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This story from the San Francisco Call has the “feel” of an urban legend. Pictures of St. Mary’s Cathedral taken after the disaster clearly show that the cross had been chopped away. Various newspaper and diary accounts attributed the saving of the cathedral, at 1001 Van Ness Avenue, to either Father Charles Ramm, or “brave firemen.” This article is the first to attach the name “James Lang” to the story. The “speedway” referred to is the Ingleside Speedway, now the site of Ingleside Terrace. Urbano Drive, the oval street in the development, was the race track.

As relief camps were closed, the old, feeble and infirm were moved to the Ingleside racetrack. Ultimately, these helpless victims of the disaster were moved to the Alms House, which later became Laguna Honda Home, built by the Relief Committee.


Mrs. Mary Lang, mother of the man who prevented the fire crossing Van Ness avenue at O’Farrell street, is out at the speedway camp among the non-supporting refugees, because the relief workers cannot hit upon a plan to give her permanent relief.

Photo of the cut away portion of the spire of St. Mary's Cathedral San FranciscoDuring the fire her youngest son, William Lang, fought the flames until he sustained injuries which landed him in a hospital, and which have rendered him weak-minded and incompetent for life. His brother, John Lang, when the flames threatened to cross Van Ness avenue at O’Farrell street, and when the tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral was blazing, climbed up to the top of the tower, cutaway the blazing woodwork and saved the building.

The whole city rang with the praises of John Lang at the time. The firemen had refused to ascend the tower. But Lang did not hesitate. With an ax strapped to him he climbed to the top of it.

A thousand glasses [binoculars] were held upon the brave man as he stood high up above the street cutting away the blazing woodwork. He stood there for two hours. When he finally left his post, after the danger of the cathedral had passed, he collapsed from physical and nervous exhaustion.

Relief workers have found John Lang’s mother at the speedway. She has with her her son Willian, injured the first day of the fire. Although he has recovered his physical strength, the injuries which he had received have rendered him feeble-minded. Mrs. Lang, who is past 60 years of age, states that she might be able to care for herself and her son William if she could get $500 for a start.

But this the rehabilitation investigators cannot see their way clear to allow. They think that the woman is entitled to a pension of some kind, but as yet have not succeeded in devising a way to give it to her.

Her son John, the hero of St. Mary’s is a sailor, 30 years of age, and unable to assist in her support. William, who is 27 years of age, supported her before the fire, but is now incapacitated. They lived on Tehama street, and lost everything, even their clothes, when their house burned.

San Francisco Call
September 23, 1906

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