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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Efforts bore fruit in helping quake victims

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

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Fantastic prices paid for cherries raised aid fund

After the devastation of the great earthquake and fire in San Francisco in April 1906, Solano County residents gathered to prepare food, donate clothing and medical supplies, welcome refugees from the devastated city, and collect monetary funds for initial relief.

News of the tragedy reached far beyond the West Coast. Donations were collected all over the United States to help the victims. Solano County orchardists provided the means for one of the more creative fundraising efforts.

Year after year, Solano County, or more specifically, the Bassford family of Bassford Canyon, had won the competition among local growers to ship the first box of cherries to the East Coast.

The season of 1906 proved no different. The Solano Republican announced on April 21: “The first box of cherries for this season shipped from California to the Eastern markets was sent from Vacaville last Monday to Philadelphia by the Frank H. Buck Company. The fruit was grown on the orchard of Joe Bassford who has furnished the first cherries for shipment from the state for several years past. The first box shipped last year was on April 7. Consequently the first shipment this year is a little later than last.”

These first boxes of fresh cherries always brought premium prices on the East Coast. But no box of cherries had ever brought the dizzying prices that these boxes achieved, spurred by the goodwill of vendors to help the victims of the San Francisco earthquake.

“$244 A Pound For Cherries” read the headline on April 27. “Proceeds from Sale of First Box, $2440, Donated To Charity.”

“The sum of $2,440 realized for one box of California cherries is the latest result of relief activities.

“On April 16, the California Fruit Distributors shipped to New York one box of cherries packed by the Frank H. Buck Company of Vacaville. When the need of the inhabitants of San Francisco became known the Frank H. Buck Company requested the California Fruit Distributors to turn the proceeds of the fruit over for the San Francisco sufferers.

“The California Fruit Distributors immediately wired their offices in New York to this effect and the $2,440 sale is the result.

“The cherries were auctioned one cherry at a time. The first cherry brought $105, the balance bringing in amounts ranging from $100 to 50 cents. The total price realized for this first ten-pound box of California cherries was $2,440, or $244 per pound, which is the highest price by far ever realized for any fruit from anywhere.

“These figures will stand indefinitely as a record-breaking price for California fruit, at the same time portraying the generous spirit existing among the fruit dealers in New York for the sufferers in San Francisco. The fruit dealers of Minneapolis wired $525 as a contribution to Manager Anderson for the Red Cross Society in San Francisco, and Appel & Ujffy of New Orleans, fruit dealers, wired $100 for the same purpose.”

Another box of cherries was auctioned off in St. Paul, Minn., through the California Fruit Distributors. The auction brought in $600. Director and Suisun Valley resident Alden Anderson replied to the good news by telegraph: “I thank you for the splendid sale of box of cherries and of the most worthy cause of assisting the homeless and destitute in San Francisco. The generosity of your trade is generally appreciated. Please make draft payable to the General Relief Committee, San Francisco, instead of personally.”

Back home, local residents continued their efforts to alleviate the suffering, attempting to get supplies to the city by any means. New-fangled automobiles provided one mode of transportation.

“Morris Kind, superintendent and general manager of the Pacific Portland Cement Works at Cement, has been in San Francisco a week, using his new, double seater automobile in relief work, and Leonard Wood, manager for the J. K. Armsby Company, at Suisun, has been performing the same duty with his automobile. Both have worked day and night.

Parker Frisselle rendered his services by working with trained nurses in the Red Cross hospital at Berkeley.

“William Pierce has done noble work in relieving the sufferers. In addition to carrying supplies and medicines, paid for out of his own pocket, he has opened his beautiful home in Suisun Valley to several strangers who were rendered homeless by the earthquake and fire.

“The relief committees of Benicia, Dixon, Sacramento and other towns along the railway line are doing excellent work in feeding the hungry refugees who pass through on the trains leaving the city.”

In between all the serious reports appeared news of small miracles, such as the story of Mrs. Ebenezer Cunningham. On May 4, 1906, the newspaper reported that “Mr. and Mrs. Pangburn of Suisun Valley received information from San Jose a few days ago to the effect that their daughter, Mrs. Ebenezer Cunningham, who resides in that city, recovered her speech immediately after the earthquake shock of April 18. Mrs. Cunningham had entirely lost her speech several months prior to the seismatic disturbance and had been unable to speak a word from that time up to the morning of the shake. She was greatly frightened by the tremblor, but strange to say, the fright or some other mysterious influence caused her speech to be restored and that time her power of speech is as good as before she lost it.

“It is needless to say that the lady is more than delighted and her good fortune, growing out of the otherwise greatest calamity of the age.”

Slowly, the impact of the disaster was assessed. Out of the misfortune, some good financial news emerged. Thus was the case for Mare Island, heavily involved in providing ships to ferry goods and people back and forth.

“The Mare Island of the next two months will be very different from the Mare Island of the months that have just passed,” said the Republican on May 4, “for out of the state’s misfortune has come the yard’s opportunity, and for once in the history of the station money will be more plentiful at the end of the fiscal year than it was at the beginning. The work, on vessels which a week ago was deemed an impossibility for months to come, can now be commenced almost at once, and there is no reason why the yard should not go straight ahead and complete all the ships which have been lying here waiting for repairs so long.”

Portland Cement with its company town, Cement City located near Fairfield, also expected to receive increased business demand for its product. On May 4, the Republican published management’s decision “to hold the larger portion of its product to rebuild the city of San Francisco and other towns which were destroyed by the recent earthquake and fire. General Stone, the president, has given instructions to cancel all orders for shipments outside the State. No advantage will be taken of the certain increased demand for cement, brought about by the disaster, by raising the price, but on the other hand the product will be sold at a lower price than it is asked on orders outside the State.”

The company went even further in its civic mindedness by donating $7,500 to the relief fund of San Francisco.

The science of earthquake investigation was still in its infancy. Governor Pardee, whose decisive actions in providing relief and support won much praise, immediately assigned a group of scientists to establish cause and repeatability of the event. While it was recognized that tension along the fault caused the earthquake, the goal of the investigations was to locate “the seat of the disturbance and to ascertain the relation of the destructive effects to geological formations and geological structures.” Enough studies had been conducted to be able to comfortably predict that “the severity of the present earthquake has relieved the tension, and many years will pass without a repetition of the terrible tremblor of April 18.”