Grab Bag #015

Earthquake, fires, and true love found... all in one Woody LaBounty Grab Bag.

Grab Bag #015
Earthquake, fires, and true love found... all in one Woody Grab Bag.

An Earthquake Love Story

Milton and Ethel Slinkey, my great-grandparents

My great-grandparents were probably sleeping. Or perhaps they had just gotten up, Milton Slinkey in a flat at 866 Ellis Street just off Van Ness Avenue, and Ethel Neate, crowded with her sister, brothers, parents, and a couple of boarders a dozen blocks south at 1755 Howard Street on the edge of the Mission District. It was 5:12 in the morning when the world began to shake.

damaged houses
Damage on South Van Ness Avenue (then Howard Street) between 17th and 18th Streets after the April 18, 1906 earthquake. (OpenSFHistory/wnp37.02121)

Tuesday, April 18th, will mark the 117th anniversary of the biggest thing ever to happen to San Francisco. On that morning in 1906, a massive earthquake hit the Bay Area. Stone buildings shed their skins. Chimneys and brick walls collapsed on streets and into adjoining buildings. Roadways split and sunk. People were injured or killed by crumbling rooming houses, apartments, and warehouses.

Both Milton and Ethel’s buildings remained upright when the shaking finally stopped, but Ethel’s just barely. Anything and everything probably lay around the floors and plaster dust hung in the air. Neighbors on the other side of Erie Street had to escape their slumped home by ladder. Adolph Schwinn’s grocery three houses down from the Neates’ had cracked in the middle.

Damaged houses
1700 block of Howard Street (now South Van Ness) on April 18, 1906. People pulling belongings from second floor window and packing wagons. My great-grandmother's home was just off the right edge of this photograph. Everything in this scene was destroyed by fire the next day. (OpenSFHistory/wnp27.0135)

Milton was in in his early 20s and likely went out right away to tour the local damage or help neighbors. Houses had collapsed nearby on Golden Gate Avenue. He may have checked on his father, Colonel J. E. Slinkey, who with his new wife Hattie, lived just four blocks away at 593 O’Farrell Street on the corner of Leavenworth Street. Like many people who thought the show was essentially over, he may have even tried going to work.

Collapsed buildings
Collapsed buildings on south side of Golden Gate Avenue near Hyde Street, April 18, 1906. Everything in this scene would burn to the ground by the end of the next day. (OpenSFHistory/wnp27.1176)

Act II of the disaster then commenced. Fires broke out from busted gas mains and upset boilers in the industrial zone south of Market Street and began moving west.