A piece of paper enchanted me last week and sent me down the rabbit hole for a few hours time traveling. An invoice/receipt caught my eye while I was going through boxes of old paperwork that are part of the Taoist Temple Museum’s archives. Dated July 2, 1906, it was from Hanford Stables and made out to Sue Chung Kee. For June 1, it billed one horse for $1; on June 18, two horses were billed; and on June 20, a “three seater and team” were itemized for $4. The following week, on June 26, another single horse was charged. The final line read “paid” and $8 was the total posted to the final column.

I noticed the address for Hanford Stables was 226 East Front Street. Sixth Street was once named Front Street. I haven’t yet found out when it officially became known as Sixth Street, but using the 226 address the Hanford Stables was located on the west side of Brown Street and just a couple of blocks from the “Oriental Quarter.” At first, I couldn’t figure out how Sue Chung Kee could purchase a horse for only a dollar but finally reached the conclusion that he must have rented them from Hanford Stables along with the three seat buggy. I imagine he rented the buggy and horse team for transportation and perhaps the sole horse was used for his own transportation and/or as a work horse. Being a prominent and successful businessman, I would have guessed Sue Chung Kee had an automobile, but maybe not in 1906. Or perhaps he did but used horses on occasion.

After examining the receipt, I wondered what other items cost in 1906. With a little research, I found that a quart of milk cost seven cents, a nickel would buy a loaf of bread, and gas was six cents a gallon. Things that were new in 1906 included the electric washing machine, milk cartons, and the name “hot dog,” was coined from a cartoon showing a dachshund inside a frankfurter bun.

I also learned of a few other interesting tidbits that occurred in 1906:

  • President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, the first national monument.
  • The Football Rules Committee legalized the forward pass.
  • Thomas Edison invented the “cameraphone,” a device that synchronized a phonograph and a projector for sound motion picture.
  • For the first time, the Dow Jones closed above 100 (100.26).
  • Henry Ford organized the Ford Motor Company.
  • Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, located the Magnetic North Pole.
  • Finland became the first European country to give women the right to vote.
  • Typhoid Mary, the carrier of typhoid fever who worked as a cook in institutions and private homes, was finally found after an eight-year search.
  • Closer to home, Hanford’s Carnegie Library opened its doors in February 1906. On April 18, 1906, San Francisco experienced a severe earthquake followed by a fire that destroyed most of the city’s central area. At that time Grandfather was traveling from China to Hanford so he could help Great-grandfather with his China Alley noodle house. His boat docked in San Francisco just days after the earthquake. Grandfather had been told many times that San Francisco was a truly magnificent city and that he should spend a few days there to enjoy it. When he stepped off the boat, he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about – all he could see for miles were piles of rubble.

I haven’t discovered yet why Sue Chung Kee was renting the horses, what he was hauling or moving, where he went on the “three seater,” or any other specific details about the transactions. I do know he was friends with Great-grandfather and so I like to imagine on many days after Sue Chung Kee finished his business and returned the horses and conveyances, he came back home to China Alley and had a meal with Great-grandfather in the noodle house.

This week I’m sharing a recipe for a Seaweed Egg Drop Soup with tofu, a classic Chinese soup that Great-grandfather most likely served in his eatery. This soup is one of the easiest to prepare and it is a nourishing soup as well. Now that we are into the fall season it’s time to dust off our soup pots, and I can’t think of a better way to begin any more than I could have made up more interesting details about the turn of the 20th century locally and more broadly.

Arianne Wing is the co-author of “Noodles Through Escargots,” and co-operator of the L.T. Sue Tea Room and Emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She may be reached at ariannewing@gmail.com

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