Where were you when the Loma Prieta Quake Struck?

Damage in the Marina District, San Francisco

Damage in the Marina District, San Francisco

Today marks the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. 17 October 1989 started out as a day of hope and excitement. People were excited about the Bay Bridge Series between the A’s and the Giants. They got in their cards, sat down in a seat on a BART train, or waited for the bus to come.

The quake struck at 5:04 pm at the height of rush hour traffic. It measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale. It’s epicenter in the Santa Cruz mountains. The tremors were felt throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Damage could be found all over the region from Santa Cruz to Sacramento. The worst of it was when the Cypress Freeway Structure and a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. In all 69 people died and 3,757 were injured. If it weren’t for folks leaving work early to watch the World Series, things might have been alot worse.

Do you remember where you were when the earthquake struck? I sure do. I remember being in a great mood as I left work. I couldn’t wait to get home as my niece, who was 2 years old, had spent the day with my Mom and she’d still be at the house when I got home. I also was thrilled that the A’s were playing the Giants and might have a chance to beat them.

I left the Fremont Library and walked towards the BART station. The sky seemed so still and it was a beautiful day. I was half way to the station when the earthquake hit. I remember watching the building ahead of me wavering against the sky. The ground rumbled and bounced and then it was over.

To be honest, it didn’t think it was all that big of a deal. Once it was over, I continued on my merry way. When I got to the BART nothing seemed out of the ordinary. They announced that there would be a delay as they checked the system. So me and half the Bay Area (or so it seems) sat in our seats on the trains and waited…and waited…and waited.

About a half hour later it became clear that those trains weren’t going anywhere. They finally announced that we should get off the trains. I still hadn’t realized the magnitude of the disaster. I was more irritated by the fact that I was stranded in Fremont and might not get home in time to see my niece–after all, she was my only niece at the time!

I went down to the lower deck of the station and tried to call home, but all the lines were jammed. So, without anything better to do, I walked back to work. It wasn’t until I got back to my section where everyone was watching TV, that I realized something big had happened. I saw images of the Cypress Structure and the Bay Bridge. I saw houses in San Francisco with garages underneath buckled. I heard that people were trapped in rubbled in Santa Cruz. I watched all this and I could not assimilate that the minor earthquake I had felt caused all this damage.

I eventually was able to get through on the phone and arranged for my brother to come get me. He had been driving home and never even felt the earthquake!

Back home, the electricity was out and we were informed not to use the gas until it was determined it was safe. So, we did our best rendition of a camp out and lit up the BBQ. I was bummed out that my niece was picked up right after the quake as her parents wanted her nearby.

I think it took me a couple hours in the darkness to start to process what had happened. It wasn’t until we got our power back later that night and we had the TV on that I realized we had just been through a major disaster.

The whole experience was surreal. I remember the next day feeling so weird. The authorities asked people to stay home and we did. It seemed that we did nothing for days but watch images on TV, hoping and praying for survivors. We waited to see if the much anticipated Bay Bridge Series would continue, and we couldn’t really careless if it did, but we knew that we must move forward.  At work, we added a donation can to our Halloween celebrations and sent the money to one of the small cities that experienced alot of damage.

I can still remember watching on TV as they pulled people out of the Cypress Structure, and prayed along as a group of friends in Santa Cruz called out the name of their friend who was trapped in a building and had not been found. There was the image of A’s and Giants player clinging to the fence around the stadium looking as shocked and out of place as the rest of us. There was the guy who was rescued from his car after several days of being trapped, only to die soon after.

I think the most enduring story was one of heroism in a place you wouldn’t expect to find it. The Cypress Freeway Structure boardered a bad neighborhood.  One of the houses faces the structure was a crack house. One guy heard the crash and rumble of the crumbling concrete. He was in that crack house. Without thinking, he grabbed a ladder and crawled into the collapsed structure. He then proceeded to pull people out without concern for his own safety. There is something about a disaster that brings out the best in people.

So, where were you when the earthquake struck? I know where I was and I doubt that I will ever forget the experience.

View photographs from the disaster

Data from the USGS pertaining to the Loma Prieta earthquake

Photographs of damage from the USGS

Remembering Loma Prieta (photos and stories from the Exploratorium)

(Photograph in the public domain. Courtesy of the USGS.)

Other bloggers have written about the Loma Prieta earthquake. Read their stories:
Footnote Maven: I Too Survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake

Destination: Austin Family: I Survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake

(This is a repost of my memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake)



In Remembrance of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire

Were your ancestors living in San Francisco on April 18th, 1906? My Kelly, Dolan, Jones, and Segalas relatives were there. The Mazeres and Breilh cousins were over in Oakland and Berkeley. The Cosma’s and a couple of Pacheco’s were new arrivals in Oakland.

I like to think of what that period must have been like for them. John Cosma (aka Joaquin Jacinto da Camama) worked in San Francisco. He worked for the Pacific Pipe Company.  I wonder if he thought moving from Hawaii to California was a bad mistake?

Charles Mazeres may have been thinking twice about his migration from France. A couple weeks before the earthquake he had been beaten and robbed on his way from the ferry from San Francisco. Imagine that! He is beat up, robbed, and then natural disaster strikes. He was in the laundry business. Business probably dropped off for awhile after that. Enough to make an immigrant buy a ticket back home.

Incidentally, his brother, Antoine, did just that. He was struggling in San Francisco. After the earthquake and fire, he decided that was enough for him. His family made their way back to France. He never returned, but his son did.

Mary (Kelly) Meincke’s husband died in 1900.  It appears she kept the Five Mile House, a boarding house, going for a couple of years afterward.  In 1907, she is listed under a different address.  I don’t know if she sold the boarding house before the earthquake.  I believe Mission Road was hit hard.

I wrote a post previously about the Jones woman called The Remarkable Jones Women about how they survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.  I find it incredible that with one of them pregnant and ready to deliver within a couple weeks,  two of them toting around one month old babies, and all of them keeping track of their older children as they staggered around the city looking for a safe haven that all them lived through the ordeal.  My Grandma told me only her Aunt Josephine (Jones) Pohley had a home to go to after it was all said and down.  That makes their feat of keeping everyone alive even more remarkable.

My Grandmother says her parents, Marguerite (Jones) and Harry Jackson, along with other relatives took refuge at the Bernal Heights Camp.  Her Mother spoke little of it, though noted that food was scarce and they used newspaper for toilet paper.  She also shared this funny story about her Grandfather, Thomas Augustine Jones, who was quite superstitious and almost let a broken mirror stand between him and escaping their crumbling home.

Reading the San Francisco Chronicle, I found that my Great Grandmother’s cousin, Joseph McSwegan, was a trouble maker around town.  He and his gang were looting and robbing folks.  He eventually got his comeuppance when his gang messed with a cop and one of them shot him.

As far as I know, the Jones family only lost one member that day.  I have yet to find a record of his death on the official lists or in a newspaper.  Family lore says that John J. “Jack” Burke disappeared during the earthquake.  His poor wife, Gertrude (Jones) Burke was about 7 months pregnant and had five children ranging from 1 to 7 years of age to fend for.

According to my Grandma, John’s body was found sometime later by officials.  He had been stripped of his jewelry (he wore several rings) and his money.  He was buried in a mass grave as far as my Grandmother remembered.

Those are the family stories surrounding that tragic day that I know of.  From these tidbits, I can put together an image of what that period must have been for my relatives.  This slideshow from KTVU will give you an idea of the terror, anxiety, and despair they must have lived through.


Have You Ever Wondered Who’s to Blame for Income Taxes?

Sewell Boutwell was the son of Jonathan Boutwell and Abigail Eames. He was born 5 Jul 1774 in Reading, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. Sewell married Rebecca Marshall on the 23rd of Mar 1815. Rebecca was the daughter of Jacob Marshall and Mary Richardson. Sewell and Rebecca had at least 6 children, one of them being George Sewall Boutwell, the first commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

George Sewall Boutwell was born in 1818 in Brookline, Norfolk Co., Massachusetts. It appears that he was the second George Sewall born to Sewall and Rebecca. George married Sarah Adelia Thayer on the 8th of Dec 1841 in Groton, Middlesex Co., Massachusetts. Sarah was born in Hollis, Hillsboro County, New Hampshire, on the 13th of Oct 1813. She was the daughter of Nathan Thayer and Hannah Jewett.

George and Sarah had two children: a daughter, Georgianna Adelia, born 18 Mar 1843, and a son, Francis Marion, born 26 Feb 1847. Both were born in Massachusetts. From 1850 to 1900, the family is listed in the census in Groton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. From 1860 to 1880, both children lived with George and Sarah in Groton.

In 1850, George’s occupation is listed as trader. George’s occupation is Lawyer from 1860 to 1900. However, in 1880 he is listed as both farmer and lawyer. In 1860, George’s real estate was valued at $10,000. And, in 1870, his real estate is valued at $24,000. In 1870, Francis is listed as a Merchant. And, in 1880 he is listed as a Patent Lawyer. There is a change for the family in 1880. They had one female servant living with them. In 1900, we find George, Sarah, and Georgianna living in Groton with 4 servants. Sarah was listed as having 2 children, 2 living. Georgianna was listed as single.

While we learn a great deal from Census records, there is more to George’s tale than what the census reveals. At one time, he worked as a teacher is Shirley, Massachusetts. Then, he moved to Groton, Massachusetts where he began work in the mercantile trade. In 1841, he was Postmaster of Groton. By 1842, he had begun a successful political career. He was first elected as a Massachusetts State Representative in 1842. He was also on the state’s banking commission.

In 1850, he became Governor of Massachusetts. The election was settled by the Senate as no candidate won a majority. One website reveals that although George studied law and passed the bar, he never began a law career. However, his occupation is listed as lawyer from 1860 to 1900. His congressional biography also states that he practiced law in Washington, DC.

By 1862, it was clear that President Lincoln had to come up with money to fund the army in the civil war. In 1862, Lincoln and the Congress decided to establish a Commissioner of Internal Revenue. George S. Boutwell was selected as the first Commissioner. He held the post from 1862 to 1863.

In 1869, he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by Ulysses S. Grant. He held the post until 1873. After his stint as Secretary of the Treasury, he went back to the Senate. In 1872, the income tax law was repealed. There was an attempt to revive it in 1894, but this was an unpopular move. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional and it was repealed.

Sarah (Thayer) Boutwell died in 1903. George died soon after on the 27th of Feb 1905. During his life, George S. Boutwell held many positions in public service. For two years, he helped the war effort by being the First Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

1. 1850 US Census, Middlesex County, Groton, stamped page no. 19. Entry for George S. Boutwell.
2. 1860 US Census, Middlesex County, Groton, page 117. Entry for George S. Boutwell.
3. 1870 US Census, Middlesex County, Groton, page 47. Entry for George S. Boutwell.
4. 1880 US Census, Middlesex County, Groton, ED 365, page 35. Entry for Geo. S. Boutwell.
5. 1900 US Census, Middlesex County, Groton, ED 762, sheet 11B. Entry for George S. Boutwell.
6. IGI (www.familysearch.org). Birth entry for George Sewall Boutwell. Source Call No. 0873746.
7. IGI (www.familysearch.org.) Entry for George Sewall Boutwell and Sarah Adelia Thayer. File Number 184783.
8. IGI (www.familysearch.org) Entry for Sewall Boutwell and Rebecca Marshall. File Number 456778.
9. Interactive State House Website: http://www.mass.gov/statehouse/massgovs/gboutwell.htm
10. Answers.com. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th Edition. Columbia University Press : 2003. Entry for George S. Boutwell. http://www.answers.com/topic/george-s-boutwell.
11. U.S. Treasury, Biography of Secretary, George S. Boutwell. http://www.ustreas.gov/education/history/secretaries/gsboutwell.html
12. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: Boutwell, George Sewall.
13. Tax History Project: Chase’s Recommendation for Boutwell, 3 Jul 1862 (original letter and transcription). http://www.taxhistory.org/boutwell/boutwell.htm