James D. Phelan: The Golden City will Rise Again

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Duty of Collective Identity:

[Source Transcription]

Mayor Phelan’s Call for a Celebration.

California’s Golden Jubilee is the celebration of an event which meant everything for California, a great deal for the Union, and much for the world.

On January 24, 1898, –fifty years ago–gold was discovered by Marshall. At once–Minerva-like–a State sprang into existence. California and all its subsequent history and development, anticipating ordinary processes by two hundred years, took their inspiration from that day. The world was enriched, and the fame of the new State sounded from pole to pole.

Californians would fail in their duty to themselves, to their State and to their country if they did not fittingly celebrate an event upon which so much depended. A celebration will honor a worthy and patriotic sentiment, recall the fact to the minds of men that this is still “the Golden State,” and at the same time attract the argonauts of 1898, now about to seek the golden fleece in the far North. Bearing in mind that our State’s gold is not only in the hills and streams, but in the sunshine, flowers, fruits, grains and wine,–perennially and inexhaustibly golden,–let us make the Golden Jubilee Celebration commensurate with the golden possessions of California, and the golden promise of the years to come.

James D. Phelan, Mayor

Source Citation:



The Identity of Space: California’s Golden Jubilee

February 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Living with the Identity of Space:

Continuing a strategy of providing the primary sources along with analysis, here is another significant statement of California and particularly San Francisco’s collective identity. While the process by which this collective identity is established is complex, (see my exchange on the USIH Bloghere) the resulting influence of an established identity is that residents of the state and the city must reconcile their own individual and group identities with those deployed by the commercial-civic elite and the socially powerful. Below is a statement printed in California’s Golden Jubilee Souvenir Program which describes the story of California and San Francisco’s rise as the most significant example of American Manifest Destiny.

Collective Statement of San Francisco’s Established Historical Identity

[Source Transcription]


Fifty years ago to-day a man stood shouting in the wilderness, “I have found it! I have found it!” His hand held rigidly aloft a scrap of yellow metal. It was gold! Being a simple man and ignorant of the fact that he was a maker of world history, an accident of Fate, he naturally thought to turn his find to his and his companions’ profit solely, limiting the rich secret to their own small circle. But see how Fate made little of his intentions, and how events, like a heard of stampeded cattle, overrode his plans.

There were other men and also a woman in this camp in the wilderness, and they shared the secret and soon it was traveling. Just how is not known. One account relates that the woman, having no one else to tell it to, narrated the great event to a passing teamster, who happened providentially along. But he was a doubting teamster, and teh woman finally gave him one of the little scraps of gold, –thus triumphantly convincing him. And so the teamster went his dusty way, and at the first tavern sold the metal to quench his thirst, and with it went the story. Others again say that one of the laborers grew tired of work, and, quitting, took with him some of the shining bits he had picked up in the creek bed. Presently he fell in with a man who had been a practical miner in another country, who stared and questioned, and forthwith hastened to the scene with pick and pan, –the forerunner of untold thousands of other men with pics and pans. But what does it matter how the story leaked away? It was the world’s secret, not theirs; and, while at first it crept forth in devious whisperings, it was not long before it was passing orm mouth to mouth, outspoken, and even as it passed the sound of it grew louder, thrilling and vibrating in the hearts of those who heard and passed it on to others, until its mighty voice went thundering to the four corners of the earth,–Eureka!  Eureka! I HAVE FOUND IT!

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James D. Phelan declares a “New San Francisco” in 1896

January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Continuing with my series of transcribing San Francisco’s primary sources in the late 19th century, below is a transcription of an address James D. Phelan gave at the opening of the San Francisco Mechanics’ Fair, 1896. These fairs were similar to most industrial exposition across the US in the 19th century. However what was unique about Phelan’s speech was the rhetoric of the City Beautiful Movement, as well as the exposition of a peculiar vision of San Francisco’s collective identity.

More transcriptions to come ~ Click on the “Source Transcription” category on the side-bar to navigate to other sources already presented on Gilded Empire. For more information on the digital trends in history, check out this years AHA Convention, or for links to other projects, check out my first digital transcription post.

“The New San Francisco,” an address by Mayor James D. Phelan, 1896:


If, long years ago, a Spanish imperial commissioner were directed to visit Central and Northern California and lay the foundation for a great city, what site, judge you, would he have selected? In the light of the present there can be but one answer; but, surprising as it may appear, the eligibility of San Francisco was not only disputed under such circumstances, but condemned as a place even for human habitation.

Don Pedro de Alberni was, in July, 1796, ordered by the Viceroy of Spain to examine and report on the most suitable location for the Villa of Branciforte. He examined the country about Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Francisco, and reported that in and about the Mission and Presidio of San Francisco there was no irrigable, pasture or grain lands, no water, no timber, “and therefore” he adds, “I am convinced that the worst place or situation in California is that of San Francisco.” In spite of this evil report, however, we find the Mission of San Francisco Dolores, thirty years later, in 1825, possessed of over one hundred and fifty thousand head of horses, cattle, and sheep, besides thousands of bushels of wheat. But agricultural pre-eminence is not claimed for San Francisco, and hence we greet the views of Captain Benjamin Morrel, a more sensible and far-seeing person than the Senor Alberni, who visited the port in the same year, and who declared it to be the finest harbor in the world, and that the presence of enlightened men was only necessary to give the landscape “a soul and a divinity.” Between that date and 1835 a new population, small in numbers, must have settled in the cove of Yerba Buena, now the city, for Richard H. Dana, in his “Two Years Before the Mast,” modestly assumes the role of a prophet when he says he beheld at that time a town composed of Yankee-Californians called Yerba Buena, “which promises well.”

After the discovery of gold, the pioneers found in the quiet little hamlet a hospitable welcome and temporarily made it their abode, but such of them who thought at all about the possibility of a large city growing on the Bay of San Francisco gave Yerba Buena little heed. They located cities further up the bay, near the mouth of the San Joaquin River, and General W. T. Sherman, who surveyed many such sites, and confidently took town lots in partial payment for his services, describes, in his Memoirs, the failure of these enterprises. One after another they dissolved, with the hopes of their founders.

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San Francisco’s Advantages Outfitting the Klondike, 1898

January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

A Few Quick Thoughts on Digital History & Digital History Commons:

It has been one of my goals with this blog to present historical information in an innovative way to the cloud. The social media revolution has only intensified the ability to disseminate knowledge and collaborate in any field of study. While digital publishing in theory is little different from traditional print, it provides a platform for reaching a wider audience with little expense and ease. Beginning with this post, I hope to present much of my research for the Gilded Empire online for review and critique.

Digital History is a new frontier in presenting historical material to a much wider audience than traditional print books and journals. Even the traditional symposia and professional conventions have transitioned somewhat into the digital realm. The AHA 2012 convention is a perfect example with panels discussing the digital humanities in general, and digital history specifically. Two examples, Presenting Historical Research Using Digital Media & Crowdsourcing History: Collaborative Online Transcription and Archives, illustrate in a big way the trend’s strength in the historical discipline. For more information, follow #AHA2012 or #twitterstorians on Twitter.

Among other things, the #twitterstorians coverage of the AHA 2012 has inspired me to move forward with these new strategies. Besides presenting my thoughts on San Francisco in the 1890s, I thought I would at some point digitize my research transcriptions of primary sources so that they might be available to others. The advantages of “crowdsourcing” historical knowledge allows for a much more collaborative and in many ways, more productive way to initiate and engage a historical topic. It is in this vein that I hope this new strategy will help facilitate.

In the future I will write more on this new digital movement when time permits.

Below however is the first installment of many primary sources transcription postings. As this strategy matures a more efficient navigational structure will emerge so that a search through my transcriptions will be quick and useful for scholars and the public alike. To begin however, all transcriptions will be listed under the “Source Transcription” Category listed in the sidebar.

And thanks again to all those #twitterstorians who are covering the AHA 2012 convention in Chicago.

San Francisco’s Advantages as an Outfitting Point for the Alaskan Gold Fields ~ “Introduction”

Scanned Image of Titlepage


That the Klondike is going to prove the great drawing card in westward travel for many months to come, and that San Francisco, as the terminus of the great transcontinental railroads, will be the natural base of supplies for all exploring expeditions setting out for the new northern El Dorado, are two facts which recent events have thoroughly impressed on the public mind.

Every batch of news which comes from the golden valley of the Yukon bears still stronger testimony confirmatory of the superlatively rich deposits of auriferous gravel in this wonderful region. Stories of fortunes won in a few short months of labor, which read more like fairy tales, are continually being repeated on the arrival of every steamer from the north, invariably substantiating by precious metal itself a cold, hard, glittering evidence, which cannot be controverted, fresh from the sealed treasure vaults of Nature herself.

Pamphlet image of Steamer on its way to the Klondike

The volume will be found useful, not only as a guide in traveling, but in the matter of the necessary equipment for the sustenance of life in a land where the surroundings will be found entirely different from those encountered in localities unexposed to such climate as that of Alaska and the Northwestern Territory. It is only natural that everything pertaining to these wonderful discoveries should stir the world to its very center with a strange and novel excitement, the like of which has not been before experienced in this generation. In view of this extraordinary interest, the publishers of this book have taken the greatest pains to collate the most reliable and useful information of the Klondike and neighboring districts for the benefit of the American public, and more especially for those who have already turned their faces toward the new Mecca of the gold hunter.

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