SAN FRANCISCO LETTER - dated Dec. 29
THE BLACK HOLE OF SAN FRANCISCO
If I were Police Judge here, I would hold my court in the city prison and sentence my convicts to imprisonment in the present Police Court room. That would be capital punishment -- it would be the Spartan doom of death for all crimes, whether important or insignificant. The Police Court room, with its deadly miasma, killed Judge Shepheard and Dick Robinson, the old reporter, and will kill Judge Rix, and Fitz Smythe also. The papers are just now abusing the police room -- a thing which they do in concert every month. This time, however, they are more than usually exercised, because somebody has gone and built a house right before the only window the room had, and so it is midnight there during every hour of the twenty-four, and gas has to be burned while all other people are burning daylight.
That Police Court room is not a nice place. It is the infernalest smelling den on earth, perhaps. A deserted slaughter-house, festering in the sun, is bearable, because it only has one smell, albeit it is a lively one; a soap-factory has its disagreeable features, but the soap-factory has but one smell, also; to stand to leeward of a sweating negro is rough, but even a sweating negro has but one smell; the salute of the playful polecat has its little drawbacks, but even the playful polecat has but one smell, and you can bury yourself to the chin in damp sand and get rid of the odor eventually. Once enter the Police Court though -- once get yourself saturated with the fearful combination of miraculous stenches that infect its atmosphere, and neither sand nor salvation can ever purify you any more! You will smell like a polecat, like a slaughter-house, like a soap-factory, like a sweating negro, like a graveyard after an earthquake -- for all time to come -- and you will have a breath like a buzzard. You enter the door of the Police Court, and your nostrils are saluted with an awful stench; you think it emanates from Mr. Hess, the officer in charge of the door; you say to yourself, "Some animal has crawled down this poor man's throat and died"; you step further in, and you smell the same smell, with another, still more villainous, added to it; you remark to yourself, "This is wrong -- very wrong; these spectators ought to have been buried days ago." You go a step further and you smell the same two smells, and another more ghastly than both put together; you think it comes from the spectators on the right. You go further and a fourth, still more powerful, is added to your three horrible smells; and you say to yourself, "These lawyers are too far gone -- chloride of lime would be of no benefit here." One more step, and you smell the Judge; you reel, and gasp; you stagger to the right and smell the Prosecuting Attorney -- worse and worse; you stagger fainting to the left, and your doom is sealed; you enter the fatal blue mist where ten reporters sit and stink from morning until night -- and down you go! You are carried out on a shutter, and you cannot stay in the same room with yourself five minutes at a time for weeks.
You cannot imagine what a horrible hole that Police Court is. The cholera itself couldn't stand it there. The room is about 24 x 40 feet in size, I suppose, and is blocked in on all sides by massive brick walls; it has three or four doors, but they are never opened -- and if they were they only open into airless courts and closets any how; it has but one window, and now that is blocked up, as I was telling you; there is not a solitary air-hole as big as your nostril about the whole place. Very well; down two sides of the room, drunken filthy loafers, thieves, prostitutes, China chicken-stealers, witnesses, and slimy guttersnipes who come to see, and belch and issue deadly smells, are banked and packed, four ranks deep -- a solid mass of rotting, steaming corruption. In the centre of the room are Dan Murphy, Zabriskie, the Citizen Sam Platt, Prosecuting Attorney Louderback, and other lawyers, either of whom would do for a censer to swing before the high altar of hell. Then, near the Judge are a crowd of reporters -- a kind of cattle that did never smell good in any land. The house is full -- so full that you have to actually squirm and shoulder your way from one part of it to another -- and not a single crack or crevice in the walls to let in one poor breath of God's pure air! The dead, exhausted, poisoned atmosphere looks absolutely blue and filmy, sometimes -- did when they had a little daylight. Now they have only gas-light and the added heat it brings. Another Judge will die shortly if this thing goes on.
A PLEASANT FARCE - text not available
INSPIRATION OF LOUDERBACK
PERSONAL - text not available
Mark Twain's San Francisco, Bernard Taper, (McGraw Hill, 1963), pp. 171-73.]
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