December 16, 2005
It was 1871. William Ralston had become one of the richest and most powerful men in California, partly on the strength of his shrewd business maneuverings, but largely on the fact that he was an incorrigible gambler, a exemplar of his optimistic age. He lived so largely, and spent so lavishly, on his beloved city as well as on himself, that at the peak of his powers he picked up a nickname that has stuck to this day; “the man who built San Francisco”.
Nothing seemed impossible in the heady 1870′s. A post-war economic boom had arrived, the transcontinental railroad had just been completed, and the Comstock silver strike following right on the heels of the ’49 gold rush seemed to prove that the west would be a endless fountain of prosperity. There were as many rumors about the inevitable next big strike as there were saloons on streetcorners.
The stage was set for what the San Francisco Chronicle described as “the most gigantic and barefaced swindle of the age.”
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