California experiences earthquakes on a regular basis, and small to medium shocks are almost common procedure. However, as history has shown, the fault lines that cut across the state can have much more dangerous effects.
The 1906 earthquake that hit San Francisco was especially devastating, taking hundreds of lives, leveling dozens of buildings and starting fires that lasted for days. Cities across the continent felt the tremors from the quake, including those on the East Coast. The California Artists Relief Society was formed to aid the victims of this crisis, and Robert Reid painted the famous “Spirit of Humanity” in support of their efforts.
Samuel Clemens, more commonly known as Mark Twain, was especially moved by Reid’s painting, according to a letter recently revealed by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. He wrote: “I keep thinking about that picture – I cannot get it out of my mind. I think – no, I know – that it is the most moving, the most eloquent, the most profoundly pathetic picture I have ever seen. It wrings the heart to look at it, it is so desolate, so grieved. It realizes San Francisco to us as words have not done & cannot do. I wonder how many women can look upon it & keep back their tears – or how many unhardened men, for that matter?”
Today, efforts to map out the earthquake fault lines in the region are struggling. However, Governor Jerry Brown has promised to increase funding to such projects. “We’ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “We’re gonna map these things. It is a problem. It’s serious.”