While researching the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, for my April book, HIS SUBSTITUTE BRIDE, I came across some amazing personal stories. The story I’m about to share with you is one of my favorites. This account is adapted from the book San Francisco is Burning by Dennis Smith.
Miss Donalda Cameron of the Chinatown Presbyterian Mission had fifty Chinese and Japanese girls in her care, most of them rescued from terrible circumstances. The younger ones had served as household slaves. The older, teenaged girls had suffered an even worse fate. Yuen Kim, the eldest of the girls, was pretty and bright. Miss Cameron had arranged for her to marry a worthy young man named Henry Lai, an immigrant from China who’d settled in Cleveland Ohio. The two had met six months earlier when Henry had come to San Francisco for an interview with Miss Cameron. Even in that brief time, they’d grown fond of each other.
The wedding was set for April 21. At 6 a.m. on the morning of April 18, Henry arrived in San Francisco to meet his bride. The quake had occurred less than an hour earlier. He found the city in chaos and beginning to burn. The streets were filled with terrified people, and there was no sign of Yuen Kim or Miss Cameron. In a panic, he ran from street, asking for them everywhere. By the end of the first day, much of Chinatown had burned. Henry knew he couldn’t give up. His bride had to be somewhere. She had to be alive.
Meanwhile Miss Cameron was doing her best to get her charges to safety. Loaded with what they could carry, the girls marched in a tight line through the streets to the shelter of another church. From there they planned to take the ferry to San Anselmo across the bay. It’s possible they passed near Henry, but he failed to see them.
After three days of searching, someone directed Henry to the mission. He found it in flames, surrounded by soldiers, with no Chinese people in sight. He tried to ask where Miss Cameron’s girls had gone, but between the noise and Henry’s poor English, he could get no help. At last he found a man who looked like a minister, and he was able to make himself understood. Miraculously, the minister knew where Miss Cameron had taken her girls. He gave Henry directions to the ferry and to San Anselmo.
When Henry reached the ferry, he found thousands of frantic people trying to get on. One boat left without him. He fought his way forward to the next boat. A sailor, seeing his desperation, opened the gate just enough for him to slip through. He made it to San Anselmo and found his bride. Henry and Yuen Kim were married that day, April 21, in an ivy covered chapel. After the wedding, they boarded a train back to Cleveland and a new life. As Donalda Cameron would write, “…So romance with its magic touch helped us for a time to forget our great losses.”
Speaking as a romance writer, that last sentence says it all.
And now to my question, why do you read/write romance? How do these romantic stories enrich your life?