Every day we hear of the serious opioid crisis that is ravaging many areas of the country. Usually people start off legitimately, taking prescribed pain medications for an injury, and soon they become dependent upon the drug to function normally. Opium addiction today generally translates either to medications like fentanyl, or illegal substances like heroin. People take them to dull pain, or to lower anxiety, or just to slip away for a little while.

Drugs derived from opium are not new, and they have many positive uses as well as the deadly ones. Morphine, for instance, is the most effective pain killer for terminally ill patients. But in the early days, it was quite a different experience.

Opium came to San Francisco in 1861, about 113,000 pounds of it. Opium dens were established in Chinatown and quickly became successful businesses. More and more dens opened as immigrants continued to flow into the country to join the California Gold Rush. Usually these establishments were owned and operated by Chinese immigrants.

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Ever heard of the Anti-Saloon League?

I passed this sign on Jones Street in San Francisco one day and took a photo of it.

A major force in American politics until Prohibition was repealed back in the 1930s, the Anti-Saloon League was instrumental in building support for temperance.

The organization started in 1893 in Ohio, and soon fanned out across the U.S. Initial efforts were focused on shutting down saloons. The leaders of the movement reasoned that if alcohol was not readily available, Americans would find a more wholesome way to entertain themselves. Over time, this idea gave way to a new conclusion that people were unaware of the evils of alcohol and the real need was educational.

The Anti-Saloon League led a major effort that included persuasion, propaganda, lobbying, and social pressure, all designed to discourage drinking alcohol. There were years of public campaigns to tie consumption of alcohol to insanity, unemployment, crime, and mortality.

These moral crusaders were prolific! In addition to speeches and parades, the League published songs, dramas, magazines, and more. The following images are from the Anti-Saloon Museum, which is housed in Westerville Library in Westerville, Ohio.

The first two images have very noticeable marital discord themes:

image from Anti-Saloon League
image from Anti-Saloon League
image from Anti-Saloon League

Eventually, the Anti-Saloon League determined that their success would always be limited, as long as alcohol was legal. They became focused on putting temperance-minded politicians in office.

In 1919, the long-term efforts of the League finally paid off: the 18th Amendment – Prohibition – was ratified. The manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol was banned in the United States.

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One hundred eleven years ago today, on April 18 at 5:12 a.m., a violent earthquake shook San Francisco.


This was 30 years before the Richter scale was developed to measure an earthquake’s magnitude, and nearly 70 years before the system we use today, the Moment Magnitude scale. The scale ranks an earthquake on a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the most catastrophic. Each step accounts for 32x increase of energy expended.

The San Andreas fault

The 1906 earthquake is estimated to have been a 7.8. For comparison, an average tornado is around 4.8, the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was about 6.2, and a Mt. St. Helen’s eruption is about 7.6.

18 April 1906

When you consider the damage done by the earthquake (and most disasters), it is really incredible to think about how quickly they happen. In 1906, the timeline was very short:

5:12 a.m. Strong foreshock occurs, lasting 23 seconds.

5:13 a.m. The main shock occurred, and it lasted 42 seconds.

And it was over by 5:14 a.m. But several separate forces – the damage from the earthquake, the aftershocks, and the gas lines that provided energy to the city – collided with one another and a fire ignited. The city burned for three days.

But San Francisco was destined to be more than a sepia-toned memory. The people refused to let the city lay in ruins, or to scatter and rebuild elsewhere. San Francisco defiantly built itself back up, grander and more flamboyant than before. The fingerprints of the old earthquake are faded but visible,  a reminder of San Francisco’s great courage and resilience.