Kathryn Albright – San Diego’s Cobweb Emporium

9780373298150What would you do if you entered a restaurant and found the ceiling crawling with spiders?

One thing I like about reading historical romance is learning real history along with a great story. While doing research for my newest book I came across this “fun” fact that I just had to include in The Gunslinger and the Heiress.

Tillman Augustus Burnes, an Irishman known for his larger-than-life personality, grew up in San Francisco. There he came to appreciate the infamous Cobweb Palace at the end of Meiggs’ Wharf where spiders had transformed the saloon with swags of cobwebs decorating the ceiling and upper walls.

When ‘Till’ came south to San Diego for health reasons he got his first job at the Last Chance Saloon on 5th Street. He saved up his money until he could buy his own saloon, naming it The Phoenix, located just one block from the docks. He opened his doors for business in 1875 and started collecting spiders to decorate his new place. He also hunted and trapped small animals and birds in southern California to display in cages, and bought exotic animals off sailors coming from South America. At one time, his menagerie housed a coyote, a bear, an anteater, and a monkey, along with exotic birds.

San_Diego_train_station_1888

Early San Diego Train Station – featured in book

The bear, Bruin, caused a few incidences quite honorable to a bear, but not appreciated by humans. Till chained him outside the saloon to a tree. One particularly hot day, a group of children taunted Bruin by poking him with sticks. Aroused from his nap and angered, the bear broke loose of his chain, scaring the children and creating havoc until a few men lassoed him. After that, Till had an iron cage built and brought the bear inside the saloon. That worked for a while, until a customer who liked Bruin and regularly let the bear lick the beer off his face fell out of favor with the bear and had the tip of his nose bit off. After that (and the ensuing lawsuit,) Bruin retired to Till’s home, far away from people who would bother him (and visa versa.)

Despite all the animals and spiders, Till prided himself on keeping a clean establishment. By 1885 the spiders had built a respectable foot-thick wall of webbing over the ceiling. Visitors came from far and wide to see the amazing zoo, stuffed animals, and the spiders at work. The Phoenix was a city landmark and sailors and captains alike made sure to stop there frequently. While running the saloon, Till started other ventures—a stage line down to Mexico and personally escorted tours into the back country.

Before one of these tours, his bartender became sick. Till learned of a bartender vacationing in the city and hired him on the spot and then left quickly on the scheduled tour. Ten days later he returned only to find the industrious man had cleaned out every last cobweb in the place, destroying his endeavor of ten years.

Of course nowadays the health commissioner would frown on such a place. But how about you? What is the most unusual sight you have come across in your travels?

Albright_Kathryn_Color_Closeup_For-InternetComment for a chance to win Kathryn’s newest book The Gunslinger and the Heiress. She’ll be giving away three copies today. (With apologies, but Continental United States only.)
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From her first breath, Kathryn Albright has had a passion for stories that celebrate the goodness in people. She combines her love of history and her love of a good story to write novels of inspiration, endurance, and hope. Visit her at www.kathrynalbright.com, on Facebook , Twitter, or Goodreads.

Guest Blogger
Updated: January 7, 2015 — 9:13 am

43 Comments

  1. Mine isn’t scary like yours Kathryn, but when I moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, they had a bar full of silver dollars embedded in the counter from one end to the other. Very unusual. Was hard to believe. I always wondered how many there were. And, it wasn’t made where someone could dig them out. Thus the name, Silver Dollar Bar. Now about that restaurant, I would not have gone inside. I have seen the spiders drop down too many times from trees and ceilings. I hate spiders. Can imagine how mad that man was to find his spiders gone. I do love westerns tho and would be happy to win your book. Thanks for the entertainment. And the chance to win your book. LOL
    Maxie > mac262(at)me)dot)com <

    1. Hi Maxie,
      Thanks for commenting! I’ve been to Jackson Hole, but my children were young and so I didn’t go into any bars with them. I’m with you on the spiders. Wouldn’t want to eat or drink anything in such a place, and if I even went inside, would come out checking my hair and my clothes for stowaways.

      1. Just wanted to say Kathryn I didn’t drink either, just looked at the counter when we first moved there. My husband was a Policeman at that time. I loved living there. How did you like the park with Antlers on the entrances. Maxie

  2. When my brother was stationed in Rota, Spain I went to visit for a couple of weeks. He took us to a restaurant in the countryside that was owned by an ex American Sailor and his Spanish wife. As we were eating cats ran freely through the restaurant rubbing up against patrons legs jumping up on empty chairs… I’m a dog person myself but that restaurant had the best garlic chicken I have ever eaten.

    I would love to win a copy of your book. Thank you for the chance.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    1. Interesting place, Cindy. I’ve never been to a restaurant that let animals inside. Hmmm…

  3. I couldn’t think of anything unusual until I read Cindy’s comment. I also found cats in a restaurant in Hawaii. Of course I knew these cats were there. I read about them in the travel book and it’s one reason I went. I love cats and thought it would be fun to have some around while I ate. The service and food was bad, but I enjoyed the company of the cats and shared my dinner with them. We even went back during another trip just to see the cats.

    1. I find it rather fascinating that there are “cat” people and “dog” people. I’ve had both as pets, and like dogs the best–BIG dogs. thanks for responding!

  4. I haven’t traveled. I’ve never been on a vacation. I would love to win a copy of your book. Thanks for that chance.

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Thanks for commenting. That’s one thing great about books–reading one is like a mini-vacation to a new place and time. When I was younger I read everything I could on Australia. It fascinated me. I kind of feel like I’ve been there now 🙂

  5. Only odd thing I can think of was a restaurant in Dallas that cut off a man’s necktie if he dared wear one in. I had my husband wear a tie I hated (with Playboy bunny heads) so they could destroy that one : )
    Best wishes!
    Janie

    1. Hi Janie,

      Good story! And smart thinking! Your post made me chuckle.

  6. *shudders* Sorry, but I wouldn’t eat at that place. The bear story was interesting, though.

    1. I heartily agree, Faith! I felt very sorry for that bear. I’m so glad there are laws against keeping an animal in such conditions now.

  7. Hi Kathryn! Welcome back. We’re glad to see you again. You brought us an interesting (but a tad creepy) subject. I think I might have second thoughts about eating in a place with cobwebs hanging down. But I guess if the ceiling was high enough, it might not bother me too much.

    Congratulations on the new book! I love that title and the cover is really exceptional. Interesting expressions on their faces.

    Wishing you much success and happiness!

    1. Thanks for the good wishes Linda! I do enjoy coming here to the Junction. Maybe this post would have been better at Halloween 🙂

  8. I’m afraid that is one place I would never step into – yikes. I expect things to be different when I travel, but I’m blank as to anything that notable lol.

    1. Hello Catslady –

      There’s a restaurant on the water in Chicago where the waiters hurl insults at the customer and the customer is supposed to hurl them right back. I never would feel comfortable in a place like that either. I’ll take a relaxed pleasant place anytime over that. But I do like good music to listen to.

  9. That is a little creepy… I am not afraid of spiders, but to see all of that I would wonder where they would drop in… My sister and mother would never would have gone in at all…

    1. Thanks for commenting, Colleen! I don’t like spiders, but oddly enough, I’m not afraid of brown ones–just sinister looking black ones.

      1. Kathryn, have you not heard of the Brown Recluse? It is one of the most dangerous. Rots a place in your flesh where it bites. Doctor has to cut around the spot to fresh flesh for it to heal. I had a niece bitten by one. Yikes!!

  10. I can’t think of anything unusual or interesting right now. Thank you for the giveaway.

    1. Good luck to you Anon1001. Thanks for stopping by.

  11. I remember once in the bar in Rocky Point, Mexico called Carlos O Brien’s there were humongous cockroaches running up and down the walls. eek This was the 70’s and I am sure they have better conditions there today since it is very touristy.
    Spiders would not bother me but those big guys were creepy!

    1. Now that would make me run for the hills, Joye! What an experience! I’ll have to look up Rocky Point Mexico on the map. I’m not too familiar with places in Mexico other than a few border towns, and of course Mexico City. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Interesting place but I would never be near it! I hate spiders! Ate at a restaurant once where we noticed a gentleman at a nearby booth feeding food to something that would come out beneath his booth. We soon realized it was a rat. We pointed out to the waitress but she asked us to keep it quiet as they didn’t want to lose business. We left rather quickly. Wee had finished our meal but have never eaten in that chain again.

    1. EEUUUII!! That would make me sick! Guess it would be best not to post the name of the chain. Thanks for stopping by, Connie.

  13. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Kathryn! We are going to San Diego soon, so I just loved this post. Old SD is quite the place even today.

    The most interesting place I’ve been so far, I think, is Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia. And oh, yes, I’ve seen kitty cats in Hawaiian restaurants and in Cabo San Lucas.

    Blessings on the book!

  14. Thanks for popping in Tanya.

    A modern place that I like in the Gaslamp District of San Diego is Jim Croce’s Restaurant. I always have liked his music. Most of his songs tell a story and that is why they appeal to me.

    Hope you have a lovely trip there.

  15. For me it was going to a restaurant that was also a bird sanctuary, seems like it was near a river somewhere. I remember the food was really good but this was many years ago. It was interesting watching all the birds while you ate.

    1. I bet that actually would be a very cool place! Thanks for posting Quilt Lady!

  16. The only thing I can think of is the world’s biggest ball of string.. Still can’t believe we pulled in and actually looked at it.. LOL Very interesting story.. My daughter screams if she see a itty bitty spider!

  17. Deanna — Thanks for commenting! My husband and I stopped at a similar spot to see the worlds largest roll of barbed wire. Nearby was a steer made out of barbed wire — pretty unique. It was somewhere in the Midwest.

  18. I would enjoy reading your book as I like reading about early San Diego history and the reference to the spiders intrigues me.

    1. Early San Diego History fascinates me, probably because that is where I was raised. Even though I’d learned a lot of it through osmosis and school, I really enjoyed taking the city tour one year on one of those buses that you can hop off at several locations and then hop back on when the mood struck. After that, I will make sure to incorporate the same type of tour should I go to other interesting places. I’d love to do a tourin Boston, DC, NYC for sure. Thanks for stopping by JackieW.

  19. I don’t thin k I would have been able to enjoy his saloon. Spiders are the one thing I have trouble dealing with. Give me bats or snakes any day. Thanks for the interesting post. It was certainly a different way to decorate.

    I was lucky enough to have served in the Peace Corps and did some traveling in Southeast Asia/Philippines. Had lots of interesting experiences and saw many things most people don’t get the opportunity to experience. Bali was a place of many memorable experiences. This was back in 1971, and unfortunately, so many countries and cultures have been westernized, many customs have died out. When a young girl becomes a teenager, 12 to 14, they had a tooth filing ceremony. A special person was brought in, and she would lay on a raised bench or table. He then took a regular file like you would buy at the hardware store and proceed to file her teeth to points. It had to be painful. (Of course, it destroyed the enamel and opened the teeth to cavities.) She had to stay there, not moving, and not making a sound. The process took at least an hour. It was hard to watch and I can’t imagine having it done. I also witnessed a young woman who was possessed by a demon, but that is another story.

    1. Hi Patricia! Don’t you wonder how some of the traditions got started? What a thing to go through for the girl…and you must have been aching for her just witnessing it. I can’t imagine the pain. Cobwebs seem pretty tame after that. Thank you for commenting!

  20. I don’t think I can compete with a ceiling full of cobwebs.

    1. Hi Naomi,

      Just weird, isn’t it?

  21. Kathryn – Spiders I don’t like. The bugs worse, especially cockroach. Stayed in a motel with them one night; they crawled across the bed. I really enjoy your books, especially The Rebel & The Lady. I still have it. It’s a keeper.
    Cowboys & the western ladies what a combination for all of us to enjoy. Thanks to you & all the fillies. Thanks, for stopping by & congrats on your new book.

  22. Hi Lois,
    I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed The Rebel and the Lady. It was a story that gripped me from the moment I visited the Alamo and wouldn’t let go. It was also a story that I struggled with to make my rendition of it as true and sweeping as the vision in my head.

    There is just something about cowboys, isn’t there?

  23. I would love to read Kathryn’s book!

  24. Thanks Melanie! Good luck on the drawing then!

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