On this day in 1906 at 5:11 am Pacific Coast time a huge earthquake devastated San Francisco. It has been widely described as a force that shook up to a full minute and was felt from Oregon to LA all the way to central Nevada. The Conried Metropolitan Opera Company had performed “Carmen” the evening before and most of the performing artists and musicians had only been asleep a few hours before they were jolted awake by the forceful tremor. Edith Vail Ross and Paul Eisler, not yet married to each other, survived the day as did all of the other members of the opera company. Accounts of their escape were finely captured years later by their youngest son Dr. Paul Erich Eisler in his reference book, The Metropolitan Opera, The First Twenty-five Years.
An interview conducted with Katherine Moran Douglas for the book she relates, “I was sharing a suite with your mother [Edythe Vail]. We got up immediately and ran out of the room in our nightgowns. After a few moments we went back in and dressed quickly…We were invited by the wife of the theatre owner to come to their house which was on Clay Street out beyond the devastated area. Caruso came in a taxi and stayed with us while they were getting water… Scotti arrived a few minutes later with an empty cattle truck and he and I and your mother and Caruso toured the broken streets in that truck on our way to meet everyone at Golden Gate Park…After we met everyone we agreed to take the ferry to Berkeley the next morning. Caruso and Scotti took us back to the house on Clay Street and they went to the Family Club, a branch of the Bohemians in New York. We, your mother and I, first saw Caruso and Scotti in front of the hotel about fifteen minutes after the quake, both dressed in pajamas. The stories you read about them being immaculately attired in ascots and stickpins are pure baloney!”
Paul Eisler’s experiences surviving the earthquake were captured in an interview with his son also provided in the book, “Hertz and I were living in a suite. When the quake came, Hertz’s bureau pinned him against the wall and he couldn’t get out of bed. I heard him yell and rushed in and between us we got it loose. We both dressed quickly in the minimum attire and rushed down the back stairs to the street. There we found Goerlitz, Blass, Burgstaller and Louise Homer. We stayed in the park in front of the hotel and watched until a horse and wagon came by. We rented them from the man for $100 and told him we would return them the next day. We all piled in, Homer included and started looking for a restaurant. We finally found a little tavern on a side street and drank beer and ate cheese and crackers for an hour or so. Eventually we started for the Family Club and when we arrive there we met Dippel and Journet. Later Caruso and Scotti arrived and we all slept a few hours on chairs, sofas and the floor. We later took the horse and wagon to the police station and left them, explaining where we had gotten them. The name was on the wagon and I am sure it was returned. We finally found a cab driver who agreed to take us to the ferry where we met the others.”
Note – The $100 that Paul Eisler paid for use of the horse and wagon translates to about $2,500 by 2014 standards.
Cheers, cheers to both Edith and Paul for the luck and wits to survive!