September 17, 2008
A little explanation is in order.
So. The schedule of Sparkletack production has fallen off a bit during the past year, and for that I apologize. I miss the show myself, so I’ve decided to tweak the format a bit.
Here’s my new plan. I started to think about the fact that every time the planet spins around its axis, it’s the anniversary of some interesting, odd, or somehow notable happening in the history of our fair city.
I’m going to select a handful of these every week, and put together a short piece just to remind you — and myself — of the marvelous and wacky things that have taken place all around us during the past 170 years or so.
The format is far from settled yet — this is officially an experiment, and I’m open to suggestions.
The longer, more in-depth shows won’t disappear — the plan is to keep producing them as well, at a more comfortable pace. They’ll just appear when they appear. The Sparkletack blog won’t change at all, and I should mention here that I really love the tips and info that you constantly send me, dear listeners … thanks, and keep ‘em coming.
September 17th, 1859
It somehow seems appropriate to begin with the anniversary of San Francisco’s first encounter with her patron saint:
It was this very week that a neatly dressed and somewhat earnest gentleman entered the Clay Street offices of the San Francisco Bulletin with a piece of paper in his hand. The next day, the headline of the Bulletin asked the citizens of San Francisco a question: “Have We An Emperor Among Us?”
Thus began Joshua Norton’s 21-year reign over an amused and tolerant city — and a mostly unsuspecting United States of America.
After losing a fortune in spectacular fashion five years earlier, the once-prominent businessman had dropped out of sight, re-emerging from self-imposed exile as a destitute but much more interesting character.
Clad in a Union army officer’s coat with tarnished golden epaulets, wearing a battered top hat with an ostrich plume, and carrying a sword and ornate wooden walking stick, Emperor Norton came to be beloved by San Francisco in a way unique to this city — respectfully saluted by policemen, his hand-drawn banknotes honored by the finest restaurants, and a cascade of proclamations and edicts published in the newspapers — beginning with that Bulletin announcement, printed 149 years ago this week:
“At the peremptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the past nine years and ten months of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U.S., and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in the Musical Hall of this city on the 1st day of February next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.”
– NORTON I, Emperor of the United States
Though the good Emperor’s sanity has been questioned on more than one occasion, his concerns sound alarmingly contemporary — we miss the stabilizing presence of his eccentric Imperial Majesty now more than ever.
September 17, 1850
A reminder that the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 was just another turn of the wheel for a city already quite accustomed to burning itself down.
On the morning of September 17, 1850, San Francisco’s fourth Great Fire broke out. Great Fire #4 was a minor blaze in the series of six conflagrations which leveled portions of San Francisco in the early years of the Gold Rush.
Four square blocks just north of Portsmouth Square were destroyed, the area between Washington, Pacific, Montgomery and Grant (then DuPont) streets. Luckily, the area had been scorched by Great Fire #3 just a few months earlier, so the typical welter of rickety wooden gambling halls, brothels, and rooming houses hadn’t yet been completely rebuilt.
September 19, 1899
On September 19, 1899, Ringling Bros. Circus made its first appearance in San Francisco, setting up the big top at 16th and Folsom Streets. If the late September scheduling of today’s, um, “carnivalesque” Folsom Street Fair is merely a coincidence, well … I guess you can insert your own joke here.
September 16, 1927
Breaking into the 20th century, Charles Lindbergh touched down at what is now San Francisco International Airport at the height of the Jazz Age.
Lindbergh and his gorgeous aluminum aircraft, “The Spirit of St. Louis”, had just made aviation history by completing the first ever solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He was in the midst of a kind of victory lap around the whole country that summer, giving speeches and riding in parades in all 48 states. Hordes of spectators surrounded the runway that day and lined Bayshore Highway just to catch a glimpse of the now world-famous aviator.
September 18, 1939
Western Union messenger boys go on strike, dramatically parading down Market Street and successfully breaking the Depression-era stranglehold of the company union. I don’t know about you, but somehow a scene from “Newsies” is running through my mind — I guess it’s all those little caps.
September 21, 1959
In the heart of the Cold War, Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev arrives in San Francisco during an American “friendship visit”. Kruschev remembers San Francisco with special warmth in his memoirs, noting that, in contrast to many other cities in the United States — I’m looking at you, Los Angeles — San Francisco treated the Soviet visitors with politeness and respect.
“There were neither shouts nor gestures, although Americans know how to do such things if they want to show their hostility”.
Kruschev, rather immodestly, later took credit for his visit having helped re-elect his host, Mayor George Christopher. No shoe-banging on this trip … that would have to wait until New York in 1960.
September 17, 1972
The no-nonsense TV cop show “Streets of San Francisco” went on the air for a 119 episode, five season run. The father-son-like chemistry between Karl Malden and Michael Douglas combined with location filming in gritty ’70s San Francisco made it a classic. And here’s a little-known fact — one of the many unknown actors popping up in bit parts was California’s future Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.