We know far less about the 1906 Santa Rosa Earthquake than the simultaneous shake in San Francisco, for reasons discussed at depth in an earlier essay. Several of the problems touch on contemporary newspaper coverage – or more accurately, the lack thereof.
Both the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican wanted to tell the world that the city was roaring back from the earthquake’s blow. Even in the days immediately following the disaster, the seriously injured were reported to be recovering “nicely,” and great progress was to be found everywhere. This relentless boosterism continued in the following years, even when there were opportunities to reflect.
On the first anniversary of the quake, the PD offered two pages describing all the construction finished or underway; on the second anniversary, the PD was beating the same drum: “Two years of effort, the like of which has seldom before been seen, have come and gone, and today the newer and greater Santa Rosa is here to greet the eye of the visitor and raise the hopes and aspirations of our own people. No better city of its size is to be found today anywhere in the west…” Did anyone find this interesting reading even in 1908?
The only point of note in Ernest Finley’s editorial was the admission that “many more are believed to have gone to their death” than were officially known. Curiously, Finley claimed the old death toll of 69, although PD city editor Herb Slater had used the up-to-date count of 77 in a speech delivered a few days earlier.
JUST TWO SHORT YEARS
Two years ago today Santa Rosa suffered one of the worst calamities that has befallen any city in modern times. Just as the dawn was breaking a mighty earthquake occurred, as a result of which not a brick or stone building was left intact. Fire immediately broke out and swept over the stricken area, burning what the earthquake had not destroyed. Many of Santa Rosa’s best known residents lost their lives in the disaster, the official death list numbering sixty-nine, besides which many more are believed to have gone to their death. The entire business section of the city was wiped completely out of existence, the work of fifty years being destroyed almost instantly and without warning of any kind.
Such an experience as befell Santa Rosa Two years ago today would have broken the spirit and taken the heart completely out of many a community, but not so with the energetic and splendidly-situated city that has risen so proudly and so quickly from its own ashes. Scarcely had the dead been buried and the living provided with the necessary comforts of life before the work of rehabilitation began. Two years of effort, the like of which has seldom before been seen, have come and gone, and today the newer and greater Santa Rosa is here to greet the eye of the visitor and raise the hopes and aspirations of our own people. No better city of its size is to be found today anywhere in the west. In fact, it is doubtful if its equal exists in the entire country. It is a noble monument to the enterprise and dauntless spirit of our people and one of which all are rightfully and naturally proud.
Two things have contributed to the making of the New and Greater Santa Rosa. The first is the commendable spirit of enterprise and progressiveness that permeates our people, and the second is the splendid manner in which they have all stood together for the accomplishment of the Herculean task which confronted them. But while the work is well under way, it is not yet completed. Much more remains to be done. Let the spirit that has dominated here and the co-operation that has meant so much continue! Now as never before the croaker, if he insists upon croaking, and the knocker, if he persists in knocking, must be shoved to the rear, and his discordant note drowned in the chorus of progress that shall be sung. Every citizen, no matter what his walk of life, owes it to himself and to the community at large to do his full share in making the results of the coming two years equal and if possible surpass the two years that have just passed, and which are now gone forever. Let us all stand together, and work shoulder to shoulder for two years more of advancement, progress and prosperity!– Press Democrat editorial, April 18, 1908