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The Luckiest Dog in SF History, and Other Bizarre Historic Plaques

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Interactive site records over 10,000 historic markers around the world, including a few weird local ones

Dozens of commemorative plaques are scattered all over San Francisco, many of them recording some fascinating oddities. Normally this is the kind of thing we would love to make an interactive map about, but somebody already beat us to it.

Read the Plaque is a collaborative online project that has recorded the location of over 10,000 historical markers around the world, including several in the frigid depths of the Greenland Sea (what they’re affixed to isn’t entirely clear). The San Francisco part records nearly 50 markers, some surprising, others baffling.

You should head over to Read the Plaque to take a gander at all of them, but here are a few of our favorites.

Dynamite Ghost Ship plaque:

"Schooner blown to atoms, 1882. The two-masted, 148-ton Parallel left San Francisco with a mixed cargo of 42 tons of black powder and dynamite. The ship went on the rocks off the Cliff House. The crew rowed to Sausalito but told no one of the dangerous cargo. A crew from the life-saving station at Golden Gate Park found no crew on board, but did save a forgotten dog.

"About 1:30 AM, January 16, the ship exploded, badly damaging the Cliff House, Adolph Sutro’s residence, and others. The blast blew debris a mile away. Forty thousand spectators came to see the wreckage."

Really lucky break for that dog.

Comstock Saloon:

"The last of the Barbary Coast Saloons, the site of the infamous Billy Goat Saloon, operated by Pigeon-Toed Sal. […] World Boxing Champion Jack Dempsey worked the door in 1913 before his historic July 4, 1919 fight in which he took the title from Jess Willard with a TKO. The tile spittoon and other features were restored in 1975."

To think we were this close to becoming a town with no historic spittoons at all.

Hotaling Building:

"This building housed the largest liquor repository on the West Coast. It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire due to a mile long fire hose laid from Fisherman's Wharf over Telegraph Hill by the U.S. Navy."

Quick thinking, men.

Liberty Bell Slot Machine plaque:

"Charles August Fey pioneered many innovations of coin-operated gaming devices in his San Francisco workshop at 406 Market Street, including the original three-reel bell slot machine in 1898."

Quite the winner.


Maltese Falcon Alleyway:

This Burritt Alley marker is "the only plaque I’ve ever seen dedicated to the death of a minor fictional character," says Read the Plaque user Craig Pittman, who submitted the photo. It’s also the only plaque to spoil the ending of a classic book and both of its movie adaptations by just plain telling you who killed Sam Spade’s partner "on this spot" in the The Maltese Falcon.


Alvord Lake Bridge plaque:

"National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, Alvord Lake Bridge" is all it reads, but a contributor to Read the Plaque elaborates: "Alvord Lake Bridge was designed by Ernest Ransome, the father of modern rebar. Built in 1889, it’s one of the oldest existing structures to use metal reinforcement bar embedded in concrete."

The father of modern rebar beats the slot machine guy ten times out of ten.