In a prior post on this blog, some of the records held at the Judah L. Magnes Museum were discussed. Many of the records are family papers preserved within the collection. One of these, the papers of Rosalie Meyer Stern gives an incredible account of life in San Francisco, during the earthquake of 1906.
Rosalie was born on 21 Apr 1869 in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Eugene Meyer and his wife Harriet Newmark. The Meyer's were an old established Jewish family. Eugene's sister Ernastine was married to Zadok- Kahn, Grand Rabbi of France. In 1892, Rosalie married Sigmund Stern. They had a daughter, Elise Fanny who married Walter Haas, who became Chairman of his families business, Levi Strauss.
In her papers she begins by relating her experiences of the leading up to the earthquake, she writes; "On the evening of April 17, 1906, Mr. Stern and I had been attending the opera. It was the second night of a season of two or three weeks of opera to be given by the Metropolitan Opera Company, and they were presenting Carmen. Since we had been to the opera on the night before and were rather tired, we left before the end of the performance.I have a vivid recollection of Caruso on the stage. At 5:14 in the morning when we were so suddenly awakened by the earthquake, my opera clothes were still strewn on the chairs in my room."
In further pages, she talks about the fears of her home being on fire and of not being able to contact family and friends, she also describes moments which bring humor to an otherwise scary time. She talks about she and her waitress Katherine, finding her maid Delia in her room. She writes; "Delia was a good catholic, as also was Katherine. Katherine opened the door and found Delia on her knees in the hall, industriously sprinkling herself with holy water, she was crying I'm gone, I'm gone."
She tells the stories of the people of San Fransico, how they managed to survive. She tells of the ladies wearing their finest furs and jewels even in the heat of the day. One story though shows the greatness of people. She recounts how people kept stopping by the home, to give updates on damages and fires. Some were updated them on the condition of their businesses when word was received that one building they owned was burning down. At this time the family chauffeur, Swain, asked for permission to borrow the limousine so he could go to his apartment and retrieve his clothes, gain she writes; " We allowed him to do so, and consequently he saved his belongings and the $150 he had in his room. This last sum he handed to Mr. Stern to use as was needed." It just shows that in time of need there are always those who are willing to help.
The most telling item about the family papers to me is the fact that after telling her account of everything going on, of the losses to property, and the concerns about life itself, she then tells the stories of her and her husbands own families. She documents to anyone who may read it in the future, who she was and where she came from. Families are what is most important.
The family papers of Rosalie Meyer Stern are available on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL film #1031330 item 1).
The records of the Stern family are now being added to the Knowles Collection- Jews of the Americas.