San Francisco to honor Bummer and Lazarus, canine characters of the past

March 16, 1992|By San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- In one of those peculiarly San Francisco events that come along every once in awhile, the city is about to get a new historical plaque -- this one celebrating the life and times of two dogs that have been dead for more than 130 years.

The dogs were Bummer and Lazarus, two mutts who rose to fame during the golden era of San Francisco street characters. The plaque, to be placed in a garden at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid, is sponsored by E Clampus Vitus, an organization dedicated to Western history and parties.

Bummer and Lazarus were as famous in their day as television stars are in ours. Their activities were front-page news, especially on slow days. The Board of Supervisors, then as now an object of civic curiosity, passed a special law making them the only dogs in the city exempt from the leash laws.

Bummer and Lazarus were said to be devoted to each other in a way that appealed to 19th century sentimentality. They were good at catching the rats that infested the downtown area, and once, when they helped stop a runaway horse and cart, became instant heroes.

Poems were written about them, lithographs featuring the dogs were printed and sold like postcards. They once even appeared on stage in a play called "Life in San Francisco."

The Transamerica Pyramid was selected because the two dogs frequented saloons in the neighborhood, mostly for free lunches.

Bummer and Lazarus were part of an era when San Francisco celebrated, rather than shunned, its street characters. One of those, for example, was Oofty Goofty, a gent who allowed patrons to hit him with a baseball bat for a small fee.

When Lazarus died in 1863, he rated a long obituary in the San Francisco Bulletin. When Bummer died two years later, his obit was written by Mark Twain.

After their deaths, they were stuffed and displayed in public.

In his obituary for Bummer, Twain wrote that the dog had died "full of years, and honor, and disease and fleas."

". . . There was a time when his death would have left a lasting legacy to his name. Now, however, he will be forgotten in a few days."

Not quite.

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