Public Viewing for 1906 SF Quake Found Footage

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April 15, 2018

Newly discovered footage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake has seen the light of day in a public forum for the first time.

SF quake found footage

For three successive nights, more than 120 people crammed into a small theater at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, Calif., to watch nine minutes of silent footage of one of America's most devastating natural disasters. The film, taken by the well-known Miles Brothers just after the April 1906 quake and fire, shows up-close the devastated city.

On April 18, 1906, a powerful earthquake hit Northern California, flattening the city of San Francisco and doing similarly destructive damage to much of the surrounding area. About 3,000 people were killed as a result of the quake and the subsequent fire. The Richter scale was not in use at the time of this quake, but later estimates put the Richter scale-equivalent at a magnitude of 7.8.

The filmmakers had completed another film, A trip down Market Street before the fire, just four days before the devastation occurred. For the first time, the public was able to see the before-and-after moving images that until now had been available only in still photographs.

David Silver, a collector of vintage cameras who lives in England, bought the film at a San Francisco flea market in 2016. Silver posted online his find, and photography historian Jason Wright bought the reel. Wright then brought in film historian David Kiehn, who transferred the footage to a digital version. He had to build his own specialized optical printer in order to make a successful transfer. The final reel contains 8,665 frames, 16 for every second of footage.

The next planned public viewing of the restored footage is at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in June.

Wright said that he would give a copy of the footage to the Library of Congress.

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