Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

Champagne Days of San Francisco, Evelyn Wells

Transient

This book, billed as a "lively record of early San Francisco," tracks the exploits of the city's high fliers in the 1890s and early 1900s. Wells regales us with a number of amusing anecdotes, but I'm left wondering how much is fact and how much fiction ("Two hundred and forty gallons of champagne were drunk that night!" she notes of one wedding; if indeed true ... my goodness).

For all the emphasis on the men referred to as the Senator, the Banker, and the Judge, I was more interested in the tertiary characters who flitted in and out of focus: Little Egypt, the belly dancer who ruffled the feathers of more than one California wife; Bessie Hall, who seemed to have been a sort of madam who briefly raised her profile by marrying well ("God damn it, my wedding reception is going to be so God damned respectable," she reportedly said; this respectability vanished, of course, when Bessie shot at her new husband and they separated); and Fanny Spiggott and her husband, the "King of the Pickpockets," rumored to have tried to steal the Venus de Milo.