Nineteen hundred six introduced many changes in our small world. Papa built a large
barn, back of our house, to stable the horses he would bring home to educate to their many
steps. For casual customers, he also continued to tame the "come and go" horses
in the vacant lot across the street, for five dollars an hour. I was usually on hand to
ride them afterwards, to "prove" they were "so gentle a little child could
He spent more time, too, in his Oakland office now, where his "Nonpareil Stock
Food" was manufactured. It was a mixture of St. John's Bread (carob), ginger, herbs
and spices well-liked by the horses' palates. Nor did they reject his special brand of
horse liniment. The harness oil sold well to teamsters, whose numbers were still worthy of
consideration in the Oakland factory district. For years, he had studied by lamplight late
into the night, then taken the State examination for veterinarians and passed so he could
treat any ailing horse he was training if they were hurt or became ill during their stay
at our stable. He was fast building up clients. Now some called him "Dr.
Mullen." However, he still preferred being called "Professor." He built a
factory on 14th Street, next door to the California Cotton Mills. His business
was called "The Mullen Medicine Co." The address where he conducted his
business, however, was at 1166 East 16th Street in Oakland.
It was a thriving business. Indeed, he was a busy, busy man. He still went to San
Francisco three or four times a week to train blooded horses for the rich and powerful. He
also had a business in San Francisco which was destroyed by the earthquake and fire. I
never learned where it was, because by the time people in San Francisco were ready for
horses, the automobile was beginning to replace them.
What of his religious work? Never think he neglected that. He organized a Man's Bible
Class at the Twenty-third Avenue Baptist Church, The Neighborhood Boys' Club, too, and
rented a hall close to his factory so he could operate a Sunday School for the many
Portuguese children who lived in that neighborhood. On Wednesday nights he conducted a
prayer meeting there for their parents. Many of them worked at his factory.
Saturdays, Mama, Calvin and I were glad to help with the Sunday School preparations:
making molasses taffy, popcorn balls, and peanut brittle. What Papa's horse-taming act was
to his revival crowds, Mama's big clothes-basket full of goodies was to the children's
In those years, the months followed easily into years without notice, and before long I
was learning to read Calvin's school books and, with Papa's help, the Oakland ENQUIRER
which was delivered daily to our house. By the way, I was also able to converse with
Papa's Sunday School children in Portuguese and do a wonderful job of singing "Throw
Out the Life Line," and other hymns. I still remember a few of those refrains.
Then, on March 17, 1906, I saw this advertisement in our daily paper:
Prof. William Mullen
The world's Greatest Horse Tamer and Educator,
18th and Franklin Sts. (Gates Old Stables.)
Riding, Driving and Handling for the uses of every
day life taught.
Classes commence March 23d and close April 2d.
Single lessons every day. (Sunday excepted.)
No charge for work done on horses.
Every afternoon instructions for ladies.
Any lady can learn how to teach her own riding or
Driving horse, fox trot, running walk or single-foot,
Park, Spanish Trot, side step and graceful carriage
Of head and neck. Also break her own horse,
Riding or driving from shying or any other habit.
Every evening an advanced course for gentlemen.
Both classes open to all pupils for the one class fee.
I could make out enough words to get excited. Of course, it wouldn't be as much fun
helping Papa at the Old Gates' stables as riding down to Hayward to help him teach his
"society ladies" how to tame their beautiful animals to do intricate high-steps,
but if Papa were running it, there would be good times for all at the Old Gates stables.
Since Calvin was in school, he had to wait until Saturday afternoon before he got his
turn. On that day, I stayed home to help Mama prepare for Sunday, and take care of
Everett. He would not be four years old until November 3. How I adored looking after my
little brother, who was apt to get into almost anything. Full of mischief -- that was
I was aware also my father had met several times that early spring with a small group
in our immediate neighborhood to discuss what was to be done if an earthquake happened.
Neighborhood schools and churches were the centers of social activity and knew how to
gather the community quickly whenever there was need. Most welfare crises were handled
When the earthquake actually struck, about 5:15 on that following April 18th
morning, we knew exactly what to do: our parents had prepared us to "be calm: by
telling us frequently there was "nothing to fear; Mama would take care of Everett,
and Papa would see that both Calvin and I were safely cared for." However, the rumble
of our chimney-bricks falling down made me think a war was going on in front of our house
and I refused to budge. So Papa picked me up in his strong arms and carried me down the
stairs, while he held Calvin by the hand as he walked beside him. Mama, holding Everett in
her arms, followed. We all were led to the front curb where we joined many of the
neighbors and their children.
I have no memory of our family or our neighborhood playmates showing fear or hysteria.
What I do recollect is how we children made a game of sitting on the seemingly-safe ground
and putting our forefingers in the newly-formed cracks to feel the earth move. That was
However, my finest and most deeply felt emotion was of our family, all five of us, as
we stood outside on the street curb taking note of how the red flames leaped high in the
sky. My father's face was serious, but he showed no alarm. All he said was:
"I should go hitch up the team."
He went into the barn immediately. His chores done, he went into the house by the back
door. When he rejoined us, great smoke clouds had already shut out the sky. So serious he
was, we knew there was little time to lose.
"God calls," he said. That was all. His voice steady, his eyes were still
fixed toward the bay. He knew the significance of the blazing waterfront; he ferried to
his work in the City almost daily.
Then, he kissed us, each one, and advised: "Do no worry, but pray. When my work is
done, I shall return.
Soon, his high-wheeled cart, driven by a pair of chestnut standard-breds, could be seen
swerving around the curve.
An Oakland newspaper reported that he and a small group of church workers called on
Mayor Eugene Schmitz and Governor George Pardee early that morning to learn what help they
might give. He knew them both well. I remember the day as though it were yesterday.
Also, to supplement my little-girl memory, I have additional reference material in a
collection of photographs a newspaper reporter gave Papa, who had them made into slides to
illustrate the lectures he sometimes gave before civic clubs or school groups on
"Handling an Emergency." He never lost an opportunity to explain the value of
being ready for "come what may."
One thing he mentioned about that terrible day was that when he was assembling the
rescue squad, he found "it saved time to seek out the humble, God-consecrated
workers." Somehow they had the courage to enter buildings and carry out the wounded
and dying. In later years, I often thought of this.
Some thirty-five years later, when I was doing research in the Newberry Library in
Chicago, I was to learn why he chose to talk about the most heartening experiences that
happened that week.
Quite by chance, I picked up a book which was compiled by the survivors and rescuers of
the "San Francisco Horror." There I read how the only hospital that survived the
first hours was General Hospital, so other emergency facilities had to be improvised. And,
in that Chicago library, my eyes fell upon a full-page photograph of one of those open-air
morgues in Jefferson Square, where the soldiers, aided by the volunteers, had removed the
stricken out of the fire area. Covered caskets were placed in rows on the grass, including
some infant-sized ones.
There, leaning against a stone table, stood my father -- alone now, he stooped as he
wrote in an open register the names of the dead, or their description, so that later those
who came searching for loved ones might identify them. It had become his task to reunite
families and, later, to find a safe haven for them. There was no mistaking him, dressed
exactly as he always did, ready for whatever occasion.
At 2:25 that first afternoon, another strong earthquake struck, causing crazed crowds
to hurdle rubble-filled streets to reach the ferry landings. Oakland was recognized bu all
as the Haven of Hope. When a ferry pulled into the slip, some even tried to climb the iron
gates, and had to be protected by the militia. By 10:00, the fire was unabated.
My father reached the east shore that evening, in time to help organize the Oakland
Relief Committee of One Hundred. He had no time to come home. Chosen a member of the
executive board, he was assigned to hear the transportation committee, and so had to
return that night to San Francisco. Here tug-boats transported tons of supplies from
Oakland, while carts and drays relayed them to the fifty-two substations and warehouses
throughout various sections of the area. But because all available help was needed to
fight the fires, no one was free to distribute the supplies to the people. Otherwise, the
City would face starvation.
That night -- the third night -- San Francisco was a twenty-square-mile area of
blackened desolation. Its wealthiest area was in ashes; sixty thousand buildings had
become a thirty-foot rubble heap.
Suddenly, a gale swept from the west, fanning the embers into fierce flames! The fire,
which had been thought to have practically burned itself out, revived by the wind, moved
eastward and threatened to destroy the entire waterfront, including the Ferry Depot. Such
a disaster would destroy the only means to transport the homeless out of the City! That
was Papa's job, we had been told. The only way to get in or out of the peninsula was by
rowboats, or floats, or, by foot over the blocked, overland, south passage.
Men in tugboats were ably holding their own fighting the fire. Then, suddenly it became
obvious that more help was needed. Two vessels were ordered to the spot. When these
arrived, they needed more volunteers to help the sailors aboard hold the hose lines. Few
refused. Yet pale, hungry men, many of whom had not slept, and some had not eaten for
forty-eight hours, rallied around the crew and held onto the hoses while the sailors aimed
the streams of water, pumped from the bay, upon the persistent flames. It worked! At
three-thirty the fire was conquered. This time it held.
Soon, at daylight, the fire was under complete control. Minutes later, couriers on
sure-footed horses carried the news to the relief camps that the Southern Pacific Railroad
had offered free transportation to all who wanted to leave the City for any destination on
its line in California. The Professor, able horseman that he was, knew what he was called
upon to do.
Everyone worked in single-minded zeal to begin to move out the refugees as swiftly as
possible. The best-trained horses were selected, and the most talented horsemen-couriers
were put upon their backs to synchronize the train movement information given by the
railroad agents to the volunteer relief committee aides. The news was forwarded, in all
haste, to the people in the relief camps who were readied to depart.
That first day, three-fourths of the city's population were huddled together in these
relief camps, and Papa and other Oakland residents helped here. At dawn, led by the
soldiers, they now began moving out. They were headed in the direction of the Ferry Depot.
Papa was there to make certain the committee's plans were carried out. A big man, he
towered over most others. Numerous aides worked beside him. Everything was orderly until
the first, free train pulled into the Mole.
As though directed by one mind, those who had been hoping against hope they would
escape, faced the reality they could leave, rushed madly towards the incoming train. This
time it was not from the fear of falling buildings, or the uncontrolled fire! It was from
fear that they might be left behind! Like rampaging cattle, they pushed and shoved and
knocked down others so intent on being the first to board the train -- without even
waiting for it to come to a complete stop.
What did Papa do? He told me: "I knew people in a stampede crisis have to be
handled the same way as wild horses, by directing their attention to something else. Human
beings, more sensitive than either cattle or wild horses, are hardest of all to control in
a terror panic, which is what a stampede is. So I jumped on a pile of freight containers.
I boomed out in a commanding voice: "God is not dead!"
That was all. Yet it was enough to bring them to their senses. The fearful became
silent. Still standing on his box platform, he then gave them necessary information: How
the trains would be coming all day; that there would be a seat for every man, woman and
child. He made a point to tell them that those who could not leave today would have the
opportunity to leave tomorrow, or the next day, or still again on yet another day, until
everyone was taken care of.
As they listened, he assured them relief aides would board the trains to help them in
any way. Then he directed them, each one, to form a single line, and start to board the
cars in turn.
Twenty-five thousand departed that Saturday in trains that came in quick succession.
Twenty-five thousand marveled at the miracle that they were still alive.
On Monday, a fourth, stiff earthquake was again felt. The next day, when the last
traveler was taken care of, the Oakland Mole was filled with an increasing number of
anxious travelers who also had decided to leave. In the end, only 175,000 inhabitants
remained to build a new city out of the destroyed old San Francisco that up until the
earthquake was also referred to as The City. But they were enough.
It was, however, not until 1931 before my father told me the full story of how almost
an entire city's population had been moved out within those morning hours of the fourth
I, along with Mama, Calvin, and Everett, had an early first lesson, learning:
"They also serve who sit home and wait."
As did other Oakland families, we opened our house to a refugee family, who moved
upstairs. I also remember no small joy and satisfaction accompanying Mama, every day, to a
neighborhood bakery with unbaked loaves of bread placed in black, iron baking pans, ready
to be baked in the community ovens so the fresh-baked bread could be distributed to the
hungry. Somehow I found great reward in this task. I enjoyed doing my little girl's bit.
Especially did it make up for our father not coming home for such a long time.
When the homeless were finally sent, each one, to wherever he chose to go, to a close
relative or friend who had expressed willingness to accept the responsibility for his
care, Papa coma home. It had been a full three weeks. And, then, he couldn't even remember
To honor the work he had done in the City's behalf, the Southern Pacific Railroad
Company sent our family -- every one of us -- to Chicago to visit mama's three sisters. We
stayed all summer, returning to the Fruitvale house, and Calvin and I enrolled in the
Fruitvale Avenue school. Mama resumed her gardening and caring for her little flock of
chickens, and Papa to his horse training and factory business. Such happiness we children
felt returning home to California! And Mama, who had always missed Chicago so, was even
happy to be back again in the West. But for Calvin and me, there was real sorrow to be
confronted, with the discovery of the refugees who had been permitted to occupy our home
in our absence took the beautiful doll Aunt Bob had given me one Christmas -- the pretty
doll with eyes that opened and closed, and had real hair, too. Aunt Bob had made a
complete wardrobe for her and each Christmas she would send me a new dress for my precious
doll. And with the doll that was stolen, my once-felt love for the "destitute
stranger" went out the door. It was grief indeed to bear. What made it a family
tragedy, Calvin and his Chinese doll, outfitted in a silk mandarin suit, also stolen. It
even made it harder to bear that he could not get to the wicked girl and give her "a
good punch in the nose."
Long years afterwards when I asked him what he remembered about the earthquake, he
replied: "How we'd put a finger in the ground those first few days and were so
thrilled to feel the earth move."
"And the worst thing?"
"That bratty girl stealing my Chinese doll. It was dressed like a true Chinese
San Francisco bravely tried to become once more the "City That Was." Somehow
I never felt she make it.
And Papa tried to piece together the fragments of his business. It was discouraging
work. He began turning his eyes away from the beautiful standard breds and show horses
with their multiple steps. More and more he began noticing that men were becoming
interested in buying the automobile, that "contraption of the devil." Even the
neighbors across the street came home with one, which brought new interest to
transportation needs in our community.
We put our home up for sale. It sold quicker than we expected it would, and we lived
temporarily "across the railroad tracks" in an improved apartment upstairs in
Papa's factory that housed The Mullen Medicine Co.
We started building a new house in a just-opened subdivision called Highland Park. This
was to be our home, also the home where Oliver was to be born.
From then on for the next several years, Calvin and I were to attend the Garfield
School. When Everett turned six, he also enrolled there. But by that time, we were about
to move. Such was the character of that wonderful first decade of the twentieth century. I
might just as well say it out loud, I've said it so many times to myself: There never was
a decade quite like it.
Go to Chapter 16
Return to Table of Contents