S.F. Maritime park podcast elucidates, enlightens

‘Better Lives, Bitter Lies’ details role of trickery in city’s history

While the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park cannot welcome visitors to its historic ships at Hyde Street Pier due to the coronavirus pandemic, park guides Anne Monk and Sabrina Oliveros have created a free, educational and entertaining new podcast “Better Lives, Bitter Lies.”

The fun series, with new installments every two weeks, investigates the role of “propaganda, trickery and misinformation” surrounding people who arrived on the San Francisco Bay in search of better lives since 1849.

Noting that the talks aren’t meant to be comprehensive examinations of historical events, but instead intended to prompt discussion, hosts Monk and Oliveros are indeed charmers, joking that they won’t be addressing the most commonly asked question — “where’s the bathroom? — they get on the job at the park.

Before they dig into details of their first episode, “Chrysopylae” (the Greek term for “golden gate,” so named by explorer John C. Fremont, who named the Golden Gate Strait in 1846), Monk and Oliveros offer a brief explanation of upcoming side topics of focus, including the Bubonic Plague of 1900-04, which they feel has parallels to COVID-19 in that it was politicized as a disease brought about by Chinese immigration.

In addition to looking at the Chinese-American experience, the guides will tackle how the Gold Rush was related to sexual slavery in Chinatown and the Barbary Coast; and how debt peonage (the essentially slave practice in which an employer forces someone to pay off a debt with work) was in practice on the ship Balclutha, now docked at the Hyde Street Pier.

And in light of Black Lives Matters, Oliveros said, “While we start this podcast with some focus on the Chinese-American experience, that won’t be the only one we’re sharing. After all, there is never a single story, especially not when talking about history.”

The guides say they hope their coverage will “spark curiosity, ignite discussion and normalize questioning personal bias” so that people will reconsider how their biases frame not only they way they look at — or ignore — history.

Two talks already are online: the aforementioned “Chrysopylae,” which answers the guides’ second most asked question about the history of the Golden Gate Bridge and why it’s painted orange, and “Gold Mountain,” which delves into stories about Gold Rush-era fortune seekers and makers including James Marshall, a New Jersey-born carpenter who discovered flakes of gold in the American River in 1848, as well as dry goods store owner Levi Strauss and publisher George Hearst. Special guest is Richard Everett, former exhibit curator at the S.F. Maritime National Historical Park..

Upcoming episodes include “Paper Children,” “Daughters of Joy,” “A Deadly Trade,” “Little Brown Brothers” and “multifaceted stories carried by the square-rigged cargo ship Balclutha.”

To access the podcast, visit https://www.nps.gov/podcasts/better-lives-bitter-lies.htm.

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