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, December 15th, 2008
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history. THIS WEEK:a couple of items from the newspaper files, and an escape from Alcatraz — perhaps!
December 15, 1849:
The London Times looks west
As I perused the pages of an 1849-era copy of the Alta California this week, I ran across a little item reprinted from the venerable London Times.
I’d been on the hunt for, you know, colorful “Gold Rush-y” stuff, but sandwiched between reports on the progress of the new Mormon Settlement at the Great Salt Lake and a cholera epidemic in Marseilles, was a piece nicely showcasing British condescension towards their American cousins, particularly the slightly barbarous variety found out West.
I assume it was reprinted here because the Alta California took it as a compliment, but the author responsible is probably best pictured wearing a frock coat, a monocle, and a supercilious expression.
The London Times has received a copy of the Alta California of June last and ruminates thereon as follows:
“Before us lies a real California newspaper, with all its politics, paragraphs, and advertisements, printed and published at San Francisco in the 14th of last June. In a literary or professional point of view, there is nothing very remarkable in this production. Journalism is a science so intuitively comprehended by American citizens, that their most rudimentary efforts in this line are sure to be tolerably successful. Newspapers are to them what theatres and cafÃ©s are to Frenchmen.
In the Mexican war, the occupation of each successive town by the invading (American) army was signalized by the immediate establishment of a weekly journal, and of a “bar” for retailing those spirituous compounds known by the generic denomination of “American drinks”.
The same fashions have been adopted in California, and the opinions of the American portion of that strange population are already represented by journals of more than average ability and intelligence.”
Alta California — 12.15.1849
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Monday, November 24th, 2008
A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.
November 24, 1899:
Collars, ties, and Butchertown mayhem
Our first item flowed from the pen of some long-forgotten San Francisco Chronicle beat writer, a piece in which a neighborhood dispute is lovingly detailed.
Butchertown was a tough old San Francisco neighborhood on the edge of today’s Bay View district, around the mouth of Islais Creek. It was comprised mostly of German and Irish immigrants — ballplayer Lefty O’Doul was probably its most famous son — and it was absolutely packed with slaughterhouses, meat packers and (here’s a shocker) butchers.
Without further ado, a dash of local color circa 1899:
Haberdashery Issue Stirs Butchertown
Whether William Beckman and Thomas O’Leary quarreled over a love affair or over collars and neckties is a mooted question.
Beckman is a butcher employed in one of the many abattoirs of South San Francisco. A few months ago he married the former Mrs. O’Leary, and when O’Leary, after a three years absence, returned to town two weeks ago and found that his divorced wife had become Mrs. Beckman, there was trouble in Butchertown. It all resulted in the arrest of O’Leary on a charge of making threats against life, and the case came up yesterday in Police Judge Conlan’s Court.
Beckman told of a long knife with which O’Leary threatened to perform an autopsy on (him). There was also a dispute, Beckman said, as to whether the wearing of collars and neckties was proper form in Butchertown.
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