Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Historic Trip Down Market Street: Before and After

1906 San Franciso -- before and after the catastrophic earthquake.

The above movie has gone viral on YouTube with over one million views. The footage is 104 years old -- the first movie to be shot using 35 mm film. On April 14, 1906, a camera was attached to the front of a cable car and captured twelve minutes of busy traffic on San Francisco's Market Street. What fascinates me most about this film, besides the incredible trip back in time, is the absolute mayhem of the traffic -- and not a single accident! Also, it is sobering to think that only four days later tragedy would strike this city and claim over 3,000 lives.

I recommend watching the high quality, restored version of this film that was recently spotlighted on 60 Minutes.

If you're fascinated by the history surrounding the film, watch Morley Safer's full report here. For many years, the film was wrongly believed to have been taken in 1905. However, historian David Kiehn pinpointed the date using theater marquees, car license plates, and weather records.

After watching the above film, view this footage of Market Street following the April 18th earthquake:

At a moment's notice, on a day like the one in the first film, an earthquake rocked the city to its core. San Francisco's devastation eerily resembles a bombed out European city during WWII. It should give us pause when we look at these two contrasting videos to consider how quickly disaster can come upon a city. In the first movie, we see ordinary people going about their daily lives. In the second, we see a nearly deserted street and abandoned, smoking buildings. A few people wander the street, their faces blank -- they know their lives will never be the same. It is saddening that the 21st century man can find such a scene all too familiar with what he experienced on 9/11. We are not immune to such unexpected tragedy.

Most inspiring, however, is the people of San Francisco's perseverance to rebuild their city after the earthquake. I am reminded of the 1936 film San Francisco, starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. It tells the story of "a beautiful singer [MacDonald] and a battling priest who try to reform a Barbary Coast saloon owner [Gable] in the days before the big earthquake." The film culminates in a 20-minute recreated sequence of the 1906 earthquake. In the aftermath, Gable searches for MacDonald in the rubble. Despairing, he promises God he will reform his life if MacDonald is alive. When he finds MacDonald in a refugee camp, Gable falls on his knees, thanking God. Word reaches the camp that the fires have been put out in the city. Gable and MacDonald join the other refugees to march back to the city, singing a hymn, with cries of "We'll build a new San Francisco!" The last scene of the movie shows the smoldering city slowly transform into the modern 1930s San Francisco.

Emma M. Burke, a survivor of the earthquake, wrote these inspiring words: "In conclusion, let me say that this stupendous disaster leads a thoughtful person to two conclusions: viz., faith in humanity; and the progress of the human race. All artificial restraints of our civilization fell away with the earthquake's shocks. Every man was his brother's keeper. Everyone spoke to everyone else with a smile. The all-prevailing cheerfulness and helpfulness were encouraging signs of our progress in practicing the golden rule, and humanity's struggle upward toward the example of our Savior."


Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 7:07 PM


Anonymous Progressing Pilgrim mused...

Excellent post. The contrast between the before and after San Francisco is shocking. Thank you for such an insightful article.

11/04/2010 11:53 PM


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