Friday, March 3, 2017

Earthquake Survival

As a Seattle-area native, I have been hearing my whole life about the risks of earthquakes in this area - talk about earthquakes and earthquake drills have become second nature to me.  I can remember experiencing three significant earthquakes, including the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake (when I was sitting in my high school classroom).  I can also remember stories from my grandmother of the 1949 earthquake, in which waves were smashing against the windows of her office building on Lake Washington; and my mom in the 1965 earthquake, when she had to duck from bricks falling off chimneys as she was walking home from school.  For me then, earthquakes are relatively minor (no significant damage and nobody hurt or dead) and kind of exciting.  However, the fear of a severe earthquake is all too real.  Scientists have been saying for many years that we are long overdue for (or at least could be hit any day by) "the big one".  This concept was echoed in a widely-read 2015 New Yorker article, The Really Big One, which predicts complete devastation of western Washington.

The subject of this post is a  real-life disaster that may be similar to whenever the big one does decide to hit Seattle.  The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in American history.  As a result of the (approximately) 7.8 magnitude earthquake: 3,000 people were killed; over 220,000 people became homeless; 80% of the city was destroyed and the cost to restore was approximately 10 billion dollars (estimate of the actual cost in 2015 dollars).  In spite of the tragedy, the aftermath of that event is uplifting: people (citizens, companies, governments) came together to care for the wounded and homeless and quickly rebuild the city.  In nine short years, San Francisco celebrated its complete recovery at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in 1915.

This blog explores the earthquake and its recovery through the lens of the experience of my great-grandfather's sister, Ada Jones, who survived the disaster and was a part of the city's recovery.

Ada Jones
Ada Plymale Jones, c. 1909

Ada Plymale Jones was born and raised in southern Oregon, one of the oldest siblings of my great-grandfather Ben Plymale.  She married at 19 and had a happy, but brief, married life.  She moved with her husband to the Bay Area of California in 1896.  Sadly, tragedies struck her family.  Both of her children died in childhood and her husband died suddenly in 1900, at the age of 35.  Ada was left in a difficult situation. At 34, her entire family was dead and she had nothing to do but go back to work and support herself.  Although she had worked for newspapers in her youth, she decided to go into a field that was popular with women: stenography.

At the time of the 1906 earthquake, Ada was living by herself in an apartment in nearby Oakland, California.  She was working as a stenographer for the Fulton Iron Works in their office in downtown San Francisco.  Ada was at work in San Francisco at the time the earthquake hit during the morning of April 18, 1906.

The Earthquake

3rd and Howard in San Francisco.  This was just two blocks
from Ada's office - Fulton Iron Works - where she was at the
time of the quake and which was also destroyed in the disaster
Courtesy California Historical Society
Prior to the major 1906 earthquake, there were decades of minor earthquakes that served as precursors to the big one.  The big earthquake hit on the morning of April 18, 1906; the epicenter was just offshore, west from San Francisco.  The earthquake lasted about 42 seconds and estimates range from 7.7 to 8.3 magnitude on the Richter scale. 
Many buildings were destroyed during the initial quake.  However, most of the destruction occurred as a result of widespread fires in the city.  The fires burned out of control because of ruptured gas mains and an inability to fight the fires because the city's water system was also destroyed. The fires burned out of control for four days.  At that point, 80% of the city was destroyed.  In addition to the hardships to its inhabitants, this was also crippling to the economy because San Francisco was then the largest city and port on the west coast. 

Front page of the Oakland Tribune newspaper, April 18, 1906

At the time, my great-grandfather on my other side of the family (Odin Wadleigh) was a 17-year old high school student in upstate New York.  He wrote the following entry in his diary on April 18, 1906: "There was a terrible earthquake in San Francisco this A.M. It killed 3,000 persons and destroyed many buildings. Fire broke out and because the water works + water pipes were destroyed could not be stopped. They are having an awful time. We do not know all about it yet." And the next day he wrote: "We hear more about San Francisco. The earthquake has ceased but fire is raging every where and can not be stopped. The whole city will probably be destroyed."


a scene from one of the refugee camps at the Presidio, where
Ada lived for three weeks after the earthquake
Courtesy California Historical Society
When the earthquake hit, Ada was at work in her office at Howard and Fremont.  She managed to escape unharmed even though her office building was destroyed.  In addition, her  home in Oakland was also destroyed and all of her possessions were lost.  This was probably a terrifying time; it would have been difficult to find food or water and in the immediate aftermath there were many riots and looting and the mayor gave an order for military and law enforcement to "shoot to kill" anyone engaging in those activities.  Somehow, Ada navigated her way through the rubble of city to the Presidio, where she assembled with other survivors.  For the next three weeks, Ada lived as a homeless refugee on the grounds of the Presidio - where she probably lived in a shared tent and received food and water supplied by the US military. 

Six days after the disaster, Ada was finally able to notify her family in Oregon that she was alive and safe.  Three weeks later, she was eventually able to evacuate out of the city and went to Medford, Oregon to stay with her sister.  Others were not so lucky, especially if they did not have relatives they could stay with or money they could access (most banks were not able to disperse money because their funds were still locked in fire-proof vaults that had to completely cool before opening).  Somewhere between 220,000 and 300,000 people were made homeless as a result of the tragedy and two years later, many refugees were still living in camps in the city. A majority of the homeless population though evacuated out of the city and fled as refugees to other cities (most to San Jose and Los Angeles) where they were supported in camps similar to those in San Francisco. 

In spite of the magnitude of destruction, the city was relatively efficient at supporting the refugees and rebuilding the city.  At the time, many government officials downplayed the extent of the disaster - with the intent of appealing to potential investors, which seems to have been successful.   Many insurance companies went bankrupt as a result of payouts from the disaster (mostly due to fire claims, earthquake damage was - and still is - not covered by most insurance policies).  The disaster also received worldwide attention and the effort was also aided by relief support from around the world - and received funds from the federal US government, from foreign governments and from private companies and individuals.

Short newspaper article about Ada in the
Medford Mail Tribune, May 18, 1906
After spending about a month with her sister, Ada realized that she needed to find a job and a place to live.  During the summer of 1906, she briefly moved to Grants Pass, Oregon and then to Roseburg, Oregon; where she accepted temporary work.  Then in August 1906, she moved by herself to Seattle, where she had finally found a permanent job.  In Seattle, she worked for the Caldwell Brothers Company, which manufactured and sold machinery - including urban water systems - perhaps they helped with the reconstruction effort in San Francisco.  (Her office was in Pioneer Square, across the street from where I currently work). 

She lived in Seattle for four months until she heard from her old employer - Fulton Iron Works - in San Francisco.  They were rebuilding their company and wanted her to come back to her old job to be a part of the effort.  In December 1906, after being away for 7 months, Ada moved back to San Francisco.  She moved downtown to an apartment at Haight and Buchanan that had probably just been built.  She continued working as a stenographer for the Fulton Iron Works, which as an iron supplier and manufacturer was probably heavily involved in the reconstruction efforts.  It must have been exciting to have been living and working among those that were rebuilding the city. 

Ada continued living in the city until she died there in 1933. 

What I appreciate about history are the very important lessons we can learn from those who have come before us.  In this case, the threat of a similarly destructive earthquake is quite real.  Everyone who could be effected by one (from individuals to corporations and governments) should take the risks seriously and have a plan not just for surviving the disaster but for surviving and rebuilding in the subsequent weeks, months or years.  Ada's example is one for the average person to emulate.  She survived the disaster, fled to the correct or safe location for refugees, evacuated out of the city as soon as she could, found her support network and quickly set about pulling herself "up by her bootstraps" and finding work.  And instead of abandoning her city, she came back and was a part of its rebuilding effort. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Seduction and Founding of the Mormon Church

On this Valentine's Day, I thought it fitting to write a post that is - sort of - about love.  This explores a simple act of sexual seduction that apparently occurred almost 200 years ago in Pennsylvania.  However, as we will see, it directly involved my family as well as the founding of the Mormon Church.  In 1829, Joseph Smith (the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) supposedly seduced Eliza Winters, who was the teenage half-sister of my great-great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Winters.  Eliza also happened to be his wife's friend and a close relative by marriage. This happened exactly when Joseph was in the process of writing the Book of Mormon and founding the new church. The supposed act likely had an effect in shaping his views on polygamy, Mormon doctrine and the reputation of Mormons in general.

Although much of the below narrative is conjecture, it also seems to shows historical precedent for the negative treatment (revictimization and character assassination) of female victims of sexual abuse by men in power, which unfortunately still happens to this day.

Joseph Smith
Excerpt from 1834 book Mormonism Unvailed, which is
the only direct evidence of the supposed scandal between
Joseph Smith and Eliza Winters

Joseph Smith is well known as the founder of the Latter Day Saint churches (i.e. the Mormon Church) and was known as a prophet by his followers.  During the 1820s though, Smith was relatively unknown; he claimed to have religious visions and supported himself by literally digging for treasure. 

In 1827, he was married to Emma Hale and moved with her to her hometown of Harmony, Pennsylvania.  It was at that same time that Joseph retrieved the infamous golden plates and began transcribing them.  The transcription process, which resulted in the Book of Mormon, took place between 1827 and 1830.  Joseph was a close friend during this time with Martin Harris, who apparently helped him transcribe the plates.  (Note that Martin Harris' wife Lucy Harris had a prominent role in songs about the history of Mormonism on the TV show South Park, in which she is lauded as "Lucy Harris, smart smart smart smart" for her skepticism of the whole thing. In reality, Lucy Harris soon separated from her husband because of their disagreements over Joseph Smith and the plates.)

In May 1829, the Smith family moved away from Harmony.  In 1830, the Mormon church was officially founded and a fascinating historical/religious movement began. Joseph had quite a colorful life until he was murdered in 1844.  Later the Mormon movement was headed by Brigham Young and resulted in the founding of Salt Lake City and Utah.

Eliza Winters

In 1827, Eliza Winters was a 15-year old girl who lived with her mother and stepfather (Phebe and Joseph McKune) and siblings, in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  She had recently moved to the area when her mother had remarried after her first husband, Eliza's father, had died.  Eliza's ancestors were from New England (some of her ancestors were documented passengers on the Mayflower in 1620). At the time of the incident, Eliza's half-brother Joseph Winters (my great-great-great-great-grandfather) was recently married and living in nearby Cannonsville, New York. 

Although the existing sources are far from definitive, it seems clear that something inappropriate happened between Joseph Smith and Eliza Winters.  We do know that Eliza was the close friend of Joseph's wife Emma.  Apparently Eliza "was often at Smith's home and much in Mrs. Smith's company. The young women were on very intimate terms, and very many times did Mrs. Smith tell her young friend about the finding of the "golden plates" or the "golden bible"" (3).  At the time, Eliza's family were literally next-door neighbors of the Smiths (2).  In addition to being a friend and neighbor, Eliza Winters was also related to them by marriage.  Eliza's stepsister Nancy McKune was married to Emma's brother Isaac Hale.  It was in this situation that Eliza was frequently in their house that Joseph "attempted" to seduce Eliza Winters.  Apparently, Levi Lewis (Emma's cousin) was close to Joseph Smith and Martin Harris.  He said that he overheard Smith and Harris talking about trying to seduce Eliza Winters in which they also said that "adultery was no crime" and that Harris specifically said he "did not blame" Joseph for trying to seduce her.  Levi made this allegation which appeared in a newspaper article and a book against Mormonism in 1834 (1).  Note that Eliza was also related to Levi Lewis: his sister was married to Eliza's stepbrother.

The inference is that Joseph Smith made inappropriate sexual advances to Eliza Winters, but that "nothing happened".  The date of the incident(s) in question is unknown, but would have occurred sometime between 1827 and 1829 (when Eliza was between 15 and 17).  The best guess is that the incident occurred in early 1829, when the Smith family moved away.  Regardless of what happened, Eliza was frequently in the Smith household (along with vocal critic Lucy Harris) and would have been an indirect witness to Smith writing the Book of Mormon and establishing the church. 

Aftermath - Smith

Emma Hale Smith - the wife of Joseph Smith
and apparently the close personal friend of Eliza
Winters.  She apparently did not know about or
approve of her husband's sexual behavior or
polygamy - after his death she became an anti-polygamy
activist in the Mormon church
Although the 1829 incident might have been unremarkable or innocent, it appeared to establish a pattern.  Based on this and later accusations, Joseph Smith might have been something of a sexual predator.  Eliza's story was the first in a series of 12 known (but unproven) allegations of sexual misconduct between 1829 and 1841 by Joseph Smith against various young women that lived in towns where he lived and preached. 

It is also interesting that the Mormon church's views about polygamy were developing at the same time that Joseph was engaging in apparent inappropriate sexual activity with other women.  Joseph had been married since 1827, but had apparently began teaching a polygamy doctrine by 1831 and eventually became a polygamist himself.    According to some sources, Joseph had at least 27 wives during his lifetime, in addition to his legal wife Emma.

After his death, the leaders of the Mormon Church used evidence of Smith's polygamy to establish the practice officially as part of church doctrine.  Interestingly though, Joseph's own family (his first wife and his son) refuted the claims that he was a polygamist and were publicly against the practice for the duration of their lives.

Since Eliza Winters was possibly the first known recipient of Joseph's supposed extramarital sexual advances, perhaps his experience with her was what whetted his appetite enough to seek out adulterous relationships with other women and eventually establish a church that accepted the practice of polygamy.

Aftermath - Winters

Eliza Winters continued living with her family in Harmony, Pennsylvania.  In 1838, Eliza served as a witness when her stepfather wrote his will; she was then one of the only children still left in the home.  Sometime between 1838 and 1840, she was married and lived in the area until her death in 1899 at the age of 87 (4).  It is quite interesting that (much like the other allegations against Smith) the Eliza Winters-Joseph Smith scandal has been dismissed by many Mormon historians based on lack of evidence and the suggestion that Eliza Winters was a promiscuous girl with low morals and because she was apparently silent on the subject.  Many have dismissed the allegation entirely as propaganda meant to disparage the reputation of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church.  However, just because the evidence is inconclusive - there is nothing to suggest that it did not happen.  Why would she have been specifically named by a third party relative in an allegation against Smith if there was not some basis to the claim?

In 1832, Martin Harris (the same man apparently overheard talking with Joseph Smith about trying to seduce Eliza) publicly accused Eliza of having an illegitimate child.  Eliza responded by suing Harris for slander because his words "render her infamous and scandalous among her neighbors", but she lost the case (5).  During the court proceedings (against Harris), Eliza made no mention of the seduction attempt by Joseph Smith. This has led many to conclude that the seduction attempt by Smith didn't happen because she didn't mention it (even though it would have been irrelevant to the slander case against Harris).  It is possible that Eliza did have an illegitimate child, but it is also quite possible that (regardless of whether it was true or not) the "bastard child" allegation was an intentional attempt by Harris and Smith to damage her reputation and thus credibility.  It's worth noting that at the time, Joseph Smith was subject to a variety of unrelated criminal charges and was increasingly in the public eye; and it would have been in their best interest to remove character witnesses that could be used against him. 

Decades later, Eliza was interviewed with Sallie McKune (her step-brother's widow) by a reporter to gather derogatory statements against Joseph Smith (and the Mormon Church) by people who had known him in his youth.  During the interview, they were both quoted as saying "Joe Smith never made a convert at Susquehanna, and also that his father-in-law became so incensed by his conduct that he threatened to shoot him if he ever returned" (2), but apparently made no reference to any sexual misconduct or seduction attempt.  Again, this omission has been used by historians as evidence that the scandal never happened.  But perhaps Eliza had learned the "lesson" she had been taught years earlier by Martin Harris, and didn't want to damage her reputation by bringing up the sordid past - especially if she was a willing participant in the event and if she was in the interview with her sister-in-law.  (And as described below under sources, above is the only known statement that Eliza made during her interview.)

It is interesting that even today, historians are not in agreement on this incident and Joseph Smith still has many apologists.  One such recent writer wrote that Eliza lost her 1832 slander lawsuit "likely because she had no good character to sully" and that "it seems far more likely that Eliza was known for her low morals." (He basing this off no more evidence described above and the fact that she lost her slander lawsuit. To me, it's not surprising that she lost her case. The court system - especially 184 years ago - would not have necessarily been on the side of a 20-year old single woman suing a 50-year old wealthy, well-respected man. The only other known record which speaks to Eliza's character or conduct is her 1899 obituary which simply stated that she was "well known and highly esteemed" (4).)   It's also interesting to note that when Eliza married in her late 20's, she was considerably older than any of her 6 sisters were when they married.  Perhaps she did have a damaged reputation that made it more difficult to find a husband (she eventually married the brother of her sister's husband) or perhaps she was just simply more independent.  Being a middle child in a very large family (she had 7 full siblings, 4 half siblings and 8 step siblings) it would have been understandable if she was a little rebellious or independent. 

My Winters family lived in New York and apparently did not have much contact with their relatives in Pennsylvania - including Eliza Winters.  The story of the Joseph Smith scandal had not been passed down in the Winters family.  To me, that suggests that the story is plausible - if indeed Eliza Winters was involved in the scandal, it would have been damaging to her reputation (and to her family) to even talk about it. 


1. Affidavit of Levi Lewis, March 20, 1834, which appeared in: 1) Susquehanna Register and Northern Pennsylvanian, May 1, 1834 and 2) Howe, Eber D. Mormonism Unvailed: Or, A Faithful Account of That Singular Imposition and Delusion From Its Rise to the Present Time. Painesville, OH; 1834. 

2. Article "The Early Mormons" in Broome Republican, Binghamton, New York, July 28, 1880. [This is what other sources refer to as the interview in which Eliza does not mention the seduction attempt.  However, the source is only a newspaper article which briefly mentions that Eliza was present at an interview with Sallie McKune (her sister-in-law) and that she corroborated a brief statement by made by Sallie.  It is far from a transcription of an interview with Eliza.]

3. Stocker, Rhamathus M. Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, R.T. Peck & Co., 1887.

4. Obituary of Eliza Squires, Tri-Weekly Journal, May 2, 1899

5. Case file (slander) of Eliza Winters vs. Martin Harris, Court of Common Pleas, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 1833.  "Harris, M."