I’ve been sorting through old letters that my Grandma Shellabarger wrote me. Many are not noteworthy. Hello, how are you? and nothing more. Others contain tidbits of her life. In one particular letter, she shared with me her mother’s recollection of the moment the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck. It was one moment that change their lives forever. I’m glad the memory was handed down to me.. My great grandmother’s story would not be complete without it.
Marguerite (Jones) Jackson, her husband, Harry, their 3 week old baby, John, and Marguerite’s father, Thomas Augustine Jones lived at 449 Natoma on 18 April 1906. This is what she told her daughter, Anna, about the moment the earthquake struck.
“My mother was up at 5 am in the morning to get the two men off to work. Grandpa was a blacksmith and my dad worked on the ferry boats which plied between San Francisco and Oakland.
My mother told us the sky was pitch black. She got very frightened. As she looked out the door, fire in the streets erupted. Then, all Hell broke loose. The earth began to shake and roll, and people came to their doors and began to scream as their houses began to fall apart.
I forgot to tell you that my brother, John, (who would be your great grand uncle) was only 3 weeks old. In a short time, which to my mother seemed like an eternity, they were going down the street.The street was bursting open and flames were gushing out and as they were going along they came upon this woman who was sitting on the steps of a house. My Dad and Granddad told her to hurry and get away before the house burned. As she didn’t move, the two men went up to her, and each of the men took her arms. At first she started to go along with them.They had not gone far when she broke away from them and ran back to the steps to set down again. My Dad hurried along to get her and he hollered “Hurry up or you will get hurt”. She hollered back “I’ll be damned if I move. I paid my rent this morning and by God, I won’t move!” As my Dad started up the front sidewalk of the home, he saw the roof was collapsing. He hurried back to get back out of the way, when the house collapsed. (The woman was killed instantly).”
This was only the beginning of their nightmare. They lost everything that day. Their home, their belongings, their sense of security. My great grandmother managed to save herself and her baby though only 3 weeks out from giving birth.
They ended up at the Bernal Heights Camp according to my mom’s cousin. From there, they stay with one of Marguerite’s sisters who had a place to live. Then, they found a place at 22 Aztec in 1907. By 1911, they’d left the city and bought a house in Oakland. Perhaps the memories were just too much for them.
There are no early photos of my great grandmother, Marguerite (Jones) Jackson. This photo is the earliest one to survive, some 24 years after surviving the earthquake.
My mom said her grandmother never quite got over the earthquake and was jittery the house shook. I don’t blame her after what she experienced. I can’t imagine all the things they couldn’t unsee afterward.
Did your ancestors live through the 1906 earthquake and fire? Tell us about it in the comments.