Saturday, July 14, 2007

Pictures from the Hammett Walk

Well, I'm finally catching up a bit and have downloaded my pictures from the Hammett Walk last Saturday (7/7). A few are posted below.

Despite it being a chilly, blustery day (i.e. just another typical summer's day in SF), I hope those of you who went on the walk had fun and learned something new about San Francisco, Dashiell Hammett, and his book The Maltese Falcon. Several fun facts that I walked away with are:
  • Even though Falcon is a noir novel, meaning the character's motives are dark, the city itself was bright, white, and shiny new in the novel since it had just been rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
  • Sam Spade and Miles Archer are like a couple of yuppie businessmen on the make looking to attract rich clientele by renting upscale offices in the good part of town.
  • Because of his background as a Pinkerton detective, Hammett's characters and their lingo had a harder edge and more authenticity than many of his contemporaries' work.
  • Prior to Hammett's hard-boiled detective, the mystery genre was mainly populated with posh characters who spoke with British accents and lived in grand country estates or sweet quaint villages.
  • In Hammett's day the word "gunsel" was slang for young homosexual partner. There's a nice little entry on this term in World Wide Words.
If you have any insights or pictures from the tour that you'd like to share, please contact me. If the blog link isn't working, use this email, but remove the word SPAM:

The walk began in front of the Flood Building, 870 Market St., where Hammett worked for Pinkertons, a detective agency. (Thanks Liz for this photo.)

In The Maltese Falcon, Joel Cairo went to see a play on Geary St.

In The Maltese Falcon Sam Spade ate at John's Grill on Ellis before embarking on a wild goose chase that took him down to Burlingame. It's a good bet Hammett himself probably ate here on occasion since the Ellis entrance to the Flood Building is just next door.

Hammett lived at 891 in the top floor, right corner studio apartment while writing The Maltese Falcon--so naturally, it served as the model for Sam Spade's apartment. When the murphy bed is opened up, the living room is called the bedroom until it goes back up.

( Thanks for this photo Liz.)

Don Herron reenacts the murder of Miles Archer. Throughout the tour, I was impressed with how well Herron retold the key scenes of The Maltese Falcon. Each time I came away with some new, interesting insight. Very enjoyable.

Miles Archer died on a pile of dirt that is now an alley near the Stockton St. tunnel.

The tour lasted about 3 hours. At the end of it I think we were all hungry, thirsty, and ready to take a load off. But I hope everyone had a good time.

For those interested in reading more of Dashiell Hammett, Herron recommended one work in particular:
The Big Knockover
It contains short fictional works featuring the Continental Op, a nameless detective that was the prototype for generations of tough-guy detectives. The library is missing this book, but we should get a replacement shortly. Meantime, you can check out the book The Continental Op, which is also a good read.

Of course, you could always read Hammett's other great novels: The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Thin Man, The Red Harvest. All are at the library either individually or as part of a Hammett collection.

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