Did you know that during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake– whose 106th anniversary we'll observe on Monday - a five-foot-high tsunami wiped out the lumber wharves in west Berkeley?
Only one person – a man named B.J. Rose – was on the wharf at the time. The wave knocked him into the water, along with half a million feet of lumber. But somehow he miraculously survived.
Never heard of it? Neither did anyone else, including the U.S. Geological Survey. The tsunami was a one-inch story in the next day's Berkeley Gazette; but with everything that was happening, it was quickly forgotten.
But in 2005 a local historian named Richard Schwartz rediscovered the story and notified the USGS. They ran the numbers and decided the tsunami probably was caused by part of Yerba Buena Island falling into the Bay.
"Now here's the scary part," says Schwartz. "The Hayward Fault would cause a much bigger tsunami. Which means all of the flatlands are at risk, not just west Berkeley."
This is just one of the hundreds of great stories in Schwartz's book, "Earthquake Exodus, 1906: Berkeley Responds to the San Francisco Refugees." You can't turn a page without stumbling over another fascinating factoid. For instance:
The ROTC cadets at Cal were mustered into service and ferried to San Francisco to prevent looting.
"At first, they treated it like a joke," says Schwartz. "But all the laughing stopped when boxes of live ammunition were brought out on deck, and they realized they might be forced to shoot their fellow citizens."
Many French Americans from San Francisco found refuge in Berkeley's booming French Quarter on Fourth Street, which featured some of the finest French restaurants in the Bay Area.
"But the next year, the city passed an ordinance banning the consumption of alcohol, and that put an end to Berkeley's French Quarter," Schwartz says. "The restaurant owners closed their establishments rather than compromise their culture."
And, of course, there's the Italian American fishing boat captain who was ferrying frightened refugees from North Beach to Berkeley.
"As they were crossing the Bay he noticed a young woman who looked really scared. He put his hand on her shoulder and said, 'It's going to be OK.' They fell in love, got married, and had a son. That son's name was Joseph L. Alioto, the future mayor of San Francisco."
Schwartz himself is as interesting as the stories he tells. He's not a professional historian; he's a building contractor.
One day in 1996 he happened to be visiting the Berkeley Historical Society when he spotted a two-foot stack of old Berkeley Gazettes from 1900 to 1909 that they were about to throw out.
"Hey, I'll take them," he said. The newspapers became the basis of his first book, "Berkeley 1900: Daily Life at the Turn of the Century," published in 2000. That was followed by "Earthquake Exodus" in 2005 and "Eccentrics, Heroes and Cuttthroats of Old Berkeley" in 2007.
Not being an academic historian, he didn't know that you're supposed to leave out all the interesting stuff and put in only the boring parts. So he did the opposite.
All three books are available not only at local bookstores, but at local hardware stores, too - he's a building contractor, remember? – as well as at http://www.RichardSchwartz.info/