Take a trip through 1906 San Francisco four days before an earthquake destroyed the city

My novel, Abel Bodied: Murder at the Malden Bank, based on the first murder during a bank robbery in American history, is set in my hometown of Malden, MA in 1863.

I had access to photographs, maps, newspapers and other historical resources from the era for my research. I often walked along the real locations to visualize how things were like in the 1860’s – but I really had to delve into my imagination to get a sense of the real people and the time in which they lived to convey the story I set out to tell.

However, I became immersed, transported directly back in time in an instant while watching this video of San Francisco in 1906 as this trolley with a film camera positioned at its front rambles along for over eleven minutes passing other trolley cars, horse and buggies, bicycles and pedestrians crossing the street. The original film has been painstakingly upgraded with current digital technology, colorized with ambient sound added to recreate somewhat accurately what was seen through this camera’s lens.

The scene is peaceful and chaotic at the same time as the speed of all vehicles seems to be about 10-15 mph – yet there are no defined rules of the road. Cars and buggies cut in front of one another or make indiscriminate u-turns in the middle of the street. Some pedestrians walk amidst the unpredictable action without a care in the world while others scurry out of the way. Boys chase and jump on the back of passing carts. The date that this film was taken was Saturday, April 14, 1906. The people in this film were living their lives with no idea as to the utter calamity that was about to befall them.

On Wednesday, April 18th at 5:12 A.M. a 7.9 magnitude earthquake would destroy an estimated 80% of the city and more than 3000 of its residents would die in the initial destruction and then days of fires.

Viewing these eleven plus minutes of video, I felt like I was along for the ride and imagined the myriad lives of those by chance crossing the camera’s path.

It is history come to life and it is an inspiration to any writer or aspiring writer’s base of knowledge if they wish to compose non-fiction and just a terrific resource for one’s creativity to write historical fiction as I prefer to do.

So, if you haven’t already watched the video first, your fare is paid for in advance with a front row seat guaranteed. Just click play and head back to 1906 San Francisco for a little while. I assure you, it is a journey worth taking!

Michael Cloherty

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