Sunday, March 29, 2020

Race Whitney in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

            [Note: The below narrative is taken from a chapter in the author’s biography of Elder Orson F. Whitney, called “The Misadventures of Race Whitney” (page 257), that describes his harrowing experience as a newspaper reporter (working for the San Francisco Chronicle) when the great San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906. This was also about the time his father was called into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Race Whitney was Orson’s oldest child, filled with promise and potential, but whose life was cut short because of drink—he died of alcoholism in his late twenties. Race, shortened from Horace, took after his father as a talented writer, journalist, and dramatist. Yet he became indifferent to the gospel teachings of his youth. As an older teenager, his father secured a position for him with a Salt Lake newspaper, and Race was one of a select company that travelled to St. George with President Lorenzo Snow in 1898, where President Snow received a revelation to reemphasize tithing to the Church. It would seem that after that experience, Race drifted from gospel teachings and standards, married a non-Latter-day Saint, and eventually drank himself to death. His account of being in the middle of the earthquake is well-written and thrilling. I have added some text from Race’s original correspondence with his father, that was published in the Deseret News, but that I deleted from the book since I thought it extraneous; this means the newspaper account found here is longer and has more earthquake details than the account in the book. Quotations are from Elder Whitney’s journal, mostly 1906, but I have deleted all the endnotes. From The Life of Orson F. Whitney: Historian, Poet, Apostle:]

            Good as he was at what he did—writer, reporter, dramatist—Race struggled to stay employed for very long. He also made a poor choice for a wife. It is with this decision that he again finds mention in Ort’s diary: “Went this evening with my son Race to see Miss Rosemary Gloez, his young lady. She is not a Mormon but is a very charming girl, aged 20, finely educated, a native of Boston. . . . They are a Hungarian family and nice people. Race and Rose are madly in love with each other. They want to marry. While I hate to see him wed outside the Church, I prefer this to no marriage, or a life on the stage, which he says is the alternative.”

About two months later, the day of the wedding arrived:

            Race’s Wedding Day. At a quarter to 3 pm my wife May and I proceeded to the residence of Mr. and Mrs. [?] C. Gloez, on Capitol Hill (where they have recently purchased a home) and where the wedding company was fast arriving. It was snowing, but inside all was beauty, comfort and brilliance. . . . At a few minutes past three I pronounced the marriage ceremony uniting my oldest son and first-born child Horace Newel Whitney and Rosemary Matilday Gloez. Afterwards a banquet and toasts. . . .
            It was a superb affair throughout. My two regrets were Zina’s absence (though she may have been hovering near) and the fact that my son’s wife is not a Latter-day Saint. I pray, however, that she may yet become one; that Race’s heart may also turn more to His Lord and to the religion of his fathers; and that God will bless this marriage for their [illegible] good and the happiness and prosperity of all concerned. Amen! The young couple are aged 21 and 20 respectively; are apparently well mated, and are very much in love with each other. . . . I gave them a set of my History of Utah (four volumes) and presented Race with the gold watch his mother gave me many years ago. I also made them a present of the marriage certificate. I could have done more had my means and circumstances permitted.

            Whitney’s sorrow at his son’s life course may have awakened within him a desire to be more watchful of his other children, who tested his fatherly patience: “Yesterday I whipped for the first time in my life one of my children; my little boy Bert, Zina’s youngest, next to the twins. It hurt me awfully to do it, but I had to, for his sake. He is not the first of my children to deserve a whipping by my means, nor the first to receive one; but the first one I ever punished in that way. I used a little switch upon his shoulders, and was not angry but sorrowful. I afterwards reasoned with and was kind to him, and I think it all did him good.”
            Meanwhile, Orson missed his absent son, whose marriage, little more than a year and a half old, was falling apart without his knowledge: “On arriving at my office this morning found Race with Rose awaiting me. He returned yesterday [from the East]. Had not received my letter, as he started for home immediately on getting the money I sent him. I was overjoyed to see him. Had him and wife up to the house to a turkey dinner. Have tried during the day to get a place for him on the News. . . . In the evening was told by my friend John E. Hansen, city editor of the Deseret News, that agreeable to my request they were going to offer Race a position on the News staff.” It seemed the match of a rich Hungarian Bostonian with a poor, aimless, Mormon boy, was ill-fitted and ill-fated. (Later it would come out that Race’s mother-in-law had interfered and poisoned her daughter against her husband.) Ten days later, on Christmas eve, the axe fell: “Spent most of the day at home; took dinner with my family; and in the evening we all went up to May’s mother’s to the usual Christmas tree. Did not stay late. My day was saddened by the troubles of my son, Race, whose wife yesterday started proceedings for divorce; alleging non-support.” Rose had joined an eastern opera company as a singer, with Race becoming a promoter; but all for naught: “Race took dinner with us today, and will begin living with us at home from this time.” And Orson got his son the job: “Race began working this morning for the Deseret News, as a reporter. He now lives with me.”
            At first, things went well for the young journalist in his new position: “Race is doing fine work on the [Deseret] News. An article of his in this evenings issue . . . has been highly commended by the manager of the paper, and others.” But despite his best intentions, things did not go as Ort hoped. We do not have diaries for 1904 so the details are not known, but by early 1905, Race was no longer with the Deseret News; he had moved and remarried Rose:

            Received letter from Race, telling of his remarriage with Rose, a fact with which I was already acquainted through the following announcement in the Salt Lake Herald of Sunday the 15th inst: “Mr. and Mrs. Horace N. Whitney Remarry and Settle in Portland: Mrs. Rosemary Gloez-Whitney and Horace N. Whitney, both of Salt Lake, were married in Portland, Oregon, last week and are now at home to their friends in that city. This statement will cause surprise among the friends of the young people in this city. It will also recall a romance that was the talk of the town for a time three years ago. Three years ago Miss Gloez and Mr. Whitney were married in this city. She was a singer with the prospects of a brilliant stage future; he was a member of the Herald staff. After the wedding the bride accepted a flattering offer from an opera company in the east and Mr. Whitney became the advertising man for the company. Relatives came between the young couple to cause trouble. The upshot of this was a suit for divorce filed by the bride in Salt Lake a year ago. The application was granted by the court and it was considered here that the romance was at an end forever. The last act puts a different face on the matter, and all Utah friends of both bride and groom will extend good wishes for the future. It is known that the reconciliation between the young people came about through the diplomacy of a chorus girl. Mrs. Whitney was with the Fields opera company in the east. The chorus girl made a discovery one day as to how Mrs. Whitney felt toward her former husband. She passed the tip to Race and the reunion is the outcome. The bride has surrendered her position in the opera company and she and her husband are settled in Portland.”

            The surprised dad quickly responded: “Wrote to Race at Portland, giving him and Rose some fatherly advice.” But the reconciliation was not to last long, if the mother-in-law could help it: “This afternoon I intend going to a reception given by Race’s wife, Rosemary Gloez Whitney, at her studio on Main St. She is here on a visit by her mother, who has forgiven her for remarrying Race without her knowledge. . . . Rosa has again left Race and gone East.”
            With his wife absent with the opera company, Race went to San Francisco, hoping to drum up financial support for a play, or operetta, he had written, and to work as a reporter. This move placed him right in the middle of the great San Francisco earthquake of April, 1906. Orson felt deep relief when he could finally contact his son: “God is good! Race escaped unhurt in the awful earthquake at San Francisco. . . .” Further word came soon: “This morning’s Tribune has correspondence from San Francisco, in which the following paragraph occurs: “Escaped Sockless: Race Whitney, a son of one of the new apostles, was one of the newspaper men of San Francisco who suffered in the earthquake. He escaped, sockless and with but meager clothing, and late Sunday evening had not laid down to rest. Jokingly he said he believed he would see if he could not talk some fellow out of a pair of socks, as it was very inconvenient to be running around as he had since the first shock of the earthquake.” In a letter to his father, that was published for all to read in the Deseret News, Race wrote of his experience:

            I hardly know where to begin in relating this story. I do not want to picture all the horrors that we newspapermen have encountered, and yet I want to give you a clear idea of the terrible situation. . . .
            The people here are in a state of panic. The city is under martial law. Over 50,000 people are camping in the streets and public parks, weather cold, provisions dealt out by the government one can at a time, one loaf at a time, and one occasional smackering of butter, meat, and sugar. This may not last long, however. Thousands of trainloads of stuff are coming this way, but the problem is how to get it to the people with the limited number of teams at the disposal of the relief forces.
            Meanwhile, Wally Young and I are sleeping in comparative luxury. We found a furnished flat that had been deserted by a terror-stricken family, and have the privilege of using it until they return from their place of refuge, wherever that may be. Gene Lewis is with us, and several others for whom we had room and whom we found homeless. (By the way, get word to Gene’s people. I don’t believe his name was mentioned in the reports to Salt Lake.)
            Between all of us we eke out a fine existence—appointing daily committees on grub, on cooking, on housework, etc. Cooking all done in the street. No fires, nor lights allowed in the houses. We have had a dozen earthquake shocks since the [main] destroyer but none of them very dangerous. The great fear now is an epidemic as the result of [un]sanitary conditions. The sewer system was wrecked. Garbage holes and closets have been dug in the middle of the principal streets by the score and the military authorities are doing everything possible to avert the epidemic. But nevertheless, there are probably 50[?] hospitals filled to the doors with patients. One of the most horrible features of the whole thing was the confinement of over 100 women the second night of the disaster in Golden Gate park and the Presidio, the common camping grounds. The mothers were without shelter or medical attention, and many of them died with their babes. Literally scores of men have been shot dead for stealing or for refusing to work when commanded. One offense is quite as grave as the other in these times. If a soldier tells you to do a thing and you hesitate it is as much as your life is worth.
            I understand the first reports that went out placed the loss of life at 300. Absurd! That many were crushed in two hotels that I know of. The exact number may never be known, but it cannot possibly be under 3,500, and may run as high as 6,000. The streets are filled—or were until a couple of days ago—with women and children crying aloud for their loved ones, and men went through town half-crazed searching for their families. It is difficult to understand how so many families were separated, when the earthquake occurred at the respectable hour of 5:15 a.m., but there were thousands. The people are only coming to their senses now. The papers are devoted almost exclusively to the personal advertisements of friends inquiring for friends and registry stations are maintained in all parts of the city for the benefit of the seekers.
            A striking feature of the calamity is the good nature which prevails among the saner classes. Men who were in affluent circumstances a week ago today are on a level now with the humblest laborer. I have seen multi-millionaires, dressed in long frock coats and silk hats—all they saved, perhaps—standing in a line two block long, behind Chinese or Italian laborers, awaiting their loaf of bread for the children at home. They take it good-naturedly. They realize how hopeless any other course would be.
            “We’re all even now,” they say; “we’ll start again and see who gets the money.” It was common to see an army captain dash up to a mansion on Van Ness avenue (which was, of course, the most fashionable residence street) and tell the owner he had 15 minutes to clear out before they dynamited the house.
            “But,” he might say, “don’t you know man, that this represents the savings of a lifetime?”
            “Fifteen minutes, I said!” And the officer would spur on his horse to the next mansion. Millions of dollars were lost to dynamite in the effort to check the raging fire. The fire itself is beyond description. If you can imagine a mass of buildings extending from Fort Douglas to the Jordan river, and from Mill Creek to Anderson’s tower, all burning, you have some idea of the fearful, yet inspiring, sight.
            Wally and myself had been working at the Chronicle office late on Tuesday night. . . . So it was about 5 o’clock [am] when we started home. We were standing in front of the Auditorium hotel when the crash came. Instinctively we started for the middle of the street, and where we had stood less than one second before there was a pile of bricks seven feet high. The whole top of the structure had fallen down. It had four stories to run and we had about 60 feet. We won. It was the first earthquake I had ever experienced, and believe me, they are very unpopular with your eldest son. While I was writing this paragraph the house shook slightly, but we are rather getting used to it now. The fear of another quake is keeping thousands of people out of their homes, but our little group has decided that we cannot possibly go until our time comes, and have settled down to enjoy life—and get as much comfort out of present uncertain conditions as best we can.
            To return to the first crash. It was terribly spectacular to see houses crumbling and hear the crash of timbers as great wooden structures tottered from their foundations or were wrenched out of shape. In less time than it takes to tell it, the street we were on . . . was filled with men and women in nightgowns or blankets, or entirely naked, running back and forth like so many sheep. In running we had to spread our feet wide apart to keep from being hurled to the ground, so violent was the tremor.
            “They come in threes!” Wally shouted. “there will be two more. Get to the middle of the street.” And away he rushed, me following. Suddenly—God only knows how—I saw that he was directly under a mass of electric wires and the danger suggested itself to me. I called to him to come away from the wires, and he started back. He had no sooner rejoined me on the sidewalk than the wires came down, sputtering and tearing up everything they touched. That we were not both electrocuted was the second miracle of the morning. Eventually, we moved cautiously up the street. Half the fear had left us, or probably the full fear had not yet come to us, for we began to congratulate ourselves; first, on our escape, and secondly, that we were probably the only reporters on the street at that hour and could therefore make thrilling stories of what we had seen. Laughable, indeed, looking back on it. We little dreamed that a few hours later every newspaper office in town would be smoldering ruins, as well as half the town.
            Toward evening Wally’s rooms were burned—all his furniture, trunks, etc., gone. My hotel, the Rex, was a mile away from his place. I saw, however, that it, too was doomed, and we packed my trunks and grips, and carried them down to the sidewalk along with the typewriter. The opera itself I planted in my pocket—and there it sticks! While in the hotel we helped some women to get out their traps, and Wally went to help them to a place of safety. He was to return, but 30 minutes later the order came to clear out—that the Rex would be dynamited in 15 minutes. So I lugged my goods for a couple of blocks, and finally secured an expressman to haul them a half mile further beyond the fire lines. For this service I had to pay $5 per run--$10. But I saved them. That night a party of us slept on the grass in a cemetery—rather, we stayed there; sleep was, of course, out of the question. The second night we built a dug-out for the women in the homeless crowd and the men patrolled and went foraging for good. It was the third day before I found Wally. The Chronicle had decided to print a paper in Oakland, and he dug in. But it was the fifth day before either of us had even our shoes off, and it was the fifth night before we found our present luxurious apartments.
            We had mush for breakfast this morning. Think of it! I was almost ashamed to eat it, thinking of the sick in the hospitals, and was rather afraid on my own account of annexing gout to my other troubles.
            The present situation is this: The Chronicle, having facilities for only four little pages daily, can use only a few members of its staff. The older employees, naturally, were given preference. Fourteen of us were therefore laid off. How long it will last, I do not know. I have about $3 left out of last week’s salary, and a trifle coming still from the Chronicle. We are all beggars, more or less, but many necessary articles are purchasable still. The situation could be worse. My shoes are in shreds from walking over ruins, but I am only one of thousands.
            It is, on the whole, an experience I would not have missed—provided that it ends well. We have not yet thought of leaving San Francisco, but may be forced out, or forced to remain in, according to the turn of the wheel of fortune.
            And as I said before, earthquakes are unpopular.
(Clipping from Deseret News, missing date, as found in Orson F. Whitney Journal, April 30, 1906.)

            Race concluded the letter with a brief note for his father, mentioning his call to the Twelve: “In conclusion, father, accept my belated congratulations and fondest wishes upon the recognition which has recently been given you. Your loving son, Race.”
            The next month Race returned home, out of work and money, the earthquake having destroyed his latest employment hopes. He spoke to the young people of the 18th Ward about the earthquake, describing its almost indescribable devastation.

[Race died a difficult death in 1908, after his father brought him home from California, where he had gone again to try to obtain financing for his operetta, and again become engaged]

            Orson procured a wheelchair for Race, and visited him often during the next three weeks. At first Race seemed to be improving, but then took a turn for the worse, and he again had to be hospitalized: “Visited Race. He is no better. God alone can help him it seems to me.” The next day, “Visited Race at the Hospital. They have put him in a cooler room . . . on the north side. He is about the same—rational and irrational by turns—on a liquid diet, very weak and helpless.” It became a daily watch: “Was at the Hospital twice during the day. Took a bouquet of flowers to Race in the morning. . . . Wrote to my daughter Helen, Sister Margaret Dusenberry and Margaret Gallagher, Race’s fiancée, in Los Angeles. Dr. Paul, Race’s physician, phoned me that the end might come tonight. That was my own impression.” The end was not long in coming: “At 7 am or a little before, was summoned to the Hospital, Race was failing. Received a second call to come quickly. Had slept but little; [illegible line] could and walked up to the Hospital. Race had died at about 10 minutes [illegible] 7. He failed rapidly and died peacefully. He was nervous and delirious as he has been for days until about 12:30 when they gave him some [hyacine?] to quiet him, and from that time he was peaceful to the end. Spent the rest of the day making preparations for the funeral on Thursday, assisted by my brother H[orace]. G. and the family. Received many callers during the day and evening.”

1 comment:

  1. Matthias F Cowley had an amazing experience during the 1906 earthquake.