The North called to me when I was a child, my nose in a book picking out the stories of the Norsemen.
I was twelve years old when I first shipped out of Stockholm as deckboy in the brigantine Henry, lookingfor adventure.
I expect to go on looking so long as I live.
So begins Captain John J. Bertonccini in the first of a series of seven articles he wrote for the Seattle Star in December of 1920.
He knocked about the seas of the world until he qualified as able-bodied seaman; then the South Seas called and he “drifted down into the dreamy, treacherous waters of Polynesia,”
where he served in the “blackbirding” trade, that latter-day slave trade perpetrated upon the natives of the Fijis and the Solomons under the guise of “contract labor.”
He did not stay long in that trade for, as he wrote:
“The sights and smells of blackbirding were not according to my tastes, I suppose.
I wanted to get into the real North; I wanted to breathe a wind charged with the scent of sea-ice.
Whal ing-there was adventure, I said to myself, and so I headed for San Francisco, of all ports in the world the port of adventurers.” In that phrase of hope and exploration,
John Bertonccini nails the mystique of this great city whose reputation is enrwined with the adventure of gold.
The mystique began in the months-long voyages around Cape Horn during the Gold Rush as seaweaty passengers kept their hopes alive with dreams of gold,
waiting patiently for the day when they would step ashore in San Francisco, where their dreams wo uld begin to come true.
And, as John Bertonccini demonstrates for us, 50 years after the Gold Rush,
a large part of the city’s mystique continued to grow around its early maritime roots.
The mystique remains today, though its roots are but dimly understood.
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