Published April 18, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO – A survivor of San Francisco's 1906 earthquake and fire attended the pre-dawn ceremony commemorating the 102nd anniversary of the cataclysmic event.
Police, fire fighters and the volunteer who has led the annual tribute for 32 years made sure that Herbert Hamrol, age 105, arrived in a stylish and comfortable ride at Lotta's Fountain Friday morning.
Hamrol arrived in an immaculate vintage car, sat in the back seat and spun stories of the time when the earthquake struck and his family took him away to safety.
He's the only survivor of the earthquake that attended the ceremony.
When asked if he planned on attending next year's event, Hamrol replied, "God willing."
More than 100 people, many dressed in vintage period clothing, also gathered at the fountain.
Lotta's Fountain is where survivors of the earthquake and fires that leveled half the city more than a century ago gathered to search for loved ones. Residents have been meeting there once a year for almost as long to remember the lives lost to the Great Quake.
Mayor Gavin Newsom laid a wreath on the fountain and observed a moment of silence.
Donna Huggins, the mistress of ceremonies, said there are probably at least a couple dozen people still living who felt the earth move at 5:13 a.m. on April 18, 1906. But interest in organizing and attending the commemoration waned after the blowout centennial event two years ago, she said.
When Hamrol decided he was up for going, Huggins said she did, too.
"Can you imagine how guilty I felt? More than twice my age and I'm almost thinking about not going," Huggins said of her conversation with the energetic elder.
She arranged for a friend in the police department to pick Hamrol up at his Daly City apartment and to have him driven downtown.
Hamrol, who was 3-years-old when the quake struck and remembers his mother carrying him out of his family's crumbling flat, still works two days a week stocking shelves at a San Francisco grocery store.
Huggins thinks that San Francisco history buffs and fire fighters will keep the memorial tradition going long after the last survivors have died.
"There is still some energy there. It's like the event that won't go away," she said.