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18 April 2008

A Most Dreadful Earthquake

One hundred two years ago today, at 5:12 a.m., the earth shook in San Francisco and Sarah E. Phillips was "awaked by a most dreadful earthquake.” Thus began a series of letters Sarah wrote to her fiancĂ© in Schenectady, New York, chronicling the days and weeks of the aftermath.

Almost one hundred years later, a ribbon-bound packet of forty faded letters, still in their original envelopes, was found in a misplaced box at the California Genealogical Society, with little to identify the writers or explain how the letters came there.

Author Dorothy Fowler, a researcher and long-time volunteer at the society, happened to be on hand when the letters turned up. She took on the challenge of researching and editing the letters and was the sole author of a book published by the society to coincide with the earthquake centennial. The vast number of hours required in researching and writing the book were contributed by her to the society.

Dorothy is a gifted writer with long experience in various publications. Much of her work life was spent in research, writing and administrative jobs, mainly for the state of California. She is now retired and lives in San Francisco.

Two years ago when promoting the book, Dorothy was a guest of radio personality John Rothmann on his KGO Radio 810 AM talk show. Dorothy did several readings from A Most Dreadful Earthquake: A First-Hand Account of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire before Rothmann closed with these remarks:

"I'm going to tell you that every April 18th, for as long as I live, I'm going to pick up your book, and I'm going to re-read it. And the reason I'm going to re-read it is because of the vivid, powerful expressions. You've given us a great gift... and you've preserved history. And for that we are all very grateful, Dorothy."

We are indeed. Mr. Rothmann, have you done your reading this year?