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

The Cooper’s Art

Woodcraftsmen who made containers were called coopers, and the use of particular woods to suit each need was the cooper’s special art because each wood reacted differently, both in the crafting process and also to items that might be stored within.  The wet cooper, also known as a tight cooper, made staved casks Continue reading The Cooper’s Art

Boom Times, 1887

For 20 years southern California had poured money, and millions of printed words, into a publicity campaign to attract settlers from the eastern United States. Now in 1887 the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads, locked in a fierce price war, reduced their fares so low that thousands of people who had been intrigued by the idea Continue reading Boom Times, 1887