Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More About the 1906 Earthquake

Hey Josh,
It's funny that you ran across that website. The centennial was during my junior year of high school and I did my final research paper for AP US on the 1906 earthquake in the South Bay. While there is tons of information about the earthquake's destruction in SF and the East Bay (where I'm from), there is very little information about earthquake and the South Bay. I had to visit Stanford and multiple libraries/museums in the area to find enough information to write a 10 page paper. In my research I discovered that Stanford tried to conceal information about the earthquake's damage in order to preserve its reputation. Supposedly they did this in the May 1906 Alumni Magazine. It would be really interesting if we could try and find it... 

Here are a few snippets from my paper (it's my junior year writing so I am a bit embarrassed...)  

Many people are unaware that the 1906 Earthquake had any impact on the South Bay, but the Santa Clara Valley was well established by 1906 and felt the effects of the earthquake just as much as San Francisco did. By 1906 the Santa Clara Valley was mainly composed of small agricultural towns inhabited by European and Asian immigrants. San Jose was the largest city in the Santa Clara Valley and California’s fifth largest, with 25,000 inhabitants. San Jose was a modern city, complete with public works buildings, schools, parks, three daily newspapers, a business center and water, gas, and electrical systems. Leland Stanford Junior University, located in Palo Alto, had a reputation as one of the finest educational centers in California. St. Agnew’s Insane Asylum, as previously mentioned, was located in the small town of St. Agnew’s Station, a part of modern day Santa Clara. (Its Our Fault Too. Branson 145)  
Palo Alto, the city adjacent to Stanford University, experienced some of the worst structural damage in the entire South Bay. Every single business building in the city experienced at least some damage; the new $30,000 Thiels Building and Fuller’s Building fell to the ground. Almost every chimney in the city fell and St. Patrick’s Seminary was badly damaged. The damage at Stanford University was much worse. At the time of the earthquake Stanford was a young school, of less than twenty years, and many of its buildings were seriously damaged. The structural damage amounted to over $2 million dollars as the new, unfinished neoclassical gym and library collapsed, far beyond repair. The 10-story memorial arch lost a corner, the Quadrangle’s front entrance was destroyed, and the sandstone gates at the entrance of the school completely collapsed. The sight of the destroyed Memorial Church devastated many students, and the damage was so severe that it took seven years to repair. (Curran 6. How Stanford Fell in Heaps. Its Our Fault Too)

Only two lives, a student’s, Junius R. Hanna, and a workman’s, Ottto Gerdes, were lost. If the earthquake had occurred during the day as students were out and about on campus the loss of life would have been much more significant. Initially following the earthquake, President Jordan announced that school would restart the week after the earthquake, but after the damage was ascertained, school was postponed until the following fall semester. (Bartholomew 59)  

Stanford students’ responses were mixed but many experienced fear and had a desire to help. Georgina Lyman, a junior English major at the time, wrote a letter to her family in Arkansas describing the initial damage.  

At first the destruction didn’t impress me for I was so thankful there had been no great loss of life. But after we had walked around the buildings and fully saw the church. It is too dreadful to describe. I can’t dwell on it. I could not stand it longer when I turned from the Memorial church and looked out through the memorial court… Everything is twisted and wrecked. The top grill from the arch—all, all is destruction. Even if I had the power of the greatest writer on earth, I could not describe it. (Bartholomew 58)  

This letter expresses the initial response of a student and demonstrates how severe the damage from the earthquake was, even though there was no fire. Students were housed in tents for weeks and many students received passes from President Jordan and ventured to San Francisco to help with the relief effort. (Bartholomew 61)...  

Many people do not know of the earthquake damage at Stanford University because the University itself tried to conceal the damage. The damage to Stanford University was extreme, and the University dedicated their May 1906 Alumnus magazine to try and suppress the rumors of damage to maintain its reputation. The University asked its alumni throughout the country to spread the word that Stanford was not devastated and to try to rebuild its reputation. This May Alumnus edition may be one of the reasons why the damage to Stanford University seems hidden in media coverage of the 1906 earthquake, but the destruction of the earthquake was very severe and exemplifies how serious an earthquake, without a fire, can be. (Bartholomew 59)  


PS- If you are interested in the earthquake look into the stories about St. Agnews Insane Asylum.

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