Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Samuel Dickson was 17 years old, almost a man, that April night in San Francisco 100 years ago. He and a friend had gotten standing-room tickets for the opera and heard the great Caruso sing.

The night was clear and beautiful, so after the opera they went to the top of Telegraph Hill to look at the city -- the lights of the Barbary Coast, the steeple of Old St. Mary's Church on California Street, the rounded domes of Temple Emanu-El on Sutter, the alleys of Chinatown and the distant gilded dome of City Hall.

"It's the most beautiful city in the world," his friend said.

Dickson remembered that remark all of his long life, because the next morning, April 18, 1906, would begin three surreal days of terror, flight and chaos. A killer earthquake would strike. Untold numbers of people would die. Uncontrollable fires would rage at temperatures of 2,000 degrees. At least 250,000 people would be left homeless. And everything that Dickson saw before him, the great city of San Francisco, would be destroyed.

"San Francisco is gone," Jack London wrote later. "Nothing remains of it but memories."

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