Top Image

You are here: Home / Blog / Frisco and Hell Went into Partnership and Hell Came out Winner

Frisco and Hell Went into Partnership and Hell Came out Winner

created Mar 09, 2018 09:31 AM

by Beth Slutsky, Ph.D., Academic Coordinator

Last month I spent some time in San Francisco at the California Historical Society (CHS) to research for Teaching California.  We are working with CHS to develop curricular materials that align with most of the framing questions in the new History-Social Science Framework.  It leverages the content and educational expertise of the CHSSP and the archival and library expertise of the Historical Society.  The goal of Teaching California is to digitize these materials so that from kindergarten through grade twelve, students around California will have access to primary and secondary source materials that align with the inquiry questions in the Framework.  But with this ambitious goal in mind, we want to give you and up-close view of some of the materials that will appear in the collection and will re-frame student’s understanding of the significance of the past.

One of the most memorable artifacts that archivists and librarians shared with me last month is this letter written and mailed on the collar of a men’s dress shirt.  On April 21, 1906 – shortly after the catastrophic earthquake and fire in San Francisco – a man named James Graves Jones wrote to his family in New York to tell them that he was safe, but also to inform them how badly damaged the city was.  The problem was that in the immediate aftermath of this environmental catastrophe, paper was hard to come by.  So out of apparent desperation, Jones tore off the collar of a shirt, wrote a brief description of what was happening, and mailed it across the country to his family.  This is the full text of what he sent:

“Dear Wayland and Gussie:  All safe but awfully scared. Frisco and hell went into partnership and hell came out winner – got away with the sack. Draw a line from Ft Mason along Van Ness Ave. to Market St., out Market to Dolores to Twentieth, thence to Harrison, 16th & Potrero Ave., R.R. Ave. to Channel St. and bay. Nearly everything east and north of this boundary line gone, and several blocks west of it, especially in Hayes Valley as far as Octavia St. from Golden Gate Ave. east. Fire is still burning on the northside but is checked in the Mission. I and a band of 40 or 50 volunteers formed a rope and bucket brigade, back-fired Dolores from Market to 19th, pulled down houses and blanketed westside Dolores and won a great moral victory.”

| More with paper and stamps. James G. Jones

April 21st, 1906”

Taken by itself, this is an incredible example of how shattered the city of San Francisco was in the wake of these disasters, to the point that this man could not find paper to send a letter.  It is also an incredible example of the lengths that families went to in order to stay in touch during emergencies.  But put in the hands of a second-grade California student, imagine the observations, questions, and insights that would surface from an examination of this letter on a shirt-collar.  The second-grade student would begin by literally sourcing this artifact, making observations about its production and message; then that student would wrestle with questions about how and why it was created.  Next, the student would view this as one piece of evidence that connects to larger questions like “Why do people move?” or “How do families remember their past?”  The goal of Teaching California is for students to connect with their communities and the past by learning how to “read” or make sense of these sources in order to develop their own interpretations about the significance of items like this letter on a shirt collar.  Reading this letter alongside viewing photographs of people displaced by the 1906 earthquake and fire, for example, allows students to learn about their communities in new ways, but it also provides a way for them to construct a sense of the past that is useable for them.  As we continue to develop materials that make use of the Historical Society collections, we look forward to updating you and hearing from you about questions and ideas to explore.

Click here to check out more of CHS’ 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire collection.

 
Recent Blog Posts
Oct 15, 2018
CHSSP and CDE Win 2018 Beveridge Family Teaching Prize from the American Historical Association
CHSSP and CDE Win 2018 Beveridge Family Teaching Prize from the American Historical Association
Read more
Oct 11, 2018
Plastics in the Oceans: Another Challenge
Plastics in the Oceans:  Another Challenge
Read more
Oct 04, 2018
Why Inquiry?
Why Inquiry?
Read more
Sep 20, 2018
Advisory Board Meeting October 3
Read more
Aug 25, 2018
California's Enduring Diversity
California's Enduring Diversity
Read more