18 April 2010

104 years ago today -- The San Francisco Earthquake

We Gilberts grew up hearing many stories from the old ones about the great SF quake of '06.  Scott & Gilbert Manufacturing Chemists, the family business, had to relocate temporarily to Alameda, where our patriarch John Baptiste Gilbert I and family lived.  Granwilla (then Willa Sale who later would married JBG I's son Louis) headed for the Alameda ferry, as usual, to go to class at Cal but was told at the dock that all classes were canceled and the male students enlisted to fight the fires in the city.

But for this year's 104th anniversary of that fateful day I'm going to tell of my Uncle "Owl" Kohn (Al, but he wore great square glasses and looked like and was called Uncle Owl).  He was married to Kate Gilbert, our dad's aunt, and they threw the glorious Christmas Eve party all the years of the my childhood.

Uncle Owl was almost five years old the night the quake struck, and usually he slept on a cot in the attic near where the chimney rose through the roof, but that night he had gone to bed and a mouse had scurried across the floor of his room and scared him.  So he crept down to his sister's room and begged her to let him sleep there.

The quake hit at 5:13 a.m. and leveled their chimney. If Albert had been sleeping in his bed, he would have been killed.  All his life he said, "I was saved by a mouse."

The Kohn family lived for awhile in a makeshift tent city at the Marina that survivors set up while they watched the fires burn then rebuilt their homes.

Al's father, Bernard Kohn, was Secretary of the Luxembourg Benevolent Society, and received an official offer of help for Luxembourgians from the Netherlands Embassy.

Dear Sir,
    His Ex. Mr. Eyschew, Minister of State of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, requests me to see you in regard to extending in the name of his Government, some financial aid to such of your countrymen who are momentarily in distress as a result of the terrible calamity of April 18th last.
    Would it be convenient for you to call on me in Oakland so that we could talk the matter over any day or hour (including evenings) provided you let me know before hand so that I can act accordingly, will suit me!
    Awaiting your answer
I am, Dear Sir,
        your’s very truly,
            [Wolf Marsils]
        Consul for the Netherlands


  1. Fascinating! Did Bernard take them up on their generous offer?

  2. I wish I knew. Maybe sleuthing in the records of the Luxembourg Benevolent Society....


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