Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston Chapter XXVIII
"Sweet are the uses of adversity; which, like
Ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
THE opinion of one who has spent but 365 days in a city,
methinks, cannot be entitled to much respect when written in the
spirit of criticism. I would not seek to imitate the Frenchman
who, after chattering a few days with his countrymen in his cafe
in Leicester Square, London, rushes back to his faubourg to
afflict the world with a treatise on the manners and customs of
England. At the same time I may be allowed to indulge in a few
remarks on those peculiarities which attracted my attention. No
stranger can traverse the main artery of the plan without
detecting the grievous blunder of the engineer who laid out the
city of San Francisco, causing a great waste of precious land
and much danger to pedestrians. Perhaps it may be advanced that
the topography of the site denied the adoption of right angles,
but that ideawill fail in the face of a careful
survey. Just here it may be proper, as a set-off, in the name of
the majority, to thank the generous-hearted Lotta, who in her
sented San Francisco, the city of her birth, with a fountain,
which stands not only as a thing of expensive beauty but as a
shield of protection to the humble traveler as he is jostled
across the most dangerous of all the spots that disgrace one of
the most beautiful thoroughfares on the continent.
Notwithstanding the above supposed defect San Francisco is a
noble and beautiful city, containing numerous splendid
buildings, churches, schools, theaters, and public halls without
number. With a meager supply of water the fire department is
superb. I noticed that while a large proportion of the dwellings
are constructed of wood it is rare to have an extensive fire.
Some of the streets are well paved, while others are struggling
to get rid of the barbarous cobble-stone pavement, which, in the
city's primitive state, the pioneers, without regard to size or
fitness, were wont to use.
Here, as almost everywhere, the Scottish element thrives. The
St. Andrew's Society, the Caledonian Club and the Thistle Club
are working, each in its own course, yet in perfect harmony,
together. In every nook of that inland sea, called the bay,
there are pleasant places of public resort, which enables
societies to indulge, by means of the inimitable ferry system
existing, in the picnic mode of pleasure and reunion, and the
reader may believe that the Scotch are anything but slow to
avail themselves of the facilities. And now, our golden wedding
over, our twelve months' trial of the west shore terminated, and
the wife and I having a little touch of rheumatism, we resolve
to try the milder climate of Oakland. Before we take the boat
suppose we take a peep at woodward's garden.
We cannot afford to pass unnoticed the favorite place of
resort bearing the above title.
I am informed that this school, combining practical
instruction with innocent amusement, emanates from the patriotic
effort of an individual, and that that individual has passed
In the history of large cities we find the public frequently
indebted to personal enterprise. Thus the refined taste and
liberal pertinacity of Madame Tussaud have culminated in one of
the lions of London. It would be hard to suppose any one
sojourning in the metropolis, even for a few days, failing to
visit her Baker street establishment of wonders.
In like manner is the community of St. Louis indebted to Mr.
Shaw (an English gentleman) for his princely gift of his garden
and museum to the city.
Milwaukee is also beholden to one of her eminent brewers (Mr.
Schlitz) for the only park of which she can boast (now they have
the National). The parks and boulevards of Chicago are the
wonder of the world, for so young a city. They are supported by
local taxation, which doubtless falls heavily on all adjacent
property, while the drives are new. The incentive spirit of the
gigantic scheme emanated from the late Col. Bowen, a far-seeing
man, and doubtless the growing increase of the marketable value
of that property has served to convince the owners of the
soundness of the enterprise.
In the early days of San Francisco Mr. Woodward, the founder
of his place of public resort, had kept the What Cheer Hotel for
many years during the wild frenzy of its gold-hunting mania.
Prospering in business he there founded what now constitutes the
basis of this wonderful place of popular amusement his museum,
which he moved to his private residence on quitting the hotel
business. During the national struggle of 1861-64 the expense of
sending troops to the front placed California necessarily in the
rear of her quota.
But if nature placed her beyond the reach of the fighting
front she forgot not her equally important duties of healing and
nurturing in the rear, as her quota to the sanitary fund at the
close of the war bore ample testimony. In raising the needful
funds Mr. Woodward took a prominent part, and the use to which
he put his private property in aid of the patriotic movement may
be said to be the advent of one of the lions of this wonderful
city. In April, 1884, I visited this place, and for admittance
fee of twenty-five cents feasted my eyes with more sights than
memory will serve to enumerate. Overlooking the museum for
another day I am struck with the healthy appearance of all the
specimens of zoology, particularly the lioness and her three
cubs, the amusing variety of the monkey tribe, and the goat
carriage, riding swings, and other amusements for youth in this
arena, the camera obscura and the circular boat, the wonders of
the aquarium and piscatorial variety and propagation, and the
ingenious subterraneous methods of displaying the specimens of
the aquatic school.
Now the bell rings and thousands throng to see the drama.
Here the ear-splitting sounds of a thousand throats of Young
America startle the stranger, and at the same time fill him with
surprise that notwithstanding the latitude given to youth the
order of the theater is good. The performance is light and fair,
but such a pair of acrobats I never beheld. If there was a bone
left in their bodies it would be a puzzle to locate it.
We then repair to the music hall, where, in addition to good
vocal and instrumental music, the outward man can be refreshed
with the choicest viands and beverages, after which we take a
general view of the fascinating spot in all its richest spring
beauty, and on our way to the gate call on the sea lions, the
monstrous alligators, and other wonders of the deep. Surcharged
with the perfume of ten thousand flowers, we make our exit, and
feel like treating ourselves to another visit to this municipal
blessing. On the 5th of October, 1883, we spent a very pleasant
day on board the Enos Soule, a fine ship at anchor in the bay,
where she had Iain awaiting a charter for many months (an
evidence of the extraordinary depression of the period of
mercantile interests). The day was fine, the light wind
approaching the ship favorable, and the entertainment on board
sumptuous. Mrs. Captain Laurens, the friend of my daughter,
generally accompanied her husband on his voyages to distant
parts of the globe.
The menu reflected credit alike on the caterer and (Wing Hi)
the cook, who, with the mate and carpenter, was the only man
retained on board. The carpenter (Israel Pearson) was
communicative, and I took an interest in his yarns, particularly
the one following of the polite attention of the redoubtable
Captain Semmes, of the Alabama, of rebellious fame. "In October,
1862," said Israel, " I was carpenter on board the La Fayette,
Captain Small (brother to Mrs. Laurens). She was a fine ship,
two years old, built in Freeport, Maine. We were three days out
of New York harbor, laden with wheat, flour and lard, for
Glasgow, when we had the misfortune to fall under the lynx eye
of Semmes, whose first salutation (a shot across our bows) not
being answered sufficiently prompt to please the man of power,
his second shot came too near to our cut-water to be pleasant.
We hove to; he boarded us, and placed our crew in the mortifying
position of prisoners on board of his corsair craft to witness
our good ship La Fayette, blessing-bound with her precious
cargo, sunk before our eyes, in dire memento of our suicidal
war, the natural result of unhallowed ambition."
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