1906 Earthquake Commemoration to Continue Without Survivors

The City will mark anniversary of 1906 early Thursday morning

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

    It took a bit of urging, and a lot of trickery to get Bill Del Monte down to Union Square, to sit in the back of a vintage convertible and wave to the forming crowd for a two-block parade. He'd have preferred to be back in his apartment in Greenbrae - and at 107-years old, who could blame him?

    Del Monte is one of the last three known survivors of the Great 1906 Quake and Fire - one of the few human links to the great catastrophe that shook and burned the great city.

    His memories of the event, are second-hand - passed along by family members. When asked about his recollections, he tells of his father loading up the family into a wagon, and driving through the city.

    "A horse and wagon and took us down to the ferry building," Del Monte said from beneath the vintage fire helmet someone had placed on his head. "I was too small to know it, but my brother told me there was flames on both sides of the street."

    Del Monte wasn't exactly thrilled to come to the city for yet another quake anniversary. His niece picked him up, telling him they were going for an innocent drive.

    Remembering the Great Quake

    [BAY] Remembering the Great Quake
    San Franciscans remember the 1906 earthquake at Lotta's Fountain, and the Golden Fire Plug.

    Arriving in Union Square, he suddenly found himself in front TV interviews, in the front seat of a vintage Rolls Royce, perched behind a marching band in a parade to mark the eve of the April 18th annual ceremony.

    But on Thursday, when the city gathers around Lotta's Fountain in the wee morning hours as it has every April 18th since 1906, neither Del Monte, or any other survivor will be on hand for the first time since

    1906. Del Monte, will be home in his cozy bed.  

    “I'm just going to take it easy in the apartment," he said. "It's a lot easier."

    The absence of survivors at the annual gathering will turn a long inevitable page in the city's long scrappy history.

    The event will go on - people will turn out at 5:11 a.m. to sing "San Francisco" in the near darkness, imagining the crumpled buildings and flaming embers beginning to chew away at the bejeweled city. But the living link, the eyewitness will be missing.  

    "To see people who survived it who are up in that age bracket," said 1906 commemoration organizer Lee Houskeeper, "drives home the history of it."

    Still, Houskeeper sees the event continuing - needing to continue.

    It's a standing reminder that earth's fury is merely crouched in silent repose, waiting to pounce again with the cataclysmic shaking.    

    Just before Del Monte's Rolls cruised down Powell Street, the 107-year old contemplated the future of the quake anniversary - adding his endorsement of its continuation.

    "Might as well until there's the last one," he said of his fellow survivors. "Whoever it will be."