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From Sherman Library's Collections

Articles highlighting Sherman Library's collections and the history of Sherman Library & Gardens.

A Most Unusual Artifact

Paul Wormser - Wednesday, September 06, 2017
Perhaps the most unique artifact in Sherman Library’s collection is an antler-handled sterling silver loving cup, with the inscription, “To General M.H. Sherman in Grateful Remembrance of all his kindness on April 18th 1906.”   

That date – April 18, 1906 – many will recognize as the day of the great San Francisco earthquake.  At 5:12 AM the city was devastated by a massive earthquake, which then ignited fires that burned for three days, largely destroying the city. 

At the time of the earthquake, Moses H. Sherman, like many others in Los Angeles, had family in San Francisco – in Sherman’s case his wife and daughters.  Sometime after 8:30 AM, word of the calamity reached Los Angeles. People went to the train stations to buy tickets for San Francisco, but in the initial hours after the earthquake, the tracks were closed for inspection.  Even the justices of the California Supreme Court, who were in session in Los Angeles, but lived in San Francisco, were unsuccessful in convincing the Southern Pacific Railroad to run a special train for them. 

Moses H. Sherman, a man of action and resources, resolved to make his way to San Francisco. Within two hours of news of the earthquake, Sherman had chartered an engine from the Southern Pacific to pull his personal car to San Francisco. The Justices of the California Supreme Court eagerly accepted Sherman’s invitation to join him, as did Ulysses S. Webb, Attorney General of California, and Charles F. Curry, Secretary of State of California.  Twenty-eight officials and friends rode on Sherman’s train, which started its long  journey at 10:30 AM. 

By 8:20 PM Sherman’s party arrived in Fresno, where they sent an exclusive dispatch to the Los Angeles Times indicating that they expected to reach Oakland by 1:00 AM on April 19th. In fact, it was 4:00 AM before the group reached Oakland.  Sherman was later quoted saying “The red glare across the bay told us that the earlier reports had not been exaggerated.” A ferry took the group across the bay to the burning city. 

Sherman and the other members of his party were able to locate their family members –  all unharmed.  For two days, Sherman stayed in the burning city. On his return, he recalled his experiences. “Market Street as I had known it was only a memory” he was quoted as saying. Ever the businessman and Los Angeles booster, Sherman spoke mostly of San Francisco’s business community, “Those men calmly discussed the details of new business blocks before the flames had died away in the old.”  Not without a little hopefulness, he also noted “Wiping out those San Francisco hotels is bound to make Los Angeles the greatest tourist city in the world.” 

About six months after Sherman’s trip to San Francisco, in late September 1906, a group of San Francisco businessmen visited Los Angeles.  Sherman hosted a sightseeing excursion in his private rail car for the group, which included banker William H. Crocker. After the sightseeing trip, the group invited Sherman to accompany them to the Bolsa Chica Gun Club for dinner. To his surprise, he was the guest of honor at the dinner. J. T. Wilson presented Sherman with the loving cup on behalf of the justices of the California Supreme Court.  The Los Angeles Times’ described the night: “Gen. M. H. Sherman had the surprise of his life last night – a surprise so pleasant that it will make him happier all his days, and at the same time so touching that he broke down and wept like a child.” The cup, which was made by Shreve & Co. of San Francisco, had in addition to the inscription on the front, facsimiles of the signatures of each of the Supreme Court Justices. 

But this was not the last token of thanks that Sherman would receive for his actions on the day of the earthquake.  Exactly one year later, passengers on Sherman’s train gathered together again in Los Angeles at the California Club to honor Sherman.  According to the Los Angeles Times, “Over it all ran a ripple of compliments toward Gen. Sherman for the happy thought and the prompt, energetic action that made the night ride to San Francisco possible. Gen. Sherman sat at the head of the table between Gen. [Harrison Grey] Otis and Chief Justice Beatty, blushing furiously; he protested that it was worse than the night ride through the San Joaquin Valley.” 

When Sherman returned to his home later that night, he found upon his desk a sterling silver pitcher inscribed with words almost identical to that of the loving cup: “To General M.H. Sherman with Grateful Remembrance of all his kindness April 18th 1906.”  The cup also has the names of nine of the passengers who rode with Sherman on that eventful night.