Lazarus & Bummer: San Francisco Celebrities Circa 1860(ish)

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Bummer, left, was described as a short-legged black and white Newfoundland-mix, while companion Lazarus, right, was a yellow-black, scrawny mutt who may have been of the hound persuasion.

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The story of Lazarus & Bummer, two stray dogs that in 1860’s San Francisco became the stuff of legend, standsa hallmark regarding the fascination people have with animals.  Consider that, at the time, in the city that is now one of the dog-friendliest in the nation, strays were typically killed on site due to their high numbers.  Enter Bummer, who saved Lazarus from a horrid dog fight with another, the two dogs becoming inseparable from that point forward.  This extreme example of devotion between the two animals resulted in their rise to the highest esteem, igniting the interest of those living in the hustling and bustling city. Except, however, for a brief period of time when Bummer was injured and Lazarus seemed to have no loyalty, going off on his own.  Citizens were up in arms with Lazarus for his poor behavior, but the dogs reconciled, and the on-going coverage of the pairs exploits continued.

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Bummer & Lazarus were the only two strays permitted to roam freely around the downtown area, without being killed on site, due to a special exemption passed on their behalf by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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At one point, the famous eccentric character, Joshua Norton, who proclaimed himself Emperor of San Francisco and was a celebrity in his own right, was said to be the owner of the dogs, but that was found to be false. The fact that they traveled in the same circles of the city, however, was not lost on anyone, and made for some colorful reporting. Reporting of their antics became a regular feature in many of the area newspapers, such was their draw, in particular, their propensity for rat killing, which added to their immense popularity.  The dogs became so adored the Board of Supervisors created an ordinance specifically allowing their presence within the downtown area, an exemption no other stray dogs were granted.

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Lithograph of a taxidermed Lazarus, right, and a confounded Bummer.

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Sadly, Lazarus died of poisoning, purportedly at the hands of a man whose son had been bitten by the dog, after serving him rat-bait tainted meat.  It is said over 30,000 people attended his funeral, following which his body was stuffed and placed on display in a local saloon.  Bummer, desolate at the loss of his friend, spent most of his time near the area where he and his friend held court.  Although he was said to have taken up with another dog for a while, it seemed clear to anyone seeing Bummer, the canine was desperately grieved.  About two years after Lazarus’ death, Bummer was kicked by a drunk down the steps of the Montgomery Hotel, succumbing to his grievous injuries two months later, according to the San Francisco Gate.  A young writer, by the name of Mark Twain, wrote a eulogy for Bummer which stated the dog had passed “full of years, and honor, and disease, and fleas.”  He also mentioned the dog would soon be forgotten, a quip that to this point in time, has yet to come true. The whereabouts of Bummer and hist final resting place are unknown, but Lazarus was eventually procured by the California Historical Society, although there was no immediate information available on their website.

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They still have a bit of celebrity cred these days, even so much as having a locally distilled liquor, Bummer & Lazarus Gin, named in their honor. For more about the story of these two canine companions, great versions of their tales can be found at Bay WoofWeird California and America Comes Alive, as well as a book by Malcolm E White, that includes clippings from original articles. While there may be some variations in the stories, it is easily seen that there two dogs fully captured, and continue to capture, the imagination of people both in San Francisco, but many world-wide.

 

 

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If you visit San Francisco, be sure to go to Transamerica Redwood Park, at the Transmaerica building, 600 Montgomery St, to see the plaque dedicated to Bummer & Lazarus.

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