My friend Corey, a San Franciscan, sent me the link to this a couple of days ago. Apparently this footage was taken from the front of a streetcar travelling along Market Street (the clocktower at the end of it, near Embarcadero Wharf, is a local landmark, still standing.) It is believed to be the earliest 35mm film in existence and was lost for many years; it is one of the few films depicting San Francisco as it looked before the devastating earthquake and fire. It was made just four days before the disaster and escaped destruction by virtue of the fact that it had been sent to New York by train for processing. Here, it’s been set to some very modern, un-ragtime music. What strikes me most strongly about it is the sheer number of automobiles already on the road at that time. Also the fact that traffic safety laws apparently had yet to be written; motorcars share the road with streetcars, horse-drawn carriages and wagons, bicycles, pedestrians–all with no regulation. The only conveyances not capable of moving about at random are the streetcars. Everything else is higgledy-piggledy. People on foot cross the road at any point they like, without waiting until they are at an intersection, and often perilously close to a passing vehicle. Bicyclists zigzag nonchalantly on and off the streetcar tracks. Cars weave in and out in front of the camera, the drivers apparently completely unconcerned about what side of the road they are on. (Apparently “lanes” were not a concept yet. Neither was there a standard placement for the steering wheel; if you look closely, you’ll see that some are on the left, and some on the right.) It’s amazing that no one in this clip gets hit or hurt. I found myself continually holding my breath, waiting for something awful to happen, a terrible pile-up that brings it all to a halt. But everyone and everything goes its merry way, luckily unharmed. In an age when fatalities on city streets were a growing problem and traffic cops would soon become a necessity, that’s perhaps the greatest wonder about this amazing old film.