Monday, March 20, 2017

Fireman Robert Ceiley

The San Francisco Fire Department, established in 1866, has had a rich history in its 151 years. From the earthquake of 1906 and resultant fires that left half of the city's 400,000 residents temporarily homeless to the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 that collapsed a portion of the SF-Bay Bridge, the Fire Department has grown exponentially. Today, the SF Fire Dept. serves approximately 1.5 million people, providing fire and emergency services to residents, workers and visitors of the city.

My great-grand Uncle was a man called Robert Ceiley. Robert was born in 1889 in Newton, New South Wales, Australia. He and his father, Henry Ceiley, came to San Francisco from Australia in 1910. My great-grandmother Bea, her mother and one other sibling were already here. Having become a naturalised citizen, Robert served in the the US army during 'The Great War'. A few years after his service, in 1921, Robert joined the San Francisco Fire Department. He held various positions during his 36 year career. He worked as tillerman, the man who guides the long hook and ladder trucks from the rear, as truckman, and as hoseman. I had always heard from my Uncle, also an SF fireman, that Robert had saved 'a few people' from a burning building way back when and was awarded a medal as a result of his efforts. Many years ago, one of Robert's daughters shared a newspaper article with my SFFD Uncle regarding her father's bravery. She must have been very proud of her Dad and rightly so.

Bounty from the main branch library

Having recently discovered the SF History branch of the SF Public Library, I have been able to learn some of the specifics of said event through reading various newspaper clippings of the time. In 1933, Robert Ceiley carried a 'crippled girl', 'her 200 lb brother' and 'younger man' from a burning building at 1377 Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. For this action, he was cited by the fire department for bravery. Both he and another fireman, a man called Dennis Magee, were given citations for heroism that year, but there was to be only one medal awarded by the then Mayor of San Francisco, Angelo Rossi. A coin toss was to determine who won the medal. My great-grand Uncle won the toss & received the Scannell medal for heroic action. 

David Scannell, born in NYC, became a volunteer fireman at the tender age of 12. As an adult, Scannell volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American war from 1846 to 1848. Of the 850 men who fought in his regiment, only 150 survived. After the war, Scannell moved back to New York before again crossing country in 1851 to seek his fortune in San Francisco during the Gold Rush period. At some point thereafter, Scannell joined the San Francisco volunteer fire department. In 1855, he was elected sherriff of our then burgeoning & still somewhat lawless city. He was the third man to hold the post. He served for one year. When the fire department transitioned from volunteer to paid staff, Scannell became the first fire chief of that outfit. He served as fire chief three different times over his career, totalling 27 years in the role. He died in 1893 at the age of 73. In 1909, a fireboat was named in his honor.

What an honor (and stroke of luck!) it must have been for my great-grand Uncle to receive such a medal.

Scannell Medal

RH Ceiley's modest home to the left of the tree in Ingleside, SF

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My SF History Day

When I went to the San Francisco History Days event at the Old SF Mint Building on 5th & Mission this morning, I didn't for a second think I'd be asking a most delightful 83-year-old woman at the Visitacion Valley information booth, Cris, if she knew my Uncle Buddy had been gay. 'Oh, we ALL knew he was gay!' She then went on to say that at that time they didn't use the word 'gay'. Cris told me, too, that she'd been a late-bloomer. -that she'd always had her head in books. She thinks that is probably why Buddy asked her out. She was a safe bet.

She also related a factually inaccurate story of my family that involved Buddy's father, William Larkin. Papa Larkin, hailing from somewhere in Ireland, had been a bit of a ne'er-do-well. -couldn't hold down a job, liked the drink, and raised his hand on more than one occasion to my nana. In a rather bold move, nana divorced William & moved on with her life. This would have been the mid-1930s. With two kids in tow, life couldn't have been terribly easy. Fortunately, she had her sisters around for support. But back to William...

Cris told me that William had killed himself by hanging & wasn't that awful? I told her that, actually, William had fallen into the San Francisco Bay and drowned. He had likely been drunk at the time. -least that's what I had always heard growing up.  I called my mom later to relay the meeting with Cris. When we got to the part about the hanging, she said: No, it wasn't Buddy's father, but rather the neighbor across the street that had hung himself. It's interesting what folk remember & how they remember. Grisly stories like a neighborhood suicide tend to stick in some way, I guess.

Until today, I didn't know that the San Francisco Public Library had an arm dedicated to the preservation of SF history. I dropped by their booth at SF History Days to peruse their wares. They had a smattering of SF high school year books (none that my family, to my knowledge, were in) from various different decades. More interesting though, were the three SF directories (the Yellow Pages of their time) on hand. One was from the late 19th century; two were from the years before and after the earthquake of 1906. At that time, two of four sets of great-grandparents were living here. I figured I'd look them up. I found great-grandpa Axel in both the '05 & '07 directories. That was a fun discovery. Prior to his living on Andover St., I hadn't realized Axel had been elsewhere in Bernal Heights & also down in the Mission. You don't know what you can no longer ask of anyone. My 80-year-old Uncle is sort of the last in line. Fortunately, he's keen to chat on all things family history. A phone call to him is in order.

San Francisco Directory, 1905. Sweden represent!

The Bernal Heights History booth was staffed by wonderfully enthusiastic Bernal lovers. I spoke with one woman who is a passionate researcher of Bernal lore. I left her my email address, so that she may mail me any information she might find regarding the Hallstroms, my paternal grandmother's Swedish immigrant parents. I took her card in order to send her turn-of-the-last-century photos depicting the house on Andover St. & snaps of the family.

When the Old SF Mint was new.

The three and a half hours spent at the Mint really flew by & I'm so glad I went.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


The onslaught of rain in recent months means that we, after about five years, are officially out of drought conditions here. I saw a man watering his lawn in broad daylight the other afternoon, and thought: Good for you! The one downside of all the rain is that severe flooding & mudslides are displacing many from their homes, and, in some unfortunate cases, taking lives. The Red Cross has opened numerous shelters in flood zones around California for those affected & thank goodness.


Trump's still publicly trumpeting ridiculous statements that don't jibe with reality. His latest blather made it seem as if there were specific, targeted unrest in Sweden recently due to the influx of immigrants/refugees there. Sweden's US Embassy twitter account posted this in response: We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies. Translation: they ain't having it. Former Swedish PM, Carl Bildt, also weighed in with this gem: Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound. Well, Carl, expect to be detained at length by TSA were you to come to the states during Trump's reign.

Bork! Bork!

Press Secretary Melissa McCarthy, perhaps so fatigued by having to constantly defend Trump's verbal gaffs to the press, he hasn't yet garnered the strength to respond to 'last night in Sweden'. To be honest, he's probably too busy attacking the good people at the Anne Frank Center right now. Take a break, Spicey, you've sort of earned it.


I'm currently taking a German course at a local school. Today, I availed myself of the language lab as part of my course requirements. It was my first time in the lab & I had no idea how to access the online course lessons. Sat near the students' area, I spied a German instructor who, I thought, was on-hand to help. (Well, at least that's what her colleague at the check-in desk led me to believe.) I turned to the instructor and said: ich bräuchte Hilfe/I would need help.  She said: Sie brauchen Hilfe/You need help. Ja, I said and continued to speak to her in German. She then responded to me solely in English. My German, in Germany & German Switzerland, is met with German & Swiss German, respectively. That means that my German, to put it crudely, doesn't suck. Why the instructor responded in English, I don't know, but it was off-putting at best. Before the meat of the exchange really kicked off, as I was settling in to my computer spot, she was making her way to leave. Her 'shift' was over, I guess? Not yet daunted, I did ask her if she knew where the online German instruction was to be found, and she obliged before dashing away. Note to self: don't rely on the language lab German instructor for help in the language lab regarding German. Ah, bless this school.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I ain't Abbie Hoffman...

but in the interest of 'clickbait', the opinion website, Breitbart, would paint all who dare ask our paid reps in Congress to hear us with such a 'radical' brush.  

The piece from Breitbart regarding our small demo at DiFi's compound over the weekend---

Radicals Besiege (italics mine) Feinstein Home to Urge Rejection of Trump Cabinet

Approximately 200 radical leftists protested and picketed outside of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)'s Pacific Heights mansion in San Franisco (nice typo) on Sunday to oppose what they have labeled as her 'pro-Trump voting record' because she voted in favor of confirming a few of the president's Cabinet picks.

'It's disgusting', organizer Ben Becker said, according to 'It's completely inexcusable'. Becker reportedly organized the protest and unofficial town hall with Michael Petrelis, who emceed the event. 

The best part of this 'opinion essay' is their having used an image I tweeted to show our gathering at the Feinstein compound. I'm (in)famous. At least 13 people (and two 'eggs') hate me on Twitter.

The offending twitter pic. Ah, the 'carnage'. It's like inner-city Chicago, right Donnie?

Feinstein — who has a liberal voting record — has so far voted in favor of confirming James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, Mike Pompeo for CIA director, John Kelly for Secretary of Homeland Security, and Nikki Haley for U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
On Tuesday morning, Sen. Feinstein said that she would not vote for Sessions, according to USA Today.
Trump’s Cabinet picks have been delayed because Senate Democrats have created procedural roadblocks, including boycotting several scheduled confirmation votes. As a result, hearings could extend well into March.
Protesters reportedly chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Jeff Sessions—just say no!” at Sunday’s protest, which began around 3 p.m. According to, they complained that Feinstein’s voicemail was full and that they could not leave her messages.
“I wasn’t able to leave a message because her machine was full and wasn’t being emptied,” Becker reportedly said. “We got the impression that the opinions of her constituency were not important to Senator Feinstein.”

Yeah, it's actually not that radical wanting your voice to be heard by those who claim to represent your interests. I voted for Sen. Feinstein, but come 2018, will not do so again. Of course, DiFi is over 80 years old & might just wish to throw in the towel by next year, so the point may well be moot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bizarro Trump

Trump's home planet.

Trump claims he would have won the popular vote had 3,000,000 people not voted illegally. His own legal team disputes this 'alternative fact' yet Trump will not back down from his baseless assertion.

Tom Barrack, Jr., a friend of Trump, spoke on CNN about how the new president needs to let go of the campaign trail & start focusing his energy on governance. I say: Good luck with that!

If Trump can't not respond almost immediately to every perceived slight (-inaugural numbers, anyone?), then I don't see him retraining his gaze on more meaningful issues anytime soon.

And what he is honing in on does not bode well for many Americans. For all Trump's talk of helping all Americans and making us 'great again', he's already managed to begin targeting some of the more vulnerable among us within hours of taking office.

Mortgage Fee Cut

One of Trump's first executive orders inked makes it now impossible for low-income, first-time home buyers to receive a five hundred dollar annual reduction in mortgage fees. The mortgage reduction scheme, put forth by former President Obama, was to have come into effect Jan. 27.

Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act, responsible for insuring tens of millions of Americans, is currently in the process of being dismantled by the new government. Many of Trump's supporters had not realized that their insurance provided compliments of the ACA is actually the so-called Obamacare they despise (Google: Trumpgrets). These same people are now seeing their 'fearless leader' acting directly against their hopes of remaining insured. The MAGA crowd say: Lock up Clinton & build that wall, but don't take away our ACA!

Unfortunately for them, it looks like the one thing Trump will actually act on is the one thing Trump supporters really don't want to come to pass.

Monday, January 23, 2017

SF Women's March

Snippets from yesterday's Women's March in San Francisco---

Exiting at Civic Center
En route to the UN Plaza

Our public transportation system, Bay Area Rapid Transport aka BART, never sees ridership like this. Any readers of this blog from around here can attest to that fact.

We got on BART at Glen Park. Our station wasn't too crowded, but the train sure was! All I could see was a blur of pink pussy hats on riders as BART pulled into the station. It was kind of exciting.

Crossing the street to get to the rally. -wall of people.

Rally-goers stood between the Asian Art Museum & the Main Branch Library. It was close quarters.

Woman above got a bit 'shove-y' in her quest to take photos. Fortunately, there weren't so many like her to be found yesterday. Most of us were just taking snaps with our mobile phones. It was all very civilized. -elbows to ourselves.

Some men at the march made better doors than windows. We finally got past them.

Initially, we couldn't see the stage & could barely hear the speakers. Eventually, however, we were able to make our way closer to the stage. A painter & Mills College professor called Hung Liu spoke. Her words were powerful. She spoke of the cultural revolution and its effect on her family, and, more specifically, her childhood & young adulthood. I found myself crying by the end of her speech. The other speakers, bless them, had passion, but not the same punch.

Piece by Hung Liu

City Hall lit pink for the Women's March
After two hours of listening to speakers & live music, we were ready to march. When I say 'we', I mean everyone else. I had stupidly not dressed for the elements I was pretty soaked after the rally. The hubs & I dragged our wet tails to the bus & went home.

Folk are readying themselves to march

Wet, muddy, and raring to go!
The Gorton's Fisherman aka the Hubs

Procession of marchers slowly wending their way toward Market Street
I have to say that I wish I had taken more picture of all the excellent signage folk had made for the march. One that made me chuckle was this: If my vagina could shoot bullets, then it would need regulation.

One clever woman had made a rather menacing sign of a vagina with pointy teeth. I think her slogan was: Try to grab this, Trump!

There was a drawing of a poo emoji with Trump's likeness as its face. That's always a good one.

There were just so many great slogans & drawings. I hope to see some enterprising person compile all the Women's March placards & sell it as a coffee table book. Heck, I'd buy it!

Disco commute

One thing that has perked me up of late is seeing a particular woman on my morning commute. I first noticed her a few months ago. She and I both take the same two trains down the peninsula to work. We're often on the same carriage. She is waiting to exit our local suburban rail, shimmying by the doors. It's approximately 7.45 by the time our train pulls into the first station, and, as one can imagine, no one is even 1/4 as peppy as this woman. Ear buds in, knees bent with arms moving to and fro, this woman is taken by the spirit of whatever is playing on her iPod. I recently sat across from her on the train, so I actually know that she is getting down to the boogie of pure disco gold. Deney Terrio would be proud.

As we wait for our second train on a nearby platform, she can be seen dancing in place. A series of small moves, she sort of walks in place, knees bending. Short, fast, rhythmic--she moves while the rest of us stand like sentinels waiting for our train to arrive. This woman makes me smile.


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