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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 17, April 23, 2006, Article 10

100 YEARS AGO: LEACH'S TREK TO SAVE THE SAN FRANCISCO MINT

This week marked the 100th anniversary of the great 1906 San
Francisco earthquake and fire.  The Contra Costa Times posted
a number of articles on their web site, including one noting
Superintendent Frank Leach's dangerous trek into the city to
survey damage to the facility:

"Like most Bay Area residents, Frank Aleomon Leach, superintendent
of the United States Mint in San Francisco, was shaken awake in
his Oakland home. He dressed quickly and headed off for work,
figuring he might be needed at the mint. As he walked from his
home to the ferry wharf, he was relieved to see relatively
little damage, outside of tumbled chimneys and broken glass."

"Leach, who was one of very few to return to San Francisco at
the start of the fire, picked his way through the burning city,
taking a zigzag route almost to Broadway and back before reaching
the mint, where a persistent rumor had it that a group of thugs
was planning an assault on the granite building to steal the
nearly $300,000,000 in gold and currency locked up in there.

The rumor was untrue, but caused plenty of concern as the 50
or so mint employees who turned out for work used the mint's
self-contained water supply to save the building.

"The buildings across the alley from the mint were on fire,
and soon, great masses of flames shot against the side of our
building as if directed against us by a huge blowpipe. The
glass in our windows, exposed to this great heat, did not crack
and break, but melted down like butter; the sandstone and granite,
of which the building was constructed, began to flake off with
explosive noises like the firing of artillery," Leach remembered.

"The heat was now intense. It did not seem possible for the
structure to withstand this terrific onslaught. The roar of
the conflagration and crashing of falling buildings, together
with the noise given off from the exploding stones of our
building, were enough to strike terror in our hearts, if we
had had time to think about it. At times, the concussions
from the explosions were heavy enough to make the floor quiver."

To read the complete article, see: Full Story"

[As we've discussed in earlier issues, Leach led a ragtag
assemblage of Mint employees and Army troops in a heroic effort
to save the building and its contents.  In the end, The Granite
Lady stood, the only government structure remaining intact
following the horrific fire sparked by the quake.  The
surrounding neighborhood was devastated. -Editor]

"By 5 p.m., it was over. The men walked across the hot cobblestones
of Fifth Street into a scene Leach described as "utter ruin,
desolation and loneliness." The city's banks were rubble, their
vaults too hot to be opened for several days. But the brave men
of the Mint had saved $200 million in silver and gold from the
same fate. Within two weeks, the Mint dispensed $40 million in
desperately needed money."

For more (the source of the last quoted paragraph above) see:Full Story

To read Leach's full account from his 1917 book, "Recollections
of a Newspaperman," see: Full Story

To view a photo of the Mint after the fire, see: Photo

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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