Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem by Lee Bruno

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The waterfront is where it all began for San Francisco. It’s where untold numbers of adventurers and fortune-hunters first stepped foot upon the land that embodied possibility. It’s where ships from around the world, carrying sea-faring gold seekers, maritime traders, free-spirited mavericks, and hopeful immigrants, came to anchor. And it’s where the unconventional, opportunistic, and indefatigable embarked. Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem: Tales from San Francisco’s Historic Waterfront, 1849–1934shares the stories of exceptional newcomers and outliers, whose intrepid spirits helped to transform a small port into one of the most beautiful, unpredictable, and beloved cities in the world. 

Lee Bruno explores nearly a century of waterfront history, ranging from the Gold Rush to the Jazz Age, telling the tales of the enterprising entrepreneurs, reckless financiers, tireless reformers, visionary architects and city planners, and bohemian artists, musicians, and poets who all heeded the call of promise. With more than 100 historical images, Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem celebrates the famous (and infamous) characters whose charismatic personalities and perseverance created the institutions, businesses, and cultural fabric of San Francisco.

https://www.amazon.com/Misfits-Merchants-Mayhem-Franciscos-Waterfront/dp/1944903275

Readings:

Mechanics' Institute Library, 57 Post Street, SF CA: Wednesday, February 21 @ 6-7:30 p.m.

Bookshop West Portal, 80 West Portal Ave., SF CA.: Thursday, February 22 @ 7pm

Booksmith, 1727 Haight Street, SF CA (The Bindery): Thursday, March 8 @ 7:30 pm

Book Passages Ferry Building, SF CA Thursday, March 29 @ 7 pm 

South San Francisco Library, 306 Walnut Ave. SSF, April 11 @ 6 -7 pm

SPUR Building, 654 Mission Street, SF CA.  Thursday, April 26 @ 7 pm

(San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association)

The Buffalo Soldiers & San Francisco by Lee Bruno

The Buffalo Soldiers escort of the Liberty Bell in November 1915 wasn’t the first time the African American troops had participated in a public ceremony and celebration. On October 31, 1902, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived in San Francisco and also received a well-deserved rest after having spent 18 months fighting insurgents in the disease-infested jungles of the Philippines. A year later in May 1903, the decorated soldiers provided the security protection for President Theodore Roosevelt who visited San Francisco that month during a tour of the United States.

San Francisco hosted a special gala parade down Market Street on May 12 to honor the President. The Buffalo Soldiers who had rode and fought fearlessly alongside Roosevelt on San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War were once again at his side. A film documenting his ride in a horse-drawn carriage shows Captain Charles Young and the mounted soldiers of the Ninth in the parade. Captain Young had graduated from West Point in 1889 as the third African American to do so. He was a scholar and an accomplished linguist, speaking Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and German. The Buffalo Soldiers accompanied an entourage of secret service men in top hats who walked on either side of the presidential carriage to supplement mounted police and a military honor guard. The extraordinary number of security guards was in place to prevent an assassination, which took down his predecessor, President William McKinley.

The story of the Buffalo Soldiers did not end well. In 1917, the Houston Mutiny and Riot resulted in the hanging of 19 soldiers and disbanding of the Buffalo Soldiers honored regiment. At Camp Logan, a mutiny and riot of 156 African American soldiers from the all-black Twenty-fourth United States Infantry Regiment resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and sixteen civilians. The riot was precipitated by two Houston police officers that on August 23, 1917 stormed the home of a black woman and assaulted her while looking for someone. A crowd gathered and a soldier from the 24th Infantry stepped forward to inquire what was going on and was beat and arrested. The rioting soldiers were tried, courts-martialed and a total of 19 were executed, and forty-one were given life sentences.

As for the great military major, Charles Young was denied the opportunity to fight in the battlefields of Europe during World War I. “The life of Charles Young was a triumph of tragedy,” wrote W.E.B. DuBois in a memorial to Colonel Young, which appeared in the February 1922 issue of The Crisis. “No one ever knew the truth about the Hell he went through at West Point.”

“I fear that I shall have to pray all the rest of my days that God will help me forgive the execution of these Negro soldiers,” wrote Delilah Beasley. “Not that I wish to condone for anything they might have done. But because try as I will I cannot but feel that the honor shown them at the P. P. I. E. was too much for the memory of the people of Texas, and thus for escorting the Liberty Bell they paid the price in after years with their lives,” she added. “I firmly believe that whatever they did in Houston, they were aggravated to do. While San Francisco, with all its mixed population, was a good test of the man hood and honor of these Negro boys, they stood the test and left a clean record behind them.”

A Haitian Christmas (1979) by Lee Bruno

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       It was a fine December afternoon in 1979. We were sailing from Panama to Haiti, across some 900 miles of open ocean. I was a deckhand and remember the warm deck beneath my tanned feet as I stood near the fife rail and Regina’s massive wooden helm.  The winds were steady and the seas gentle. No other vessels were in sight; the deep blue seas and wind gently lifted and rocked Regina’s 144-foot Barkentine hull as she gently caressed the ocean swells. It was one of those memorable moments of being under sail with the wind at your back and Regina’s sails billowing as if we had become one with nature. Regina’s roll and swaying motion was a rhythm like a great piece of music you grew to love. It was a rhythm that seduced me and many other sailors who had no choice to but fall under the spell of the ship’s movements as she carried us safely across a large body of ocean.  The whale research ship’s master and owner, George Nichols, was on deck and sparked a conversation about Haiti with a few members of the crew. It was one of those great conversations I’d later remember with wonder. Because it wasn’t a lecture, but it felt as if you’d just taken a short class in the history and culture of Haiti and its long and proud 1804 struggle as the first independent  nation  of  Latin America  and the  Caribbean . The brilliant revolt against the French was led by former slave and first black general of the French Army,  Toussaint Louverture .  That was one of George’s gifts as the master of the ship. He made you curious to learn more about nearly everything you’d encounter on research voyages. Afterwards I remember going below decks and finding an old National Geographic issue about Haiti. I dug into the article, but George’s conversation and the article didn’t prepare me for the powerful experience of visiting Haiti that Christmas.  We made landfall and dropped anchor in Bahia du Mole, a little bay at the western tip of the northern peninsula of Hispanola. It was an enchanted landfall like Christopher Columbus must have experienced in December of 1492. Most of us were able to get ashore into the village of le Mole that day. Some of the crewmembers returned to the ship having met some Christian missionaries and relayed stories about Haitians voodoo customs, one tragic story about how a mother attempting to rid her sick son of evil spirits inadvertently killed him by having him drink urine. The village was very poor, but I remember the smiles on the kids faces as bright and cheerful. They had no electricity, and there were no stores or public pay phones ashore for us to call home.  Our first mate Tad was carrying a scrawny pine tree along the shoreline. After deftly navigating a diplomatic nightmare, he figured out how to compensate the owner of the tree by taking off his own tee shirt and offering it as payment. Tad brought the scrawny and withered looking shrub of a tree back to our ship. It was placed prominently on the main saloon table and its presence ignited a feverous magic amongst the crew as nearly everyone scrambled for materials to create ornaments out of whatever we had available.  We had a memorable dinner with drinks that left us happy and buzzed. Our feelings of being away from our friends and family and normal Christmas traditions started to fade that evening. People laughed and smiled, and shared the evening with kid like giddiness. As darkness fell, some of the crew headed to the village to join in a traditional celebration we’d heard about earlier in the day. I remained onboard performing my watch duties and could see the bonfire ashore burning bright and heard the drumbeat of music echo off the water.  When the crew returned a few hours later, I remember our cook Emile being lit up with energy, telling me a woman who was probably a grandma had danced him into the ground. It was a joyous celebration that reminded us of the precious gift of human friendship and helped us appreciate the surprises of everyday life. In a land far from home, the spirit of love and joy that day and night warmed all of our hearts and left us full, and wanting to share it with our friends and families back home.  A few years later when I read and watched news stories about Haitians risking their lives to vote for a new leader, I remembered that Christmas in Haiti and the villagers we met. It was an indelible experience that connected me to Haitians in a way I would never have imagined possible. And that was part of the magic of Regina and how she opened up whole new worlds and experiences to all of us that we never dreamed possible.

 

It was a fine December afternoon in 1979. We were sailing from Panama to Haiti, across some 900 miles of open ocean. I was a deckhand and remember the warm deck beneath my tanned feet as I stood near the fife rail and Regina’s massive wooden helm.

The winds were steady and the seas gentle. No other vessels were in sight; the deep blue seas and wind gently lifted and rocked Regina’s 144-foot Barkentine hull as she gently caressed the ocean swells. It was one of those memorable moments of being under sail with the wind at your back and Regina’s sails billowing as if we had become one with nature. Regina’s roll and swaying motion was a rhythm like a great piece of music you grew to love. It was a rhythm that seduced me and many other sailors who had no choice to but fall under the spell of the ship’s movements as she carried us safely across a large body of ocean.

The whale research ship’s master and owner, George Nichols, was on deck and sparked a conversation about Haiti with a few members of the crew. It was one of those great conversations I’d later remember with wonder. Because it wasn’t a lecture, but it felt as if you’d just taken a short class in the history and culture of Haiti and its long and proud 1804 struggle as the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean. The brilliant revolt against the French was led by former slave and first black general of the French Army, Toussaint Louverture.

That was one of George’s gifts as the master of the ship. He made you curious to learn more about nearly everything you’d encounter on research voyages. Afterwards I remember going below decks and finding an old National Geographic issue about Haiti. I dug into the article, but George’s conversation and the article didn’t prepare me for the powerful experience of visiting Haiti that Christmas.

We made landfall and dropped anchor in Bahia du Mole, a little bay at the western tip of the northern peninsula of Hispanola. It was an enchanted landfall like Christopher Columbus must have experienced in December of 1492. Most of us were able to get ashore into the village of le Mole that day. Some of the crewmembers returned to the ship having met some Christian missionaries and relayed stories about Haitians voodoo customs, one tragic story about how a mother attempting to rid her sick son of evil spirits inadvertently killed him by having him drink urine. The village was very poor, but I remember the smiles on the kids faces as bright and cheerful. They had no electricity, and there were no stores or public pay phones ashore for us to call home.

Our first mate Tad was carrying a scrawny pine tree along the shoreline. After deftly navigating a diplomatic nightmare, he figured out how to compensate the owner of the tree by taking off his own tee shirt and offering it as payment. Tad brought the scrawny and withered looking shrub of a tree back to our ship. It was placed prominently on the main saloon table and its presence ignited a feverous magic amongst the crew as nearly everyone scrambled for materials to create ornaments out of whatever we had available.

We had a memorable dinner with drinks that left us happy and buzzed. Our feelings of being away from our friends and family and normal Christmas traditions started to fade that evening. People laughed and smiled, and shared the evening with kid like giddiness. As darkness fell, some of the crew headed to the village to join in a traditional celebration we’d heard about earlier in the day. I remained onboard performing my watch duties and could see the bonfire ashore burning bright and heard the drumbeat of music echo off the water.

When the crew returned a few hours later, I remember our cook Emile being lit up with energy, telling me a woman who was probably a grandma had danced him into the ground. It was a joyous celebration that reminded us of the precious gift of human friendship and helped us appreciate the surprises of everyday life. In a land far from home, the spirit of love and joy that day and night warmed all of our hearts and left us full, and wanting to share it with our friends and families back home.

A few years later when I read and watched news stories about Haitians risking their lives to vote for a new leader, I remembered that Christmas in Haiti and the villagers we met. It was an indelible experience that connected me to Haitians in a way I would never have imagined possible. And that was part of the magic of Regina and how she opened up whole new worlds and experiences to all of us that we never dreamed possible.

 

Prince of the Sky by Lee Bruno

Raised in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, Lincoln Beachey, like the Wright Brothers, started in a bicycle repair shop, then moved on to small engines. He shared his older brother Hillary’s interest in balloons and airplanes and quickly gained fame, starting at age 17, when he flew a balloon around the Washington Monument and landed on the White House lawn.

Beachey continued to win audiences and secured his reputation as an artist of the skies. Those who doubted the charismatic airman were converted during his 126-city barnstorming tour in 1914 when he performed daredevil stunts in his biplane the Little Looper. “His mastery is a thing of beauty to watch. An aeroplane in the hands of Lincoln Beachey is poetry," Orville Wright said.

City Beautiful Architect by Lee Bruno

The legendary architect Daniel Burnham outside his observation shack (circa 1904) on Twin Peaks where he studied San Francisco's topography for his "city beautiful" plan. Parts of Burnham’s architectural vision and ideas also became the building blocks for Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s architecture.

“We have found that those cities which retain their dominion over the imaginations of mankind achieve that result through the harmony and beauty of their civil works,” Burnham wrote.

Ace of Aces by Lee Bruno

When Eddie Rickenbacker was eight years old, he watched a dirigible float over a field near his home in Columbus. Ohio. That sighting sparked his imagination and inspired him to run home and build his own flying machine. He assembled his machine using a bicycle and an umbrella, which he secured to the frame. With the help of friends, he hauled his two-wheel contraption to a nearby barn roof and launched it. The bicycle coasted down the eave and a few seconds after going airborne, the umbrella collapsed and Rickenbacker fell hard to the ground. Luckily, he landed in a pile of sand, probably saving his life.

At the age of 27, Rickenbacker managed to convince the military that despite being two years over the age limit, they should let him fight. He joined the newly formed Aero Pursuit Squadron as part of the American Expeditionary Force in 1917. Stitched on his uniform was the squadron’s insignia: Uncle Sam's stove pipe hat with stars and stripes in a ring, symbolizing the American custom of throwing a “hat into the ring” as a challenge.

In a year, Rickenbacker swiftly became America’s top fighter World War pilot. During a seven-month stint of wartime flying in 1918, he downed more enemy aircraft than any other American, shooting down 22 German planes and four observation balloons.

King of the Plains by Lee Bruno

"Buffalo Bill" Cody was born two years before the California Gold Rush in the age of the Wild West in the frontier of Le Claire in what became the state of Iowa. It was there where he launched his adventurous life. At the age of ten, he became the head of his family after his father was killed in a dispute over a slave. A few years later, Cody worked as a freight company messenger, wrangler, wagon master and trapper before trying his hand at prospecting in the Pikes Peak gold rush. Then at the age of 14, he joined the Pony Express, fitting the bill for the advertised position: "skinny, expert riders willing to risk death daily." Years later after the Civil War, Cody was given his nickname “Buffalo Bill” after winning a contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. He was skilled in every facet of frontier life.

The rugged performer had championed San Francisco as the city to host the World’s Fair. During the heat of competition between San Francisco and New Orleans in early 1910, Cody said that "the west is the biggest part and the most important part of America, and yet people are woefully ignorant of the many charms and advantages that exist here…It is logical that the celebration of the opening of the canal should be held here at the western end of the canal which is to develop the west and far east.”