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The strangest San Francisco Christmas Day tales

Christmas in San Francisco is known for ice skating in Union Square, drunk Santas crawling down Polk Street and a very weird Christmas tree. Historically the day has brought with it some even stranger news. We dug into the archives to find the Christmas Day stories that could maybe only happen here.

By the time Christmas rolled around in 1967, hippies were a thing, nowhere more so than in San Francisco. Headline writers took aim at the longhairs and used “hippie” liberally and usually pejoratively. When Berkeley student Orville Jeffers was found to have stolen a tiger from San Francisco Zoo, he was deemed a hippie tiger kidnapper, despite Jeffers not looking particularly groovy in his mug shot.

Jeffers’ motive for breaking into the zoo with three friends and a hacksaw one night to steal Jimmie the cat? “I went to the zoo, and saw Jimmie and fell in love with him. I had to have him.” Sadly, the story did not end in the spirit of free love. After running out of money in LA a few weeks later, Jeffers sold the hot cat to a pet store, which turned it in to authorities. Jeffers was charged with catnapping and Jimmie returned to San Francisco Zoo, only to die a week later from choking on a piece of meat.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 26, 1967.

San Francisco Examiner / Archival

‘Television Ghosts Blamed On Reflections From Fog’

On Christmas Day 1955, San Franciscans apparently had some concerns about ghosts living in their television sets. The Examiner was happy to put folks’ fears to rest with news that the specters were in fact caused by San Francisco’s fog bouncing beams around the city and into people’s homes. While it’s easy to mock the worried viewers, at the time, TVs were still relatively new technology in homes, and the concern doesn’t seem much more irrational than the fear that microwaves cause cancer (they don’t) or that 5G technology is giving you COVID (it’s not).

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec.  26, 1955.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 26, 1955.

San Francisco Examiner / Archival

‘Slow Old Man’s Scooter Has Fast Cops Reeling’

Bay Bridge highway patrol had to contend with a “little old man” attempting to cross from San Francisco to Oakland on a tiny green scooter that trundled at under 10 mph on Christmas Day 1956.

Three police cars, sirens blaring, chased down the unnamed scofflaw (vehicles with under 5 horsepower are forbidden on the bridge), leading to the man falling off his scooter on the eastern span of the bridge.

He told the police he had bought the scooter as a Christmas gift to himself and was making his way to Oakland for a family Christmas dinner. After giving him the fright of his life, the cops eventually showed some Christmas cheer in not citing the man and helped him get to his destination. But there was no word on how he got the vehicle back to San Francisco.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec.  26, 1956.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 26, 1956.

San Francisco Examiner / Archival

‘Beer, Whole Pitcher of It, Saves Flaming Car’

This one isn’t in San Francisco, but made the front page of the Examiner on Boxing Day 1933.

The story, with its Yoda-like headline construction, reveals the heroism of a drunk in LA saving a cop car from a fiery end. Only one quote is attributed to the man who swilled a pitcher of beer on the flames: “Whe’sha fire?

The story calls to mind the Vacaville man caught in the 2020 wildfires who extinguished a fire in his home with Bud Light.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec.  26, 1933.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 26, 1933.

San Francisco Examiner / Archival

‘Bomb Slays, And Wrecks Hindu Temple’

One of the most tragic, and mysterious, stories from the Christmas archives concerns the 1914 bombing of Vedanta Temple in Cow Hollow. There are conflicting reports exactly how the bombing occurred, but Hindu leader Swami Trigunatita was left dead after a former student walked into the temple during a service with a bomb in a hat box. We dug into the story earlier in the year, and made the argument for why the old temple at 2963 Webster St. may be the most beautiful building in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Examiner front page, Dec.  28, 1914.

The San Francisco Examiner front page, Dec. 28, 1914.

San Francisco Examiner

‘Wonderful Town’

We’ll end on this small and delightful Herb Caen column published the day after Christmas in 1956 about nothing in particular, which makes it all the more wonderful. Dated gender stereotypes aside, Caen’s summary of Christmas Day in the city has a proud and poignant heart. It’s not hard to see why Caen’s love letters to the city made him a household name and earned him a Pulitzer Prize. “In the crowded bars, there were no strangers whatever,” the famed columnist wrote. “A cool and joyful day, fading into a warm and wonderful night – starry eyed and aglow with a million lights. May they always burn as brightly, all over the world.”

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec.  26, 1956.

The San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 26, 1956.

San Francisco Examiner / Archival

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