A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.

October 1, 1938:
Blackie swims the Golden Gate!

blackie swims the golden gate in 1938

On a foggy Saturday in 1938, a swaybacked, 12-year-old horse named Blackie swam — dog-paddled, really — completely across the choppy waters of the Golden Gate. The horse not only made aquatic history with that trip, but he soundly defeated two human challengers from the Olympic Club, and won a $1000 bet for his trainer Shorty Roberts too.

It took the horse only 23 minutes, 15 seconds to make the nearly mile-long trip, and the short film made of the adventure shows that Blackie wasn’t even breathing hard as he emerged from the waters at Crissy Field.

His trainer Shorty couldn’t swim, but he made the trip, too — and this was part of the bet — by hanging onto Blackie’s tail. A rowboat led the way, with Shorty’s brother offering a handful of sugar cubes from the stern to keep the sweets-lovin’ horse on track.

Before that plunge into the waters of the Golden Gate there had been no swimming on Blackie’s professional resume. He had originally arrived in California as a rodeo horse, and after surviving that career joined the Army. He was stabled out at the Presidio, but headed out to Yosemite every spring as part of the park patrol.

Shortly after his famous Golden Gate crossing, Blackie retired from working life, and was put out to pasture in the north bay town of Tiburon. He found a particular spot to his liking in this verdant new home and stood there, rarely moving a muscle, for the next 28 years. He became a fixture of the neighborhood, often visited with gifts of sugarcubes. When Blackie finally passed, Tiburon’s unofficial mascot was buried in the pasture.

A life-sized sculpture of Blackie now stands right there, his old home now known as “Blackie’s Pasture Park”. You may pay him your respects, if you like, at the corner of Tiburon Boulevard and Trestle Glen Road.

October 1, 1964:
Cable cars declared national landmark

San Francisco cable car

It was on this day that the clanking, screeching, bell-ringing symbols of San Francisco — that’s right, cable cars — were declared a special rolling National Landmark, #66000233.

This marked an incredible reversal of fortune for our colorful trolley system, which the City had attempted to banish from the hills not twenty years earlier.

It was an especially poignant moment for the “Cable Car Lady” Friedell Klussman, whose outrage at the City’s 1947 eradication plan had led her to form the “Citizen’s Committee to Save the Cable Cars”. Mrs. Klussman’s single-minded determination is the number one reason that lucky tourists can still wait in hour-long lines at the Powell Street Turnaround.

October 2, 1967:
Grateful Dead house raided, man

grateful dead 1967 drug bust

As the rapturous 1967 Summer of Love faded into autumn, the communal home of the Grateful Dead — the Haight-Ashbury district’s unofficial City Hall — was raided by San Francisco’s finest.

The Grateful Dead provided the perfect symbol of the long-haired, drug- and music-fueled ecstatically rebellious freedom promised by the psychedelic movement, and their 3-story Victorian at 710 Ashbury Street had already become a regular stop on the Grayline “Hippie Hop” bus tour. I suppose the buzz-cut boys in blue just couldn’t help themselves.

Despite the neighborhood being flooded with acid — LSD had been made illegal almost exactly one year earlier — the raid netted nothing but a tiny bag of marijuana. That was enough to justify arresting every soul on the premises, though — including, ironically enough, the only non-pot-smoking members of the band — Bob Weir and “Pigpen” McKernan. Jerry Garcia managed to avoid the bust by being out at the time, shopping for “groceries”.

The Dead would pack up and split for Marin shortly after the bust. Before hitting the road, and with just two hours to set the whole thing up, the band staged a free farewell show on Haight Street, completely blocking traffic with a flatbed truck and several hours of happy tripping chaos.