It was 144 years ago today that R.R. Bunker, editor and publisher of the Contra Costa Gazette, got to his office in Pacheco before 8 o'clock. It was a Wednesday. At 7:53 a.m., the building shook.
It was the great quake of 1868 on what today we call the Hayward Fault.
"We were caught by the shake, in our room, in the southwest corner, on the second floor of Hook's brick building and being much engaged at the moment, attributed the first jar to some cause in the outer office, about the press, which was then at work."
It didn't take Bunker long to learn it wasn't the press causing the shaking. The workers in the outer office quickly fled down the stairs to the street. But Bunker found obstacles to his escape route.
"It seemed impossible to get down the outside stairs before the walls would be tumbling upon us in the descent, and we thought it best to take the chances where we stood, although the rear wall within three feet, was full of gaping and grinning fissures from ceiling to floor, and books, shelves and cases were thrown in heaps around us, barring passage out of the room."
As soon as things quieted down, Bunker climbed out over the dust and debris. Once down on the street he found men, women and children wandering about, stunned at the violence of the earth's movement. On Friday he sat down to write the story of the big earthquake. The Gazette was a weekly, and despite the damage to the building, the paper did make its deadline and came out at the usual time on Saturday. Most of the Gazette on Oct. 24 was devoted to news of the earthquake.
"So far as we have any record or tradition, the earthquake of Wednesday morning last was altogether the most violent and alarming that has occurred here since this portion of our coast has been known to civilized men.
"The serious damage in this place is confined to the brick and concrete structures, though most of the frame buildings lost the chimneys above the roofs, and there was some overthrow and crash of glass and crockery ware in stores and dwellings, but most homes escaped any loss of this character."
The one injury that Bunker found in Pacheco was to his office boy, who sprained his ankle when he jumped from the top of the stairs to the street. However, 30 people in the region lost their lives.
Bunker wrote that the quake affected 120 miles along the coast and extended inland from 20 to 80 miles.
The Marsh stone house at Brentwood lost its tower. A top stone weighing close to 200 pounds landed 40 feet from the house. The courthouse in Martinez lost a portion of its front and rear walls. Chimneys fell down in Antioch, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Concord and Alamo.
Bunker continued to write about the earthquake the following Saturday, reporting on the cleanup activities. He reported that the Contra Costa board of supervisors voted to repair the courthouse for $1,500.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at firstname.lastname@example.org.