San Francisco, CA Earthquake, Feb 1856


There was a scene of unusual terror and excitement in Montgomery Block, the large and substantial building on Montgomery street, between Merchant and Washington streets. As soon as the first movement in the building occurred, the inmates of the various rooms were awakened and leaped to their doors in the greatest imaginable haste.

The different halls in the successive stories of the building were soon filled with the terror-stricken occupants-each running hither and thither in their sleeping habiliments towards the various stairways which lead down to the street. Some of those who occupied apartments in the fourth or highest story, rushed from their rooms regardless of their nudity, and came jumping, leaping, and tumbling down the first and second flight of stairs, clearing them in a bound or two, at the most, and with white lips and chattering teeth, held their way until they reached the ground-where they stood in amazement and doubt, until the cold air and the absence of terrestrial commotion calmed their fears and reminded them that the apartments that they had vacated were more comfortable than those into which they had so suddenly precipitated themselves. The building was certainly jostled with great violence by the quake, but it moved as though it stood upon elastic springs. Not the slightest cracking or evidence of a collapse was heard or seen in any part of it.

An amusing incident occurred whilst the commotion was at its greatest height. A gentleman who occupies a room on the third story, and is perhaps blessed with more than an ordinary share of resignation or fortitude, was aroused by the shock and was seen leisurely opening his door as the inmates were flying hither and thither and jumping down the stairways. He calmly answered what was the matter, and was answered by the flying occupants in this wise: "An earthquake! An earthquake! Run! The building is coming down! Don't you feel it?" Mr. ______, with the apparent greatest astonishment, replied, "An earthquake! Oh, d__n it, is that all, I'm going to bed again," and slamming the door violently as if indignant at the alarm of his friends, retired and was seen no more until 10 o'clock A. M.


A favorite young Irishman who attends to a suite of rooms in the building, was seen flying from his apartments in the utmost terror, and in a state of half-nudity, to the street. When he returned, about 8 o'clock A. M., to his morning duties, he was asked by a gentleman upon whom he attended whether he felt the earthquake. "Did I feel it?" said Pat ____, "Faith didn't I? And didn't I run like a hare? Be javers, and if that was a yearthquake [sic], I niver want to see the likes of it again." By the way, PAT never stopped running until he reached the plaza, where he found a multitude of strong-minded and strong-nerved men, and women and children, who has sought it as a great Palladium of safety.


The consternation among the inmates of the large hotels occasioned scenes which may be better imagined than described. The population of the Rassette House rushed, tumbled or precipitated itself down the stairways and into the street; and such an array of beauty unadorned was never before witnessed in San Francisco. This edifice, it is said, shows no marks of injury by the shock. The scene at Wilson's Exchange, St. Nicholas Hotel and International Hotel, were equally remarkable. The occupants of Wilson's Exchange took refuge in the Tehama House, which is frame, and consequently in less danger than the other. Many of the inmates of the International found their way en masse to the Plaza, where, like their companions in misery, they shared each with the other such articles of apparel as had been caught up in the hurry of flight.


Hundreds of the residents of the central portion of the city rushed to the Plaza, naturally thinking that the open space would afford them greater refuge than the roof of a toppling building. Many were almost in a state of nudity-and others whose overpowering sense of modesty suggested the propriety of a little clothing, even in this emergency, might have been seen making their hasty toilet under the shadow of the Plaza fence with as much haste as their trembling limbs would allow. The scene would have been extremely ludicrous under other circumstances. When the shock was over, the rush for pantaloons and petticoats was quite as great.


The fire wall of the north side of the brick building at the corner of Oregon and Front streets, occupied by GOODWIN & CO., fell over into the street. The wall was but eight inches in thickness, and badly put up at that.

The front wall of WILSON'S Exchange Building, on Sansome street, near the south end, is cracked from the foundation to the roof. In its present condition, the southern portion of the building is quite unsafe.

The walls of the building No. 76 Front street, occupied as a stove store by BRITTAN & CO., are cracked in a number of places. The building will probably have to be taken down.

The southern wall of the City Hall Building, on the line of stairway ascending to the upper stories, is cracked from the foundation to the roof. The wall plaster has fallen off in a number of places. A number of brick buildings in the lower portion of the city are slightly cracked, but in most instances the damages may be easily repaired.

The New York Times, New York, NY 14 Mar 1856