San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter XXI.

FRIDAY is said to be an unlucky day on which to begin a journey or form an acquaintance. Let us see how much truth there is in this old superstition.

On Friday, the 15th of June, 1888, I went to Oakland for the first time, except when I passed through there on my way to Mare Island, the year before.

Getting off the local train at Clinton Station, I asked the conductor if he could tell me where No. 920 Sixth Avenue was.

"Yes," said the conductor; "it's the second house on the right."

No. 920 was a neat little two-story house, standing in a large lot which took in about one-half of the block. About three-fourths of the yard was shaded with peach, plum, cherry, pear, and apple trees, and the rest was laid out in nice flower beds and croquet grounds, and a big white rose bush formed a pretty bower a few yards from the front door. All the flowers were in full bloom.

While there was nothing pretentious about this little home, there was an air of daintiness about it which I had to stop and admire as I entered the gate. A pleasant lady of perhaps thirty-five opened the door for me, and appeared very much surprised when I informed her that I had received her note and would like to see the room that she wanted to let.

Mrs. Bell invited me in, and explained to me that she had not written the note at all; that the young ladies had noticed the personal in the paper, and had answered it more in a spirit of fun than anything else. They never thought for an instant that I would come to East Oakland, when there were so many nice families in the city who were taking in boarders. Mrs. Bell was not over-anxious to let the room, but since I had called she would show it to me anyway, and if it suited, I could have it. The terms were very satisfactory, and the room suited me; so, after exchanging a few references, and discovering that we had several mutual acquaintances in the navy, I engaged the room with board, and returned to San Francisco for my baggage, telling Mrs. Bell that I would be over the following day in time for dinner.

The next day, June 16, after packing up my things and sending them down to the ferry landing to be checked, I walking up as far as Kearney Street to make some little purchases--some collars and neckties, I think.

On my way down to the boat I met Captain Searle on Post Street, between Kearney and Montgomery. I was under the impression that the captain was on board his ship, the City of New York, which vessel was in China at the time.

Captain Searle spoke to me as I was passing along, and I stopped and asked him how he happened to be in San Francisco when his ship was in Hong Kong.

The captain explained that upon his return here from China in April, his vessel had been quarantined again, and that all hands had gone through with a similar experience to that of January and February.

Having grown sick and tired of being quarantined upon his return from every voyage, he had decided to take a leave of absence, and let Mr. Deering, his first officer, take his place as captain for one voyage.

"This," said Captain Searle, "is the first time that I have set foot on shore since last November. No one cares about going ashore on the other side, on account of the smallpox epidemic, which has been raging out there since last year; and the Board of Health of San Francisco will not allow anyone to land from the steamers returning from China until they shall have spent twenty-one days in quarantine."

The captain then asked me something about myself, and where I had been since I left the City of New York and the quarantine ship. He was surprised when I told him that I had just returned from a voyage to Australia, and that I was quartermaster of the Mariposa. The conversation ended by the captain inviting me to call upon him at the Palace Hotel when I had nothing better to do.

Thanking Captain Searle for the courtesy of his invitation, I went on down to the Market Street ferry and crossed over to Oakland, and moved my valise and the rest of my things into my new quarters at Mrs. Bell's, and, acting upon my hostess' advice, proceeded to make myself at home and get ready for dinner.

Mrs. Bell had said something about some young ladies who had answered my advertisement in the Examiner, and I began to wonder who those young ladies were; whether they were members of the household or just some visitors, and whether they were pretty or not.

I ceased wondering, however, when Charlie, the fifteen-year-old son of the hostess, came to my room and, informing me that dinner was ready, took me into the dining room, where his mother introduced me to the young ladies in question.

There were three of them, and they turned out to be a little of everything that I imagined them; i. e., members of the household and visitor; and all three were prettier than the general average of young ladies whom one meets nowadays. This is saying a good deal, considering the fact that we were in California, and especially in Oakland, where some--but not all by any means--of the loveliest girls who attend the San Francisco balls and Palace Hotel cotillions reside.

In presenting me to this happy young trio, the hostess explained that Miss Grace and Miss Theo were her daughters, and Miss Brunner was their friend from the city, who was visiting the family for a week or two. Miss Theo and Miss Brunner were native daughters; the latter very much so, as her father was one of a shipload of genuine Forty-niners who came out via Panama and settled in Sacramento, where Miss Brunner was born. Miss Grace, the hostess' elder daughter, might as well have been a native. She was born in New York just as her mother was about to return to California from a visit to her Eastern relatives. Like her younger sister, and her friend from the city, she possessed a good many other California traits besides good looks. She was bright and smart, and could play and sing beautifully. All three were fairly good at repartee, which fact I discovered very soon after making some very commonplace remark concerning something which I had heard about the "wildness and wool" of the far West. Incidentally they gave me to understand that I should henceforth speak of California as "The Pacific Slope," and not to dare refer again to Oakland as a suburb of a new western mining center. Three to one proved too much for me, so I had to make believe that I thought Oakland was just a little bit better than New Orleans, and that San Francisco was away ahead of New York. Anything, you know, for the sake of family peace.

The hostess was the widow of a noted lawyer who had practiced in California courts ever since such luxuries as divorce courts and other institutions for the legal facilitation of polygamy had been introduced out here. She was well posted concerning things in general, including the histories of all the prominent men like Mackay, Fair, Flood, o'Brien, de Young, Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford, Sharon, Ralston, Mills, and a host of others who came here with a good deal of faith in luck, and grew rich very suddenly and unexpectedly, and many others, like Delmas, Quack Nutt, Goad, Mizner, BcMean, Not-All, Cooke, Mearns, and some more of the hanger-on ilk, who never got rich, and never will, by honesty or any process, because the other processes are played out.

Very few of those people possessed much in the way of culture or refinement, and the private lives led by some of them, even after they grew rich, or "prominent," were in some cases considered too demoralizing to be discussed in open court.

I do not approve of denying the public the right to attend court in any case, no matter what objections the contending parties may raise. Judges are paid by the public, and the public has a right to hear and see what the judges are doing.

Any attempt to suppress the truth is equivalent to a lie.

The heirs (?) of those very people proclaim that, outside of their set, no one on this great Pacific Slope is entitled to social recognition. Their set, or clique, which they speak of as "the highest circles of society," numbers, according to their own published lists and figures, scarcely one hundred families, some of which are not even native born Americans--a few of them being Jews of low alien birth.

Now, we will average up the members of "The One Hundred Families," at, let us say, four members to each house-holder, including husbands, first and "second" wives, and such offspring as they may have brought into the world, and such street gamins and "outside" children as they may have "adopted," and the entire membership of the "colony," with all the "heirs" born in and out of wedlock, including those which were not intended to have been born at all, will probably foot up four hundred beings in human form.

This "colony" is not very prolific. The women, as a rule, cannot afford to deprive "society" of the time that natural mothers usually devote to their offspring.

According to their "civilization," raising legitimate children is not "fashionable."

Doctor O'donnell has no recognition in this set, except as a close-mouthed "practitioner."

This, kind reader of the society columns, is the set which the world has been commanded to esteem and honor as the best citizens of California.

"The leading set," "the dictators of society," empowered to set the fashions in all things social and otherwise, including the latest and most approved methods of ruining the lives of pure, innocent daughters of honorable citizens, and literally dragging them down into the very sewers and free dumps of degradation.

"The great Four Hundred," to whose Feudalism one must submit and ask no questions, or, object and be slandered, maligned, libeled, publicly insulted, and persecuted by Mammon for having the awful audacity to cling to the laws of one's God and nature--the foundation of civilization and society.

"The great 'Kings' of Snob Hill, and the S. P. Railroad Royalty," to whom you and I and ours whom we love have been commanded to bow down and acknowledge as our dictators and rulers, by the grace of fraudulently acquired wealth and Satanic, unnatural depravity.

Get down on thy knees, foolish, deluded citizens, and worship thy sovereign, "King" Collis the First; bring along the fairest and purest of thy young girls, the flowers of thy households, and present them as sacrifices; lay them at the feet of thy king that the favorite of his harem--with whom he lived for years before marrying her--may select the choicest morsels for her sultan, and then bid the nobility, Princes Crocker, Sharon, Fair, Sage, Mills, Flood, Markham, Paxton, Daggett, Dimond, Tobin, Gould de Young, et. al., to draw lots for second choice. After this, the lesser nobles,--the court hangers-on, so to speak,--like Delmas, Quack-Nut, Goad, Mizner, McBean-eater, New-it-all, Wise, Sheldon, and Casserly will be admitted.

At the end of the great modern slave mart, the harem will be thrown open to the footmen, caterers, scavengers, lackeys, and general utility men, like J. o'Hara Nosegrave, Hugh Spume, R. K. Fox, Wally Cooke, Peter Kiernan, Georgie Mearns, Little "Birdie" Irving, George H. Bartlett, Harry Wise, Ed. Greenway, the "fruitpickers," and Nigger Jackson.

Come, come, Californians, hurry up and obey "King" Collis! The "king" will punish you severely if you grumble.

Hold on! Let us investigate.

What! Has anyone the audacity to disobey the "king's" command?

Has anyone ever dared to question "King" Collis' authority to issue such a command?

There must be some excuse for raising "impertinent" questions concerning the right of 400 persons to proclaim themselves the acknowledged dictators of 299,600 others who reside in the same city, and about 200,000 of whom are law-respecting citizens.

It is a well-known fact that rank weeds, noxious herbs, and pestiferous vermin will over-run legitimate flower beds, and sap the life out of everything, if not weeded out.

Let us see if we cannot find an excuse.

Did you ever get up before daylight of a cold, clear, frosty morning, and take a constitutional walk in the suburbs?

Try the experiment, and when you reach the spot known as the "free dump" for garbage, you will notice by the light of the gray dawn, a thin, white veil of frost which, during the stillness of night, nature has thrown over the uncanny substance in the dump. You will have an idea that beneath that white frosty mantle there is something unclean and putrid. Just wait a little while until the sun comes out and melts the frost, and you will see the necessity of having the attention of the public called to the nuisance.

Perhaps through false modesty you may be afraid to speak of it, openly, to the public.

Perhaps you may be afraid of raising too much of an unwholesome odor all at once. But that is where you are wrong, my boy. It would be far better in the end to have the corruption cleared away at once, even though it did perfume the air for a little while, than to leave it there to decay by degrees, sending forth its foul, putrid breath, year in and year out, and poisoning with fatal disease germs the very air which, but for its malodorous presence, would be pure.

Now, just convert your imagination into a long pole and lift up the white mantle of charity, which, during the stillness of the Lenten season, some sympathetic person may have thrown over "King" Huntington's harem. Take a peep at the foundation of its high social pretensions, and you will find in its composition such ingredients as unnatural depravity, arrogance, presumption, gross dishonesty, unpardonable ingnorance, female boldness, hellish hypocrisy, and family skeletons in flimsy boxes, the lids of which their owners essay to hold down with sacks of ill-gotten dollars.

If you read the legitimate newspapers you must have noticed that whenever there is a dispute over any of those ill-gotten dollars, the skeletons invariably make their appearance as soon as the courts of law assume temporary charge of the "sacks."

And yet the winners of those very "sacks"--no matter who or what they may have been before the legal squabble for the dollars commenced--are always eligible to membership in the Parvenucracy, or the "Four Hundred," as the self-elected leader, or general-utility-man, Greenway, is pleased to term this odoriferous mixture.

Charity is all very well in its place. It's said to begin at home, but the destroyers of happy homes are not objects of charity. They may profess to be charitable, but "robbing Peter to pay Paul" (a small percentage) is not charity.

No possessor of enough common sense to vote will admit that he has ever taken a respectable lady to one of the gatherings of the Parvenucracy, unless he did it merely through curiosity, to let her see what really was there. Decent people go through the "tenderloin," when it comes to that, just to see the former homes of the Parvenucracy.

There is a class of scavengers, like Nosegrave, Hume, Cooke, and other society reporters, who poke their noses into everything, and publish complimentary notices of Parvenucratic gatherings, and make money out of it. Hume told me with his own mouth, one day, right in front of the Examiner office, that "anything was all right if there was any money in it."

Of course those scavengers will tell all kinds of lies about anyone who has the awful audacity to publish the above facts; for it will take away the fake advertising revenue of their pitiable little sheets, the Post, World, and Wave.

Their worthless criticisms amount to nothing. No one with a grain of sense ever believes a word of the bosh that is published in the above-mentioned sheets, because everybody knows very well that they will print almost anything that they can get, if it is accompanied with the right kind of paper-weights.

The Post's malicious and cowardly assaults on Governor Budd, and the way the public treated those vile slanders, all go to prove that I know what I am talking about.

That the honest voters of San Francisco look upon this catch-penny Evening Post as a malicious and libelous sheet, and its ignorant and egotistical "editor," Hume, as a falsifier, is shown by the fact that on the 6th of November, 1894, they gave James H. Budd a majority of nearly twelve thousand votes, right in San Francisco.

In picturing Spew Hume as the juvenile yellow quadruped Post, hired by the octopus to bark and whine for the railroad candidates during the campaign, Mr. Davenport, the Examiner caricaturist, expressed the minute portion of the candid opinion that the honest portion of the public had time to bestow upon this ineffable little animal.

A talented cartoon artist like Mr. Davenport is a public benefactor when he devotes his ability to the interests of good government, as this gentlemen has been doing since the Monarch employed him.

Long live the caricaturists who possess honor, integrity, and common sense, and the courage of their convictions!

Hume, Bartlette and Nosegrave, "editors" of the Post, World, and Wave, remind the average citizen of professional odoriferous cats. They differ from these peculiar cats in one respect only: the cats perfume the atmosphere free of charge, and Hume, Bartlett, and Nosegrave hire themselves out to produce a similar result at so much per whiff.

A prominent attorney of this city tells me that shortly after the announcement that I was writing a book on Society as it Really Is, Spew Hume telephoned to him to come to his office to see him on business. The attorney went to Hume's office, and what do you think he wanted to see him about?

Knowing that the lawyer was a friend of mine, this vulgar fellow endeavored to find out from my friend what I was writing about. Failing to get any satisfaction from the attorney, Hume informed him that if I said anything in the book about certain persons they would shoot me on sight.

Among the dangerous shooters whom he intimated would slaughter me if I published the truth about them, were the "fruit-pickers," referred to in Chapters XIII and XIV, and himself (Hume), all dead shots with anything in the line of firearms, from a dynamite cannon to a certain Oriental weapon, that was used with deadly effect by the Chinese "soldiers" engaged in "defending" their opium dens against the forces of the Mikado, which weapon is referred to by the war correspondents as a "Chinese stink-pot." The last mentioned weapon is Hume's favorite. In addition to the old, original "fruit-pickers," who were standing by to exterminate the author as soon as the book came out, Hume named one person whom I had never heard of. I believe that it was a scheme of Mr. Hume and his friends to get their names mentioned in this book, and the author, being of a charitable turn of mind, will not disappoint them.

There are some nincompoops in this world who imagine that they are of sufficient importance to receive mention in every publication that is issued, and they never forgive a writer who forgets them. When anything new is about to come out, they want to be in it, and if they can't get there in one way, they will in some other. This last mentioned friend of Hume and the other "fruit-pickers" must be a representative of that class of boobies. His name is Wise, and I wish to say that if Harry Wise sent any such message as the one that was brought to me from Mr. Hume, he must be less "wise" than even his pictures in "Birdie" Irving's fake advertising pamphlets proclaim him to be. As I said before, I never knew that such a creation as Harry Wise existed, until the lawyer brought me the ludicrous message referred to above.

This little person, Wise, is perhaps the son of some political office-holder who is hanging on to the fringe or ragged edge of Parvenucracy, like his friends, the  Hume-Cooke-Cosgrave- Fruit-Picker-Mearns- "Birdie"-Irving-Co., and he probably thinks that if he can get written up as an upstart, it will give him a little social standing among all the other silly snobs of his own ilk.

From a fake advertising pamphlet issued by a local printer on Bush Street, and "edited" by the little ex-boot-black "Birdie" of the fake horse show, I clip the following extracts from an article dictated by Wise himself, and paid for after the fashion of other reading notice advertisements in the same pamphlet, called Midwinter Fair Jewvenir. I should like to quote the whole ludicrous notice, but I cannot afford to devote so much space to such a numskull. I quote the following extracts:

"Among the young men who are making a conspicuous mark in the social world of this city, there are none who stand forth more prominent than Mr. Harry Wise.

"Gifted with natural abilities of an uncommon order, he has raised himself to a position not usually attained in one so young. It is the care he has taken in the cultivation of his abilities that has placed him in the foremost ranks of those who are to control this metropolis of the Pacific Coast."

In a ludicrous attempt to make it appear that he is a self-made man, he goes on to say:

"Having completed his education, his father decided upon sending him aboard, that his general ideas might expand. He was liberally supplied with funds, which gave him an entree into the best society of Europe. As a consequence he returned, after a year's travel, with broadly expanded views, and a more correct judgment of the aims of life than usually falls to the young man of the present day. Business comes natural to him, and there are few old veterans who display more ability than the subject of this sketch."

More "otherwise" than Wise, but bound to be "in it."

The above ridiculous rubbish is accompanied and embellished with a picture of this little fellow, which goes to show that his "ideas" of his own insignificance must have expanded while "studying business in European society," (?) even if his common-sense views, if he ever had any, did desert him. I never heard before that European society approved of any business except empty-title matrimonial boards of brokers, and they invariably require their protégés to produce something that resembles a pedigree.

Poor little fellow! He has succeeded in getting his name mentioned at last, and I hope that he and Hume and the other noodle heads will have sense enough in the future to keep their silly little threats to themselves.

If they bother me any more I will send Mr. Delmas to them to ask them if they know an organization called the "fruit-pickers."

Oh, no! I will not send Mr. Delmas. On second thought I find that it would not be advisable to send him, because Mr. Hume might ask him about his own escapades at the second establishment.

May Goodwin of the Sea King Co., and the "cozy cottage," and divers other parvenu proprieties and financial enterprises, such as the Coleman case, the Cox case, etc., etc.

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License