At the exhibit, you’ll see a variety of souvenirs, booklets, postcards, photographs, scrapbooks, and other physical items from the San Francisco History Center’s collections. They provide fascinating accounts of the people who visited and participated in the PPIE. In this blog post, we’ll start sharing some of their stories, and begin with tales that answer the question: Just how did company come to the Fair?
By foot or on stilts
Some visitors simply walked—from across the country, that is.
Vittorio Silva, “an alert, soldierly-looking young Italian,” hiked all the way from New York as part of a publicity stunt. He did it for a prize: $7,000, promised to the person who could walk to the PPIE grounds from New York in 100 days or less. Silva started his hike on March 22, 1914. According to the Los Angeles California Tribune, he was on the last leg of his hike, Los Angeles to San Francisco, on July 14.
|Vittorio Silva in the Los Angeles California Tribune, July 14, 1914. From Press Clippings Scrapbooks Book 16, Panama-Pacific International Exposition Records (SFH 364), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.|
Yet walking to the Fair was hardly the biggest gimmick. The Panama-Pacific Exposition Commission, which oversaw funds for the PPIE, offered $5,000 to “the party who travels cross-country in the most unique manner.”
F.E. Wilvert answered the challenge by walking on stilts. He covered 3,000 miles from Harrisburg, PA to qualify for the prize. Amazingly, he traveled 22 miles daily along Lincoln Highway. This was the first transcontinental road built for automobiles, and it connected Times Square in New York and Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
By the time Wilvert reached Cheyenne, WY, he had been on the road for 118 days.
|F.E. Wilbert, on stilts, featured in the Cheyenne Tribune. From Press Clippings Scrapbooks Book 16, Panama-Pacific International Exposition Records (SFH 364), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.|
What did Wilvert say of his travels?
“I make good time and don’t mind the hot weather, although I am practically stranded when the wind blows. My stilts and paraphernalia weigh 22 pounds and it is almost out of the question to buck the wind.”
By covered wagon and “pushmobile”
For other people, using a pushmobile to get to the Fair wasn’t out of the question. The Trenton, NJ Gazette featured Jake Harris and M. Cramer, who set out for the PPIE from Philadelphia, PA in the toy vehicle:
The article notes, “They will alternate in riding and pushing.”
In turn, a trio from Norfolk, VA, opted for a more conventional mode of transportation:
The canvas-covered wagon hardly befitted the innovative vehicles and machines displayed at the PPIE, and it emphasized the outdated way that people traveled to San Francisco in an earlier chapter of California’s history.
By hook or by crook
At least once, people took less-than-honest routes to the Exposition. The San Francisco Police Department Detective Bureau Scrapbooks, which compile news clippings on accidents and crimes, contain the story of two brothers who pocketed $20 just to make the trip. (It’s arguably the most forgivable story in a scrapbook full of sordid tales.)
On September 15, 1915, the San Francisco Examiner reported that two boys from San Rafael, aged ten and fourteen, had gone missing with money from their step-father’s trouser pocket. Though they could have gone anywhere, their step-father—not to mention the reporter and the police—seemed convinced they’d run off to San Francisco:
“When he found the money gone yesterday, [D.F. Foley] thought that he had mislaid it. But when he found the youngsters gone also he remembered that he had been a boy once and hastily notified the San Francisco Police. Yesterday the Exposition guards kept a sharp lookout for the lads.”
Though we may never know how the story ended, the article concludes:
“[The boys] had not been found when evening came. Foley is not disturbed about the $20, but he trembles for the digestions of two small boys.”
But parents were not the only authority figures who had to deal with earnest individuals trying to get to the Fair.
By the good old (or brand-new) Muni
Just three years before the PPIE, San Francisco’s Municipal Railway, or Muni, was a one-street electric railroad. By 1915, it had transformed into a nine-line system with two lines supporting transit to and from the Fair. Between Muni, the competing United Railroads of San Francisco, and privately owned jitney buses, people had many options for traveling to the PPIE.
Much like today, pretty much everyone had something to say about Muni. A handful of these opinions can be found in the San Francisco History Center’s collection of Muni records, amongst them Municipal Railway Superintendent Thomas Cashin’s correspondence from 1912 to 1915. Cashin’s files brim with letters about traveling privileges to the PPIE. These include notes from organizations, ranging from the Divisadero Street Merchants Club to the Masonic Board of Relief, requesting special fares to the fairgrounds.
One letter dated March 16, 1915, from residents of the Richmond and Presidio Heights, even asks Cashin if the “C” line could run directly to the Exposition daily. (The “C” is the now-defunct Geary-California streetcar line.) Cashin deemed this last request impractical—but he was more generous with other appeals, especially when these involved bringing children to the Fair. The San Francisco Railway Museum’s exhibit, Streetcars to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, gives a fuller picture of Muni in relation to the PPIE.
All these anecdotes form but a snippet of stories about the PPIE held in the San Francisco History Center’s collections. We invite you to visit the exhibit and the San Francisco History Center to learn more about this unforgettable event in San Francisco’s history.
Company’s Coming: San Francisco Hosts the Panama-Pacific International Exposition runs from Sept. 9-Dec. 31 at the Main Library. You won’t need a pair of stilts or a canvas-covered wagon to see the show. Just take the elevator or stairs to the Skylight Gallery on the 6th floor. We’re ready for company.