Mrs Irwin Wears a San Francisco Earthquake Costume: 1907

Famous architects dressed as the buildings they designed. From!lArTi

Famous architects dressed as the buildings they designed. From Neatorama. com.!lArTi

Buildings Shake to Waltz Music

The literary Irwins have done a big share in making San Francisco known in New York. What with Will Irwin’s work on the Sun, later as managing editor of McClure’s, and now as an events specialist for Collier’s, and Wallace Irwin’s pointed verses that put a quiver even in the side of the staid east, good things that come out of our Nazareth are taken more and more as a matter of course. But this is a story of clever doings not of a male Irwin, but of Mrs. Will Irwin, who, apparently, is ingenious enough to find time for things besides the careful uprearing of the heir to the Irwin fortunes. Mrs. Bill has come to California for a brief visit, and there has come with her the story of her recent appearance at an authors’ and artists’ dress ball as an earthquake. Fancy it! And the point to the story is that she looked and was the part and needed no label.

Mrs. Irwin came upon the scene in a costume draped into many broad surfaces. This for the purpose of better showing the flames that leaped up toward her harmonious hair with a vividness that almost sizzled their own paint. A particularly lurid tongue of fire mounted her back. All this spoke eloquently of the second stage of San Francisco’s disaster. But how would you tone down a number nine earthquake to make it presentable in a ballroom? This is how it was done: Pending from the costume on strings and rising tier over tier were flimsy card miniatures of many of San Francisco’s best known buildings—skyscrapers, churches and the Bohemian club. When Mrs. Irwin strolled about or waltzed the card buildings vibrated with the gentle motion in most amazing fashion. The bright flames heightened the effect. But on her head was the crowning triumph of the ingenious costume. Her head piece was a tall reproduction of The Call building, also of light cardboard. When spectators who had been in San Francisco at the time of the disaster saw the wriggling and sinuous convulsing of that familiar skyscraper it was only the reassuring grace of the lady who wore it that kept them from bursting into the shout: “To the hills for your life!”

The San Francisco [CA] Call 6 June 1907: p. 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr. William “Will” Irwin was a journalist, catapulted to fame by his coverage of two horrific disasters—the sinking of the General Slocum and the San Francisco Earthquake. He had formerly worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, but was in New York, writing for the Sun when the earthquake hit on April 18, 1906. His editors assigned him to flesh out the scanty telegraphic reports arriving from the devastated city from his first-hand knowledge. The earthquake-clad Mrs. Irwin was his first wife, who, the papers say, divorced him in San Francisco in 1907.  One wonders how quickly the divorce followed after this extraordinarily tasteless costume worn in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in US history. Irwin’s second wife, Inez Haynes Irwin, was a feminist, suffragette,  war correspondent, and prolific author, whom one cannot imagine donning fancy-dress under any circumstances.

San Francisco Call building

The San Francisco Call building.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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