It’s easy to think of individuals committing acts of civil obedience: The conscientious objectors that fled to Canada to avoid the draft. Student protestors staging sit-ins. Bike riders deliberately clogging traffic to protest racial injustice. But it’s harder to think of incidents where a city itself creates an act of civil disobedience. One notable example occurred 15 years ago this week when the city of San Francisco began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The action, though contrary to state law, would set the table for later challenges and a landmark Supreme Court decision.
In 2004, newly elected San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom decided to direct the city-county clerk to begin issuing the licenses. Newsom’s decision came as a reaction George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, in which the president had espoused the possibility of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prevent same-sex marriage. With the state of Massachusetts set to allow same-sex marriage to begin in May 2004, Newsom invoked the equal protection clause of California’s state constitution as a reason for the city to begin issuing the licenses as well.
The city made the licenses available beginning February 12, and by the 13th, lawsuits were filed in opposition. On February 19, the city sued the state of California on the grounds that the statute that defined marriage in the state was unconstitutional. The next day, the California Supreme Court refused the stay on licenses that had been requested by the February 12 filings, meaning that licenses could continue to be issued. The city of San Jose waded into the fight on March 9; their city council voted 8–1 to recognize marriages of city employees performed in other jurisdictions (such as San Francisco, which is roughly 90 minutes away).
The availability of the licenses precipitated a rush of couples who wanted to get married, knowing that their window might only exist for a limited time. Reporting from that week indicates that around 900 couples were married in the first three days that licenses became available. Couples from other parts of California, and other states, descended on the area to try to get their ceremonies officiated. From February 12 to March 11, 4,000 licenses went to same-sex couples, some of whom waited in line for 12 hours. Among the more well-known couples to be wed were then-California State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg and Sharon Sticker; celebrity Rosie O’Donnell and her then-partner Kelli Carpenter; cartoonist Alison Bechdel and then-girlfriend Amy Rubin; filmmakers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes; and screenwriter David Michael Barrett and Mark Peters.
Though the issue had already drawn national attention, it had also begun to shift to the national political stage. By late February, President George W. Bush continued to publicly support an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Some viewed this move as a pre-emptive strike to draw a line against his presumptive opponent in the next presidential election; that was Senator John Kerry, who coincidentally hailed from the other state at issue: Massachusetts. On March 11, the Supreme Court of California halted the issuance of the licenses; Mayor Newsom agreed to stop while the courts took up the issue.
Cases would travel through various levels of the court on their way to a final decision that August. On August 12, 2004, the Supreme Court of California issued a unanimous ruling that the city had violated state law by issuing the licenses. An additional decision, a 5–2 vote in the case of Lockyer v. The City and County of San Francisco, voided all of the same-sex marriages that had been performed.
The fallout continued for years. After Lockyer, the city and county of San Francisco again filed suit, leading to a 2008 Supreme Court of California decision that denying the licenses to same-sex couples was, in fact, unconstitutional. That decision, and the cases surrounding it, paved the way for multiple cases to follow. When the Obergefell v. Hodges case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it didn’t represent a single couple; it arrived as a bundled case involving six lower court cases that had included 16 same-sex couples from four states. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a 5–4 decision that all 50 states had to grant same-sex marriages and recognize those marriages in other states.
Today, Newsom is the governor of California. He served as mayor of San Francisco until 2011, and was the lieutenant governor of the state from 2011 until took the oath for the higher office in 2019. Despite the ultimate success of the Obergefell v. Hodges case, some challenges have arisen in court and from politicians who wish to overturn the decision. However, polls conducted by Pew Research Center and others show a consistent growth in support for same-sex marriage among the American people, with a 2018 Gallup poll demonstrating that as much of 67 percent of the population approves.
Feature Image: Same-Sex Marriage (Shutterstock)
For centuries, the poster has been a useful tool for advertising coming attractions, warning of dangers both physical and spiritual, and publicly calling for political change. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the idea of using posters for decoration really took off. For just a few bucks, a young person could instantly change the entire mood of a bedroom as political ideals shifted, new rock ’n’ roll bands came to prominence, or new social causes found footholds.
As Herbert Gold discovered in 1968, the poster makers of San Francisco would say their posters were an art, not a business. Yes, but they were a business, too, and a lucrative one at that. Gold’s March 23, 1968, Post article “Pop Goes the Poster” gives readers a closer look at the artists, artistry, and commerce of 1960s poster art.
Interspersed with that article are examples of some of the eye-catching psychedelic posters of the time that are featured in the exhibit “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll” on display through August 20, 2017, at San Francisco’s De Young Museum.
Pop Goes the Poster
By Herbert Gold
Originally published March 23, 1968
Freaky, funny, and fashionable, these are the signs of our times
Sätty, the experimenter in poster art, is talking. “I am only on the first or second step of two hundred.” Modestly he lowers his eyes. “Others must carry on my work. I need to communicate with others — a hundred million people in this country under 25.”
He lives with his wife in a white and airy apartment overlooking the San Francisco Bay. He meditates and creates in an underground North Beach studio with incense, alcohol flames, rock music, a collection of clocks, a sort of altar, and a bed under a concrete stairway, surrounded by mirrors. As a child in Germany, he was shuttled back and forth under the bombs. He says he has a piece of shrapnel in his head and sometimes wears an eye patch. There is pressure on his nerves.
The San Francisco poster makers — Sätty, Paul Olsen, Wes Wilson, Mouse, Victor Moscoso, and a dozen or so active others — may look like flower children, but their passion has become a mini-industry. Wes Wilson’s early posters sold over 300,000 copies in the first months of the craze. Companies like East Totem West, Funky Features, Astro, The Food, Sparta, and American Newsrepeat use jobbers and wholesaling agencies.
What does this mean in financial terms? Well, say the poster makers, it’s an art, not a business. Yes, but it’s a business, too. “Half the population is under 25.”
Take the Haight-Ashbury poster, because it’s a sort of business, even the art people will admit. It’s a photo of Haight-Ashbury street signs fuzzed up and flowered up to look dreamy. It has sold about 80,000 copies at two dollars each. Profit? Well, the profit is shared among designer, producer, jobber, seller, but the producer alone has made about $40,000. It’s a friendly, flowery souvenir of the Haight. After which, perhaps, aesthetic criticism is in order.
“Which do you like best?” asked an indulgent daddy of his high-school daughter, touring the hip-life with him.
“The one with the American flag and the leaves.”
“Yes, that’s nice,” said Daddy, and to the salesman, “Roll it up for me, please.”
The salesman beamed. “Do you know what these leaves are?”
The girl winked. “Aw,” she said, “Sure. Pot.”
Sätty, formerly an industrial designer, is one of the most passionately experimental and daring artists, hiring presses to do overprinting and improvisational exercises — printing a visual equivalent of rock sound. He superimposes one poster on another to make collages of color, shape, and idea. He’s doing his thing, creating the moving wall, the disposable environment.
In Paris, 20 years ago, Raymond Duncan, an old-time Bohemian in Greek robes, said, “You want to paint? Show it on walls. Paste and pin it. Want to be a poet? Commit poetry on the walls.” He is the unacknowledged prophet of the San Francisco artists, Mouse and Wes Wilson, who pioneered the revival of poster art a few years ago. They did not invent it: Toulouse-Lautrec and Cro-Magnon Man got there ahead of them. But today, for job-shifting, house-changing, marriage-altering youth, this art which is immediate, impermanent, expressive, and neat has a powerful appeal. It’s like having a continuous movie on the walls. And the mood can be changed for a couple of bucks, from politics (anti-Johnson, anti-war, anti-cops, pro-love) to astrology to fan worship (Brando, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Che Guevara) to rock dance-band announcements to souvenirs of times and places to, well, pure art.
American Newsrepeat Co. is into good deals. A former manager of an improvisational-theater group and a former dress-factory superintendent decided that politics, smoking, peace, drugs and enlarged belly buttons might come to express a way of life. Join — a bulbous-nosed old man dressed as Uncle Sam, pointing a finger — has sold hundreds to soldiers in Vietnam, thousands to bases in the U.S., 50,000 in all. Join the Army, a picture of a company of over a hundred hippies, is doing brisk business. Hallelujah the Pill and Better Living Through Chemistry have enjoyed academic approval; planned-parenthood clinics have taken them seriously, and they are appearing in textbooks. Let Us Be Clear is a philosophic poster which they have made to be given away. They are also doing a No Smoking poster, to be given free. “We made IS because it looked nice. People buy it and then they write to us and ask what it is. We say. ‘It is.’ You see, it’s a total affirmation of the present.” IS is a poster with just a large “IS” printed on it.
Funky Jack Leahy is a Princeton dropout of good family in Palo Alto. Funky Sam Ridge is a former law student, disk jockey, TV cowboy, and administrative assistant to Assemblyman John Burton. Funky Paul Olsen is a squeaky-voiced retired college student who did pop and op art and, at age 24, was developing a small following among Bay Area art collectors. These three met at a gathering of the Artists Liberation Front, a short-lived Bay Area organization, and got to talking about how dance posters were giving way to art, how visual rock ’n’ roll was the thing.
And so Funky Features was born. The company is not the biggest of the poster producers, but it grosses $25,000 a month. Jack, Sam and Paul have a fleet of delivery trucks — the Batmobile, the U.S. Grape truck, Sam’s vintage Mercedes, Paul’s junky Jag, Jack’s MG, plus the girl friends’ sports cars and some miscellaneous psychedelic vehicles that weave their way from a Haight-Ashbury warehouse to downtown shops and onward.
Sam Ridge of Funky Features has put 20,000 miles on his car in the past few months, crisscrossing the country to bring the real poster product to places where only plastic art was known before. To the Mole Hole in Chicago, the Infinite Poster and the Intergalactic Trading Post and Underground Uplift Unlimited in New York, the Kazoo in Los Angeles, George’s Folly and Truc in Boston, Head Shop South in Coconut Grove, Florida, the Emporium in Miami Beach, to shops in college towns and semi-college towns all over the Midwest. … In walks Funky Sam with boots, beard, and candy-striped pants, saying, “I’m the only man over 30 the kids can trust. Now I don’t sell W.C. Fields Personality Posters — for that you have to go to Martin Geisler in New York — and I don’t sell plastic hippie stuff either — I’m a-selling of that good old rock baroque, I’m selling pretties and meanings, it’s the psychedelic cultural revolution. We bill on the tenth of the month. I’m here to work for the common evil, brothers. Oh yea, if you want political posters, there’s Dick Kasak in New York, too. You’ll note our Zodiac line — well, we’re not greed heads. We turned down huge orders from J.C. Penney’s and Woolworth’s. They wanted to cover certain parts of anatomies, tame our artists. Nyet. This is Obscenity Junction where we bend your minds. Here’s our folding display. …”
Well, maybe he doesn’t say all that right off. But that’s his general approach. And Funky Features is now a successful small business. These crazy hippies, it seems, don’t need to work for the “establishment.” The total volume in posters is now perhaps $2 million a year and involves record companies, chain stores, printers, painters, book-card-ye-gift shops.
So whatever happened to the bullfight poster? Manolete with glue on his back is out, man. It’s the Jefferson Airplane now, and A Day in the Life, and the marijuana warning, and the Do It to Communism banner. Each semester brings a flood of new poster-buyers into the dormitories, believing in the Zodiac and Che Guevara. Poster is son of button, big brother of the bumper sticker, weird indoor step-cousin of the billboard, teeny-bopper daughter of the painting, city-slicker cousin of the print. And a sparkling orphan prince all by itself.
The poster makers of San Francisco have a mystical sense of mission (and perhaps cash, too). They recall that Mount Tamalpais was the magic mountain for the Indians, and the beatnik and hippie movements knew their finest flowering in the blue-and-white watery city by the bay. San Francisco Rock is the Acapulco gold of rock ’n’ roll. San Francisco posters, the Nouveau Frisco style and its offshoots, are the vanguard of the poster art.
Funky Paul has just designed the poster that may turn out to be the superposter of all time. When you study it carefully, you find the design stating, in psychedelic lettering, with involuted, drug-free, mystical, shock-rock whorls of color: “THIS POSTER SELLS FOR TWO DOLLARS.”
If you happen to be a wholesome American consumer under 25, you’ll love it, he says. And there are a hundred million of you.
This article is featured in the July/August 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
How best to sum up an acid-inflected, flower-powered, whirligig of a long-ago summer in San Francisco? How to understand the lasting impact of that summer, which took root in a full-on Age of Aquarius neighborhood and blossomed into a counterculture that splattered across the planet?
Perhaps it’s fitting to begin by describing its final day.
On October 6, 1967 — exactly one year after California lawmakers voted to ban the drug LSD — several hundred young bohemians gathered in the City by the Bay for what had been advertised as “The Death of the Hippie” funeral. Surviving film footage depicts a surprisingly carnival-like atmosphere. There was dancing in the streets. Someone played “Taps.” Sullen pallbearers carried aloft a large coffin that bore a single inscription: “Hippie, Son of Media.”
And that, ladies and gents, is how — officially and weirdly — the so-called Summer of Love concluded. Groovy.
The woman who organized the mock funeral, Mary Kasper, explained that following a season of merriment, music, confusion, and ultimately chaos in the streets of her city’s Haight-Ashbury district, “we wanted to signal that this was the end of it … don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”
Where once The Haight was iridescent with tie-dyed fabrics, colorful blooms, psychedelic storefronts, and a heady pharmaceutical culture, it had become, by October of ’67, a gritty tourist attraction. Worse, it had devolved into a magnet for thieves who’d descended from all around to prey on the vulnerable longhairs who had overstayed their welcome.
The Summer of Love, as initially conceived, was a brilliant marketing scheme. It was intended from the outset to be a convulsion of music, sex, and radical nonconformism. Come to The Haight to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” as Timothy Leary, the high priest of West Coast psychedelia, often exhorted his acolytes.
So, you might fairly ask, was the allure for young Californians the easy access to mind-altering drugs and sex?
Or the throbbing psychedelic music?
Or was it the gathering of the district’s anti-Vietnam War activists?
Against the backdrop of a country in turmoil, here would be an aphrodisiacal admixture that some 100,000 people would find too tempting to pass up.
The whole thing sprang to life easily enough in the vibrant tapestry of The Haight, but by the time of the symbolic Hippie Funeral, the Summer’s mixed-up, mixed-media message had wafted across America and far beyond. The hippieverse had metastasized into a veritable, if not universally embraced, worldwide phenomenon.
From New York to London to parts of Asia, the hippie lifestyle was observed by onlookers with a combination of amusement and condemnation. It was a thing of kaleidoscopic beauty, to be sure, but some also thought it was a thing reeking of despair.
Today, 50 summers on, the questions remain: “What the hell was that all about? Was it, like, too far-out, bro?”
Those were the first questions I put to Dan Lewis, a Northwestern University social-policy professor and proud former hippie. Lewis will oversee the school’s Summer of Love Conference, taking place this July in San Francisco. “Over the years, I’ve been trying to make sense of that period,” Lewis told me when we talked. “There have been all these snarky, nasty, make-fun-of-kids-who-were-stoned people,” he said with an undisguised tone of contempt.
No matter what you may think of the Summer of Love, said Lewis, who runs Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement, what happened during that brief season has had a lingering influence on our way of life. For example, it led to the development of Silicon Valley.
Excuse me? You heard that right. According to Professor Lewis, some of the research (not his) that will be presented at the conference will trace “a lot of early thinking about information and communal groups and how that evolved into the Whole Earth Catalog, and then the internet, and then into cyberculture and eventually Silicon Valley.” The hippies are to blame for our smartphones! Well, sort of. And for the record, Lewis swears he no longer drops acid.
Actually, without too much of a stretch, you can make a pretty credible case for the argument: The deployment of social media on a global scale, pioneered by Facebook, was foreshadowed by what happened in 1967 at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, where once stood the funky Unique Men’s Shop.
When I asked around among people who were there at the time — all of whom boasted that they still retain their hippie ideals, if not the iconic wardrobes — the underlying theme of that summer was not free love or LSD or rebellion against the distant war as expressed in the music. It was, fundamentally, a simple, sweet sense of community.
Among the astonishing catalogue of memorable songs that marked the summer of ’67 (“Good Vibrations,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “White Rabbit,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Light My Fire,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” are but a sample), I was told over and over again that it was the Youngbloods’ “Get Together” that most perfectly captured the spirit of The Haight:
Come on people now,
Smile on your brother,
Everybody get together,
Try to love one another right now
Consider: It may have taken a while, but it was left to Mark Zuckerberg — not yet born in ’67 — to figure out how to connect latter-day hippies — and practically all other living persons — into a true worldwide community where everyone could in fact “get together.” Facebook, one might contend, is the natural evolutionary product of what the Youngbloods and their fans started.
In part because the hallucinogens raised consciousness (though not always mental acuity), hippies left us other gifts besides their remarkable music. The notion of recycling, for example. Scott Guberman, who plays in a Bay Area band with Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead, told me that “the idea of recycling garbage came from the Summer of Love. The hippies were always concerned about sustainable living.” The whole organic movement, too, according to Guberman. But wait, there’s more. Credit the hippies for yogurt’s success in America because, Guberman told me, they “popularized” the treat.
It’s somewhat easier to link the lifestyle of the hippies to medical research now under way to use hallucinogens to help people quit smoking, break free of addictions, overcome depression, and more. For a long time, as a backlash to the recreational uses of these drugs, it was very difficult to get access to them for such research, but in recent years, that’s been changing. According to The New York Times, for example, such reputable institutions as New York University and Johns Hopkins University are studying the potential of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, to help terminal cancer patients face up to and accept their mortality.
If, in 1967, hippies “perceived these illegal drugs as a sacrament which was taken to achieve spiritual enlightenment,” as William Schnabel wrote in his book Summer of Love and Haight, they could never have imagined how legalized forms of these same substances would one day be sought by thousands of ailing patients. The apothecary that was The Haight helped give birth to these important scientific breakthroughs.
It also, unfortunately, led to serious issues with abuse of opioids. Sheila Weller, who has written extensively about the Summer of Love in Vanity Fair, said to me in a text message that “the mindset has endured a lot. … Taking drugs became hip, and the kids who could rebound and go back to their lives and their educations were the middle- and upper-class kids. The lower-class kids have spawned a second or third generation of opioid addicts.”
Lost in all of this is a small but telling irony. A free clinic that opened in The Haight in 1967 — it was designed to help heroin addicts — has recently been absorbed into a multimillion-dollar medical conglomerate named (wait for it) HealthRIGHT 360. Very corporate.
In many ways, the ’60s was a pivotal decade in American history — let’s just stipulate to that point and move on — but 1967 was the year of ultimate highs (pun intended). The celebrating and the innovating were likely connected, less by networking than by LSD and the Panama Gold grass, which could be easily had at the “happenings” and “Be-ins” in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“All the creativity, the experimentation, the music — hell, ’67 was when we saw the rise of FM free-form radio and its influence,” Neal Mirsky, a longtime rock-radio program director, told me when we sat down to discuss the era. “It’s the first time we even looked at popular music as art. It was just such a transformational time in a lot of ways.”
The Haight, not surprisingly, was a sort of ground zero for all that. Writing not long ago about a concert that occurred one night in the neighborhood’s famed Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco Chronicle critic Joel Selvin observed, “Everybody who found their way there knew how wonderful the whole thing was and immediately embraced everybody else as fellow members of a special secret society.”
Vivian Murray, who was a high school kid hanging in The Haight during the summer of ’67, remembers that, for her crowd (and presumably Janis Joplin, who briefly lived in the same apartment building), the Summer of Love was driven not so much by utopian ideals but rather by an inchoate urgency to break away from The Man. In essence, to join that special secret society. “It was just our way of gaining freedom. The music scene had a huge effect. We’d escape into that.”
Alas, Murray, who went on to work a series of jobs, including in property management, doesn’t think the spirit of that summer will ever be resurrected. “We were into peace and love. Today’s kids are into video games: action, violence!”
In an effort to hold on to those memories, Murray maintains a Summer of Love shrine in her Washington State home — a room decorated with period furnishings and art. “And I still have my hippie beads,” she told me proudly. Old hippies die hard.
Witness Joe Tate, who was lead guitarist in Salvation, a psychedelic rock band that performed around San Francisco in the ’60s. Tate, who today continues to dress “like an unkempt hippie,” currently lives north of the city, in Sausalito. He boasted, “I still feel the same way about everything. I didn’t turn into a conservative. I see injustices every day.”
“Any chance of a hippie resurgence someday?” I asked. Unlike Vivian Murray, Tate is decidedly optimistic. “It could happen,” he said. Turns out he’s one among probably many thousands who’d welcome a hippie redux. When a British-based group organized for the purpose of celebrating the Summer of Love’s 50th anniversary — there are scores of such groups, thanks to the internet — it posted all its plans. On Facebook, of course. The final agenda item was an immodest throwback to 1967: “Save the world.”
Cable Neuhaus writes about popular culture for the Post and other publications.
This article is featured in the July/August 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
No Taste Like Home
Asheville, North Carolina
Take your foraged ingredients to the tour’s restaurant partners, who will transform them into wild mushroom pizza, daylily tamales, sassafras root beer, wisteria ice cream, and other dishes.
Suggested donation: $75 adult; $30 child. Scholarships, sliding scale pricing, and work trade available. No one is turned away for lack of funds.
Outdoor foraging classes in West Palm Beach, Orlando, and other Florida locations.
$30 per person, age 13 and above. No charge for children when accompanied by an adult.
Deane publishes a free weekly free newsletter and runs an online forum about foraging. Sign up for either on his website.
Mamaroneck, New York
Foraging tours in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, and in Connecticut and New Jersey with Steve Brill, one of the nation’s best-known foragers.
Suggested donation: $20 adult; $10 for children under 12. Private tours can be arranged for an additional fee.
Burdock and Rose
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Lisa Rose leads classes in herbal medicine and foraging.
Pricing varies, from free classes at the local library to workshops for $85 per person. Private foraging expeditions can be arranged for an additional fee.
Dave Odd, who provides wild and unusual foods to dozens of Chicago restaurants, will take you out foraging.
Prices from $20 per person to forage in a park to $200 per person for a day-long experience. Will customize tours.
San Francisco, California
Wild food walks and classes in San Francisco, East Bay, and other locations.
Prices range from $40 to $90, depending on the activity, plus a 6 percent booking fee.
The author of Edible Wild Plants: Wild Food from Dirt to Plate shares his expertise through workshops and expeditions.
Prices for day events from $20 to $50 per person, children 7–17 pay their age, children 6 and under are free.
New York City
Foraging tours in the Bronx and Manhattan with the author of Northeast Foraging. Meredith also does tours in San Francisco and Jerusalem.
$25 per person. Meredith also does tours in San Francisco and Jerusalem.
Interested in learning more? Find how-to’s, classes, and tours across the U.S. at saturdayeveningpost.com/foraging.
America loves its birds. We spend a fortune on them—$4 billion a year just to feed wild ones and another $1 billion annually on feeders, birdbaths, and birdhouses. All told, 46.7 million Americans consider themselves birders, according to the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey. As astoundingly large as this number is, the activity continues to surge, growing faster than mountain biking or skiing. Bird watchers, ahem, birders (the preferred modern term) have their pick of well over 200 festivals devoted to birds each year.
What exactly is it about our winged friends that makes them so appealing? Well, they’re pretty, for one. “Everybody loves birds,” ornithologist John Fitzpatrick tells me. He’s director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, popularly known as the Bird Lab, which is ground zero for most things avian in North America. “You don’t need to know a thing about them to enjoy them. They enjoyed birds in the days of the ancient Egyptians and in caveman days.”
Fitzpatrick goes deeper than your average backyard enthusiast. He’s helped discover seven species of birds in South America and is a central player in the ongoing controversy over whether the ivory-billed woodpecker, long believed extinct, has been rediscovered in Arkansas. But he gets the purely visceral appeal of birding: “Birds are colorful. They sing and fly and migrate so they join us in different parts of the world. They move enough annually so they mean seasonally different things for us.”
Another part of birding’s pull is social. “People want to share what they’ve seen with other people,” Fitzpatrick says. “That makes it a communal action. At Cornell now, we’re getting dozens of freshmen every year coming here because of the Bird Lab. Many of these are teenagers who are just superb birders.”
Take Luke Seitz, for example, a 19-year-old Cornell freshman who was an accomplished bird photographer and painter (lukeseitzart.com) before he went to college. When he was 16, Seitz graduated early from high school and landed a job on a whale-watching boat. He socked away money all summer to finance the first of several trips to photograph birds—in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. He then volunteered as a guide at eco-lodges that cater to birders. Sometimes, he would offer one of his paintings in exchange for a few nights lodging. “Birding makes me feel like I have a connection to nature,” he says.
Just as important to birding’s appeal is the sheer joy of being out in the wild with a purpose—namely to track, record, and study wildlife. “Experiences are becoming more valuable than things,” says Courtney Buechert, a birder who has led the Christmas Bird Count in southern Marin County, California, since the 1970s. (His day job is CEO of Eleven Inc., one of the top ad agencies in San Francisco.) “People realized you can buy stuff, but other people can buy stuff too. Experiences are something that are uniquely yours.”
It doesn’t hurt that birding is a lot easier to get into than many other pursuits—you don’t need to be in great physical shape, invest in a lot of equipment, travel far, or wait for the right kind of weather. “I can do this anytime, anywhere I am,” says Buechert. “I was once sitting in a conference room having a meeting with a client and a red-tailed hawk came and landed on the railing. You’re talking about a bird that is a foot high with a can opener attached to the front of its face.”
Birding, like the environmental movement, is largely a product of the 20th century and has run parallel to the country’s rapid urbanization. In 1900, less than 40 percent of Americans lived in an urban setting, and birding—often done with a shotgun rather than binoculars—was still largely the domain of naturalists, artists, and egg collectors. More than a century later, nearly 80 percent of Americans are urban dwellers, and birding provides us a perch in the world of plants and animals.
To better understand the possibilities of urban birding, I drop in on Dominik Mosur, a 35-year-old Polish emigré who works as an animal care attendant at San Francisco’s Randall Museum and as a volunteer for the Golden Gate Audubon Society. In 2011, Mosur set a single-year record (what birders call a “big year”) by spotting 273 species in the county of San Francisco, everything from an American avocet to a common yellowthroat. He invites me to join a monthly bird walk that starts at the museum and meanders through the surrounding parkland.
We meet at the entrance at 8 a.m., a dozen early-risers led by Mosur and his Audubon colleague Brian Fitch. It is a crystal-clear autumn morning, but it also happens to be one in which Bay Area birds would share the sky with space shuttle Endeavour. (It is scheduled to fly, piggyback on a 747, over the Golden Gate Bridge and around the city on its final journey before heading to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.)
We spend the first 15 minutes sweeping the nearby trees and telephone lines, spotting an American goldfinch, a pair of pine siskins, and a young red-shouldered hawk, among others. But the action doesn’t really take wing until we arrive at a large patch of poison oak that occupies a spot near the top of Corona Hill. A Lincoln’s sparrow perches on a branch, and then someone spots a savannah sparrow. Mosur, excited, stage whispers, “It’s picking up.” A warbling vireo lands in a bush near a golden-crowned sparrow. “That’s a pretty good sparrow flock right there, even if it’s only three birds,” Mosur says, noting that each of the sparrows is the first of fall for Corona Hill. “Good variety!”
At that point, more and more people armed with binoculars and long-lens cameras start trudging up the hill. These late arrivals are what birders might call accidentals or strays. They are here to see the Endeavour.
The birders, unflappable, stay focused on their LBJs—little brown jobs. While most of the day’s visitors to Corona Hill will view but one flying object, our little group of birders tally 46 avian species and the Endeavour.
The walk unequivocally demonstrates one other facet of birding, which I call connoisseurship—not in the sense of ever-more rarefied taste, but in the sense of a densely layered appreciation for nuance and subtlety. Wine enthusiasts like to ponder the importance of terroir and to argue over whether the 2005 Bordeaux will be the match of the 1982s. Long-time baseball fans can expound on the details of the infield fly rule and debate which left-handed pitcher has the best move to first base. Avid birders, as I had seen, have the expertise and enthusiasm to differentiate between the Lincoln’s sparrow and the savannah sparrow and to get excited about it. They can deftly juggle the differences between the immature and adult plumage of hundreds of species or passionately discourse on the benefits of roof prism binoculars over Porro prism pairs; they can look at a bay full of rafting ducks, as Buechert did when 12 years old, and notice the one tufted duck among the thousands of locals, even though they have never seen one outside of a book before. Connoisseurship, I think, is a field mark of passion.
In August of 1945, the city of San Francisco announced plans to dismantle its famous cable car system. The Post was in the thick of the uproar that followed. Mead Schaeffer’s September 29 cover helped “touch off an explosive burst of civic pride” that ultimately saved the cars, as writer Elmont Waite recounts in this article published five months later.
[See also: “The Looming Crisis in Mass Transit” from our Jul/Aug 2012 issue.]
February 9, 1946— “KOWFADAKUV!” echoes on in San Francisco, thanks to 1,349 assorted housewives, businessmen, writers, tourists, a Saturday Evening Post cover, and a sergeant sitting out on Iwo Jima. The city’s beloved antiques, those 1888-model cable cars, have beaten back the threat of civic progress. “Kowfadakuv!” which once sang past great-grandpa’s wind-whipped sideburns and which, of course, is English for the rule-book phrase, “Look out for the curve!” is now irretrievably immortal.
When progress recently reared its threatening head, there had been few improvements since Andrew Hallidie contrived the world’s first cable-car line in 1873 to scale the almost vertical San Francisco hillsides. Modern patrons seldom bother to glance inside that small part of each car which is enclosed with side walls and windows, for the accepted legend is that these spaces were filled with passengers at the factory when the cars were built. Most riders just plunk themselves on the benches, paralleling the track and facing out, that form the open front half of the cars, or they cling precariously outside on the step boards, like sardines hanging all over the outside of a can.
The crisis arrived last August. San Franciscans came face to face in their newspapers with the realization that they were about to lose the world’s first—and last—and indubitably most famous cable- car system. It was just that nobody seemed to want the job of running those half-pint cars any more. That, and the increasing laments of some of the clingers-on, who were beginning to assert that antiques ought to be kept in museums instead of in use.
The personnel problem looked insoluble. The utilities commission, which operates the city-owned part of the lines, feared that the conductors and gripmen (cable motormen) would be unable to resist better jobs on electric and bus lines, come September, when a general union sign-up for transportation employees was scheduled. The service, traditionally poor but spectacular, already was undermanned, and the city was forbidden by law to pay higher wages than comparable private industry. That was ninety-seven and a half cents, paid by the California Street Cable Railway Company, operator of the nonmunicipal section of the line, the only comparable industry in the world.
Then came sign-up day with its big surprise. Gripmen and conductors spat on their calloused hands and for some reason utterly unconnected with common sense stuck to their museum-piece jobs. Just one man deserted to an electric-line job—and darned if an electric-line man didn’t ask to replace him!
After that, spontaneously unfolded the project of curing the complaints of the chilled, soggy open-air riders. The women’s chamber of commerce sprang into a save-the-cable-cars campaign and Mead Schaeffer’s September 29 Post cover … helped touch off an explosive burst of civic pride. Housewives, businessmen, other letter writers from Corregidor to Peru, Indiana, expressed rage, shock, despair, disillusionment, and bitterness at the thought of San Francisco without a cable car. From Iwo Jima, Sgt. Martin Sugarman wrote to Chronicle Columnist Robert O’Brien, “Tear down the bay bridges, but leave our cable cars alone!” Fans offered money, offered to take the stump, offered to run the cars themselves. The riders quit complaining.
There was only one dissenter. A guest at a downtown hotel protested that the half-pint cars kept her awake. But she was a hopeless case. She lived in Los Angeles and didn’t even like foghorns.
The news from the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan showed us incredible images: waves engulfing entire farms, ships rolling into parking lots, cars washing down the street like dead leaves, and uprooted houses ambling through the streets. But the truly incredible is yet to come, for the insurance companies are beginning to assess the damage.
The earliest estimate put the cost near $35 billion, but that figure proved premature. Damage from aftershocks and the nuclear-plant explosion is continuing to add to the total costs for reconstruction.
A second estimate of damages, released a few days ago, has raised the estimate to $170 billion. To put that cost in perspective, imagine twice the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina ($80 billion.)
The U.S. has rarely experienced earthquakes on the scale seen by Japan. Our one, truly disastrous quake in a modern city came in 1906. On April 18, a force 8.0 quake (one-tenth the size of the Japanese quake) hit San Francisco, leveling most of the city and starting fires from ruptured gas lines. Roughly 80% of the city was destroyed and half the city’s residents left homeless. Yet many San Franciscans responded to this adversity with determination and ingenuity.
I came across a good illustration of this spirit in a 1947 Post article about A. P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America. In that April morning in 1906, the 36-year-old president of the city’s “Bank of Italy”—
found himself flung out of bed, and the whole house, the floor and the earth underneath heaving and shaking. He calmed his excited family, dressed quickly and hurried off by the commuters’ train to San Francisco, sixteen miles up the peninsula. The train finally halted several miles south of the city, over which a great pall of smoke already hung, and A. P. loped along the last few miles, passing processions of panic-stricken refugees. But when he arrived at his bank a little after eight A.M., he found it open for business as usual. The cashier, by habit, had drawn the bank’s $300,000 in gold, and notes and securities worth over $1,000,000 more, from the vaults of the Crocker Bank, where they were stored every night.
“The fire that was spreading all over the downtown section,” Giannini relates, “was only three blocks away, I figured we had about an hour to get out.” At once he commandeered two produce wagons from his old commission house and ordered his clerks to load them up with the bank’s pouches of gold, its valuable papers, records, and its one type-writer. These were covered over with the contents of a dozen crates of oranges and vegetables that served as camouflage.
All that night the little Bank of Italy convoy plodded southward, on the alert for bandits. It was dawn when they reached the Giannini home in San Mateo and buried the bank’s treasure in its garden. Without sleeping, A.P. hurried back to San Francisco, to find most of the downtown business and residential quarter, some 25,000 buildings, leveled, and the fire still spreading.
The morning after the quake, the leading businessmen of San Francisco met outside town. Many were in despair. Several bankers suggested they declare a six-month moratorium, Giannini spoke up:
“If you keep your banks closed until November, you might as well never open them, for there will be no city left. The time for doing business is right now. We must help. I propose, when I leave this meeting, to start business immediately.”
That day he had a desk set out on the pier in his old commission-house district, all in ruins, and had a clerk there accepting deposits and honoring checks for their customers, the people who were shipping in vitally needed foodstuffs as always. A cardboard sign on a stick showed the Bank of Italy was open for business, though its till carried a quota of only $10,000 cash, dug up each morning from the garden in San Mateo.
Giannini offered credit liberally to people who wanted to rebuild homes or business properties.He opened a Calamity Day Book for the customers who borrowed money in that time of disaster. All of them, he says, repaid him; many flourished again, and formed a loyal regiment of depositors and stockholders that soon grew into legions.
No doubt, in the months ahead, we will read similar stories about the endurance and sacrifice of the Japanese people who are facing these incredibly hard times.
If it’s hard to imagine the power that could destroy a city so thoroughly, try imagining the power of the human spirit that will overcome and rebuild the land.
On May 14, 1856, James King stepped out of his editor’s office at the San Francisco Bulletin and was immediately confronted by James P. Casey, editor of the San Francisco Sunday Times. The two exchanged a few words before Casey drew a pistol and shot King. The Bulletin editor fell, mortally wounded.
It was one of hundreds of murders that occurred that year in San Francisco, but it prompted an army of 3,000 armed vigilantes to seize power, and threatened to topple the state government of California.
San Franciscans had become accustomed to shootings, but King’s death was intolerable. The editor had earned a reputation in the city for his relentless attacks on government corruption and inaction. One of his targets was James Casey whom King had revealed as a former inmate at Sing Sing Penitentiary.
King’s followers expected Casey’s corrupt friends in the city government to secure his release from jail and protect him from prosecution. Consequently, they revived the Vigilance Committee, which had been inactive since 1853. The Post of June 21, 1856, picks up the story:
“On the 16th, Mr. King died, and the whole city became a scene of excitement. The old Vigilance Committee called a meeting, and placards of an inflammatory nature were posted up, calling upon the citizens to take the law in their own hands… On Saturday, the 18th, an organized force of 3,000 citizens, divided into division and companies, marched from the Committee’s rooms and took possession of the jail. They took from thence Casey and a gambler named Cory, the murderer of Colonel Richardson, and carried them to the Committee rooms, where they remained strongly guarded. … Both the prisoners, it is supposed, would be hung.”
Which they were. The Vigilance Committee held a swift trial of both men and, five days later, hung them before a large crowd.
The Committee did not disband after this execution, but proceeded to arm itself, arrest questionable characters, and try them, completely ignoring the city’s police and courts. Fearing the governor would disband them by force, the Committee members fortified their offices and gathered weapons. Meanwhile, the governor’s political machine, calling itself The Law and Order Party, attempted to obtain weapons from Federal arsenals.
In August, a Committee member named Sterling Hopkins, attempted to arrest Rube Maloney, who was trying to secure Federal rifles from the local armory. David S. Terry, a judge on the state supreme court, and a man loyal to the state administration, was present. According to the Post of August 2,
“Judge Terry… interfered to protect Maloney, and, together with others, formed an armed party to escort Maloney to the [weapons at the] Dupont Street armory. Hopkins collected assistance, and attacked the other party in the streets. A struggle ensued, in the course of which Terry stabbed Hopkins with a Bowie knife.
“The news of the melee was communicated to the Executive Committee, who were in session, and the great bell was sounded for the rally of the Committee’s troops. In fifteen minutes a regiment of infantry, two companies of cavalry, and five companies of artillery were in motion.
“Maloney and his friends had taken refuge in a brick building, well guarded and fortified. This building was invaded on all sides by the Committee’s troops, and the inmates ordered to surrender. They obeyed without hesitation, and Maloney and Terry were… conveyed as prisoners to the headquarters of the Committee.”
The Committee then entered the armory, seized the weapons, and arrested the state troops, but released them on parole.
“On the same day Hopkins was stabbed, two vessels, freighted with arms for the State authorities were seized in the Bay by armed vessels, belonging to the Committee… [The] commander of one of these vessels, was arrested by the Federal officers, and held in $25,000 on the charge of piracy.”
The governor declared a state of insurrection and ordered a local banker and former artillery officer, William Tecumseh Sherman, to form a state militia. Sherman appealed to citizens to join his force, but gave it up after a week, when only a handful of men showed up.
The Committee tried Judge Terry but, to general surprise, acquitted him. Terry was freed, but resigned his judgeship in the state court.
In July, the Committee was roused to summary action again:
“Messrs. Hetherington & Randall, large real estate operators in San Francisco, doing business together, had a disagreement about pecuniary matters. They met on the 24th of July at the St. Nicholas bar. Hetherington commenced an assault upon Randall, and they fired simultaneously at one another—six shots being exchanged. Randall fell, mortally wounded. The regular police attempted to arrest Hetherington, but they were overpowered by the police of the Vigilance Committee, who hurried Hetherington away to their headquarters. Randall died the next day. Hetherington was tried by the Committee on the 26th, and hung on the 29th.
“Philander Brace, who committed a murder a year or two since, was hung at the same time. About fifteen thousand spectators witnessed the execution, and there were four thousand troops of the Committee present under arms. All the approaches to the place of execution were guarded by cannon.
“One of the most revolting scenes ever witnessed occurred at the execution. Hetherington proceeded to address the crowd, but was continually interrupted by the most disgusting profanity on the part of Brace, which at last proceeded so far, that it was deemed necessary to silence him by tying a handkerchief over his mouth.”
These executions seemed to dispel much of the passion for justice in the city. The Committee conducted an investigation of state corruption and, after publishing its findings, disbanded.
For all the weaponry it seized, the Committee’s action were generally bloodless. It executed only four prisoners and ordered over two dozen out of the state. Altogether, its actions were only a small part of the city’s mayhem: “There were 489 persons killed during the first 10 months of 1856,” the Committee reported. “Six of these were hanged by the Sheriff, and forty-six by the mobs, and the balance were killed by various means by the lawless element.”
In its earliest reporting, the Post was critical of the Vigilance Committee
“The Pacific State seems to be in a far from pacific condition. Two murders a day, we see it stated, is about the average for the past year. Criminals escape through the meshes of the law, and [lynch law] has to be appealed to—which, even when it does justice, does it unjustly.” [June 21, 1856]
If the state had become lawless and corrupt, the article asked, who was ultimately responsible?
“Evidently the majority of the people. They must be lacking either in the ability or the desire to choose the right kind of judges. In either case they are proving themselves incapable of self-government.”
But later that summer, the Post had become more sympathetic to the vigilantes:
“When ruffians… [grew] audacious in their villainy, no longer… content with pillaging the city treasury, but, trusting to the fact that their cronies occupied high civil and even judicial positions, [they] began to believe that they could knock down, stab and shoot peaceable and orderly citizens with impunity
“The great masses of society, including nearly the whole of the powerful middle classes, began to grow alarmed. And when they found that these gamblers, rowdies, and cut-throats were not trusting in vain in their political friends in high civil and judicial stations—then, as practical and justice-loving men, they felt that the time for resistance had come.”
Was it an insurrection, as the California governor claimed? Or the triumph of a law-abiding public? According to William T. Sherman, it was a pointless and dangerous exercise in mob thinking:
“As they controlled the press, [the Committee] wrote their own history, and the world generally gives them the credit of having purged San Francisco of rowdies and roughs; but their success has given great stimulus to a dangerous principle, that would at any time justify the mob in seizing all the power of government; and who is to say that the Vigilance Committee may not be composed of the worst, instead of the best, elements of a community? Indeed, in San Francisco, as soon as it was demonstrated that the real power had passed from the City Hall to the committee room, the same set of bailiffs, constables, and rowdies that had infested the City Hall were found in the employment of the “Vigilantes;” and, after three months’ experience, the better class of people became tired of the midnight sessions and left the business and power of the committee in hands of a court.”
Holiday celebrations abound as we approach a New Year. Cultures around the world are engaging in convivial occasions. While customs vary, they all share one simple thing in common—fun. From the timeless appeal of holiday decorations to the vibrant colors of a Chinese New Year Parade, the Post celebrates some of the country’s most entertaining winter festivals.
First Night Boston (Boston)
While there are countless venues that celebrate New Year’s Eve in style, the venues are not always family-friendly. In Boston, one tradition keeps New Year’s entertaining and enjoyable, sans the alcohol-induced shenanigans.
First Night Boston was started in 1976 by a group of local artists and citizens looking to create an alternative to customary New Year’s activities. Three decades later, the event is going strong. Run by the nonprofit First Night, Inc., the event is funded through the sale of $18-buttons that serve as a badge of honor to those who support the Boston arts community and act as an admission ticket to numerous events. In 2009, patrons of First Night witnessed ethnic dancing, live music (from saxophone quartets to African drummers), visual art exhibits, puppet shows, and a circus. The goal is to foster the creativity that has made Boston one of the country’s most interesting cities.
When: December 31-January 1, 2009
Where: Boston, MA
Website: First Night Boston
North Pole Christmas in Ice (Alaska)
The city of North Pole, Alaska, is home to one of the coolest Christmas festivals in America (pun intended). During the city’s “Christmas in Ice” event, the world’s greatest ice sculptors create a frozen wonderland perfectly suited to a town called North Pole.
Putting on the event is no easy task. Ice sculpture in and of itself is a challenge—arguably the most fragile art form in the world. And while the North Pole’s location (near Fairbanks in mainland Alaska) makes it ideal for the frosty art form, harsh winter conditions can present extreme obstacles. Cold snaps where the temperature dips below -40° F for days on end are not uncommon in the Alaska Interior. Even the simple task of getting from point A to point B can be a hard-won feat.
The difficulty offers clues as to why we host festivals in the first place. No matter how harsh the conditions are or how tough the daily grind, we love festivals because they quite simply cheer us up. Ice is an inescapable fact of life in North Pole. Why not celebrate it? The Christmas in Ice event deserves special respect because amid some of the harshest conditions on Earth, the festival brings a smile to the faces of those who know the meaning of the word survival.
The end result? Multifaceted works of ice art. More than a thing of beauty, however, ice becomes an entertaining mode of transportation on ice slides, which range from kid-sized to 100 feet long, and even more fun awaits at the entrance of this year’s ice maze.
When: December 5-January 3, 2009
Where: North Pole, Alaska
Website: Christmas in Ice
National Potato Latke Eating Contest (TBA, NY)
Chanukah is a holiday with many great traditions. It is known as “The Festival of Lights” because of the Hanukiah, a special type of Menorah that is, perhaps more than anything, emblematic of the Jewish faith as a whole. Dreidel, the ancient game that combines the physics of a spinning top with the luck of gambling, makes its annual appearance this time of year. And, of course, the tradition of exchanging gifts occurs on each of the holiday’s eight nights. The tastiest Chanukah tradition, however, is the latke. This delicacy is comprised of potatoes, onions, and a secret ingredient known as schmaltz and is a special treat that Jewish people look forward to all year. During the National Potato Latke Eating Competition, contestants from all over the world indulge themselves in a feast of epic proportions.
Latkes are served by the hundreds during the fierce gastronomical battle, and contestants mean business—last year’s winner, “Furious” Pete Czerwinski, set a world record by eating 46 latkes (equal to about seven pounds of potatoes) in eight minutes. Can he defend his crown? “Furious” Pete will face off against such legendary food warriors as Elizabeth “Rubber-Gut” Canady and Mark “The Human Vacuum” Lyle, both of whom have participated in years past. Of course, up-and-comers hungry for a piece of golden-brown fried potato glory this year could take home the crown as well. Although this event has been marred by controversy (Phil “Clowny Chompers” Teglia was caught stuffing latkes in his pocket in 2007, an illegal performance-enhancing technique), the atmosphere should be sizzling in 2009. For more information, visit Zan’s Deli or The Association of Independent Competitive Eaters
Where: New York
Website: Zan’s Deli
Day of the Dead (Oaxaca, Mexico)
The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in its current form is the product of a cultural clash. Ancient Aztecs viewed life as a dream; only in death did one become awake. This festival honored what they viewed as the completion of the life cycle. When the Spanish conquistadors saw the ancient practice, they viewed the practice as sacrilegious paganism. However, try as they might, the Spaniards were not able to stop the annual event. Eventually, the celebration was moved to November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day), in an effort to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism. It is still celebrated on these dates today, and has become an exotic blend of ancient rituals and Christian theology.
One of the best places to experience Dia de los Muertos is Oaxaca, Mexico. The highlight of the event occurs after nightfall, when city streets are crowded with people celebrating the deceased. Many don wooden skulls called calacas—a throwback to Aztec tradition, and almost all wear unique costumes. The sound of trumpets, the movement of dancing, the sight of vibrant costume colors, and the emotion of merrymaking signal a night of celebration. During the day, shop windows showcase skeleton figurines called calaveras, which depict people of all professions fulfilling the same activities as when they were alive. Street vendors sell skull-shaped candy; flowers from the countryside; special bread known as pan de yema; and homemade altar candles. TCountryside traditions are equally interesting. Families visit loved ones’ graves, bringing food and music for the enjoyment of living and dead alike, and each small town touts unique traditions. Whether in the bustling city or the quaint countryside, visitors to Oaxaca will enjoy a cultural experience unlike any other. For more information, visit the Oaxaca Secretary of Tourism website.
When: November 1 & 2, 2009
Where: Oaxaca, Mexico
Website: Day of the Dead
Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights (Louisiana)
Palm trees adorned with Christmas lights in Hawaii, decorative boat parades in Florida, Christmas caroling in New England—American holiday celebrations are as diverse as the “melting-pot” itself.
Consider Natchitoches, Louisiana, where the Christmas spirit comes alive with a bayou twist. This year marks the 83rd year that Natchitoches (pronounced nak-i-tosh) has put on its annual Christmas bash—the longest-running Christmas festival in Louisiana. Visitors enjoy holidays with some southern hospitality. The whole event began as a byproduct of the American innovation that shaped the 20th century. In 1926 Max Burgdof, the man who installed the first electric generators in Natchitoches, decided that stringing up Christmas lights along Front Street would make an excellent Christmas gift to town citizens. Ever since, people from Natchitoches and surrounding communities have come to witness the lights switch on. Beginning in the ’30s, visitors also came to enjoy the sight of fireworks and their reflection on Cane River Lake. Nearby Cane River Creole National Historic Park complements the festivities—adding to the parades, historic tours, lighted barges, pageants, and contests—with special events of its own. Natchitoches is right in the heart of Cajun country, and as one would expect first-class food abounds. The town even has its own contribution to international cuisine—the world renowned Natchitoches Meat Pie is made especially for this all-American festival.
When: November 21-January 6, 2009
Website: Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights
Chinese New Year (San Francisco, California)
Traditionally celebrated with colorful parades, unforgettable foods, entertaining carnivals, and more, the Chinese New Year is a visually stunning, tastebud-pleasing occasion. The holiday is based on a lunar calendar, so the date varies from year to year. It falls on February 14 in 2010, and cities across the world will bring in the Year of the Tiger in their own unique way. Perhaps the best place to experience this cultural festival on a grand scale, however, is San Francisco.
Because the city has such a large Chinese population (it boasts the largest Chinatown in the U.S., about one-fifth of the population is of Chinese descent), the Chinese New Year is unquestionably a big deal. In fact, this festival is considered the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia and has been a San Francisco tradition since 1860. The celebration is as much a part of the city’s heritage as crab cakes.
The festival kicks off with a flower market fair where vendors sell food, fruits, and, of course, flowers. Many Chinese households keep live blooming plants to symbolize the new growth and regeneration of the New Year. While festivities include a 10k run, Miss Chinatown Pageant, and community fair, the highlight of the celebration is the parade. Chinese acrobats, lion dancers, stilt walkers, and an assortment of floats explode onto the streets, showcasing the finest entertainment with authentic Asian flare. The procession ends with the 200-foot-long “Golden Dragon” carried by 100 members of the White Crane Martial Arts group and accompanied with over 600,000 fireworks.
When: February 6-28
Where: San Francisco, California
Website: Chinese New Year Parade
Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights (Georgia)
Located about six miles from downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, Georgia’s Lookout Mountain is always a visual treat, regardless of the season. Features like Ruby Falls (the tallest underground waterfall in the U.S.), Rock City Gardens (a 4,100-foot-trail showcasing the best of the mountain scenery), and Needle’s Eye (one of many stunning rock formations) make Rock City an American landmark.
And the destination becomes truly special during Yule. In 2009, the city celebrates the 15th anniversary of the “Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights”—a month-and-a-half-long extravaganza where the natural beauty of the mountain is complemented with a one-of-a-kind light display. More than 1 million Christmas lights illuminate the famed Rock City trail every night except Christmas Eve during this award-winning event.
When: November 20-January 2, 2009
Where: Rock City, Georgia
Website: Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights