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Jack and Chairmain London's Photos of 1906 Earthquake
January 6, 2006 11:25 AM   Subscribe

"I didn't know Jack London was such a good photographer." Jack London and his wife Charmian took photos several hours after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and he wrote an eyewitness account for Collier's (it was the most he was ever paid per word--25 cents--for his writing). [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (17 comments total)

 
The London's trip inspired a folk song. Begninning February 9, the California Historical Society will have an exhibit that includes Charmian London's diary and new prints of the photos, developed on modern equipment and superior photographic paper for the first time, one of a wide array of exhibits that will mark the upcoming April 18 centennial of the earthquake and fire.

UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library has an online exhibit that includes an interactive map with links to photos, and a 360° panorama from the roof of the Fairmont Hotel.

After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire has 75 pairs of then-and-now photos, with the 2006 photos precisely duplicating each original photo's vantage point (there's a book of 45 of the photo sets).

Other eyewitness accounts.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:26 AM on January 6, 2006


IMHO, this is a clinic on how to do a world-class FPP. Thanks, kirkaracha!
posted by spock at 11:35 AM on January 6, 2006


Thanks for a terrific post. Films of San Francisco in 1906, including at least one from before the earthquake, are available at American Memory.
posted by LarryC at 11:37 AM on January 6, 2006


I was going to post almost exactly the same thing, spock.

Thanks very much, lots of good reading here.
posted by Malor at 11:38 AM on January 6, 2006


Charmian wasn't a bad writer either!

When Jack and Charmian London arrived in San Francisco, she was stunned as she and Jack walked through the streets of the doomed city:

"In my eyes, there abides the face of a stricken man, perhaps a fireman, whom we saw carried into a lofty doorway in Union Square. His back had been broken, as the stretcher bore him past, out of a handsome, ashen young face, the dreadful darkening eyes looked right into mine. All the world was crashing about him, and he, a broken thing, with death awaiting him inside the granite portals, gazed upon the last woman of his race that he was to ever see. Jack, with tender hand, drew me away."

posted by spock at 11:51 AM on January 6, 2006


it's so surreal that those pics were taken 100 years ago and look like they're out of the 50's.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:56 AM on January 6, 2006


FPP flagged as "fantastic."

I've always wanted to sit down and spend more time with London's work beyond the greatest hits--my suspicion is that his socialist sympathies damned him to being a "kid's author" for a long time.
posted by bardic at 12:09 PM on January 6, 2006


*grumble* There are still plenty of media outlets that pay not much more than a quarter a word...

Great post!
posted by you just lost the game at 12:10 PM on January 6, 2006


...his socialist sympathies damned him to being a "kid's author" for a long time

Actually, his socialist sympathies damned him to being considered an idiot -- although there is no denying his books are great reads.

Jack London's death... Suicide, wasn't it?
posted by Faze at 12:26 PM on January 6, 2006


Jury's out on suicide. From wikipedia: Jack London's death is controversial. Many older sources describe it as a suicide, and some still do (e.g., the Columbia Encyclopedia [2]). However, this appears to be at best a rumor, or speculation based on incidents in his fiction writings. His death certificate gives the cause as uremia, also known as uremic poisoning. He died November 22, 1916. It is known he was in extreme pain and taking morphine, and it is possible that a morphine overdose, accidental or deliberate, may have contributed. The noted London scholar Dr. Clarice Stasz writes, "Following London's death, for a number of reasons a biographical myth developed in which he has been portrayed as an alcoholic womanizer who committed suicide. Recent scholarship based upon firsthand documents challenges this caricature."

A happy man he wasn't at the end, but there's always going to be a lot of debate as to where the man ended and (much of the self-created) mythology began.
posted by bardic at 12:39 PM on January 6, 2006


I agree with everyone above - thanks for a great post.

For any of those who missed it, last year there was a MeFi post about London that included a link to some of his lesser known writing. The Road, about his train hopping days, had been out of print for ages, so I was realy excited to find it.
posted by monkeystronghold at 12:43 PM on January 6, 2006


Wonderful post! I knew nothing about Jack London's work in this particular area, and those photos were amazing.

As for suicide, my understanding is that most scholars today don't believe it. When London returned from his journeying to the South Seas islands, among other places, he brought with him a good number of tropical diseases. His decline in health due to these hastened his end considerably.

However, I also understand that there is pretty good evidence that he was, in fact, quite the womanizer. (Charmian was no saint in this regard either, having had an affair with none other than Harry Houdini.) So not all of the myths are necessarily false, either.

(What draws out this normally quiet lurker, you might ask? My father happens to be a London scholar, and I spent many summers in California at the author's ranch, then and now owned by London's nephew, Milo Shepard.)
posted by voltairemodern at 1:43 PM on January 6, 2006


After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006: Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire has 75 pairs of then-and-now photos, with the 2006 photos precisely duplicating each original photo's vantage point (there's a book of 45 of the photo sets).


I bought this book for my Dad for Christmas. It's a very intersting documentation of the architectural evolution of a city, and doubly so if you're familiar with San Francisco. Interesting to note that the 2006 photograph of the ferry building would not have been possible if the '89 quake had not prompted the demo of the hideous Embarcadero Freeway.

Simon Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World is also good SF earthquake reading, although it's very odd to hear the small towns of California referred to as "villages". It's a nice simplified geology lesson though.

On preview: Harry Houdini? Ugh.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2006


"'89 quake had not prompted the demo of the hideous Embarcadero Freeway."

I actually wish I could find a good collection of photographs (before and after) & maps from the 1989 earthquake. Not just of San Francisco, but all over.

To be honest, I barely remember the Embarcadero Freeway. I'd love to see photos. I won't be alive in 2089 to check out the 100 year versions. :-)
posted by drstein at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2006


Flagged for quality. Great post. Amazing pictures.

Impressive that the city came back from that. Echoes of the past, even today.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:31 PM on January 6, 2006


To be honest, I barely remember the Embarcadero Freeway. I'd love to see photos. I won't be alive in 2089 to check out the 100 year versions. :-)
posted by drstein at 2:25 PM PST on January 6 [!]


Photos seem to be rather scarce- apparently it was so unattractive no one took any. There are a couple on this page that give you an idea of it's elevated construction.

I have vague memories of sitting in traffic on it... though to be honest, my family (and later on, I) never had much of a reason to use it, unless we were taking a visitor to gape at the Golden Gate.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:11 PM on January 6, 2006


Trapped in a class on the History of Photography right now. Thanks for the material. (Voluntarily reading about something is always less brutal than assigned reading; I'm just contrary by nature).
posted by Eideteker at 8:09 PM on January 6, 2006


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