July 31, 1846 — Loudmouthed Mormon Samuel Brannan leads a sailing ship packed with followers through the Golden Gate, hoping to set up a religious empire on what they think is Mexican land. When Elder Brannan spies an American flag flying above the town plaza of Yerba Buena (as San Francisco was then known), he is said to have snarled, “There's that damned rag again!”
After Civil War — Calistoga Hot Springs provides a direct telegraph line to the San Francisco Stock Exchange for vacationing businessmen.
Easter Sunday, 1868 — Pastor Laurentine Hamilton, of Oakland's First Presbyterian Church, begins preaching about immortality and the afterlife, suggesting the church had misinterpreted the Bible. Sermons are an immediate sensation, and after they appear in print, he is charged with heresy by the presbytery of San Jose. Newspapers compare the trial to the Inquisition. Hamilton eventually takes his congregation and forms his own church.
1875 — Calvinist Thomas Lake Harris leaves upstate New York for Santa Rosa, announcing he has been chosen to proclaim the Second Coming. He establishes the Fountain Grove community, where followers raise grapes and make wine. By 1892 the Second Coming has not come, and the community folds.
Late 19th century — the Pulvermacher's Galvanic Co. operates an office at 513 Montgomery in San Francisco. Belts and bands are charged with mild, continuous electric currents, buckled around the body, and worn for eight to 12 hours a day, to “cure nervous and chronic diseases without medicine.” Are also recommended to restore “lost manhood.”
1915 — At the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, an entire day is devoted to the concept of New Thought, a movement focusing on physical and mental health based on curing disease via the power of the mind — the origins of positive affirmations.
1917 — Alameda County Chiropractors' Association adopts slogan “Go to Jail for Chiropractic,” and requires members to go to jail instead of paying a fine, sending 450 to the slammer in one year alone, where they continue to examine and adjust patients from behind bars. All are pardoned in 1923 by Gov. William Richardson.
1919 — Holy City in Santa Cruz Mountains is founded as a commune by “Father” William Riker, lecherous racist and self-proclaimed “King of All Wise Men.” Riker uses the life savings of his 13 followers to purchase 200 acres, and relocates those followers from his halfway house on Hayes Street in San Francisco. Holy City, “headquarters of the world's most perfect government,” grows to become a well-known roadside tourist trap: radio station, gas station, restaurant, dance hall, lecture hall, zoo, general store, ice cream parlor, butcher shop, bakery, barber shop, printer, airport, and penny peep show.
1945 — At Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, future Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, laid up with war injuries (or so he says), watches patients improve once their mental blocks are lifted. Hubbard realizes the power of mind over body, and the phrase pops into his head: “Thought is boss.”
June 1950 — Oakland evangelist C. Thomas “Cash” Patten convicted of five counts of fraud and sent to prison. From 1944 to 1948, Patten and his wife, who studies the art of the grift from Los Angeles sermonizer Aimee Semple McPherson, fleece Bay Area followers for over $1 million, spending it on fancy cars, a cabin cruiser, and Las Vegas gambling sprees. During the trial, which lasts 84 days, Patten supposedly has a heart attack. Proceedings are moved to a hospital auditorium, where he shows up every day in pajamas.
1955 — While stationed in the Air Force in the Bay Area, Harvard dropout and future Esalen Institute co-founder Richard Price has a psychotic reaction one night in a North Beach bar. It takes six cops to stuff him into the paddy wagon. He receives electroshock and Thorazine, and is discharged from the Air Force, only to see his father trick him into a private hospital, where he receives painful insulin and electroshock treatments.
1956 — After a career touring the heartland in phony hypnotist shows and programs featuring feats of strength, Forrest C. Shaklee founds the Shaklee Corp. in Oakland. Today Shaklee sells vitamins, minerals, cosmetics, and household goods.
1962 — Now out of institutions, Richard Price helps Stanford philosophy major Michael Murphy convert an old health spa at Big Sur into the Esalen Institute, California's premier center for human potential and personal development.
1962 — San Francisco Zen Center opens by members of Sokoji, Japantown's Soto Zen Buddhist Temple, under guidance of Shunryu Suzuki. Other Bay Area temples soon follow.
December 1967 — U.S. Navy agrees with last wishes of Mrs. Edward Olson that her machinist repairman husband's funeral be conducted by the Church of Satan, of which he is a devout member. The nation's press descends upon Treasure Island for the ceremony. Throughout the funeral, a chrome-helmeted honor guard stands at attention alongside High Priest Anton LaVey, filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and other warlocks and witches, all wearing black robes and Baphomet medallions.
1968 — After a long career in national broadcasting, including narrator of the radio shows The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and The Shadow, Stan Dale moves to Santa Rosa from Chicago and forms the Helen and Stan Dale Sex Workshop with his wife, Helen. In 20 years, the two boast 17,000 graduates, often appearing on TV shows like Geraldo, describing the joys of their triad marriage to another woman, named Janet.
1970 — Traveling faith healer A.A. Allen, who claims to raise the dead, is found dead himself in his room at the Jack Tar Hotel (now the Cathedral Hill) on Van Ness in San Francisco. His death is attributed to “acute alcoholism.”
Memorial Day, 1977 — The Rev. Jim Jones leads 600 followers of his People's Temple onto the Golden Gate Bridge in an anti-suicide demonstration, each church member wearing an armband with the name of a bridge jumper. One-and-a-half years later, the entire community would commit mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.
1978 — TV special I Want It Now, narrated by Edwin Newman, airs on NBC, documenting Marin County as goofy, hot-tub, self-involved mecca. Pissed-off Bay Area residents fail to see any humor in such an obviously biased program, and take steps to officially censure NBC.
1978 — California Public Utilities Commission looks into complaints that Pacific Bell is using training programs that incorporate ideas of the late Russian mystic G.I. (George) Gurdjieff.
1983 — Carmel resident and former mayor Clint Eastwood casts his friend Dr. Harry B. Demopoulos in the film Sudden Impact, shot in the Bay Area. Demopoulos packages vitamin and amino-acid supplements to reverse the aging process, and Eastwood is one of his celebrity clients.
1987 — After seeing lightning strike Alcatraz during a storm, San Anselmo holistic physician Raphael Ornstein offers to convert the island prison into a New Age global peace center, or “jewel of light,” where influential creative people can “unleash powerful forces for reconciliation, healing, and cooperation.” The project includes plans for a juice bar, communal health center, and holographic projection screen, and will cost $60 million to $100 million, funded by sales of Ornstein's books and videos.
1988 — A Palo Alto offshoot of the Ananda commune buys five acres of land for $5.4 million and a collection of 72 apartments and town houses in a middle-class neighborhood on the border of Mountain View and Palo Alto. Experts on cults and Hindu religions say it is one of the few times in the nation that such a group has attempted to establish a large commune in an urban setting.
1988 — Carmel resident and former mayor Clint Eastwood casts his friend Dr. Harry B. Demopoulos in the film The Dead Pool, shot in the Bay Area. Demopoulos is still packaging vitamin and amino-acid supplements to reverse the aging process, and Eastwood is still one of his celebrity clients.
1989 — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors sets up a commission to raise the self-esteem of the city, spearheaded by public-toilet activist Supervisor Wendy Nelder. As the ordinance passes unanimously, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter notes, “There was no snickering.”
Jan. 23, 1990 — The California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility releases its final report, “Toward a State of Esteem,” at a cost of $735,000. Assemblyman John Vasconellos (D-San Jose) admits he is “surprised and delighted” by the results. The task force's own research published by University of California Press, however, shows “the associations between self-esteem and its expected consequences are mixed, insignificant, or absent.”
March 3, 1991 — Deborah Pimental, daughter of est founder Werner Erhard, reveals to 60 Minutes that her father sexually molested her and raped her sister. Pimental describes the family confronting Erhard on his boat in Sausalito: After 12 hours he finally admitted that intercourse had taken place, but that it was a nurturing experience. Two other Erhard daughters describe more physical and mental abuse inflicted upon them and their mother, by Erhard.
July 1995 — San Francisco hosts the International Psychoanalytical Congress, a convention of 2,400 people touting medical degrees. One analyst laments the 1940s as the golden years of his field: “Today there are people who are self-centered, with a lot of pathological character problems.” The analysts discuss many topics throughout the week, before enjoying the Hollywood films Vertigo and The Conversation, both filmed in San Francisco.
Sources: The Great American Medicine Show, David Armstrong and Elizabeth Metzger Armstrong; California's Spiritual Frontiers, Sandra Sizer Frankiel; A Guide to Mysterious San Francisco, Dr. Weirde; The Aquarian Conspiracy, Marilyn Ferguson; The New Nuts Among the Berries, Ronald M. Deutsch; The Secret Life of a Satanist, Blanche Barton; San Francisco, You're History!, J. Kingston Pierce; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; San Jose Mercury News; Santa Cruz Sentinel; Contra Costa Times