archive for March, 2009

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The mysterious letter “E”

I get a lot of history questions here at Sparkletack — some I can handle, but others stump me completely. A few weeks ago, a longtime listener named Demetrios hit me with one of those stumpers: “This is regarding the Sparkletack posting I sent you with regards to the letters ‘E’ that I keep seeing […]

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Monday, March 30th, 2009

San Francisco Timecapsule: 03.30.09

THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:The San Francisco “Cocktail Route” 1890-something The Cocktail Route — “Champagne Days of San Francisco” Spring is most definitely in the air right now, which has brought my thoughts back to one of the great phenomena of San Francisco’s pre-earthquake era, the “Cocktail Route”. I know I’ve mentioned the “Cocktail Route” in […]

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Monday, March 23rd, 2009

San Francisco Timecapsule: 03.23.09

Slumming the Barbary Coast

“A Barbary Cruise”

I’ve been thinking about the fact that — just like our out-of-town guests inevitably insist that we take ’em to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf — in the 1870s, visitors from back in “the States” just had to go slumming in the infamous Barbary Coast.

The piece I’m about to read to you was written by Mr. Albert Evans, a reporter from the good ol’ Alta California. The Barbary Coast was part of his beat, and this gave him connections with the hardnosed cops whose duty it was to maintain some kind of order in that “colorful” part of town.

As romanticized as it has become in popular memory, the Coast was a “hell” of a place — filthy, violent and extremely dangerous for greenhorns.

When some visitors came to town in about 1871, Albert asked one of his policeman buddies to join them on the tour. His account of this “Barbary Cruise” is a remarkable firsthand snapshot of the territory bounded by Montgomery, Stockton, Washington and Broadway. But what’s almost more interesting is the way he reports it; the purple prose, the pursed-lip moralizing, and — though I’ve skipped the Chinatown part of the tour — the absolutely matter-of-fact racism on display.

This is the Barbary Coast seen through the eyes of white, bourgeois, and extremely Victorian San Francisco — prepare to be both educated and annoyed.

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Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

San Francisco Timecapsule: 03.09.09

America’s “Master Birdman” makes his final flight

lincoln_beachey_in_looper_1914March 15, 1915:
“The Man Who Owns the Sky”

It was the year of the legendary Panama-Pacific International Exposition. San Francisco had once again earned that phoenix on her flag by rising from the ashes of the 1906 earthquake and fire — and just nine years later, the city celebrated its rebirth by winning the right to host the World’s Fair. Visitors from every point on the compass swarmed towards California to visit the resurgent city.

You probably know that the site of the Fair was the neighborhood now called the Marina, that acres of shoreline mudflats were filled in to create space for a grand and temporary city, and that the mournfully elegant Palace of Fine Arts is its lone survivor. The exhibits and attractions on offer were endless and famously enchanting, but one of the most spectacular events took place in the air above the Fair.

On March 15, a quarter of a million people gathered in the fairgrounds and on the hills above them to see a man in an ultra-modern experimental airplane perform unparalleled feats of aeronautical acrobatics.

That man was Lincoln Beachey, and in 1915 he was the most famous aviator in the country — known from coast to coast as “The Man Who Owns the Sky”.

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Monday, March 2nd, 2009

San Francisco Timecapsule: 03.02.09

THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT: 1956: Gold medals or Gold records? An athletic crooner makes a life-changing choice 1956: “Send blank contracts” Of course you know Johnny Mathis. The velvet-voiced crooner is a fixture of the softer side of American pop culture, providing reliably romantic background music for cuddling couples for over sixty years. He’s sold […]

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