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April 19-25, 2006

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'Earthquake Days'

Earthquake Days: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire in 3-D
REVIEW (By David Burkhart; Faultline Books; 220 pages; $44.95)
—Michael S. Gant

Looking at pictures of ruins shouldn't be this much fun, but this collection of photographs of the big quake is wonderfully entertaining. With the help of the cardboard viewer that comes with the book, you can study a wide collection of commercial stereographs (dual images of a scene taken from slightly different angles designed to duplicate binocular vision), which were extremely popular and heavily marketed at the turn of the last century. Position the viewer just right, and the image "pops" into a kind of 3-D vividness. The figures and places depicted aren't exactly rounded, but they do appear on different planes for fore-, middle- and background, which gives them an odd separation, like cardboard cutouts moving on tracks at different distances in an accordion paper theater. Each stereocard is accompanied by an enlargement of one frame for closer study, but the viewer is really the only way to go. Two photos depict the devastation in the valley: one of the crumbling walls of St. Agnews Asylum in Santa Clara, where more than 100 people perished, and the First Presbyterian Church in San Jose, whose whole brick front slid away into a heap of rubble. In an odd bit of sightseeing, a mother and father stand with two little girls in bonnets staring at the remains of the church. This large-format volume also contains a history of stereography and reproductions of many maps, newspapers, postcards and other relics of the great shaker.


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