August 22, 2007
Number 6 in the new series of Sparkletack posts on SFist.com, San Francisco’s collaborative urban blogging project.
The violent melodrama characterizing the recent murder of a journalist investigating “Your Black Muslim Bakery” has conjured the entire Bay Area history of political violence into our memories. Dan White, James P. Casey, David S. Terry… the list is long and impressive. The anniversary of one of our bloodier favorites is coming up this Thursday (August 23rd) — it’s hard to believe that a mere 128 years have passed since the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle pumped a bullet into a future mayor.
It was the heart of a statewide political struggle to reform the constitution. Chronicle editor Charles De Young had just performed a 180-degree about-face from his support of populist firebrand (and bigoted jackass) Denis Kearney, and begun to attack him and his Workingman’s Party in print at every opportunity.
Kearney had drafted a womanizing Baptist minister named Isaac Kalloch to run for mayor as his proxy, so De Young generously directed his vituperation towards the Reverend as well. “Skulking”, “scoundrel”, and “depraved sewer creature” were the sort of words that De Young might direct at someone who had merely failed to tip his hat in the street, and poor Kalloch suffered much, much worse. Though a minister, he energetically returned the favour — but made the crucial error of insulting De Young’s elderly mother.
This was 1879, and though the wildness was gradually draining out of the West, in San Francisco at least, words still led to deeds. On August 23rd, De Young, infuriated by the accusation that his mother ran a whorehouse, confronted the Reverend in front of his own church. As Kalloch strode into the street towards the editor’s carriage, De Young leveled a pistol and drilled him twice in the leg.
De Young was arrested and spent a whole day in jail. A fine was issued and he was sent home — hey, it was merely a flesh wound! As De Young recovered by taking a long Mexican vacation, city opinion turned towards Kalloch. He was elected to the mayorship on a sympathy vote.
But wait, the story doesn’t end there… Isaac Kalloch’s son (confusingly also named Isaac) was not about to forgive the shooting of his father. After months of waiting for De Young’s return from the south — and the news that De Young was planning to print a damning expose of his father’s extra-marital affairs back in Boston — the younger Kalloch woke up one morning and made a series of fortifying visits to the saloons in the ‘hood. With a Smith & Wesson revolver securely in one pocket, he weaved toward the offices of the Chronicle at Bush and Kearney Streets.
Kalloch confronted Charles De Young without a word, drew his weapon and fired at point blank range. The first slug ripped into De Young’s face, but the editor was also armed, and managed to draw his own weapon. Before De Young could fire, Kalloch’s second shot caught him in the heart. According the Chronicle’s own account, “ten minutes afterward, despite medical efforts, HE WAS A CORPSE!”
The younger Kalloch cooly pleaded self defense. A witness swore to having heard seven shots, one more than Kalloch’s six-shooter could have fired. Though De Young had never pulled the trigger, the gentlemen of the jury were convinced that the seventh shot came from his gun. “CSI San Francisco” was unfortunately not yet on hand to examine the weapon, so Kalloch was acquitted.
Mayor Kalloch served out his term in relative peace, and Charles De Young’s brother Michael took over the editorship of the Chronicle. Though the bizarre affair ended up with bullets in two men and one dead guy, nobody ever went to prison. Nobody, that is, except the witness at Kalloch’s trial, who was eventually convicted for perjury.