I have always been fascinated by old film footage – particularly that which captures people unaware that they are being filmed.
A few days ago this wonderful footage was sent to me. A 33mm print of a cable car trip down a street in San Francisco in 1906. Automobiles have definitely made their impression on this scene and it is startling to see how many of them traverse the path of the cable car as it rattles along the street.
But more impressive is the quotidian nature of the footage. Here we look in on the life on an average day ( and one assumes before the great earthquake which almost destroyed the town in the same year) of a great American city at the turn of the 20th Century. Men in great coats and bowler hats amble across the road. Boys in large, outsize hats ride bicycles; Billboards advertise medicines and root beer. Life is busy.
Viewing such footage gives one a certain feeling of familiarity and warmth, much like the photographs I presented in my piece The Color of History.
We could ask questions about where this cable car is going and whether we are in store for any surprises. But the answer is that it is not going anywhere in particular and the only surprises are in the fascinating details of the journey itself.
So enjoy this footage as you experience a day in the life of San Francisco, 1906.