in her right hand. Is that a trash can or ash can in front of Edna McKnew on the left? What is Leland McKnew standing in? Another can of some sort?

Were they cooking out on the street? It sure looks like it, doesn't it? Why would they be doing this? Were they staying out of their house because of broken water or gas pipes, or because of structural damage inside the house? Perhaps.

Look at their faces. I see a "we are going to make it, and have a good time making the best of it, even if we have to sleep in the yard" type of attitude on each of their faces. It's like they can't quite believe what happened to them, but they are going to survive.

And they did survive. Edna McKnew is my wife's maternal grandmother - she was age 22 when the earthquake hit. She married Paul Schaffner on 24 June 1906 in San Francisco and they had two daughters - and Edna Schaffner was Linda's mother. Linda was always very close to her grandmother, who lived to be 90 years old and see her first great-grandchild (our daughter) before she died in 1974.

In this case, this family survived a disaster, mainly because they lived in a place that did not shake down during the earthquake or burn down after the earthquake. I regret not having taken the time to talk to Linda's grandmother about her memories of the earthquake. It must have been one of the strongest memories of her life experiences. I wonder if my brother-in-law interviewed her before she died? I'll have to ask.

I wonder who took this picture? Somebody in the family? A local photographer passing by, or one who was making a living selling family photographs in the wake of the event? We may never know.

There are many articles and photographs of the effects of the 1906 earthquake at the Virtual Museum of San Francisco, and many other websites too.


Johniel said...

That is a very cool picture connecting your wife's family with a major event!

It looks like Leland McKnew is standing behind a large cooking pot propped up on some bricks to allow a fire to be built beneath it. You can see the handles on the upper left and right of the pot. Maybe the canister on the left is holding coal for the fires?

Eileen said...

I agree. It looks like a big soup pot on a makeshift fireplace of bricks. I think the container in front of Edna is filled with coal for the stove and grill.

Brett Payne said...

Thanks very much Randy for a great picture which is very definitely "of the moment." I bet not before or since that time would a photographer have caught them cooking on the pavement (or sidewalk, as you would call it). I particularly like they all have their hands on each others shoulders or around their necks. It displays the kind of togetherness that a tight-knit family group would naturally feel in such a circumstance ... "Together we can manage through this." Actually the expressions on the faces of the older generation are rather stoic, while the sons and daughters seem to be having a great lark! Again many thanks for the opportunity to share this image.

Regards, Brett