One of Last Known 1906 Earthquake Survivors Dies at 109

Rose Cliver was one of five known living survivors of San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire, and one of the only ones who could remember the details.

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    Joe Rosato Jr.
    Rose Cliver’s great-nephew, Victor Wyrsch (left), and her nephew Herman Wyrsch (right), look at her photo mounted on the back of a San Francisco fire truck.

    Rose Cliver loved a party. Several years ago as organizers of San Francisco’s annual 1906 Earthquake and Fire gathering met for drinks at John’s Grill on the eve of the 5:12 a.m. event, Cliver stayed until the restaurant closed. She was only 106-years-old then.

    “I figured she’s going to go beyond 110,” said Cliver’s nephew, Herman Wyrsch. “There’s no way she’s going to stop.”

    But Cliver shocked her nephew and others by dying this weekend at the age of 109. She passed away in the Santa Rosa rest home where she’d been living since taking a recent tumble in her San Francisco Home.

    Cliver was one of five known living survivors of the 1906 earthquake and fire, and one of the only ones with actual memories of the devastating scene.

    “My dad took the family, all 15 kids, up on the hill to watch the fire,” Cliver told NBC Bay Area several years ago. She remembered watching the city burn from her Bernal Heights neighborhood, and living in a tent outside the home for several days.

    Up until the end of her life, her nephew said she possessed a fiery spirit and a sharp wit.

    “I remember her making the comment ‘the city was devastated in 1906, but the city went downhill after that,’” laughed Wyrsch.

    Friends and family gathered at John’s Grill Monday afternoon, to raise a glass to Cliver. Outside, a San Francisco Fire Department hook and ladder truck sounded its siren and rang a bell in her honor.

    Organizers of the annual April 18th commemoration of the 1906 earthquake and fire said the event will press on, even though survivors are now few. The niece of survivor Bill Del Monte, 106, said her uncle has grown weary of getting up in time for the 5:12 a.m. ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain.

    “He just had his 106th birthday,” said Del Monte’s niece, Janette Barroca. “I don’t know if I can convince him to come down in April."

    Despite the thinning number of eye-witnesses, 1906 event organizer Lee Housekeeper said he learned of another survivor this year who plans to attend the annual gathering. He said the destruction and eventual rebirth of San Francisco produced a unique breed of survivor.

    “There’s a twinkle in each one of their eyes that’s very distinctive,” said Housekeeper. “I can only think that it’s because of surviving something like that.”