“At five minutes to nine o’clock last night, San Francisco was favored by another earthquake. There were three distinct shocks, two of which were very heavy, and appeared to have been done on purpose, but the third did not amount to much.” ---Mark Twain, The San Francisco Daily Morning Call, 23 June 1864
Thanks to the fantastic success of the Mark Twain complete autobiography — the first volume doesn't officially land in bookstores until next week and is already sitting atop the bestseller lists — Twain is once again the toast of the town. And his Bay Area roots run deep.
Even though Mark Twain only spent about two years of his life in the city, the time he spent as a roving reporter in the speculation-crazed, boisterous San Francisco of the 1860s would define his satirical writing style and ultimately launch his career — a career that shows no signs of slowing on the centennial of his death.
Mark Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Clemens, came to San Francisco in May 1864 at age 28, after a long string of random jobs—including riverboat piloting, typesetting, and, his last stint before his move to San Francisco, mining in Nevada. By the 1860s, San Francisco had joined New York as one of “the poles of the American avant-garde,” writes Ron Powers in "Mark Twain: A Life," and it boasted a vibrant literary scene. San Francisco's numerous saloons, which have been called the precursors of the Beat hangouts of the 1950s and ‘60s, were well known to Mark Twain, who joined literary figures like Bret Harte and Ambrose Bierce.
"I fell in love with the most cordial and sociable city in the Union," Twain wrote of his first months in San Francisco in his memoir, "Roughing It."