- Early cable cars
- San Francisco C. 1877
- From the Encarta Encyclopedia
which has a remarkable 360 degree photograph taken in
- 1877, showing the density
of the city.
- The Cliff House 1863
- Woodward's Gardens 1876
- City Hall after the earthquake
- Near Nob Hill after the
- Grace Cathedral, San
"All the way home I kept remembering"
to Poetry and Places
Robert Lee Frost was born
on March 26, 1874 in a neighborhood of San Francisco known as
Nob Hill. It was the most tumultuous of times. The city had grown
tremendously following the Gold Rush period of the 1850's and
the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The
first cable car was put into service in 1873. The telegraph was
being implemented to connect the country, and San Francisco was
a hotbed of political and social unrest. Will Frost was exhilarated
to be a part of this scene. The night his son was born, he threatened
the doctor with a Colt revolver lest anything should go wrong
with the delivery.
Isabelle soon knew another side of Will Frost as a drinker and
gambler, traits he had acquired at Harvard. He could be a harsh
man to live with, but she abided his habits as a dutiful wife
who relied on her own strong religious faith. In 1876, she gave
birth to a daughter, Jeanie.
The Frosts enjoyed family life in
San Francisco, often taking trips to the local parks and beaches
to enjoy the spectacular scenery. In those days, the Golden Gate
was a park, not a bridge. The Cliff House beach was a favorite,
reached by an exciting horse-car ride. Frost's poem Once by
the Pacific recalls a boyhood memory at the Cliff
House, when he thought he was lost on the beach.
- "The clouds were low and hairy
in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes."
- It goes on to describe layers of
shore, backed by the cliffs, backed by the continent, and a night
- and then an age - of dark intent. The poem ends:
- "There would be more than
Before God's last Put out the light was spoken."
Another favorite place was Woodward's Gardens, a magnificent
Victorian park with botanical gardens and zoo. The family would
take a picnic and enjoy a day out of the crowded city. Once,
Robbie took a magnifying glass and teased one of the monkeys
until the creature snatched it out of his hand and broke it.
That experience was later the subject of a poem called At
Woodward's Gardens, which concludes, "It's knowing what
to do with things that counts." The poem is a clever comment
on the Scopes monkey trial of the 20's.
The family lived in numerous places and the children had difficulty
in school suffering fear and nervous strain. Isabelle over compensated
for her husband's harshness by allowing the children to be schooled
at home. She was a qualified teacher and put her skills to good
use. Will Frost was swept up in the political turmoil of the
day. He ran for City Tax Collector and was defeated. His hard
life style was taking a toll on his health and he contracted
In spite of all the instability in his young life, Robbie loved
his father and the wildness of San Francisco. Will Frost died
in 1885, leaving his family almost destitute. His last wish was
to be taken back to his family home in Lawrence, Mass. for burial.
Isabelle and the children took Will's body home by railroad and
arrived with $8.00. There was little choice but to stay in Lawrence
and begin a new life.
In 1906, San Francisco was hit by the great earthquake and fire
which destroyed much of the city including the neighborhood where
Frost had grown up and City Hall which held his birth records.
For many years his actual birth year was uncertain. "Loss"
is a recurring theme in the poetry of Robert Frost. It all began
here in San Francisco, with the loss of his father and eventually
the scenes of his childhood.
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco honored the birth of Frost with
this magnificent stain glass window created by Gabriel Loire
of Chartres, France. It is part of the "Human Endeavor"
series of windows.
The San Francisco Public Library holds a collection of Frost
memorabilia created by William Gahagan and the California Friends
of Robert Frost. This organization no longer exists. Perhaps
a Frost enthusiast will come forward to carry on their work.