This is Market Street in San Francisco, the light building is the Bank of America building, and the darker one is the James C. Flood building. Best fun fact about the Flood building was that between 1915 and 1922 it contained the Pinkerton Detective Agency, employing one lowly hard-drinking chain-smoking minion, S. Daschiell Hammett, private eye.
Couple of bios here:
Alan Pinkerton was born in 1819 in Glasgow Scotland, and came to the us in 1842, where he immediately started foiling train robberies. This brought him to the attention of Abraham Lincoln, not, presumably during a train ride to Gettysburg. Lincoln tasked Pinkerton with setting up a spy infiltration program of the Confederacy, later called the Intelligence Service, and today is known as the US. Secret Service. This did not get in the way of Pinkerton’s enthusiasm for catching train robbers, particularly one Jessie James. Pinkerton tracked James to his uncle’s home in Missouri and lobbed grenades into it, killing a bunch of innocent people, Pinkerton then burned the house down. The Missouri people were not happy with this and took the battle to the State legislature, intending to declare James a hero and offer him amnesty for all crimes he was accused of, and were defeated politically. Somehow in all of this, James struck some sort of fear of God into Pinkerton and Pinkerton dropped his chase of James forever. The one that got away. James was eventually assassinated at his breakfast table by agents of the Missouri governor. Not long after that, Pinkerton slipped on the sidewalk and face planted himself into the concrete, biting his tongue. He died of gangrene a few days later.
The Pinkerton Detective agency was formed in 1850, in a Chicago, Illinois Masonic Lodge. After checking out their business plan with the major railroad magnates, they secured a mandate from the DOJ to become a federal police force. What could possibly go wrong, politicians? By 1893, US Congress had passed the Anti-Pinkerton Act, which prohibited this extremely competent little private army from further employment by the US Government. Didn’t matter, they just hopped payroll to possibly the toughest son-of-a-gun ever to live: Henry Clay Frick of Carnegie Steel, the man that bullets couldn’t put down and who had a problem with trades unions. The attempted assassination of Frick is nearly unbelievable. After the all out war (the Homestead Strike ) where he hired the Pinkertons to gun down his striking steel workers, the Anarchist movement, which would eventually assassinate a couple of Hapsburgs (no one has heard of WWI) sent an operative to kill Frick. He carried a revolver and a sharpened steel file(which was a political statement, they would do the same thing six years later to Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria ). One day, the assassin, Alexander Berkman , walked into Frick office, shot him twice in the jugular. Frick launched himself over his desk and tackled the man. The assassin then stabbed Frick 4 times the the file. Frick subdued the guy and handed him off to his clerks with the simple directive “Don’t shoot. Leave him to the law.” The Law, however set the assassin free and he went on to bomb parades in San Francisco (killing 10), incite more deaths of union strikers(killing 26), overthrow the government of Russia(do I need to give the number dead in the Bolshevik Revolution?), until the Jewish Anarchist Federation of New York took him out of circulation for a while by getting him to write their books since they saw him as an excellent messenger of their ideas: ‘The ABC of Communist Anarchism, 1929 Vanguard Press’. Unable to kick the violence habit, Berkman eventually shot himself in the heart. Frick, meanwhile, was back at work within the week after the assassination attempt. Slap a bandage on that. Carnegie Steel wasn’t going to run itself. Unlike everyone else in this tale Frick died in his own home peacefully of old age and sheer stubbornness.
So you get the general misé en scene that Dashiell Hammett was drawing inspiration from. Hammett himself was an ardent Communist and was eventually imprisoned for putting together a group of I quote: “millionaire communist sympathizers” in order to overthrow Harry S. Truman, US. govt. etc. He managed not to kill himself or anyone else that he wasn’t supposed to (did fight in WWI and WWII). And he died of lung cancer in 1961 while putting bread on the table with book after book of his famous Thin Man series. This was Sam Spade. This was San Francisco.
This was…the James C. Flood building.
The atmospheric perspective is stunning.
I knew that the anarchists were a serious movement a hundred years ago, the sort of bogey-man that Islamic terrorists are today. Even engaging in the same sort of activities. Interesting that one hears from right-wing sorts about how in the good old days we didn't let criminals get away with things, but your story of Berkman illustrates that the past is not as they imagine it.
Seems a real photo
I really like the lights