Goat Cart Men: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

Represented in the OpenSFHistory collection are many images scanned from family collections and scrapbooks. In preparing a recent batch to upload, a series of shots of children in goat-powered wagons caught our attention. We realized that across a few collections we recognized the same goat patiently posing in harness on city sidewalks while a happy child held the reins in a wicker cart.

Child in goat cart, circa 1910
Child (and teddy bear) in wicker goat-drawn cart. (wnp27.3020, courtesy of a private collector).

Child in goat cart, circa 1915
Happy kid in the same wicker cart. (wnp27.2089, courtesy of a private collector).

Child in goat cart, circa 1910
Slightly concerned child with the same very patient goat. (wnp27.3113, courtesy of a private collector).

A quick look in my own family photos and I uncovered this shot of my grandfather (far left) standing behind perhaps the same animal.

slinkey-goat
Eugene Slinkey (on left) with cousins and our now-familiar goat friend.

At the turn of the twentieth century, goat cart men had concessions in public and private parks from New York City to Paris to San Diego, offering rides to kids (the human kind) for a coin. Often called “goat chaises,” the carts also made appearances in parades as cute and silly miniature versions of horse-led gigs, carriages, and other elegant conveyances. Woodward’s Garden, a private amusement park in the Mission District, had a goat cart ride, as did Childrens Playground in Golden Gate Park. (The goats left the playground in the late 1930s. The City Purchaser sold the surplus 12 goat carts to a toy shop owner, along with six sets of harness, for $10.1)

The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1910 had a whole article about “fashionable goat-carts” drawn by Angora and Cashmere goats, but noted that “common goats are still to be noticed among the up-to-date youthful drivers.”2 A popular Christmas toy in 1907 was a double goat-pulled cart for dolls.

By the 1910s, someone (or many someones) had the bright idea of traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood with a goat cart and a camera. Kids posed as drivers and parents bought the photograph. Ross Fuqua wrote on the Washington State Library blog that so many goat cart photographs are out in the world that the Library of Congress uses it as subject term in their catalog. Ross created a Pinterest board where other institutions and individuals added goat cart photographs from all across the country. I particularly enjoyed this child in Roman costume driving a “goat chariot” from the Oregon State Library.

Goat Chariot image from Oregon State Library collection.
Goat Chariot image from Oregon State Library collection.

I wasn’t able to figure out who our San Francisco goat man was, although I did stumble on a few ads in local newspapers offering a goat, harness, and cart for sale as a package. Likely these sellers weren’t commercial photographers, but rather parents who bought a kit for their kids during the height of goat cart mania.

So many questions these goat carts bring up. How many goat men walked the streets of San Francisco photographing our ancestors? How much did the shot cost and how long did it take to get your souvenir? Did this black-and-white “king of the goats” we keep finding have a name? Send us your clues and guesses using our contact form.

Child in goat cart in Golden Gate Park
“Lucile” riding a goat cart in Golden Gate Park circa 1900. (wnp27.2853, courtesy of a private collector).

Notes:

1. San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 1939, pg. 74.
2. “Goats for Pleasure and Profit,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 7, 1910.

Before the Summer of Love: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

Few things can transport one to a San Francisco neighborhood in the first half of the twentieth century than the view of an old streetcar in operation or the blade sign of a neighborhood movie theater. When both are in one image, it’s as if we have cracked the secret to time travel. The recently uploaded batch of scanned photographs to OpenSFHistory features a few terrific compositions of streetcar and theater, such as this great snapshot below, taken by a streetcar fan in 1948.

Haight Street at Cole Street, 1948
Haight Theatre, car #452 of the 7-Haight streetcar headed westbound just before the line transitioned to trolley bus service (wnp27.2720, courtesy of a private collector).

Urban planners talk of placemaking: the act of designing public spaces that promote social street life and where people have a sense of neighborhood—in short, making cities for people over cars and shopping malls. This often feels forced in new developments, with barren plazas, arty obelisks, or large rocks plopped on street corners. Designers provide this window-dressing, but people still need to “make the place” by seeing friends at local businesses, running into each other on public transit, or going a movie or meeting in the neighborhood.

What imparts a better sense of the Haight Ashbury just after World War II than the photograph above? The theater sign tells you where you are. One of the last runs of the 7 streetcar line, along with a few automobiles of the period and the woman on foot, tells you how you get there. The woman may have just left Metz Superior Doughnuts after having coffee with a friend. Jay L. Macfarlane not only ran the paint and hardware store next door, he also lived around the corner on Page Street with his wife Sigrid. The tall window above his storefront let light into the Park Masonic Hall, a meeting place for neighborhood groups and the Haight Ashbury Merchants Improvement Association.

The counter-culture and hippie movement did its own placemaking using the same mix of storefronts, flats, and public spaces. During the 1967 Summer of Love, fifty years ago this year, the Haight Theater became the Straight Theater and a home to concerts, “happenings,” and consciousness-raising lectures. Love quickly gave way to a seedier time in the neighborhood, and after many arguments on the Haight/Straight Theater’s future, it was demolished in 1979. A drug store was built on the site, before that burned in 1988.

A strip of housing over storefronts, built in 1992 and 2004, occupy the space where the theater, donut shop, hardware store, and Masonic hall once stood. The block is lively with a Goodwill thrift store, a café, a shoe store, and a small branch of Wells Fargo bank. Placemaking doesn’t need to be forced here, but the bank gives a nod to imagery that resonates with those who love city life. A collage of historical neighborhood images decorates the bank entrance and prominently featured are streetcars and the old Haight Theater.

Straight Theater, July 1967
Straight Theater, formerly the Haight Theater, reincarnated for the Summer of Love in July 1967. (wnp25.2421, courtesy of a private collector).