Earthquake at Dawn is a book in the series Great Episodes, published in 1992 by Harcourt Brace. The novel is set before, during and after the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, and the story is based upon the stories of two real women who lived through the earthquake and its aftermath. Edith Irvine was a twenty-one year old photographer who was visiting San Francisco the morning of the earthquake. She hid her cameras in an abandoned baby buggy and took candid shots of the damage from the earthquake that San Francisco officials wanted to hide in an effort to reassure the public that the city was only slightly damaged and ready for more immigration and commerce. The other woman who appears in the book is Mary Exa Atkins Campbell who wrote a thirty-two page letter telling about her experiences during the earthquake and the subsequent fires caused, or at least exacerbated, by the damaged infrastructure and the lack of water.
It makes for a good story. Edith and her servant/friend, the fictional Daisy Valentine, wander about a ravaged San Francisco looking for Edith’s father. They meet up with not only Mary Exa, but also actor John Barrymore and author Jack London, who were actually present during the great earthquake and later wrote about their experiences, too. I always think that well-researched and engaging historical fiction is the most fun and memorable to learn history. You can get a general idea of what happened and how it affected the people involved in the event, and then if you’re interested, look more details for yourself. I especially like stories that are based on real-life characters like Edith Irvine and Mary Exa.
And here’s a movie made on Market Street in San Franciso just four days before the earthquake in 1906:
Only a couple of of these Great Episodes series books fit into my upcoming study of the twentieth century for this next school year:
Air Raid–Pearl Harbor!: The Story of December 7, 1941 by Theodore Taylor
Keep Smiling Through by Ann Rinaldi (1943)
What other historical fiction set in the twentieth century either for young people or for adults would you recommend?