June 4, 1852


The El Dorado Gambling-Saloon and the Jenny Lind Theater, San Francisco, ca. 1852*


Friday June 4th  Mr Scott has varnished the Oilcloth

in the dining room this afternoon and painted

the cellar way and commenced on the entry

chamber  I have been all day waiting on

him and getting the rooms in order to paint

and varnish  Dining room whitewashed

I shall be thankful when we get through

with painting

Probably every member of the Ames family – not just Evelina – was going to be thankful to be “through with painting.” Lately there had been too much disruption at the Ames compound; getting the rooms back in shape would help life get back to normal.

Disruption being a part of life, it was happening on a civic scale in the city of San Francisco right at this time.  The newspapers called it the Jenny Lind Swindle, so disfavorably did they regard the situation. The city government had just purchased the recently established Jenny Lind Theater to be made over into their administrative offices, or “business chambers,”* the previous city hall having burned down the year before.

Built by an illiterate but entrepreneurial cabbie and bartender from New York named Tom Maguire, who was “profoundly ignorant of the stage,”* the Jenny Lind Theater had nonetheless opened the previous fall with much acclaim for its “handsome” interior. Within its “exquisite” walls, “the rowdy populace embraced” shows as diverse as Shakespeare and burlesque. Exactly why Maguire sold the building to the city is unclear – the need for money comes to mind – for he went on to build another elsewhere in town.

The cost of renovating the theater into office space was considerably greater than the acquisition of alternative sites, and the purchase of it with tax dollars was considered “scandalous.” “The public was growing very clamorous, the more so perhaps because it was impotent,” noted a contemporary commentator on the subject. In early June, a great crowd gathered in protest, and a heated debate ensued between a council member and a spokesman for the citizens. The venting was fractious, but didn’t change the plan. The city council moved into its new quarters as planned; ironically enough, the theater space was soon found to be too small.

Did Evelina read about this in the Eastern papers? Did Oakes? California and its politics must have seemed very far away, yet Oakes would soon play a key role in connecting California to the East Coast by way of a transcontinental railroad. Who knew?


*Annals of San Francisco, 1855  Image courtesy of foundsf.org



July 4, 1851



July 4th  Have been transplanting some pinks &c to day We have had several heavy showers  Oakes A & Frank rode to Dr Swans to make a call and carry his chaise home  Oliver & wife Harriet & Helen went to Mr Lothrops this afternoon  Mr Ames & self to mothers.  Orinthia has gone to Cohasset with Mr Brett.  Helen came home last night   On the Fourth of July in 1851, the new 31-star flag was raised over America for the first time.  It recognized the addition of California to the union.  Previously known as the California Military District, and before that as the short-lived California Republic, the new state had been officially added back on September 9, 1850, less than three years after gold was discovered there. California’s statehood had been a political struggle in that age of slavery. Only after significant wrangling by Congress and Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, did compromise legislation, spear-headed by Senator Henry Clay, finally carry the day. There was to be no slavery in California. The 31-star flag would remain the standard until 1858, when Minnesota joined the union. The nation’s 75th birthday was recognized in Washington, D.C. with a ceremony for the laying of a cornerstone of the new addition to the Capitol. Massachusetts’ own Daniel Webster gave a speech. A long speech it was, in the style of the day, in which, among other things, Webster exhorted his audience to acknowledge that the formation of the United States had wrought “astonishing changes […] in the condition and prospects of the American people” and to advise “ye men of the South” that the progress of the country was worth staying in the union for. Ten years before the Civil War, Webster opined that “the secession of Virginia, whether alone or in company, is the most improbable, the greatest of all improbabilities.”  Webster didn’t live long enough to see how wrong he had been. Back in Easton, the shovel shop was closed. Many employees may have tried to picnic despite the rain. In the Ames family, most everyone had someplace to go. Evelina and Oakes rode to the Gilmore farm to visit Evelina’s mother. Oakes Angier and Frank Morton, no doubt tired from their long day yesterday, took the borrowed chaise back to Caleb Swan. Oliver Ames Jr., his wife Sarah and daughter Helen rode over to Sarah’s parents’s house, taking Harriett Ames Mitchell with them. Where was her husband, Asa? Where were her young children? With the Mitchell in-laws in Bridgewater, perhaps. Why weren’t they all together? Even Orinthia Foss was out and about, gone to Cohasset with a Mr. Brett.   * If you want to see other designs for the 31-star flag, check out the Zaricor Flag collection at flagcollection.com