Monday, January 19th, 2009

San Francisco Timecapsule: 01.19.09

THIS WEEK’S PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:
1890: Nellie Bly blows through town; 1897: “Little Pete” (the King of Chinatown) is murdered in a barbershop.

nellie blyJanuary 20, 1890
Miss Nellie Bly whizzes past San Francisco

I got a hot tip that this was the anniversary of the day Miss Nellie Bly stopped by on the home stretch of her dash around the world. But as it turns out, well … some background first, I guess.

For starters, who the heck was Nellie Bly?

Sixteen years old in 1880, Miss Elizabeth Jane Cochrane of Pittsburgh was a budding feminist. When a blatantly sexist column appeared in the local paper, the teenager fired off a scathing rebuttal. The editor was so struck by her spunk and intellect that he (wisely) hired her, assigning a nom de plume taken from the popular song: “Nellie Bly”.

Her early investigative reportage focused on the travails of working women, but the straitjacket of Victorian expectations soon squeezed her into the ghetto of the women’s section — fashion, gardening, and society tea-parties.

Nellie despised this, and tore off to Mexico for a year to write her own kind of stories. Back in the States, she talked her way into a job at Joseph Pulitzer’s legendary New York World. Her first assignment was a doozy — going undercover as a patient into New York’s infamous Women’s Lunatic Asylum. Her passionate reporting of the brutality and neglect uncovered there shook the world, and Nellie Bly became a household name.

More exposés followed — sweatshops, baby-selling — but then, in 1888, Nellie was struck by a different idea. read on …

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Monday, October 27th, 2008

Timecapsule podcast: San Francisco, October 27-November 2


A weekly handful of weird, wonderful and wacky happenings dredged up from the kaleidoscopic depths of San Francisco history.

October 28, 1881:

A murder in Chinatown

chinese man with queue

A murder in Chinatown.

Newspapers, particularly the often very nasty San Francisco Chronicle, were full of anti-Chinese propaganda in the last decades before the turn of the century. Stories dealing with Chinese people were usually over-heated, pretty racist, and sometimes hard to even get through.

This item was short and straightforward, though, and I might have even skipped over it if I hadn’t noticed an article about the very same case in a legal journal. The tiny bit of testimony from the victim in that piece helps capture the flavour of the parallel world of 1880s Chinatown.

CHINESE CRIME
Shooting of a Courtesan in Kum Cook Alley

Between 7:30 and 8 o’clock last evening, while Choy Gum, a Chinese courtesan, was bargaining with a fruitdealer in her room on Kum Cook Alley, a Chinaman named Fong Ah Sing walked up to her door and fired a shot at her … read on …

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Friday, February 17th, 2006

#47: Robert Louis Stevenson — Chinatown Treasure

San Francisco has a long-standing reputation as a literature-loving town, as evidenced by government statistics ranking us as having the highest per-capita spending on books in the country. Over the decades this city has nurtured a number of notable writers from Mark Twain to Dashiell Hammett. However, there’s one literary memorial in town that has […]

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