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Clock-Stopper: 1906

"Ferry Building, San Francisco, 1906." Aftermath of the earthquake and fire. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

"Ferry Building, San Francisco, 1906." Aftermath of the earthquake and fire. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Ferry Building map

The latest news on the whereabouts of the Ferry Building's giant California relief map here.

The "fast" Ferry Building clock

When the "big one" struck on 18 April '06, the Ferry Building's clock was running normally and its four faces' hands were set at their usual 5-minutes fast positions.

The ferry terminal was exceedingly busy on any given day and commuters thronging its halls and surging onto ferries were aided by the clock's "fast" setting; anyone looking up Market or East Street (what we now know as the Embarcadero) would see the clock and -- theoretically -- hurry to catch their boat.

In all actuality, the earthquake's epicenter was near Pacifica and "struck" up and down the coast in oddly resonant waves; the first shock was powerfully felt by a coastwise steam schooner first mate (at the helm) en route from Mendocino County at 05:11 as registered on the ship's otherwise perfect chronometer, and thus written into its log.

Coolness inside the Ferry Building

As a small boy and incipient modelaholic in the 1950s, one of my favorite stops on any visit to the City was the Ferry Building and the gigantic, 1924-vintage, 500-foot long relief map of California, complete with minature roads and buildings. It was removed in the early 1960s and its whereabouts are apparently unknown. It was incredibly cool.

My mother's family lived through the earthquake, but the only period photo in our archives is of my aunt Mary outside Mission Dolores on the day of her First Holy Communion on June 10, 1906, seven weeks afterwards. She's on the left. We have a copy of a post-quake letter my grandmother wrote to relatives in Switzerland that mentions enclosed photos, but none have turned up anywhere.

Time flies

According to the University of California's Seismological Lab, the actual time of the Big One in 1906 was 5:12 AM. However, the Ferry Building hands stopped at 5:16 AM, as documented in the Shorpy view.

I don't know if the Ferry clock was running fast that day, or if it stopped four minutes after the first jolt due to cumulative aftershocks, but the hands stayed in that position so long that they gave rise to a long-held local belief that 5:16 was the time the quake struck.


Here is the same perspective of the Ferry Building taken in September of 2008 (unfortunately in order to get the identical perspective, the shot ended up with palm trees in the way).

It's also good to know that erectile dysfunction apparently is cured with age, as evidenced by the flagpole.


Now if we could only figure out what time the earthquake struck!

Look at the time!


Beautiful Building

Let's block everyone's view with a massive freeway and see if the next big earthquake can knock it down!

Shave and a Haircut

3.2 bits!

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