The tower bell of Old St. Mary's on California Street rang out five times on the still, cool air. It promised to be another beautiful day for San Francisco; there was no fog that morning and the streets were quiet.
The dance halls at the Barbary Coast and the houses of ill fame on Pacific Street had closed shop for the night, as a few drunken stragglers made their way home. A city, forgetting its sins, was beginning to arise.
It was Wednesday, April 18, 1906; at 5:08 the streetlights dimmed and went out. A few cable cars and overhead trolleys had already left the streetcar barns to begin a new day.
At 5:12, Police Sergeant Jesse Cook stopped at the corner of Washington and Davis to chat with Al Levy, a young worker in the fresh produce district that stood two blocks back of the waterfront.
The clocks on the tower of the Ferry Building said that it was 5:15--they were running a little fast that morning. But it would be months before they would run again.
For at that instant the earthquake struck.
Leaping out of the sea at seven thousand miles an hour, like some gigantic animal, it first tore out the Point Arena Lighthouse, ninety miles north of San Francisco. And then it sprang southward.
Moving rapidly, it unsheathed its bolts of earthen lightning—and sent them into the City by the Bay.
The animals sensed it first, as the horses shifted and whinnied. Jesse Cook, later to become police commissioner, heard behind him a deep rumbling. It was strangely distant. "Deep and terrible," he later called it. Turning, he looked up the hill of Washington Street—and saw it coming toward him.
"The whole street was undulating. It was as if the waves of the ocean were coming toward me, and billowing as they came." Packing more power than all the explosives of World War II, the quake hit the city in full force. Compression waves flowed beneath streets, buildings, and people. Earthwaves, two and three feet high, rolled in on the city.
In the next moment, Cook saw both men and animals crushed beneath falling brick walls.
Over on Market street, the business hub of the city, a man ran into the middle of the street: " 'Keep to the middle of the street, Mac!' I shouted to one of my friends. . I was thrown prone on my back and the pavement pulsated like a living thing. Around me the huge buildings, looming up more terrible because of the queer dance they were performing, wobbled and veered. Crash followed crash and resounded on all sides. Screeches rent the air as terrified humanity streamed out into the open in an agony of despair."
The shock only lasted 65 to 75 seconds—but it seemed an eternity. The dance of death toppled towers and chimneys, crumpled rows of wood frame houses, threw cornices and walls into the streets, sunk buildings into the ground, twisted steel rails, bridges and pipelines.
The deafening roar produced by the quake was intense. John B. Farish, a mining engineer in town on business, awoke in the St. Francis Hotel. "I was awakened by a loud rumbling noise. . [and] a concussion, similar to that caused by the nearby explosion of a huge blast, shook the building to its foundations. .And then began a series of the liveliest motions imaginable, . . followed by tremendous crashes as the cornices of adjoining buildings and chimneys tottered to the ground.' "
Within seventeen minutes, nearly fifty fires were reported in the downtown area. Fire engines rushed to answer the calls but found that the water mains were broken. They stared at their hoses. The resulting conflagration burned down much of the city.
Like Port Royal in Jamaica, that wicked haunt of pirates and slave-dealers, which was hit by a powerful earthquake in 1692, San Francisco had been struck down. Port Royal slid into the sea; San Francisco burned.
Shortly thereafter, a small lady was taken by carriage through the city whose destruction she had agonized over. For she had predicted it. With tear-dimmed eyes she viewed firsthand the results of warnings given earlier.
"Not long hence these cities will suffer under the judgments of God. San Francisco and Oakland are becoming as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Lord will visit them in wrath." —Manuscript 114, 1902.
Again she had warned:
"I am bidden to declare the message that cities full of transgression, and sinful in the extreme, will be destroyed by earthquakes, by fire, by flood. All the world will be warned that there is a God who will display His authority."—Manuscript 35, 1906.
Driving amid the stifling stench of the destruction, she gazed in shock at the terrible judgment. It was but two days before this devastating disaster that, she saw in a night vision the quake and the carnage that now lay spread out before her.
"There passed before me a most wonderful [awesome] representation. During the vision of the night, I stood on an eminence from which I could see houses shaken like a reed in the wind. Buildings; great and small, were falling to the ground. Pleasure resorts, theaters, hotels, and the homes of the wealthy were shaken and shattered. Many lives were blotted out of existence, and the air was filled with the shrieks of the injured and the terrified.
"The destroying angels of God were at work. One touch, and buildings so thoroughly constructed that men regarded them as secure against every danger quickly became heaps of rubbish. There was no assurance of safety in anyplace. I did not feel in any special peril but the awfulness of the scenes that passed before me I cannot find words to describe. It seemed the forbearance of God was exhausted, and the judgment day had come.
"Terrible as was the presentation that passed before me; that which impressed itself most vividly upon my mind was the instruction given in connection with it.
"The angel that stood by my side declared that God's supreme rulership, and the sacredness of His law must be revealed to those who persistently refused to render obedience to the King of kings. Those who choose to remain disloyal, must be visited in mercy with judgments, in order, that, if possible, they may be aroused to a realization of the sinfulness of their course."—Manuscript dated April 16, 1906 (Letter 137, 1906, in Testimonies, Volume 9, page 92).
Awakening from the above vision, she turned on the light. It was 1:00 a.m., Monday, April 16. Four years earlier, in 1902, she had first predicted the devastation of San Francisco. Within 53 hours it was to take place."490 city blocks were destroyed; 256,000 were left homeless. Mercifully, only 498 died. Property was destroyed at the rate of one million dollars every ten minutes by the earthquake and fire following it, Which burned at times with blast furnace heat, ranging up to 20000 F. Yet she later warned of sill more destruction in the future upon these and other wicked cities.
"The light given me is that the wickedness in the cities of San Francisco and Oakland is beyond all imagination. God's wrath is upon many of the inhabitants of these cities." Manuscript 25,1908.
"'These things make me feel very solemn, because I know that the judgment day is right upon us. The judgments that have already come are a warning, but not the finishing, of the punishment that will come on wicked cities." –Letter 154, 1906."I feel sure that San Francisco and Oakland will again be visited with the judgments of God."—Letter 2, 1909.
Seismology—the study of earthquakes —was yet in its infancy. But warnings given then, are recognized today by leading scientists as facts to be fulfilled again along the San Andreas Fault.
When a prophet speaks, it comes to pass.