Joseph A. Curtin
There are many things I wish about this Photo Feature.
I wish I could find a photo of this man.
I wish there was more information on his career, on where he went.
I wish I knew what ships he served on.
We have discovered that he was stationed on the USS Porpoise in 1905 when President Roosevelt took his famous dive on the submarine. He was in charge of the adjusting tanks on that dive. I wish I knew where and when he was born and died. All we have are these few quotes from newspapers and a web page and a possible US Census.
He featured very prominently during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. He wasn't the only person who made a difference but for our purposes of featuring interesting submariners, we are presenting these snippets of what went on and what Chief Curtin did.
"The aftermath of the Great Fire brought forth new names and places for the survivors to learn. Most of the familiar landmarks were swept away by the fire, and in their place were such names as Camp Forrest, or Cross Hospital. One hospital for the injured was named Curtin Hospital, after Joseph A. Curtin of the USS Pike. As Lt. Freeman pointed out in his report, this temporary hospital, of which there were dozens or scores, was established by the sailor after the fire. The hospital was housed in what is now the St. Francis Lutheran Church on Church St. between Market and Duboce Ave. The church is notable because it was built in 1905, and damaged during the 1989 earthquake. Repairs were completed in 2000."
"After assisting the dynamite party, (to create fire breaks and bring down dangerous buildings), Chief Curtin of USS Pike took possession of a church for emergency medical treatment, hunted up physicians and nurses, and secured beddings, medicines, and food. The church was named 'Curtin Hospital' and treated 75–150 patients daily. The hospital later became permanent, and city public health officials, who wanted to name the hospital after a hero from the California National Guard, argued with the Navy about the name of the hospital. (The Navy won this fight, and the hospital remained the 'Curtin Hospital.')"
"Cross Hospital, named above, by the way, was named for Dr. Charles V. Cross, who established his free clinic at 2007 Divisidero Street immediately after the earthquake. Camp Forrest was the refugee encampment established at Market and Laguna streets, by Jim Forrest, on what is now the campus the University of California Extension Services."
The Army got lots of credit and praise from the press. The Navy had had little acknowledgement brought to the public. The following letter displays a bit of this.
OFFICE OF THE HEALTH COMMISSION
Henry Durant School,
Turk St. between Webster and Buchanan Sts.
San Francisco, Cal, May 6, 1906
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy,
Commander in Chief, Pacific Squadron,
San Francisco, Cal.
I have your communication of the 5th inst. relative to the permanent maintenance of the Curtin Hospital on Church St. near 14th, and beg to advise that our Health Commission appreciates the excellent services rendered by Dr. Waller and Miss Hansen, in charge of that hospital.
In recognition of this, I have made arrangements to have a permanent emergency hospital established in charge of Dr. Waller. I was not aware that the hospital was known officially as the 'Curtin Hospital.' In view of the fact that it was situated close to Duboce Ave. and Duboce Park, which thoroughfare and public square was named in honor of a gallant officer of the First California Regiment of Infantry (Victor Duboce), I suggested that the hospital be known as Duboce hospital. However, this has not been done officially, and if it is your desire to have it designated as the 'Curtin Hospital,' under the sponsorship of the U.S. Navy, I shall hasten to have it so named. Hoping to have an early reply in regard to the latter, I remain,
(signed) Dr. D. Ragan
Part of Navy Lt. Freeman's report details a bit of the overall efforts.
"Many men not mentioned here worked with me for a time and then took up some special duty when they were unable to find me to report to. Among the men so employed, the crews of the submarine boats at Mare Island Navy Yard were conspicuous. One of these, J. Curtin, Chief Electrician from the Pike, worked with me one day then while on patrol, was taken up by the First Regiment of California National Guards to do dynamiting for them. He and several others of the Pike's crew successfully dynamited many buildings under the direction of the militia officials in the Mission. After this was finished, Curtin, finding no work at hand, obtained a permit and seized a church in the neighbourhood of the Market Street cut and established a hospital. He organized this institution, getting doctors and nurses together, impressed automobiles into the service, and supplied the hospital with medicines and food; and at the end of a day or so had a first class relief station in operation."
We did find a 1930 US Census for the City of Los Angles that lists a Joseph A. Curtin with wife Catherine C. and a 3 year old daughter named Catherine and a 20 year old Step-son named Kenneth J Stoddard. Joseph's occupation is listed as an Electrician working for the local 'Power and Light'. It also shows he was 48 years old which would make him born in 1882 and born in Minnesota.
Gleaning what ever else we can from this one document it shows he was first married in 1921 at age 39 but it doesn't say if it was to this wife or not. At the time of the San Francisco earthquake, and a Chief Electrician, he was 24 years old. The step-son was working as a truck driver for a creamery. This may well be our man but there is no definitive paper trail to verify this.
We have no idea where or when Curtin died or is buried. More information, if anyone has it, would be much appreciated.
Photo is of San Francisco earthquake damage where Curtin did his work.
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Ric Hedman & David Johnston
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