Year
1906

Enrico Caruso survives the San Francisco earthquake

“You ask me to say what I saw and what I did during the terrible days which witnessed the destruction of San Francisco? Well, there have been many accounts of my so-called adventures published in the American papers, and most of them have not been quite correct.” So began one of the most widely read firsthand accounts of the greatest natural disaster ever to befall a North American city. The words were those of the world’s greatest tenor, Enrico Caruso, who along with the entire traveling company of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, survived the devastating earthquake and fire that struck San Francisco on this day in 1906.

The previous evening had been the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera Company’s San Francisco engagement. Caruso—already a worldwide sensation—had sung the part of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen at the Mission Opera House. He went to bed that night feeling pleased about his performance. “But what an awakening!” he wrote in the account published later that spring in London’s The Sketch. “I wake up about 5 o’clock, feeling my bed rocking as though I am in a ship on the ocean….I get up and go to the window, raise the shade and look out. And what I see makes me tremble with fear. I see the buildings toppling over, big pieces of masonry falling, and from the street below I hear the cries and screams of men and women and children.”

The Palace Hotel, where Caruso and many others in the company were staying, would collapse by late afternoon, but not before all of its guests managed to escape safely. Caruso—or, rather, his unbelievably devoted valet—even managed to remove the bulk of his luggage, which included 54 steamer trunks containing, among other things, some 50 self-portraits. “My valet, brave fellow that he is, goes back and bundles all my things into trunks and drags them down six flights of stairs and out into the open one by one.” That same valet would eventually find a horse and cart to carry the great Caruso and his many belongings to the waterfront Ferry Building—no mean accomplishment on a day when tens of thousands were attempting to escape the fires ravaging the city.

“We pass terrible scenes on the way: buildings in ruins, and everywhere there seems to be smoke and dust. The driver seems in no hurry, which makes me impatient at times, for I am longing to return to New York, where I know I shall find a ship to take me to my beautiful Italy and my wife and my little boys.” By nightfall, Caruso was across the bay in Oakland and boarding a train headed east—news that reached anxious New Yorkers the following day.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Mt. Everest sees its single deadliest day

On this day in 2014, 16 Nepali mountaineering guides, most of them ethnic Sherpas, are killed by an avalanche on Mt. Everest, the Earth’s highest mountain. It was the single deadliest accident in the history of the Himalayan peak, which rises more than 29,000 feet above sea level ...read more

Revere and Dawes ride

In Massachusetts, British troops march out of Boston on a mission to confiscate the Patriot arsenal at Concord and to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. As the British departed, Boston Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes set ...read more

Luther defiant at Diet of Worms

Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, defies the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by refusing to recant his writings. He had been called to Worms, Germany, to appear before the Diet (assembly) of the Holy Roman Empire and answer charges of heresy.Martin Luther was a ...read more

Journalist Ernie Pyle killed

During World War II, journalist Ernie Pyle, America’s most popular war correspondent, is killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on the island of Ie Shima in the Pacific.Pyle, born in Dana, Indiana, first began writing a column for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain in 1935. ...read more

Doolittle leads air raid on Tokyo

On this day in 1942, 16 American B-25 bombers, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet 650 miles east of Japan and commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, attack the Japanese mainland.The now-famous Tokyo Raid did little real damage to Japan (wartime Premier ...read more

The Great San Francisco Earthquake

At 5:13 a.m., an earthquake estimated at close to 8.0 on the Richter scale strikes San Francisco, California, killing hundreds of people as it topples numerous buildings. The quake was caused by a slip of the San Andreas Fault over a segment about 275 miles long, and shock waves ...read more

Benoit wins Boston Marathon

Joan Benoit wins her second Boston Marathon in the women’s division with a time of 2:22:43 on April 18, 1983. The following year, she went on to win the first-ever women’s marathon at the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles and became the first person to win Boston as well as ...read more

San Francisco earthquake

A devastating earthquake begins to shake the city of San Francisco in the morning hours of this day in 1906.The first of two vicious tremors shook San Francisco at 5:13 a.m., and a second followed not long after. The quake was powerful enough to be recorded thousands of miles ...read more

Federal court decides to release Ezra Pound

A federal court rules that Ezra Pound should no longer be held at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D.C. Pound has been held for 13 years, following his arrest in Italy during World War II on charges of treason.Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, and ...read more

Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier marry

American actress Grace Kelly marries Prince Rainier of Monaco in a spectacular ceremony on this day in 1956.Kelly, the daughter of a former model and a wealthy industrialist, began acting as a child. After high school, she attended the American Academy for Dramatic Arts in New ...read more

Missouri is ravaged by tornadoes

Missouri is hit by a string of deadly tornadoes on this day in 1880. Statewide, 151 people were killed by the twisters, including 99 in the town of Marshfield. The first tornado struck at about 4:30 p.m. in Springfield, Missouri, where seven people lost their lives. It then ...read more

The Red Brigade terrorizes Italy

On this day in 1974, Italian prosecutor Mario Sossi is kidnapped by the Red Brigades. It was the first time that the left-wing terrorist group had directly struck the Italian government, marking the beginning of tensions that lasted for 10 years.The Red Brigades were founded by ...read more