“Buildings swayed, tottered, fell and people were hurled from their beds, chimneys crushed through roofs, beams were twisted and bent. There were two distinct shocks and the second finished the work of destruction, undoing in the brief lyric space of fifty-eight seconds the work of man for half a century.”
–  Herbert Slater, who went on to become a state legislator from Santa Rosa

On Dec. 16 The Press Democrat will debut a new holiday serial: “XMAS SR ’06.” It’s an exclusive fictional story set the first Christmas after the 1906 earthquake, often called the San Francisco earthquake.

You can learn more about the story and it’s seven authors here.

We’re hoping the story will cause readers to want to know more about this historic event. Some even may wonder: What’s that building the workmen are toiling at in our title image?

The answer: It was the county courthouse, located in Santa Rosa’s main square. Here is what it looked like before the earthquake.

Built in the 1880s, the building suffered extensive damage that morning of April 18, 1906. Once removed, the courthouse wasn’t replaced until 1910. The new building lasted until 1969, when it was damaged by a smaller earthquake and removed in 1970. Today the site is the city’s Old Courthouse Square.

Our heroine and narrator, 11-year-old Jessie Collier, in December 1906 will pass by the still-empty square with her sister Maddie on their way to meet their Aunt Ruth.

Those who want to learn more about the 1906 quake can start with two stories from “Our Defining Moment,” a 10-page special section The Press Democrat released in 2006 for the quake’s 100th anniversary.

The first article is an overview by my colleague, Staff Writer Meg McConahey: “The Promised Land, A Brutal Reality.” To read it, click here.

It includes a written observation that author Jack London made to a relative in regard to the quake: “Santa Rosa got it worse than S.F.”

The second is by Press Democrat columnist Gaye LeBaron, author of a two-volume history of Santa Rosa. Her article is entitled: “Their Tales Told.” To read it, click here.

LeBaron, one of the seven writers for “XMAS SR ’06,” wrote in the special section that the quake “leveled 20-some square blocks of Santa Rosa’s business district” and the catastrophe’s death toll ended up being “a higher percentage than any town on the North American continent has ever suffered …”

“XMAS SR ‘06” is merely fiction. But the ’06 quake is history worth remembering.

– Robert Digitale