Most people are aware of the great 1906 earthquake and fire of San Francisco. Fewer people know of the great treasure of gold and silver that hid in the basement of one of the burned out buildings of the time.
Before the early morning earthquake, which some now estimate between 7.7 and 8.25 on the Richter scale, and which took the lives of 3,000 people and destroyed 80% of San Francisco, the trove was resting in the basement of what used to be a place for lodgers.
The boarding house at 638 Green Street was run by Mrs. Chappelle, who had a bit of a reputation as someone who kept a tight fist around her money. When she went on to her eternal reward it was a mere two weeks before the famed earthquake. Rumors had long since circulated about a stash of precious coins that were secreted somewhere on the property.
The fire that followed the earthquake burned the old boarding house to the ground and it wasn’t until the next year in 1907 that a self described fortune teller, while rummaging around, found a few coins amid the remains of the burned out boarding house. Finding nothing else she went on her way. A couple of days later the seeress (one who sees the future) mentioned her find to two neighborhood boys, Leon Thomas and John Freitas.
With thoughts of buried treasure firing their imagination they set out with pick and shovel in hand to see what they could find. It must have been like something out of a movie when they heard the classic “thunk!” upon hitting something large and somewhat hollow. To their amazement they found a wooden trunk containing many thousands of dollars in gold and silver. They quickly filled their hats with the precious coins (about $2,000 worth each) and dashed home to reveal the find to their families.
As one can imagine it did not take long for word of the treasure and its location to leek out. In this case about ten minutes. The old lot was soon swarming with both men and women scooping up as much as could be found. Not a few fights broke out which captured the attention of couple of San Francisco’s finest who were making their rounds when they happened on the frenzied scene.
The arrival of the officers sent most of the crowd scurrying but a couple of dozen refused to be moved. These stalwarts were eventually rounded up and with their loot safely secured in the police station. It is difficult to judge the amount of wealth that found itself in other peoples pockets that night but some put it at around $40,000.
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