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Abstract

San Francisco, September 14, 1915

As the sun began to set over the Pacific, Bascom Johnson, on leave from the American Social Hygiene Association, left his Berkeley apartment at 2248 Blake Street to make the long trip across the San Francisco Bay. Sometimes he was joined by Thomas D. Eliot, but tonight he was alone. Eliot had told him of a place he should visit - 9 Beckett Street. Upon debarking from the ferry, Johnson made his way along Broadway Street in the direction of Chinatown. By now, the fog had rolled in and the temperatures had begun to drop. Like so many other men of his generation Johnson was headed towards the city's infamous red-light district - the Barbary Coast, which bordered the Chinese Business District. Walking along Broadway, he turned left onto Keamey. The sounds and smells of Chinatown filled the heavy night air. As he took a right onto Pacific Street, he was now in the heart of the Barbary Coast. Throngs of people walked up and down the streets enjoying the district's combustible mixture of sex and other entertainments. Brothels, hot-sheet hotels and gambling dens were intertwined with semi-respectable dance halls, theaters, cabarets and restaurants. As Johnson turned down onto the single block of Beckett Street, passers-by must have assumed that he was either another restless young man looking for sexual pleasure or one of the many middle-class voyeurs who came to the Barbary Coast looking for cheap, visual thrills.

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