Phone books can be a great source of information for researchers. However, they were not built to last; their fate usually being they were thrown out once next year’s book landed at the door. Browsing San Francisco phone directories in the Sutro Library stacks, we chanced upon a bit of ephemera that a clever someone repurposed as a San Francisco history scrapbook. Within this San Francisco Telephone Directory of July 1, 1918, a previous owner pasted clippings from San Francisco newspapers.

Cover of the San Francisco Telephone Directory originally published 100 years ago on July 1, 1918.

Among the mementos are first publications of precious panoramic photos of the city, a color full page poster commemorating the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair, and San Francisco street histories by Edward A. Morphy, plus other bizarre and notable snippets from the Chronicle and San Francisco Call. The clippings have dates from the dawn of the new century up to 1928, including a few obituaries, a record always sought by genealogists.

While phone directories are sources of data, newspapers were fountains of information, opinion, correspondence and advertisement, as well as entertainment. You sense the responsibility of a reporter in their publishing of bona fide news stories, but in retelling tales of peculiarity they often express a joy of writing. The only mundane thing you could say of this scrapbook might be its original purpose as a phone directory, the stories adhered herein abound with wit and verve in their verbiage. Sam Clemens would be proud!

Whale of a Story

Whale tales in the telephone directory!

Collecting whale tales show the scrapbooker’s penchant for the smelly underbelly of the city. Another clipping, a possible follow up to Jonah’s tale, was found in a different section of the phone book. It describes the fire department’s task of incinerating a beached whale at Golden Gate Park. Under the headline “Mourners Stand Away Off at Last Sad Requiem Sobbed by Winds,” the writer finds the absurd comedy in an off-putting situation:

An elderly woman residing in one of the beach homes nearby, who came to the obsequies in a black mother hubbard, stood to windward of the pyre. Her handkerchief was pressed to her face. The linen luffed, and the lady gasped: “That’s my finish,” and she fled from the scene.

“The whale’s, too,” remarked a scoffer near her, pronouncing the words as if saying, “whale stew.”

The 1894 Mid-Winter Fair

Tucked in the midsection of this old school DIYer’s paper project is a full page, full color poster promoting a commemoration of the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair. A camel parades in front of stately buildings where crowds are milling in what must have been a spectacle. This was the year before Adolph Sutro was elected mayor of San Francisco. The fair was conceived as an antidote to the recession the city endured at the time.


A colorful poster promoting a commemoration of the 1894 Mid-Winter Fair.


Accompanying the poster is a recounting of Sandow the Strongman’s battle with Parnell, a lion who earned the sobriquet “killer lion” after attacking and killing its trainer, Carlo Thieman, while on exhibit with Daniel Boone’s Wild Animal Show.

Sandow the Strongman’s battle with Parnell, the Killer Lion.

Very little of the Fair remains, but we know Adolph Sutro rescued several attractions before they were destroyed. He relocated the Firth Wheel, the Haunted Swing, Scenic Railway as well as others to his plot of land between his train station and the Sutro Baths.[i] Thanks to our favorite benefactor, we can still enjoy the Camera Obscura at the Cliff House today.


Panorama pics of the city

In the years prior to the Mid-Winter Fair, a pair of panoramic photographs showcased how San Francisco grew expansively. One taken in 1855 from Telegraph Hill towards Marin; another from the early 1850s from Rincon Hill shows the bay reaching where Montgomery Street is now paved. You can see from the second stitched together photos that downtown was definitely part of the bay. Ships once floated where many offices are now!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Street Stories

Local histories authored by Edward A. Morphy are pasted throughout the telephone directory.

If you are a fan of local San Francisco history, your engine will rev when you find your local ‘hood in one of Edward Morphy’s streetscapes. The scrapbooker saved a number of these celebrations of the city’s neighborhood pioneers and colorful residents. Below is a sample covering Bernal Heights.

Filed under Serendipity

The Sutro Library collection often reveals many surprises. Almost every day, we happen across discoveries like this phone book/scrapbook which is hundred years old as of today! Like a magician’s hat, you never know what’s inside that you weren’t expecting. Come on down and browse a while. We love it when you share your bizarre and serendipitous discoveries with us.


Craig Kelliher, one of Sutro Library’s wonderful volunteers, wrote this blog post.


Sources cited:

LaBounty, Woody. “Making Merry on Merrie Way.” Western Neighborhoods Project, 15 Dec.2011, accessed 27 June 2018., archived at

One thought on “Tales of a Telephone Book’s Repurpose

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.