Because we like cocktails with our obscure history in San Francisco, every two weeks we’re dedicating our evenings to learning something strange and new over a delicious adult beverage or two — and you should be joining us.
Among other things, we’ve discussed wagon train cannibalism and Gold Rush era vigilante justice, looked into the causes of French railroad disasters (“metal fatigue was poorly understood at the time”) and learned the location of Rasputin’s (alleged) penis. We’ve heard feats of derring-do and near-misses from urban explorers and listened to lullabies written at midnight for the mermaid babies at the Mutter Museum.
If you are not coming out every other Tuesday evening and having a drink with us and learning something weird, you are missing out. Here are just a few of our favorite moments so far:
We dedicated our very first San Francisco salon to the patron saint of San Francisco eccentrics, Emperor Joshua Norton. There were fancy outfits and bold decisions in headwear involved, plus a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Lola Montez’s legendary Spider Dance reenacted. We’d like to think the Emperor would approve.
We have a particular love for our city’s short, but spectacularly colorful, modern history, and have spent many evenings digging into the weird old days of prospectors and gangs, madames and millionaires.
In March, we looked at the Bay Area’s railroad history, including the fact that at one time locals intentionally crashed locomotives into each other at the State Fair. We officially feel cheated.
Later, author Colin Dickey joined us to separate fact from fiction, and tell us the real history of the Winchester Mystery House.
In April, we explored the grim fate of the Donner Party, and the bitter reality and terrible choices they were forced to make as they made their way to new lives in California.
The Donners were originally headed to the promised safety of Sutter’s Fort, and we were lucky enough to have historian Steve Beck share rare items from their archives with us.
At another salon, we explored the stories behind the city street names we see every day, and discovered the true stories of the vigilantes, explorers, ships, and whorehouses whose names ended up on our map.
Here, Ian demonstrates his mastery of the semaphore which once signaled from ships to shore atop Telegraph Hill.
Recently, we were the guests of the San Francisco Motorcycle Club at their clubhouse for a evening dedicated to the century-long history of the club and the illustrious members of the country’s second oldest motorcycle club.
We’ve also taken the opportunity to explore our favorite strange places, unusual explorations and stories from the far ends of the Earth.
This summer, urban explorers Moses Gates and John Law shared stories of illicit climbs of buildings and bridges around the world, and here, the Great Pyramids of Giza. What did you do on your last vacation?
We were thrilled to have author Bess Lovejoy in town to tell tales of grave robbers and corpses that would not stay put, and told us where to find a very *cough* significant relic of Grigori Rasputin.
We also cannot resist a good disaster story, but, sadly, there are not always photos available to illustrate the story… necessitating the occasional stick figure theater.
Just last week, we spent an evening delving into one of our favorite subjects: the history of wunderkammers - looking at historic collections, artistic assemblages and how personal collections of oddities evolved into some of the world’s great museums.
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The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!
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