Ladies and Gentlemen

An ongoing series illustrating the diary of my grandmother Helen Hussey. Current entries: The San Francisco Sojourn 1939-1940.


Monday July 10, 1939 “Cleaned up some of the party mess. Nite: Jeanne and I to the premiere of Helen Hayes in Ladies and Gentlemen. Very good. Home about midnight.”

Tuesday July 11, 1939 “Quiet day. Nite: Marc and Olie over for short time.”

BetteDavisDarkVivtory Dark+Victory+3 as Smart Object-1

Wednesday July 12, 1939 “Jeanne and I to the matinee. Betty Davis, Dark Victory. Nite: Sam and I to the library and to Tony’s to see Mortons who called this a.m.”


USS Enterprise entering San Francisco Bay on July 3, 1939. Official U.S. Navy Photo

July 13, 1939. “Jeanne and I picked up Mildred and we went to the airplane carrier Enterprise. Nice long boat ride. Back through the Presidio – beach for a hot dog. Nite: Picked up Sam and took Tommy home.”


July 14, 1939 “Grand day. Jeanne and I hiked along the coast – cliffs – tunnel – wrecks. Grand!! Picked up Sam. Had turkey at Jacopetti’s.”

Lonely Planet Guide to San Francisco writes San Francisco is partially built on the wrecked and scuttled remains of old ships. Most of  the Guide’s walk through the streets near the Embarcadero is over reclaimed land, some of it layered over the scores of sailing ships scuttled in the bay to provide landfill.

A good part of coastal San Francisco is not built on solid ground, but on the forgotten residue of buried ships.  The basements of some 19th-century San Francisco homes weren’t basements at all… they were the hulls of lost ships. “As late as Jan 1857, old hulks still obstructed the harbor while others had been overtaken by the bayward march of the city front and formed basements or cellars to tenements built on their decks. Even now [1888] remains of the vessels are found under the filled foundations of houses.”

In other words, when you walked downstairs to grab a jar of preserved fruit – you stepped into the remains of an old ship.

Those ships are still down there and they’re still being discovered.

In the late 1960s, as San Francisco was building its BART subway system, discoveries of ships and ship fragments occurred regularly. Over the following decades, ships and pieces of ships appeared during several major construction projects along the shore. As recently as 1994, construction workers digging a tunnel found a 200-foot-long (61-meter) ship 35 feet (11 meters) underground. Rather than attempt to remove the ship which would have been both costly and dangerous they simply tunneled right through it. When buried ships are found, they are sometimes looted for bottles, coins, and other valuable antiques frequently found inside. Among the prizes found in the ships have been intact, sealed bottles of champagne and whiskey, nautical equipment, and a variety of personal effects from the passengers and crews.

Under San Francisco an entire armada of lost fishing ships, now rotting in the mud, nameless and undiscovered, shivering with every earthquake. Original content:


Saturday July 15, 1939. “Jeanne and I downtown. Window shopped. Nite: Rene over – Sam worked. Had to pick him up late. Bessie over with candy. Took Tommy + headaches home – We arrived home at 4:30 AM.”

Statue Of Creation

Bjorn Palenius

Sunday July 16, 1939. “Up early to take Sam to the plant. Saw part of the parade. Bought 17 bottles of beer. Home + napped – up – ate – bed 10:30. Jeanne to the Fair.”

I am Dan Soderberg, award winning documentary film maker and phototgrapher specializing in architecture, historic preservation and nature.

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