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1906 Earthquake Centennial Alliance

Activities & Events

How to Survive an Earthquake: A Humorous Look at San Francisco, 1906

San Francisco Public Library

"How to Survive an Earthquake" examines how San Franciscans turned their disaster into gold. With wit and humor as their tools, they rebuilt their beloved San Francisco. Looking at the bright side of a topsy turvy world during the disoriented days of April 1906 and the months afterward, this exhibit features documents of the day: first-person accounts and newspaper stories, artifacts, photographs, and ephemera from the San Francisco History Center; and contemporary works of humor drawn from the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor (SCOWAH), Book Arts & Special Collections Center.

On April 18, 1906, the great San Francisco Earthquake turned the city upside down and inside out. Newspaper headlines around the world shouted the horrors of death, fire and ruin, and the destruction of the sinful Barbary Coast. An estimated three thousand San Franciscans were killed, and for many survivors, homes and livelihoods were destroyed in the span of three days.

Accounts describe the challenges of living in the ruined city, but less emphasized is the use of humor as a survival tactic during this period. How did San Franciscans use their wit & good humor to get through the days and nights, to distract themselves from the wholesale destruction of their beloved city? What kind of inner strength did it take to rebuild a new and brighter city?

The San Franciscans of 1906 were singular in their cheerful response to this monumental calamity. They found enjoyment in the everyday - whether it was show tunes played on a salvaged piano, creating instant community in a refugee camp; joining in the new roller skating fad; exchanging hearty laughs over a good joke; enjoying a tented vaudeville performance; crossing the bay to Oakland to greet the circus as it paraded through town, or trading gossip at a simple hillside picnic - shared humor eased the pain of loss, giving San Franciscans the ability to leave behind the “City That Was” and build the “City That Knows How.”

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When

April 1 – May 31, 2006

Skylight Gallery hours:
Mon: 10 am - 6 pm
Tue – Thu: 9 am - 6 pm
Fri: 12 Noon - 6 pm
Sat: 10 am - 6 pm
Sun: 12 Noon - 5pm

Where

San Francisco Main Library
Skylight Gallery
100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
San Francisco, CA 94102

Relevance

Features documents ca. 1906: first-person accounts and newspaper stories, artifacts, and ephemera from the San Francisco History Center; and contemporary works drawn from the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor, Book Arts & Special Collections Center.

Audience

General public. All programs at the Library are free.

Contact

Sherri Eng, (415) 557-4282

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