‘Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip’

Gelett Burgess wrote one silly poem in 1895 that caught on somehow and became a favorite of such notables as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt among many others.

I never saw a Purple Cow,

I hope to never see one;

But I can tell you, anyhow,

I’d rather see than be one.

If that was the only thing he wrote he wouldn’t have received a mention on my blog, but in 1901 when cable cars were at the extent of their use in San Francisco he wrote the ‘Ballad of the Hyde Street Grip’ about the cable car line that climbs and descends Hyde Street on Russian Hill. It’s a wonderful poem that moves along like a waltz and ranks right up there with Jeanette MacDonald singing ‘San Francisco’ to stir my passion for the City. Read his poem and then take a ride here for yourself on “The Hyde Street Grip”.

Oh, the rain is slanting sharply, and the Norther’s blowing cold,
When the cable strands are loosened, she is nasty hard to hold;
There’s little time for sitting down and little time for gab,
For the bumper guards the crossing, and you’d best be keeping tab!
Two-and-twenty “let-go’s” every double trip
It takes a bit of doing, on the Hyde Street Grip!

Throw her off at Powell Street, let her go at Post,
Watch her well at Geary and at Sutter, when you coast,
Easy at the Power House, have a care at Clay,
Sacramento, Washington, Jackson, all the way!
Drop the rope at Union, never make a slip
The lever keeps you busy, on the Hyde Street Grip!

Foot-brake, wheel-brake, slot-brake and gong,
You’ve got to keep ’em working, or you’ll soon be going wrong!
Rush her on the crossing, catch her on the rise,
Easy round the corners, when the dust is in your eyes!
And the bell will always stop you, if you hit her up a clip
You are apt to earn your wages, on the Hyde Street Grip!

North Beach to Tenderloin, over Russian Hill,
The grades are something giddy, and the curves are fit to kill!
All the way to Market Street, climbing up the slope,
Down upon the other side, hanging to the rope;
But the sight of San Francisco, as you take the lurching dip!
There is plenty of excitement, on the Hyde Street Grip!

If you had to drive a penny bus from Chelsea to the Strand
You’d see Westminster Abbey, and you’d say that it was grand!
If you had to pass the Luxembourg and the Place de la Concorde
Atop a Paris omnibus, no doubt you’d thank the Lord!
But the Frenchy’d give his chapeau and the Cockney’d give his whip
For a sight of San Francisco from the Hyde Street Grip!

Oh, the lights are in the Mission, and the ships are in the Bay:
And Tamalpais is looming from the Gate, across the way;
The Presidio trees are waving, and the hills are growing brown,
And the driving fog is harried from the Ocean to the town!
How the pulleys slap the rattle! How the cables hum and whip!
Oh, they sing a gallant chorus, on the Hyde Street Grip!

When the Orpheum is closing, and the crowd is on the way,
The conductor’s punch is ringing, and the dummy’s light and gay;
But the wait upon the table by the Beach is dark and still
Just the swashing of the surges on the shore below the mill;
And the flash of Angel Island breaks across the channel rip,
As the hush of midnight falls upon the Hyde Street Grip!

 

 

 

 

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