Balloons, Monkeys, Lions, and Camels: The Long-Lost Magic of San Francisco’s Woodward’s Gardens
Think P.T. Barnum’s Museum or the pleasure grounds of Starin’s Glen Island. In the 1800s, Woodward’s Gardens played a monumental role in the leisure time of San Franciscans.
On one Saturday in April 1874, crowds of onlookers gathered on a plot of land at Mission and Valencia streets in San Francisco to watch the famous French balloonist Captain G. Barbier lift off the ground in a giant hot air balloon.
At 3:46, Barbier gave the command—“All hands let go!”—and the balloon “rose like a gigantic soap bubble and quickly attained an altitude of 6,000 feet,” according to a 1948 article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The crowd gasped and the six passengers on board, who included a dancer, a reporter, and a young society woman, cheered as they wafted out over the bay. From their perch in the sky, the balloonists lobbed a message in a bottle out of their basket, launched a carrier pigeon with a note for the onlookers below, and got ready to pop a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.