Strolling Through Pre-Earthquake San Francisco

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

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21 Responses to “Strolling Through Pre-Earthquake San Francisco”

  1. #1 |  The Enema Man | 

    I love how chaotic and free it is. People, trolleys, horse-buggies, automobiles, and bicycles all going whereever they want with no traffic controls, and doing a reasonable job of staying out of each other’s path.

  2. #2 |  Katherine | 

    Eerie and fascinating. And crazy drivers were around even then.

  3. #3 |  tj | 

    Controlled chaos? in slow motion. Amazing video.

  4. #4 |  Sean L. | 

    I particularly liked the guy who had his horse way out on the tracks before he could even see a streetcar coming.

    Of course, this kind of ‘controlled chaos’ only works at <20 mph.

  5. #5 |  CyniCAl | 

    Anarchy. A veritable fortune in jaywalking tickets. Did anyone see a cop in the film?

    It’s obvious that the 1906 earthquake was punishment for such libertine behavior.

  6. #6 |  abhisaha | 

    Talking of all going whereever they want with no traffic controls, and doing a reasonable job of staying out of each other’s path… have people here seen this video?

  7. #7 |  MacK | 

    I did see a cop at the 2:37 mark he is right in middle of track. He has billy club in hand, yet did not try to use it on the person filming him. That is why you missed him.

  8. #8 |  PogueMahone | 

    My grandfather was born in 1896 in West Texas. I remember him telling me a story about the first time he saw an automobile in 1913 – he said he didn’t like them because they “spooked his horse.” Can you imagine?
    In 1987, when I was 16, he gave me his old 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

    I dunno, this vid made me think of that.

    Good find.


  9. #9 |  DoubleU | 

    Wouldn’t work today without traffic lights and some sort of control. From experience I know after hurricanes when the traffic lights are not working people can get crazy. It depends on the weather, and how long the persons life has been “back to normal” The cooler the weather after a hurricane people remain friendly, if it is hot and muggy without air conditioning people can get nasty so there isn’t that friendly/courteous movement around each other. You are suppose to treat a non-working traffic light as a four way stop, but not when people are irritable.

    Unfortunately people get used to being controlled.

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If they had traffic lights, those people would probably all still be alive today.

  11. #11 |  Peter Moskos | 

    How much nicer cities would be today if things still moved at speeds less than what would kill a pedestrian (approx 20mph). Is many ways we have the worst of both worlds: traffic that moves *on average* less than 20mph, but when it does move, moves too fast.

  12. #12 |  dingdongdugong | 

    There is something so attractive about this free chaos where everyone is being cautious for each other, because they have to be.

    I just love it.

  13. #13 |  Psion | 

    Here’s a longer video of the trip down Market Street that culminates with a turn-around at the Ferry Terminal.

    Then there are two pictures showing the destruction … one from the perspective of the terminal tower:

    The other from a kite suspended over the harbor that conveniently looks back up Market Street:

    Most of the damage was caused, according to Wikipedia, by fire as ruptured gas mains, poorly executed demolitions, and deliberate arson by property owners who were insured against fire but not earthquakes conspired to reduce many of the surviving buildings to rubble.

    Finally, 99 years later, someone made a new video along the same route … I was amused by the bicyclist in the red cape:

  14. #14 |  Stick | 

    I didn’t see any obese people.

  15. #15 |  NSM | 

    In 1906 the average life span for all Americans was still about 50 years. I wonder what it was in San Francisco.

  16. #16 |  Barnes | 

    Aren’t average life span estimates from old times thrown off by infant and child deaths? Like, it was just tougher to make it out of infancy because of the medicine and health care back then, the average person didn’t just die at fifty of old age, which a lot of people seem to assume, it’s just that all the child deaths bring the average down.

  17. #17 |  CyniCAl | 

    #10 | Dave Krueger — “If they had traffic lights, those people would probably all still be alive today.”

    Dave, for someone who has probably accumulated the most text here of anyone other than our host, you certainly proved that brevity is the soul of wit. Well played.

  18. #18 |  Aresen | 

    NSM | July 14th, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    In 1906 the average life span for all Americans was still about 50 years. I wonder what it was in San Francisco.

    The last time I saw that clip, one of the commenters said it had been tracked down to about 1 week before the SF Shake and Bake, so I would guess that the life expectancy of those in the film was rather short.

  19. #19 |  mark r | 


    Don’t forget WWI and WWII which had a dramatic impact on life expectancy. If you control for the dramatically higher infant mortality and the wars, we gained about 5 years of life expectancy since the turn of the century.

  20. #20 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    As far as historic average lifespan goes, it’s worth citing the King James Version of the Bible’s Psalm 90:10 (the KJV was released in 1611):

    The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

    So, long before modern medicine, the churchmen who edited the KJV thought that it was reasonable to say that we live to be seventy or eighty years old – and some of them, presumably, conducted funerals.

    And in fact, the original text they were translating dates back several thousand years. Once you throw out the premature deaths, the ‘limit’ has stayed about the same all that time.

    It’s also amusing to note that there’s a very early version of “Life’s a bitch and then you die” here.

  21. #21 |  JOR | 

    Yeah, that’s about right. The average lifespan of people who are not killed very early in their lives has changed very little in thousands of years. Of course the ancients had their wars too, but they were nowhere near as frequent or as holistically ruinous as hindsight suggests (history books tend to skip the long boring periods where people aren’t mass-murdering each other).