North from the ferry building, and
near the foot of Powell Street, is one of the old
landmarks of San Francisco, known as Meiggs’
In the early sixties an old saloon
was located on the shore end of this wharf, and connected
with it was a museum which contained many quaint curios
from other lands, some of them of considerable value.
The occupant of this saloon never
allowed the place to be cleaned, and for years the
spiders held undisputed possession, weaving their webs
without fear of molestation, until every nook and corner
was filled with their tapestry, and from ceiling and
rafter hung long festoons of gossamer threads that
swayed back and forth in the breeze. It was a
place much visited by tourists, and a trip to San Francisco
was not considered complete without visiting this
“Cobweb Museum,” a name bestowed upon
it by its many guests.
It is said that Robert Louis Stevenson
loved to visit this wharf and listen to the tales
told by the hardy sailors, and that out of them he
wove some of his most delightful South Sea Island stories.
Meiggs died in Peru in 1877, where
he fled, a fugitive from justice, and has long since
been forgotten except by the older residents.
The wharf still remains, however, though more familiarly
known to the people of this generation as “Fisherman’s
Wharf”; but the old cobweb saloon and museum
are things of the past.
From here the Italian fishing boats
leave for their fishing grounds out beyond the heads,
and if you visit the wharf in the early morning you
may see hundreds of these boats sail out past Land’s
End, and through the Golden Gate, making a picture
worthy of an artist’s brush.
When the sun comes flashing over the
hills, and the dancing waves glisten with its rosy
light, then the waters of the bay take on the color
of the amethyst. Go then to Meiggs’ Wharf,
and see the fishing boats start out with lateen sail
full set; hear the “Yo heave ho” of the
swarthy Italian fishermen, as they set their three-cornered,
striped sail to catch the breeze, and imagine yourself
on the far-famed bay of Naples. Your imagination
does not suffer by comparison, as San Francisco, like
Naples, is built upon the hills, and Mount Tamalpais
across the bay, with wreaths of fog floating around
its summit, might well be taken for Mount Vesuvius.
Out through the portals of the Golden
Gate they sail, like brown-winged pelicans, to drop
their nets and cast their lines into the mighty deep;
but these picturesque boats are fast giving way to
more modern conveyances, and the fussy motorboat, that
is not dependent upon wind or tide, will soon relegate
the lateen sail to total obscurity.
Go again to the wharf in the late
afternoon, and watch these same boats come laboring
in against the tide, sunk deep in the water with their
day’s catch. See them unload, and spread
the nets to dry, and if you can find one of these
grizzled old salts off duty, and he feels so inclined,
he will tell you (between puffs on his short, black
pipe) strange and interesting stories of adventure
at sea or of shipwreck on lonely island.
Then, as the sails are furled, and
all made snug aloft and below, and the boats bob up
and down on the long swells, straining at their moorings,
the sun sinks down behind the ocean, leaving the wharf
in shadow. The lights begin to gleam in the city,
the tower of the ferry building gleams like a beacon,
outlined with its thousands of incandescent lights,
and the ferryboat takes us across the bay and home,
to dream of queer-shaped sails, of ancient mariners,
and the “Golden City” on the bay.