Portrait Saved from 1906 Quake and Fire

Historical Essay

by Richard I. Gerson


The picture you see here is the one my great-grandfather, William Reinstein, saved of himself in 1906.

Photo: courtesy Richard I. Gerson

Lots of Old San Franciscans were still going strong enough a couple of decades after 1906 so that they loved to tell the most mind-boggling stories they had of what their family and friends did in the midst of the earthquake early on the morning of April 18th in 1906. And still now, we their descendants, get a couple of laughs around the anniversary date of the San Francisco Earthquake and the Fire each year that burned the City down over the next three days. Well this year in each other's company on the 107th anniversary of 1906 my niece and I remembered the story my great-grandmother told quite often throughout her life. She told about the escape her dear husband, my great-grandfather William Reinstein, made unscathed from the Earthquake while clutching closely to himself the handsome portrait you see above. All our family members agree he rightly saved it while leaving behind a Chinese ginger jar our great-grandmother believed had contained her own jewelry collection lost that day (and not forgotten).

The little different memory I still have of him goes to the late 1920s, when he was in his early Nineties and I at 4 or 5 sat listening avidly to the recollections he carried with him from the days of the early Gold Rush. Though he was not much more than a boy himself in the mid-19th century, he certainly was a San Francisco pioneer.