April 23, 1906.
My Dear Brother:
Just while I have a minute, instead of eating breakfast I will try and send you a few lines to tell you we still live. Ere this I suppose you received my first letter, that was written while the fire still raged. After writing that letter we were in danger again of being burned out and the real danger did not pass until last night, when a rain came up, and we are now practically safe. As I said, the fire would stop when it consumed all, and so it did. The little district we are now in is all that remains of this city, and most of it is uninhabitable. Many houses are shaken down or are too dangerous to go into.
To begin with, I will relate some of my experiences from the quake:
At the first shock it knocked over furniture, plaster fell, and in Miss Danks' room the chandelier fell off, allowing the escape of gas. At her screams I ran in and on my way stopped to put out a fire that had started by matches that had fallen with other material and lighted. Soon as I saw the gas escaping I ran to the meter, and as luck would have it I was able to turn it off with my fingers.
The damage to the house was not apparently serious, so far as a place for habitation, and after we had righted some of the wreck and eliminated the danger of fire we joined the multitude in the streets for by this time there were thousands in the middle of the street.
As no buildings in our immediate vicinity were crushed the people seemed good-
On a bike I went down to my office and the picture of desolation increased with every block. Fires on the way had started and desolation was on the way.
The Columbian Building, on the fifth floor of which my office is located, did not have a piece of plaster on it the size of my hand. The front wall was leaning toward the street two feet and the steps in places were loose. The elevators were helpless. I waded though the plaster and debris and found my office like all the rest.
After loading up with what I considered the most valuable articles I started out. On the way down a piece of marble struck me in the back, and with my bundles and typewriter I rolled down about twenty steps, and the typewriter suffered the least of all. For a while I could not move, but the raging fire which was in the block across the street from me soon brought me to my feet.
I staggered to the rear door, which was the only one that could be opened, and stood contemplating what to do when a strong, husky lad walked by with the multitude that was filing past. I grabbed him and asked if he wanted to work. He said "Yes, " and with him we moved up a half mile and returned for another load. The fire at this time was across the [Market] street and the beautiful Emporium, Academy of Sciences and Flood Buildings were in flames. Martial law was declared and people were driven back. My Government appointment enabled me to get past with my boy and we got another load. I could not carry a thing, but he was a regular packhorse. We got this load safe, and as the fire had escaped us, and as the other buildings on the other side were gone, we took hope.
I started home and met one of my patients with an auto. With him I returned and got my diploma, some Government books and packages we could not get out on my first trip, and these we took to Miss Danks' house at 2007 Devisadero street ... I reached home at 8 p.m. and went right to bed, for I felt the fire could not reach us before morning, and besides I could no longer stand up. I slept like a good dog and the only one in the block that did sleep. I can't write more today. I have treated fully a hundred people while writing this letter and the number is increasing, as it is now raining.
Well, as I remarked, I went to bed, for I had but two hours sleep the night before the quake and I was exhausted. I slept well, awaking occasionally by the explosion of dynamite that was used in the endeavor to check the flames. In these intervals I could plainly hear the roar of the flames and that dreadful and unmistakable sound of a great conflagration, but I slumbered on until daylight, knowing that I would need all the strength I could store for the morrow. If the disaster had ceased there, there was enough work, and if it continued there would be more. It continued and seemed it would never end.
Miss Danks' house, 2007 Devisadero street, had been made a temporary emergency hospital the day before, but there was little to work with. supplies must be had, and for them I started to get authority to purchase.
I spent half a day trying to locate the Mayor's headquarters and when I found it I thought my chances to see him [Mayor Eugene Schmitz] were hopeless. Fortunately the policeman on guard was a patient of mine and when he caught sight of me behind a hundred struggling man he was keeping back he raised his finger in reply ... and shouted to me, "Come in." This was my chance. The crowd turned to see who the great personage was that could get such recognition, and as they turned to look I remembered the saying, "People stand back for a man who knows where he is going," and I started in. They parted for me as if by instinct, and of that mass who had passed three barriers already only my companion and myself were permitted to enter.
I soon learned the reason. The little room was filled with prominent men. They, too, turned to see who the new intruders were, and I remarked direct to the Mayor, who was in his shirt sleeves sweating from the violent work he had done. His headquarters had been moved three times that day. I told him what I had done and what I wanted, and he dictated to his stenographer an order, a part of which reads: "And he is invested with the same authority that I possess." I wasted no time leaving that room and getting things organized.
Now everything works like a clock and I have a staff of over fifty persons aiding in this good work. They are all good hustlers. No special credit is taken by any one. It is given to the entire force, and includes physicians, nurses, messengers, assistants, cooks, firemen, baby clothes factory with a dozen young and elderly making clothes for the youngsters who are born in the parks, squares and improvised maternity homes spread about the city, or what is left of it.
I have not had time to dwell on my misfortune, and it is just as well. For the first few days I used a bike to lean on instead of crutches, and am getting on in good shape. I have a good bed to rest in about three hours a night since the two nights' rest five days ago, and the authorities are good enough to honor any order I send out.
I have been singularly fortunate in getting two wagons in my service, donated by friends. With these we have established communications with the vegetable gardens, dairies and the adjoining county of San Mateo, where we secure what we need.
On our staff is Harry Butman, a commercial traveler, who is engaged in placing those who are lost and wandering into the dispensary. Harry is a noble worker and all traveling men can feel proud of the work he is doing.
Another is Kelley; he is chief distributor of baby clothes and is kept busy looking after the new arrivals and visiting the maternity and camps.
Both of these boys were burned out. They spent three nights in the open and are now on cots in a room with me.
All cooking is in the street. We have a stove that was resurrected, and it was a godsend The Chinaman cook is a prince and we cook for than a hundred a day on that stove. Everybody is cheerful and the health in our district is good, considering the disaster.
All "grog" is shut off without a prescription. We have some for medical uses, and Miss Danks is custodian of it. Yesterday Kelley came in wet and wanted a drink. The old lady was working near by and I wrote her this note. "Miss Danks: The bearer is suffering with wet feet and desires something to warm and dry them from within. Please give him a good potion of "grog" and oblige. Dr. C." There was a lull in the rush that had been going on all day and in a grave and dignified manner she started to get the potion. As she started she turned a look of deep sympathy upon the sufferer, which soon changed when she saw who it was, and needed coaxing to get it. Everybody laughed to see the change of expression and the pathetic look of Kelley.
We are all in good condition, considering. Last night we had another very heavy shake, and it scared many people.
The reports you read cannot give you any idea of the terrible extent of this disaster. It cannot be exaggerated, and must be seen to be appreciated. You can get more information from the papers than I can give you, as I have not been three blocks from the dispensary for three days. Tomorrow I will try and see where my safe fell and the prospects of getting it. There is but little in it but a few diamonds that were left with me for safety.
Affectionately your brother,
CHARLES V. CROSS