When we left off, I was discussing some of the features of SF’s most fearsome neighborhood;”licentiousness, debauchery, pollution, loathsome disease, insanity from dissipation, misery, poverty, wealth, profanity, blasphemy, and death are there,” wrote Benjamin Lloyd in Lights and Shades of San Francisco. “And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there too.”


The strip of land followed the route of today’s Pacific Avenue and included a variety of attractions, including:

  • Supernatural peep shows: Mike Sinclair’s San Francisco describes a shopkeeper who’s son survived a point-blank shot to the head. Passers-by could pay $0.10 to see the supernatural boy through a hole in a door.
  • “Dirty Tom” McAlear was charged with “making a beast of himself” after developing a reputation for eating anything in exchange for small payment
  • A bar called Cobweb Palace collected spiderwebs, monkeys, and birds, including an alcoholic parrot named Warner Grandfather would could curse in four languages
  • The Galloping Cow and Dancing Heifer were “two enormous women would had forsaken the wash-tub for a fling at the high life,” writes  Ashbury in Barbary Coast. “They performed a classical dance, lumbering about the stage like a brace of elephants. They later opened their successfully opened their own saloon, and developed a reputation for breaking a bottle, then the neck, of unruly patrons.
  • Shanghaied: The Vegas of it’s era, a wild night in Barbary Coast didn’t happen there and stay there. A more likely repercussion was to wake up, concussed and hung over, aboard a ship bound for another continent. Professional kidnappers known as runners used a variety of tools–obscene pictures, knives, brass knuckles–to coerce young men aboard ships that were desperate for replacement crews when their incoming sailors fled to the Gold Rush.  Runners were aided by bar owners to concoct drinks like the Miss Piggott Special, which included whiskey, brandy, gin, and opium.
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