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Eyewitness Letter on the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923)

150.00
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Eyewitness Letter on the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923)

150.00

An exceptional and macabre, primary source on the great Kanto Earthquake: a September 14, 1923 manuscript letter written by a D.H. "Dutch" Wilson, an Ensign aboard the American Navy's USS Barker, recapping its rescue operations in and around Yokahama and Tokyo amid the Quake's aftermath. 

"We arrived Yokohama while city was still in flames. [...] You know there isn't a damned thing left of Yokohama. There are two fireproof, four story, American built buildings standing. The city looks like the dump of a big city. They have just begun to pick up the dead in Yokohama now. They are all black and greasy and stink like Hell now. Many of the bodies are dismembered and burned all except maybe the skull and a hand. You can’t get at the people under the stones but they stink just the same. I tell you Yokohama is flat." 

"Tokio is in good shape now. Tokio lost more lives and property by the fire that by the earthquake. One tailoring establishment where they made uniforms for Army and Navy lost 32000 dead in it. It looked just like an acre lot with hundreds of bones piled in it. I have a pictured of the place. And then the Japs put out their official death list as 23,000. Practically all the dead in Tokio have been gathered up and buried in enormous piles. The street cars are running in places, American built buildings are standing. They are getting on their feet now. Most of the Imperial Palace is standing. 

We have been running a ferry between Tokio and Yokohama, lighting towns, carrying refugees, cracking safes and digging out and burning foreigners. Our name seems to be “George” here. The limies have two ships here, the French and Italians one and the whole damned Japanese fleet. But we run boats for all foreigners, transport Japanese refugees, carry mail and chow from ships to various ports, crack all the limies safes, find them, and bury their dead. While the damned limies and Frogs and Wops sit on their tails and watch George do it. The limie were digging for bodies with us a couple of times but they would beat it when they came close to a stiff on account of the stench. You know we find the bodies by the smell. You can’t imagine the smell of burning human meat. “Your nose knows.” 

Additionally, Wilson recounts the story of an acquaintance's harrowing escape from Yokohama''s famed Grand Hotel:

"All of our language students got out all right. Old Tommy Ryan was in the lobby of the Grand Hotel when the first shock came. Old Tommy saw the plaster coming so he dived head first out of the window and hit the ground along with a shower of bricks. After the first shock he went inside again and carried one of the best looking women in Japan out stark naked. The woman was in the bath and everyone wondered how Tommy knew where she was."


The Kanto Quake struck on September 1, 1923 and resulted in over 100,000 deaths. It was the deadliest and costliest disaster of pre-War Japan and primary accounts of its aftermath appear uncommon to find, with this a superb example. 

[Japan] : [Natural Disasters]. [Eyewitness Letter on the Great Kanto Earthquake]. Yokohama, Japan: 1923. ALS. Approximately 1000 words in neat, ink cursive holograph to rectos and versos of 4 stationary leaves. In original postal cover. Leaves each with two horizontal folds from mailing, cover a bit tattered at upper opening. Overall about near fine.

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An exceptional and macabre, primary source on the great Kanto Earthquake: a September 14, 1923 manuscript letter written by a D.H. "Dutch" Wilson, an Ensign aboard the American Navy's USS Barker, recapping its rescue operations in and around Yokahama and Tokyo amid the Quake's aftermath. 

"We arrived Yokohama while city was still in flames. [...] You know there isn't a damned thing left of Yokohama. There are two fireproof, four story, American built buildings standing. The city looks like the dump of a big city. They have just begun to pick up the dead in Yokohama now. They are all black and greasy and stink like Hell now. Many of the bodies are dismembered and burned all except maybe the skull and a hand. You can’t get at the people under the stones but they stink just the same. I tell you Yokohama is flat." 

"Tokio is in good shape now. Tokio lost more lives and property by the fire that by the earthquake. One tailoring establishment where they made uniforms for Army and Navy lost 32000 dead in it. It looked just like an acre lot with hundreds of bones piled in it. I have a pictured of the place. And then the Japs put out their official death list as 23,000. Practically all the dead in Tokio have been gathered up and buried in enormous piles. The street cars are running in places, American built buildings are standing. They are getting on their feet now. Most of the Imperial Palace is standing. 

We have been running a ferry between Tokio and Yokohama, lighting towns, carrying refugees, cracking safes and digging out and burning foreigners. Our name seems to be “George” here. The limies have two ships here, the French and Italians one and the whole damned Japanese fleet. But we run boats for all foreigners, transport Japanese refugees, carry mail and chow from ships to various ports, crack all the limies safes, find them, and bury their dead. While the damned limies and Frogs and Wops sit on their tails and watch George do it. The limie were digging for bodies with us a couple of times but they would beat it when they came close to a stiff on account of the stench. You know we find the bodies by the smell. You can’t imagine the smell of burning human meat. “Your nose knows.” 

Additionally, Wilson recounts the story of an acquaintance's harrowing escape from Yokohama''s famed Grand Hotel:

"All of our language students got out all right. Old Tommy Ryan was in the lobby of the Grand Hotel when the first shock came. Old Tommy saw the plaster coming so he dived head first out of the window and hit the ground along with a shower of bricks. After the first shock he went inside again and carried one of the best looking women in Japan out stark naked. The woman was in the bath and everyone wondered how Tommy knew where she was."


The Kanto Quake struck on September 1, 1923 and resulted in over 100,000 deaths. It was the deadliest and costliest disaster of pre-War Japan and primary accounts of its aftermath appear uncommon to find, with this a superb example. 

[Japan] : [Natural Disasters]. [Eyewitness Letter on the Great Kanto Earthquake]. Yokohama, Japan: 1923. ALS. Approximately 1000 words in neat, ink cursive holograph to rectos and versos of 4 stationary leaves. In original postal cover. Leaves each with two horizontal folds from mailing, cover a bit tattered at upper opening. Overall about near fine.