San Francisco: The modern Babel

October 29, 2015 | By | Reply More
San Francisco Bay during the Gold Rush.

San Francisco Bay during the Gold Rush.

It would be nice to think that all the arrivals for the Gold Rush were impressed with what they saw but the record is clear that in a number of cases the opposite was true.

For example, a passenger on the S.S. Lenore wrote home:

“Just arrived – San Francisco be dammed!”

Still others were more optimistic, such as the bard who sang the lyrics of “Oh, California”, a popular song sung to the tune of “Oh, Susanna”:

I soon shall be in Frisco,
And then I’ll look around;
And when I see the gold lumps there,
I’ll pick them off the ground.

O California,
That’s the land for me:
I’m bound for San Francisco,
With my washboard on my knee. 

Others took a more realistic approach.

Street Conditions in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

Street Conditions in San Francisco during the Gold Rush.

This Theodore T. Jonson’s appraisal of what he saw appeared in his volume published in New York in 1851:

Rising abruptly from the water, an amphitheater of three or four ugly, round topped, barren hills from the site of the notorious town of San Francisco.
these hills serve a twofold purpose: the miserable, sandy clay soil produces a weed which a starving jackass will scorn and a fine dust for the eyes which no eyelid is proof against – while ravines and ridges afford full sweep to the perpetual gales from ocean and bay in the summer and a place for rivulets and ponds in the winter.

Yet another revealing picture of San Francisco as it appeared to one observer in August 1849, is to be found in these lines:

San Francisco, formerly Yerba Buena, is a queer place.
It contains at this time (diary entry for early August, 1849) a dozen adobe structures and perhaps two hundred roughly constructed frame buildings, most shipped around Cape Horn.
The beach, for a space of two miles, is covered with canvas and rubber tents and the adjacent sand hills are dotted to their summits with these frail but convenient tenements of the prospective miners.
The population, numbering perhaps 5,000, is as heterogeneous as their habitations.
Such a meeting of languages and jargons and of tongues the world has seldom seen.
it is a modern Babel.

Samuel C. Upham

For practically all these who came by land or by sea, San Francisco was the mecca of their dreams; their arrival quickly made of the seaport town a veritable emporium of the Gold Rush; all kinds came, the good the bad, and the in-between; all were, in briefly, funneled into the city before being spewed forth to the gold country.

And San Francisco has never been quiet the same since.



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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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