Long Lost Footage Of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Discovered On Film

Mar 5, 2018
Originally published on March 5, 2018 9:51 pm
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This next story starts with an old can of film at a San Francisco flea market marked simply 1906 earthquake.


That was enough to get the attention of David Silver, a collector and dealer of antique photographic equipment.

DAVID SILVER: Well, I took a couple minutes to pull some of the footage out of the reel and look through myself just there in the sunlight. And I've seen so many clips of post-earthquake San Francisco. I kept looking at these frames and thinking I'd never seen them before.

SHAPIRO: He was right that he'd never seen them before. Virtually no one had.

KELLY: Silver sold the film to another dealer, Jason Wright, who partnered with film historian David Kiehn at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum to scan and preserve the film and to identify it. And they determined it was long-lost footage filmed just weeks after the devastating earthquake as people were beginning to pick up the pieces of their lives.

SHAPIRO: Jason Wright describes a shot from the front of a street car as it makes its way down the normally bustling market street.

JASON WRIGHT: People are standing around, not knowing what to do with themselves, basically staring at, you know, their homes and businesses which have been leveled.

KELLY: There are scenes of a ruined City Hall, dynamite blasting away what's left of other buildings nearby and crowds of people at a ferry terminal, leaving perhaps for good.

SHAPIRO: The old film will be screened for the first time or at least the first time this century next month at the Niles Essanay Museum. Here's historian David Kiehn.

DAVID KIEHN: I think people will come away with a sense of resilience that people, even though they lost everything, bounced back and continued on.

SHAPIRO: He says he expects a full house. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.