Elizabeth “Lillie” Hitchcock Coit was one of the prototypically colorful characters of San Francisco history.

A daughter of high society, she was a tomboy who developed an unusual obsession with fire and firemen, and was associated with them throughout her life. Though much sought after by the young men of the city, she cheerfully ignored society’s rules, playing poker, smoking cigars, staging boxing matches and generally scandalizing the upper echelons of Victorian San Francisco.

What a woman!

Though she spent years in Paris and traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia, she loved this place more than anywhere on earth, and upon her death left her large fortune, in her own words, to “be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city which I have always loved.”

The result was the beautiful edifice of Coit Tower, still standing proudly above Telegraph Hill and honoring both her memory and the memory of the firemen she loved.

thanks to tom joad and gerry dempsey for the use of the tune “cherry rag”, and to tom joad for the banjo tune “soldier’s joy”. use licensed under creative commons.