After the earthquake and fire of 1906, many San Francisco residents - as much as half the city's population - became homeless. But eyewitness accounts say that most everyone found or created shelter of one kind or another, and cared for each other with food, clothes, and kindness. This is the remarkable story of one such woman, and the help she received from a wagon train of supplies and people from Tonopah, there to help just days after the tragedy.
Described by a local newspaper as “middle-aged, buxom and comely,” Anna Amelia Holshouser was a beautician and masseuse in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. She woke up on the floor of her home on the morning of April 18, 1906, having been tossed from her bed by the violent earthquake that was just then beginning its almost-total destruction of San Francisco.
Reportedly donning powder, paint and a hair stick while the walls were still shaking, she walked down the 120 stairs to the street, only to find her downtown shop and other businesses damaged by the quake or on fire. With 3,000 dead and more than half the city’s residents homeless, Anna grabbed what she could from her home and, coming across a gentleman friend, made their way to Golden Gate Park, the final destination for all the earthquake/fire survivors, far enough away from the flames to be safe.
After two chilly nights in the open, Anna stitched together enough material for a tent. She then used a tin pie plate and coffee cup to serve what food she had managed to find to those in need. Within a few days, she had caught the attention of aid organizations and erected a large tent and table to seat 20, with plates and utensils. Food was donated and she spent her days cooking and serving hundreds of survivors. Impressed by her efforts, someone installed a sign that read “Palace Hotel,” after the huge hotel that had been devastated by the quake and fire.
It was not long before a wagon train from Tonopah arrived with food and other much-needed supplies, led by the Tonopah Rescue Committee. Members located family members and friends who survived the disaster and got word back home, and made sure Tonopah survivors were being fed and sheltered by Anna’s efforts. Concerned that the Palace Hotel sign might cause confusion, Anna was presented with a new sign and guest registry that designated her ‘business’ as the Mizpah Café, after the Mizpah Saloon in Tonopah. The registry read:
“This register is presented and gratefully dedicated to Mrs. Anna Amelia Holshouser in cordial appreciation of her prompt, philanthropic and efficient service to the people in general, and particularly to the Tonopah Board of Trade Relief Committee, on the occasion of the great Earthquake and Fire of April 18, 1906. – The Tonopah Board of Trade –
by Thomas R. Banneman, President. Golden Gate Park, tail end of San Francisco, established April 23, 1906 by Mrs. Anna Amelia Holshouser, Proprietress, Manager and Chief Cook. May her good deeds never be forgotten.
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History doesn’t tell us what became of Anna Holshouser, or if she ever got a chance to visit Tonopah. We do know that the silver mined from the town largely went to the restoration of San Francisco. We also know that two years later the Mizpah Hotel first opened its doors, endowed with the same spirit of hospitality, generosity and good will as that of Anna Amelia Holshouser’s makeshift shelter.
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