Founding San Jose

Now the largest city in northern California, San Jose was founded November 29, 1777, twenty years before Mission San Jose was built, as a farming community to provide food for Spain’s presidios in Monterey and San Francisco Bay. Its original name was El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe (the Town of Saint Continue reading Founding San Jose

A Holiday to Give Thanks

President Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in September 1863. Prior to that, the observance was sporadically celebrated, mainly in New England, as a day of feasting and merriment after the autumnal harvests. California was not yet a state when military governor General Bennett Riley proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in November 1849 during the turbulence of the Gold Rush. It is unlikely, however,  that very many gold miners abandoned their prospecting to sit down to a groaning table.

The Elephant as Metaphor

The gold rushers who swarmed into California hoping— but failing— to find an easy fortune, boosted the folklore phrase “I’ve seen the elephant” into national usage during the 1850s. A metaphor unused and forgotten today, it once meant to experience something extraordinary and dangerous, and to Continue reading The Elephant as Metaphor

Trick or Treat

As legend tells us, tomorrow is the night when spirits of the dead haunt the homes and neighborhoods they knew when they were alive, and need to be appeased lest they do some harm. On Halloween—as they have done since the Middle Ages in Europe—children in costume roam door to door saying “Trick or Treat,” Continue reading Trick or Treat

His Excellency Norton 1

The self-proclaimed Norton 1, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, was a colorful citizen of San Francisco from Gold Rush days through the 1880s. His Excellency, whose real name was Joshua Abraham Norton, arrived in San Francisco in 1849 with substantial funds from his father’s estate. He was successful in the Continue reading His Excellency Norton 1