January 24, 2008
Researching San Francisco history means spending way too much time sitting in the dark. In the library, I mean, staring at microfilm of old newspapers. Hours of scanning those scratched and blurry archives makes me a little punchy, so I blinked and rubbed my eyes at this gruesome headline from the February 13, 1902 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.
I wondered momentarily if it was a prescient comment on the state of contemporary San Francisco baseball, then lapsed into a reverie about the fate of urchin ‘Bricky’ Sylva.
It was just so weirdly entertaining that I had to share it — first at SFist.com, and now at here at Sparkletack:
LEG BONES FOR BASEBALL BATS
Boys of Russian Hill Put Their Discovery to Queer Use
When John Doe and Richard Roe laid themselves down to dreamless sleep they little suspected that the urchins of Russian Hill would be using their leg bones as ball bats and their hollow skulls as balls, but that is precisely what occurred last night. Residents of the vicinity of Leavenworth and Broadway going home to dinner were treated to a choice assortment of cold shivers at the sight of the national game being played with the grisly loot from a tomb. Half a dozen boys were making long drives of the ball to center filed with resounding thwacks from the long bones, the femur and fibula radius and ulna humerus. Between times two yellow skulls would be tossed to the batters, and the fun characteristic of the reverence of the North American youth, waxed warm until a policeman swooped down upon the players.
The boys succeeded in escaping with the melancholy reminders of mortality, dragging most of them away in a gunny sack. Later, in the rear of an old building on Vallejo Street, they were discovered piecing together the portions of two skeletons. The feet, hands and ribs were missing, while the top of both skulls had been cut or sawed away, or, as “Bricky” Sylva expressed it, “Deir lids was lost.” Tied up in a moldering cloth were a number of small bones. All the bones were discolored and mouldy.
Inquiry among the urchins developed the fact that these skeletons, without sepulture, had been found yesterday in an old box in a garden at the rear of the vacant house at 1101 Green Street. This had been until recently occupied by a physician, Dr. William R. R. Clark. It is supposed that the doctor had made use of these remains in his anatomical studies and had forgotten to remove them from the premises when he went away.