A Peek into the World My Grandmother Grew Up In

This morning, I was browsing through the email of headlines that I receive from the New York Times every morning.

Mostly I just read the headline, and sometimes the tagline, but usually there’s one or two or three that I will click on to read a little more. Occasionally, I will read the whole article.

There was one such today: “Found Footage Offers a New Glimpse at 1906 San Francisco Earthquake: Nine minutes of newly found footage, restored from an aging film reel that was revealed publicly this weekend, shows the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated San Francisco in 1906.”

My mother’s mother was born in San Francisco in October 1891. When the earthquake hit in April 1906, she was 14-1/2 years old.

Towards the end of the article, it ways, “The recovered film was shown publicly for the first time this weekend in three sold-out shows at the Edison Theater, a century-old venue restored by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum [in Fremont, California], where Mr. Kiehn is a film historian. The movie will be played again in early June at the 1,400-seat Castro Theater during the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

“Mr. Wright said he plans to post at least some of the video online and will keep an archival copy for himself and share another with the Library of Congress.”

Several paragraphs into the article, there is a link to a video, of an 8-1/2 minute silent film shot just a few days BEFORE the earthquake by the same outfit that filmed the post-earthquake footage.

silent film 1

At first, it seemed kind of monotonous. There’s no sound (obviously), and it seems there’s just a whole lot of random activity.

But after a couple of minutes, it became weirdly hypnotic. It is still random, but somehow fascinating.

It must have been shot from the front of a cable car. You can see the tracks in front of the camera, and there is another set of tracks to the left along which other cable cars move in a steady procession in the opposite direction.

silent film 2

Throughout the film, pedestrians jaywalk . . .

. . . and horse-drawn wagons, and automobiles veer in and out of the frame, crisscrossing left to right and right to left.


At one point, a boy runs along ahead of the cable car.

silent 11

As the film progresses, the Ferry Building straight ahead comes into clearer view. About halfway through, an electric trolley rolls through.

silent 17

Toward the end, a couple of multi-passenger conveyances drawn by two horse come into view.

silent 5

The film ends when the cable car reaches the turnaround at the end of the line and gets ready to head back the way it came.

silent 18

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