A few minutes before dawn, Mr. Brown of Tupper Street felt his house start to move. Recently he had a conversation with someone about earthquake waves (perhaps even his neighbor, Luther Burbank) and was curious whether he could actually see them, so he stepped outside. From the west, he heard sounds and saw treetops shaking. The disturbance was big, and it was rushing towards him, fast. He reached out to brace himself against a tree. The tree was torn from his grasp, as if it recoiled from his touch. Suddenly the ground beneath him was rippling like the ocean with a two-foot high surf. He looked north towards downtown. The great dome on the courthouse was starting to sway.
On Second Street, eleven year-old Harold Bruner probably didn’t understand at first why he had been thrown out of bed. It wasn’t the doing of his mother; he saw she was still in her own bed, but curiously on her hands and knees, holding her body protectively over his infant baby brother. Then he looked out the window and saw something even stranger; the tall courthouse dome was rocking back and forth. Once, twice. On the third swing, it crashed down.
On the Fourth Street side of the courthouse, Marvin Robinson apparently stood transfixed by the sight of the dangerously swaying dome, even as it seemed to be looming over him. To his great good fortune there was one more wobble left before it fell.
Not far from Marvin, Green Thompson was sweeping on Fourth street. He heard a great rumbling sound before every single building between Mendocino Avenue and D Street collapsed at the same time, leaving him staring into a blinding cloud of dust.
The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa’s morning paper, had just finished its print run and a handful of boy carriers were ready to fan out over the town making home deliveries. When the brick building on the corner of Exchange Ave. and Third St. began shaking, everyone rushed towards the side door of the pressroom. The printer and four of the newsboys made it out to the sidewalk, and just as night foreman Linsley reached the door, the wall fell away, burying all of those ahead of him.
It was later agreed that all of this happened in less than 45 seconds.
SOURCES: Brown, Robinson, and Thompson: Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission 1908. Duffy: The San Francisco Earthquake Horror, 1906. Press Democrat pressroom: The Democrat-Republican newspaper, Apr. 19 and 21. Bruner: 2006 Press Democrat Earthquake centennial edition and San Francisco Chronicle Earthquake 75 year anniversary, 1981. Tinted postcard courtesy California Historical Society. Earthquake graphic courtesy USGS