The Toppled Statue of Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz

The toppled statue of naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz outside the Stanford University Zoological Building remains one of the most famous photographs from the school's history at the time of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. (Image: W. C. Mendenhall. Toppled statue of naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz)

The cataclysmic San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which shook the Bay Area to its core and devastated much of the city, was no laughing matter. But, more than a century later, there’s an element of dark humour to this unusual and vaguely comic period photograph. The image shows a statue of Swiss-born American biologist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz after being toppled from the facade of Stanford University’s Zoology building, its head firmly embedded in the concrete below.

This image soon became a symbol of Stanford’s earthquake history, and even today remains the most famous photograph associated with that devastating event. Many stories have been told about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and various accounts were given by students and faculty at the school (more here). As one student wrote:

“A big marble statue of Agassiz was toppled off his perch on the outside of the quad and fell foremost into the ground (right through a cement walk) up to his shoulders, and still sticks there, legs in the air and his hand held out gracefully. People came running from the quad with such sober faces, but when they saw him they couldn’t help laughing, and one fellow went up and shook hands with him.”

 
 


 
 
 

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