Monday, January 12th, 2009
THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:
1861: the notorious countess Lola Montez dies in New York; 1899: a small boy defends himself in a San Francisco courtroom.
January 17, 1861
Countess Lola Montez — in Memorium
As was undoubtedly marked on your calendar, San Francisco’s patron saint Emperor Norton died last week, January 7, 1880.
But his was not the only January passing worthy of note. Ten days later (and nineteen years earlier), we lost perhaps the most notorious personage ever to grace the streets of our fair city.
I speak, of course, of Countess Lola Montez . Yes, that’s the one — “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets”.
You already know Lola’s story, of course. You don’t? The breathtakingly gorgeous Irish peasant girl with the soul of a grifter and the heart of a despot? How she — with a few sexy dance steps, a fraudulent back story involving Spanish noble blood and the claim of Lord Byron as her father — turned Europe upside down and provoked a revolution in Bavaria?
Still doesn’t ring a bell, hmm? Well, Lola’s whole story is a little too large for this space. She’d already lived about three lifetimes’ worth of adventure — and burned through romances with personalities from King Ludwig the First to Sam Brannan — before conquering Gold Rush-era San Francisco with her scandalous “Spider Dance”.
If you missed the Sparkletack podcast about this amazing character, you might want to rectify that little omission.
After her European escapades, Lola found that freewheeling San Francisco suited her tempestuous eccentricity to a T. Brandishing the title of “Countess” — a Bavarian souvenir — she drank and caroused and became the absolute center of the young city’s attention.
It’s said that men would come pouring out of Barbary Coast saloons to gawk at the raven-haired vision sashaying through the mud with a pair of greyhounds at her heels, a white cockatoo perched on one shoulder, and a cigar cocked jauntily from her lips … and do I even need to mention her pet grizzly bears?
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Monday, October 20th, 2008
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.
October 24, 1861
The transcontinental telegraph line is finished, literally uniting the United States by wire just as the country was disintegrating into Civil War.
Just before the shooting started, Congress had offered a substantial bribe (known as a subsidy) to any company agreeing to take on the seemingly impossible project — a hair-brained plan to hang a thin wire on poles marching hundreds of miles across the Great Plains, up the Rockies, and into the Wild West.
Work began in June of 1861. Just like the transcontinental railroad a few years later, one section started in the east, one in the west, with the goal of linking up in Utah.
The two crews worked their ways toward Salt Lake City for six long months, following the route established less than a year and a half earlier by the Pony Express. It was an epic struggle. Thousands of poles were planted in scorching heat and freezing snow, and the workers negotiated not only with the hostile elements, but with Native Americans and Mormons.