SAN FRANCISCO—In an event that sparked outrage across the historical community, deniers of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake convened last weekend to share their controversial theories about what actually occurred on that tragic day more than a century ago.
The 1906 Earthquake Deniers, a group reviled by Californians and scholars alike, held three days of lectures and roundtable discussions over what they call a "century-long hoax" of exaggerated seismic activity in the Bay area, and part of a conspiracy to bring the World's Fair to San Francisco in 1915. Historians protested the conference, saying the organization's statements denying any major seismic activity in 1906 are reprehensible and out of line with all available geologic data from the time.
"On Apr. 18, 1906, an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale killed 3,000 San Franciscans and devastated a growing metropolis," Professor Richard Kasper of the University of California, Berkeley, told reporters Tuesday. "It was a massive, massive earthquake. To say otherwise is to callously ignore not only the suffering of the disaster's victims, but also a mountain of photographs, video footage, and eyewitness reports."
Added Kasper: "And I find it personally offensive to suggest that a single malfunctioning trolley car could have wiped out 490 city blocks."
Pamphlets distributed during the symposium, which brought together some of the world's most notorious 1906 Earthquake Deniers, raised numerous questions about the so-called "myth" of the 296-mile-long rupture in the San Andreas Fault felt from Oregon to Los Angeles.
"If an earthquake of that size really did strike downtown San Francisco, then where is all the rubble?" read one pamphlet, entitled "After$hock$: Truth, Lies, And The Business Of Earthquakes," obtained by reporters. "Where are these alleged 3,000 dead? And why does the mayor refuse to answer questions about the fires that mysteriously started moments after the supposed 'earthquake' occurred? Ask yourself: Who is he protecting?"
The early 1906 Earthquake Denier movement began shortly after World War I, when historian Michael P. Harrison published an article alleging that the Chinese government and San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz devised a plan to purposely light the city on fire to acquire funds for a new Chinatown. The modern day movement, however, gained momentum in 1971 with Professor David Compson's controversial book Earthquake?, which argued that the inability to freely question the disaster was "the equivalent of mental rape."
Compson has also gone on the record with similar remarks about the 1889 Johnstown Flood and, more recently, Hurricane Katrina.
"We're not saying that there weren't a few tremors on the morning of 4/18, but we do question whether 'earthquake' was the proper term to classify them," said Compson, adding that he sees himself as more of a 1906 Earthquake Revisionist than a 1906 Earthquake Denier. "These geologists and their fancy-looking, detailed seismic readouts simply aren't telling us the whole story."
Self-acknowledged 1906 Earthquake Denier and radical seismologist Dr. William Pletcher rebuffed angered historians by stating that the goal of the conference was neither to prove nor deny the earthquake of 1906. Rather, said Pletcher, it was held to "facilitate an appropriate atmosphere in which the hidden and unhidden angles of the most important geological issue of the 20th century could become more transparent."
"This so-called 'violent shift in the earth's tectonic plates' is nothing more than a thinly veiled lie, perpetrated by the San Francisco zoning commission in secret conjunction with the Freemasons to demonize the San Andreas Fault," Pletcher told reporters outside the conference. "The government won't acknowledge our findings because they fear the truth."
While the group has numerous critics, their most outspoken opponents have always been the earthquake survivors themselves. San Franciscans who lived through the event have often countered the Deniers theories by pointing out that on the morning of Apr. 18, at approximately 5:15 a.m., the ground dramatically shook, large crevasses formed in city streets, and buildings crumbled and fell.
"It was an earthquake," said 109-year-old survivor Saul Bloomfield.
But earthquake deniers claim that these personal testimonies are littered with inconsistencies. They have also asserted that Anne Mitchell's Diary Of A Young Girl In The Great San Francisco Earthquake Of 1906, a book that has been translated into 44 languages, was completely fabricated.
"San Franciscans need to wake up and smell the lies and deceits they've been fed for the last century," Earthquake Denier Jared Meeder said. "If a giant earthquake did actually occur, why would anyone in their right mind rebuild a city knowing full well that another earthquake could easily come along and destroy it again?"
"Think about it," Meeder added.