Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem: Tales from San Francisco’s Historic Waterfront, 1849–1934
Written and Illustrated by Lee Bruno
Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem: Tales from San Francisco’s Historic Waterfront, 1849–1934 is an extraordinary book that explores San Francisco’s waterfront history by focusing on a variety of incredible individuals who marked the City’s formative years. Author Lee Bruno divides the period 1849–1934 into six chapters: the Gold Rush Era (1848–1855), the Comstock Load (1859–1870), the Gilded Age (1870–1900), the Great Earthquake & Fire (1906), the Jewel City (1907–1920), and the Jazz Age (1920–1934). Bruno focuses on several “movers and shakers” for each era, with vivid accompanying photographs and graphics for each person and time period.
Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem is more than a historic journey of San Francisco, as many of the people discussed in this book exemplify the effect that the era’s laws had on their lives and opportunities. One example is William Leidesdorff Jr., who was born on St. Croix to a Danish plantation manager and a mixed-race mother. He left the West Indies and made a small fortune as a shipmaster in New Orleans, and planned to marry a local plantation owner’s daughter. However, when her family discovered he was part black, they canceled the approaching wedding and the bride died shortly after, allegedly of a broken heart. Leidesdorff left New Orleans for Yerba Buena when New Orleans adopted the Negro Seaman Act of 1822, which barred black people from holding maritime jobs. In Yerba Buena, Leidesdorff became a prominent citizen and business leader primed for the U.S. takeover of California. He died of meningitis just when gold was discovered near his property on the American River, but the battle over his estate raged for over 50 years with foreign relatives being barred from inheriting, conflicting international laws and new probate laws confounding the process, and even the U.S. government claiming ownership. San Francisco still has an alley named for him where his commercial shipping warehouse was located (the City’s first), and a plaque near the Ferry Building.
Another notable example is Lew Hing, who at age 12 came to San Francisco from China to work with his brother in a metal working shop in 1871. By 1878, he had saved enough money to open a cannery business. By trial and error, he learned the cannery business (his was located at the corner of Sacramento and Stockton streets) and he overcame the rampant discrimination against the Chinese and false accusations of opium smuggling to become one of the biggest fruit canners on the West Coast. Hing was ineligible for citizenship because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, but he was very much a member of the community and was instrumental in assisting the city after the 1906 earthquake.
By delving into the lives of each period’s notable figures, Misfits, Merchants & Mayhem reveals how these fascinating individuals transformed the city and helped shape it into what it is today. To read this book is to travel back in time, with the research, prose, and photographs providing a completely immersive experience.