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The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire: What one man saw and learned

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Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
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On April 18, 2006, San Francisco will commemorate the centennial of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, an event that leveled that city. The number of people who died has never been more than estimated. The other loses of various kinds ran into what today would be billions of dollars.

On that first day this photo was taken from the St. Francis Hotel, showing the city in flames. Less than 24 hours later the St. Francis would also have been gutted.

To See Photo go to: http://howtheneoconsstolefreedom.blogspot.com

Behind that crumbling facade of human invention stood a man with an active, analytical mind. One man taking action would change what others refused to see because of those tragic days. Arthur C. Pillsbury would capture in film a lesson that would change all of our lives. The sound and sight of a city burning awakened him to a human truth.

The accompanying photo went out around the globe, carrying the enormity of the event to human eyes. As catastrophic as that event was it vanishes into nothingness compared to the specter we face today from our own government.

Some disasters are natural; some happen because of what we fail to understand.

The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire was an event that began as a natural disaster. The plates of the Earth slipped, readjusting themselves and for hundreds of miles the resultant impact was felt. But that devastation and loss passed the boundaries of what is natural, multiplied by the corruption of San Francisco's government.

San Francisco had no disaster plan because the corrupt city administration was far more interested in continuing to enjoy the graft and privileges that come with power. Emergency workers were untrained; the preparations that had long been asked for had never been enacted. Many buildings blown up to create fire breaks simply burst into flame, spreading the conflagration and destruction. Both looters and the innocent were gunned down by the military contingent that would never be held accountable. The corrupt officials also evaded liability.

Accountability is something government learned to avoid early on.

San Francisco survived. Eventually sanity returned and the people came together to rebuild. Sometimes even in the face of completely incompetent care the patient lives.

The image above was taken by Arthur C, Pillsbury on that first day. It was a day that changed his life's focus.

Pillsbury had just left his job as the photojournalist at the San Francisco Examiner to start his own photography business, the Pillsbury Picture Company, a month before. For the next weeks he caught the immediacy of events as people struggled to survive and save what they could from the consuming flames. His developing facility, located in Oakland, was the only one functioning. Orders poured in from across the globe.

Later the same year he used the profits from the San Francisco photos to achieve a long time goal and bought the Studio of the Three Arrows in Yosemite.

Pillsbury was an engineer who majored in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford He had invented a specimen slicer for the microscope and circuit panorama camera before leaving college. He was not the kind of guy to settle for systems and tools that did not work as expected.

In Yosemite he found other systems that were failing to do their jobs.

The Cavalry, then in charge of the Park, had long made a practice of mowing the meadows to provide fodder for their horses. Pillsbury noticed that the number of wild flower species was decreasing every year in those areas and also that the Cavalry was not concerned. So, applying his skills as an inventor he built the first lapse-time camera to be used with plants, producing the first motion picture image of a wild flower gracefully raising its head to the sun. By than he had been showing and narrating nature films for two years.

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Melinda Pillsbury-Foster is the author of GREED: The NeoConning of America and A Tour of Old Yosemite. The former is a novel about the lives of the NeoCons with a strong autobiographical component. The latter is a non-fiction book about her father (more...)
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