"My Memories of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of April 18, 1906"
by
Mary Myrtle Longinetti Shaw


On April 18, 1906, Myrtle was fourteen years old.  These are her recollections of her family's experience after the earthquake.

 
     "On this dreadful morning I awoke at 5:15 a.m. and felt our house rocking like a cradle.  I immediately ran to my mother and dad's room and clearly remember my dad saying, 'There will be lots of fires today.'  We all immediately dressed and the next shock we got was that the back of our house had collapsed.  Fifteen minutes later my mother would have been killed as she would have been cooking my dad's breakfast at 5:30 a.m.  To our sorrow, my poor dog "Prince" and our canary "Dickie" were killed.

          The next thing we were ordered to leave as the militia told us they were going to dynamite our whole district, living on Jessie St. at the corner of Mint.  We left our few pieces of furniture in a corner of the Mint, taking one chair for my grandmother.  At 8:30 a.m., another terrible shake came and I thought it was the end of the world.

          We then started on our way as true refugees.  We could not go very far because my dear old grandmother was very feeble and had not been out of the house in several years.  We crossed Market St. opposite of 5th and Powell.  The militia put up wire ropes as though we were going to watch a parade and from there, I saw the Examiner and all the buildings up to the Emporium burn, which was so close we had to move on. 

          We slowly walked up to Mason, up Eddy to Taylor for a block and had to stop.  A kind gentleman offerred us to stay in his house one night as they were going to move that morning, but on account of the quake, could not, so we were very happy.  We were just dozing off to sleep when a policeman knocked hard on the door and yelled, 'Everyone out.'  We were then in the midst of the fire. 

          We walked down Taylor to Market, then down to 5th and then saw the Flood Building on fire at about 11:00 p.m.  We were ordered down 5th to Mission. As we walked by our house, we could see that all of our belongings were burned and you could see the stove standing alone.  People were laying on the car tracks but we sat down on the side to wait until morning.  We then slowly walked down Mission St. which was all broked up and dear St. Patrick's Church, where I was baptized, was down to the ground.  When we arrived at the Ferry Building, we received free transportation to Oakland where my dear Uncle Johnny rented an apartment for us and filled the cupboards with food. 

          My dear mother took ill from the shock and died just six months later on October 21, 1906.  I lived in Oakland until 1910, then came back to San Francisco."
 
 

From the Journal of Mary Myrtle Longinetti Shaw
                                                                                    Age 75 - Christmas 1967

 
John Baptista Longinetti was born in Genoa, Italy in 1849.  In 1851, he came to the United States with his parents.  In the mid-1870's, he married Minnie Lemasney.  She was born in Shasta County, California in 1858, the daughter of Irish immigrants Thomas Lemasney and Mary Nevin. 

In 1878, John and Minnie had a son named George, and on 29 March 1892, their daughter Mary Myrtle was born. 

John was a candy maker, especially known for his wonderful taffy, which he sold from his shop near the Flood Building on Market Street.  Myrtle once told her daughter June of the time when she was visiting her father's shop and curiosity led her too close to the taffy machine.  Her hair became caught in the machine and one of her curls was pulled out from the roots.  Myrtle never forgot that painful lesson!

At the time of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the Longinetti family lived at 434 Jessie Street.  As Myrtle's journal shows, they spent many hours moving about San Francisco seeking safety before finally evacuating across the Bay to Oakland.  There they were befriended by a kindly man named Johnny Harrigan, who saw to it that they had food and an apartment in which to stay.  Sadly, Myrtle's mother Minnie Lemasney Longinetti died several months later, on 21 October 1906. 

Myrtle's father had also lost his candy shop during the fires that followed the quake, so the family spent several years in Oakland before they were able to return to San Francisco.  John became a chief candy maker at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

Myrtle was very close to the grandmother she speaks of in her journal.  Myrtle's daughter June says, "My great grandmother's name was Mary Nevin and she was born in Ireland.  My mother adored her, and I realize now where she got all those Irish sayings that I remember so well..."  Mary Nevin Lemasney lived until 1913. 

Myrtle eventually married Fred Bernard Shaw, who was born in Iowa in 1889.  Myrtle's father, John Longinetti, spent his remaining years with Myrtle and Fred and their children.  The family lived on Sanchez Street for a time, and later on Laidley Street.  Myrtle and Fred had four children:  Albert, Nevin, Robert and June.  Myrtle's father John lived until 1933. 

June recalls that her family remained very close with Johnny Harrigan, the man who had been so kind in helping them when they were refugees in Oakland after the earthquake.  She writes, "I often wondered why Uncle Johnny lived with us when he really was not a relative. I realize now it was because he had befriended them by renting that apartment and giving them food after the earthquake.  Here is a funny little story.  As you can imagine, Grandma [Myrtle Longinetti Shaw] waited on him hand and foot for years and was so kind to him.  Before he died, he wanted to leave her whatever money he had.  She said, no, so he left it to the Masons."

Mary Myrtle Longinetti Shaw died in 1979.   Her fascinating experiences in the aftermath of the 1906 disaster have been saved among the pages of her journal, and gratefully shared here by her family. 

Thank you to Myrtle's daughter June Shambaugh and her granddaughter Nancy Lucia for sharing these notes and stories.

 

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